TNS
VOXPOP
Favorite Social Media Timesink
When you take a break from work, where are you going?
Instagram/Facebook
0%
Discord/Slack
0%
LinkedIn
0%
Video clips on TikTok/YouTube
0%
X, Bluesky, Mastodon et al...
0%
Web surfing
0%
I do not get distracted by petty amusements
0%
Frontend Development / Software Development / Tech Culture

2023’s Most ‘Unforgettable’ Glitch Projects

Here's how an easy-to-use platform that encourages code-sharing created a community empowered to turn their inspirations into applications.
Feb 11th, 2024 6:00am by
Featued image for: 2023’s Most ‘Unforgettable’ Glitch Projects
Feature image courtesy of Glitch.

Since 2017, Glitch has been offering a browser-based tool to build applications for the web.

And last month the company celebrated the year gone by with a blog post recognizing “the projects that the Glitch community dreamt up over the past twelve months.”

It’s a fun list described as “a love letter of sorts to the creators and projects that made 2023 unforgettable…”

But it also shows how an easy-to-use platform that encourages code-sharing can create a community empowered to turn their inspirations into applications.

Glitch

Across a wide range of technologies, there’s now a vast repository filled with millions of viewable code samples that continue fermenting and fusing over the years, into more and more applications.

And along the way, it ends up proving that when you’re expanding the universe of developers, you’re also growing the pool of available ideas.

Or, as Glitch writes, in 2023, “So many apps and websites were created that intrigued us, inspired us, made us chuckle — or made us gasp, and in general made us smile.”

A Walk on the Human Side

For example, one site promised “a collection of Google Map reviews of places that closed before I moved to my neighborhood.”

The site is surprisingly philosophical, with a long wistful note about how we never see the people that our loved ones used to be — a feeling like “watching the leaves change color and fall only to wonder what it would be like to put them back in the tree again — isn’t that what love is?”

It was created by Philadelphia-based Elan Kiderman Ullendorff, who by day is the product director at a nonprofit news organization about America’s criminal justice system and teaches product design at the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Engineering.

“I wouldn’t really call myself a developer at all,” Ullendorff said in an interview with The New Stack. “I’m primarily a designer, and I have a side creative research/writing/teaching practice…”

As part of that effort, Ullendorff publishes a newsletter called “Escape the Algorithm”, which urges its readers to find “a more human side of the internet” and it was that same thoughtful mindfulness that led him to build his application. “When I walked around South Philly I could feel the ghost places haunting me,” Ullendorff writes on the page.

“So I embarked on a mission to summon them, or at least their simulacra, back from the dead: a digital seance, if you will”

It won the award for “Most Beautiful App” — and it obviously took some effort to create (“I paid a data broker $5 to let me download a spreadsheet of local closed businesses and cross-referenced those with their Google Maps listings.”)

The glowing reviews were fondly curated and geolocated, and then — with a simple mix of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript — transmuted into an app called “Love Letters to Places I’ll Never Meet.”

A bittersweet nostalgia hangs over every one — reminders of neighborhood treasures gone but not forgotten. (“Albert himself waits on his customers, most of which he knows by name… What a pleasure to have him in the neighborhood.”)

But maybe it’s also an example of what happens when non-traditional coders can also build applications. “I don’t have much of a formal coding education, and have basically only ever used code as a tool to build the weird projects that are in my head,” Ullendorff told us last week. “This often involves a lot of copying and pasting and tweaking a tapestry of code that I find, and sometimes I find myself building things in very hacky ways or in surprising places just because that’s the way I was able to get my code to work.

“For example, I’ve built some embarrassingly complex projects (including a social network) that exclusively relies on a web of interconnected Google Sheets as a backend.”

Watercolors Become WebXR

It’s not the only user-built project with a deeply personal origin.

Glitch also hosts immersive WebXR apps — and the “Coolest” one of 2023 was named simply “cinta.” It’s an interactive 360-degree view that was made “with watercolor on paper and a lot of love,” writes its creator, RosaPark0328 — and then converted into a WebXR app using the HTML-based framework A-Frame. “Look around the beautiful Cinta Costera during a typical Panamanian sunset — surrounded by palm trees, skyscrapers, Pacific waters, and racing cars underneath.” Amazingly, though it originated as a watercolor, somehow those distant racing cars are all animated…

Elsewhere on Glitch, there’s a project where some of the personal touch is supplied by the users themselves. (It’s a “Blackout Poetry Maker,” a create-a-poem app where users select which words to keep from a larger block of text.) But again, its creator was anything but a career programmer. Dr. Emma Winston describes herself as a scholar, ADHD coach, and creative technologist (according to her user profile on X). In 2021, Winston even turned her Ph.D. into a game.

There’s a larger message here: that the first step toward empowerment is an easy start with new technologies. Winston’s README file says she used basic JavaScript “because I wanted to see if I could manage it” (as well as the JavaScript library html2canvas).

And Ullendorff seems to agree, based on our email interview. Ullendorff writes that “re-mixing” existing projects lets him quickly bootstrap his ideas into applications — “especially useful when I’m trying to get started with a new API”. He appreciates Glitch’s ready-to-go infrastructure, which lets him bypass that initial technical work that always precedes coding. “Setting up environments and deploys is something that will always be inscrutable to me.” But he also specifically praised the way Glitch approaches interface design. “Unlike many no-code builders, I’m not forced to rely on super modular, (in my opinion) visually inexpressive templates.”

Sharing Tools

The impact can be long-lasting. Winston’s Blackout Poetry Maker was built in 2019, but according to Glitch “broke through during a strange year for social media, as our most shared app of 2023.”

And no matter who’s doing the developing, the end result is always useful new tools to share with others online. Glitch’s post also recognizes a winner and two honorable mentions as the year’s best fediverse apps, including an ActivityPub bookmarking and sharing site named Postmarks and one for embedding Fediverse content. Who knows how many users they’ll attract as the fediverse continues to grow?

Again and again, Glitch users built tools for the online world — while also sharing them as handy examples that others were free to remix. Glitch’s blog post includes more “playlists” with applications and templates. This year’s “Made You Learn” award went to Rory Gianni, an Edinburgh-based web developer and technology consultant who also hosts a series of YouTube videos called Creating With Data. Gianni used Glitch to host several instructive examples of visualization-producing code — including various interesting maps and interactive globes.

Glitch called it “clearly a labor of love” and “a great start for anyone wanting to get into data visualization in the new year.” But it shows how a powerful platform can help a community grow. In an email interview, Gianni says he’s been using Glitch since 2017, and “I guess “what drew me towards it then was the ethos of sharing, or an open collaborative vision of the web. The accessible and playful nature of the platform and community meant there were some interesting projects to discover too…”

“Aside from the community aspect, I find glitch convenient for quickly spinning up various types of projects. The overhead of environment set up for modern web-development can be a bit of a barrier, even for an experienced developer like myself. Having a platform where I can just get something moving is very handy,” Gianni says, avoiding the problem of “Time lost that should be poured into realising vision not a perfect devops pipeline.”

And of course, some people just end up having some fun. which Glitch’s blog post acknowledges with the the inevitable “Made You LOL” category. One site greeted its visitors with a dare. “How close can you get to pi by tossing hot dogs?”

More to Celebrate

There’s also an award for “Least likely place you’d think you’d find a Glitch app but it’s there.”

The winner was a thread in a forum on magic mushrooms where people were comparing their scores on the Glitch-hosted game f1-start, which simulates the lights that count down the beginning of a Formula One race.

And their special annual celebration ended with a “best from around our community” gallery showcasing some more of the apps shared in the Glitch support forum throughout 2023.

Maybe it’s the perfect stand-in for the hundreds of thousands of other unseen users who are all out there somewhere, turning their best (and worst) ideas into actual apps.

The blog post’s final sentence?

“We can’t wait to see what all you create in 2024!”

Group Created with Sketch.
THE NEW STACK UPDATE A newsletter digest of the week’s most important stories & analyses.