You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave

This rather long post is about current and future implication of personal data mining in social media, and the role design plays in the economics of these web services. A shorter version would be ”social media is cooking its most active users a sour meal and designers are only making it worse”. But it would lack subtlety, wouldn’t it? At first, it was only about Facebook, as it crystalized most of the media attention, but other companies have since proven how uncaring they can be with private data, Google and Path to name just two.
These observations range from how the word privacy shouldn't in fact be mentioned in these sites UI elements to prospective fun with what's being called Big Data, with the role of designers in all of this. After pointing out problems, a couple of solutions are roughly sketched and described as a form of positive thinking.

A quick word about my social media perspective: Facebook never really met my interest and I can’t recall using it more than twice: signing up and deleting my account (it's pretty certain Facebook still has a good recollection of what I did there). I watch how my relatives interact through it though. I was a rather active Flickr user (groups and local community) a few years back. I'm on Twitter almost daily, and "app.net" more and more frequently.
If you’re interested in a real user’s point of view, you might as well leave now. For those willing to spend fifteen minutes or so here, I've tried to stick to facts as much as I could in order to keep these observations valuable.

Deception

Let's un-zoom from the web and recap on privacy first. It might seem tedious to spend a paragraph to define such a familiar concept, but it seems necessary for some nowadays. Privacy is about having total control - to paraphrase Mark Zuckerberg [1] - on exactly who saw / heard that exact thing you showed / told. You get to choose the people you want to allow in a "space" where you can share with them what you’d like in total confidence. This private place allows us to express ourselves in a much more opened way than we would have in the waiting line of our local supermarket. Private means you can let go, it means you can say what's on your mind without fearing the consequences it could have if it was told in the open and heard by an uninvited party. This understanding, trust and respect are essential to define a truly private moment, to bind individuals together as partners. Or, to use Facebook's vocabulary, friends.

a private conversation being listened to by someone in the background

Facebook and Privacy have had a short yet bumpy relationship. Right now, some option settings panel is trying the best it can to mediate between these two, but it's... complicated. Through its interface actions and vocabulary, Facebook provides users the possibility to create virtual spaces to which only handpicked friends can have access to. They spend time casting a restricted list of friends, ticking faces as they go, you yes - you no. So far, so good. The existence of these restricted spaces clarifies the default one as "public", by opposition: don't share anything sensitive in here, stay smooth. This, in retrospect, reinforces the exclusive and closed nature of the personal ones: it's ok, you're at home, go nuts if you wish to. If it's not on then it's off. Green light, red light. Simple and tight - full control.

Not quite. Someone else is always there in all these carefully picked lists of friends, but not in an obvious way: Facebook itself. The privacy issue Facebook acknowledges lies into how users choose if they share with everybody or with a given set of people of their choosing, but the real problem is that Facebook is listening even if users decide to share privately [2]. Let's anthropomorphize Facebook’s presence among its users and call it "Booky". If it wasn't for Booky’s "friendship", no one would have a Facebook account. He's the one people shake hands with in the legal fine print when they set up an account. Hidden behind the signup form, Booky says : "you can come here for free, as much as you like, to share with your friends openly or privately. But I'll always be sitting right here next to you, and you'll have my full attention [3], because this is how I make profits, and make your presence here possible. Deal?"

Privacy and Facebook don't get along very well because Booky insists on being present at all times, camouflage style. When a stranger hides in a room and listens to the conversation some close friends are having, is it still considered as a private meeting? No. Do 14 years old Jenny and 52 years old Georges know about Booky being here all ears in the background when they engage socially? No. We internet nerds might be conscious of his omnipresence and know this is how Facebook makes money, but I doubt the standard teenagers do, or even care about it. All they know is that they better be on Facebook if they don't want to miss out on what their friends are about. Nobody, nothing in the interface tells them about Booky being there with them all the time. This is why Privacy and Facebook don't go along that well: Booky is a stranger to Facebook users, and by allowing him in their private spaces, Privacy feels - subtly yet repeatedly - cheated by Facebook.

an almost closed door

If Facebook wants to use data shared between friends in private contexts to sell advertising, it should make it explicit and clean wipe the privacy lexical field from its interface. Otherwise, it's deception by vocabulary. From this perspective, "Sharing settings" sets clearer expectations than the actual and falsely promising "Privacy settings". The way Twitter labels its messaging solution is interesting in this regard: they are ”direct" messages, not ”private" messages, even though they only are visible to the two recipients (and Twitter). If you can't provide true privacy, don’t talk about it, don’t sell it.

!Byte

Social relations aren't binary, they're more complicated than an on or off switch. A conversation with your dad in his kitchen will lead to subjects you wouldn't have brought up if you had started this conversation in a restaurant, even if you were just two at an isolated table. And it's possible that an hours long car ride with him would trigger even other subjects.

Interfaces as we design them - for now - don't allow this level of social granularity. It will come I'm sure, but we're not there yet. In the meantime, people love to talk and share, so they talk and share. Some feel on Facebook as they were in a restaurant, some feel like they've been sitting in a car for 4 hours. Which can - and has - lead to some embarrassing even devastating situations (query "Facebook fail" in your favorite search engine). Facebook, unlike a comfy sedan, has a recording feature built in. Conversations in the car leave no trace other than in memories. Conversations on Facebook are here to stay, and we don't know what will be done with them in the future, nor do we know who their authors will become. We should always remember Shit happens - more on Murphy's law later.

Trust

You just need to read the complaints filed against Facebook in Ireland by Europe vs Facebook [4], and the way they responded, to set the level of trust you can have in this company. The same goes with what happened with Path and their users address books uploaded to their servers. Their reaction was prompt when this was discovered, but I find the current message [5] in the app still misleading: "Path would like to access your contacts" still doesn't clearly states that the address book is sent to Path servers. You could easily understand the said access is local to the device. As creepy as it was before.

Consistency

It's ok to let a company record, own, index, organize and analyze any message sent privately between friends.
If this sentence sounds right to you, read it again with "a State" in place of "a company".
If the two still sound right to you, you probably should consider moving to North Korea.
If the second sounds wrong, why does the first sound right?
If any of them seem wrong, it may be because you've heard about what can happen when such tools fall in wrong hands [6] and it made you care about it. If you're in this group while using Facebook on a regular basis for private communications, you should feel inclined to adjust your actions to your thoughts, or vice versa.

Fun in 2040

This is where facts are left aside, and where the anticipation game starts. Let's fast forward 30 years: our today’s teens are at the peak of their professional lives, and have their own teen kids. Here are some Murphy's law scenarios for them.

David Kingsmith had his application to the Health Plus Plan rejected as his insurance company screened his Facebook records. Based on the number of parties he and his friends documented in his late teenage years and the number of times he appeared intoxicated in the collected pictures from 2008 to 2018, the risk for liver disfunction has been considered too high for the rates offered in this plan. Therefore, he will have to upgrade to the Health Star Plan to get his health covered, for an extra 2000 shpounds a year.

Using a refined statistical algorithmic method, certified by the Ministry of Research and Education, insurance companies can now predict with significant accuracy the risk potential existing for a driver, given they could access a sufficient Facebook log. Whereas prices were usually set by the kind of car you drove, where you drove and your driving history, they can now be accurately indexed on the potential level of the risk each driver represents. Depending on this emotional profile, you can have a good surprise when handed the bill... or a bad one.

Tracy Stradleton was on her way to a major role at the genetic engineering company she's been working for seventeen years. The strategic nature of this position demands a very strong ability to drive through nerve wrecking negotiations with regulators and business partners. This was her weak point: a very documented Facebook account she had been using under a fake name for more than 15 years was related to her just short of two weeks before her official nomination. As many of you now know, psychological profiling from Facebook and Google logs has become a lucrative market. Her company competitors wouldn't have hesitated to use such services to gain insight in her personality and try to influence her decisions. This was considered too much of a risk by CEO Thomas Krusnov, who offered Miss Stradelton a managing role in their famous R&D labs. She started as an intern in these same labs in early 2014 and had, at the time, posted on Facebook: "This lab is a-ma-zing!!! Hope I'll stay here long after summer, LOL." Wish granted.

For any scientific experiment, the more data samples available for analysis, the more precise the results are. This allows you to refine the analysis tools and your methods. As a consequence, results become even more precise. What is true for weather prediction, or speech recognition is also true for individual profiling based on interests, vocabulary, social group, etc: precision is a matter of scale. The scale of samples Facebook or Google can tap into is historically unprecedented.

The analysis of this amount of data turns its users into lab rats being observed for pattern recognition [7]. I have no doubt continuously increasing computing power will help observers make sense of what seems today scant or unrelated data. Owning these zettabytes of human interactions ready for study can represent a lot more than what advertising pays for today: holding tight to all these logs and having them prosper in frequency, quantity and variety offers the owners a future opportunity to sell predictability. At social media companies, product diversification is not only a way to add other revenue streams, it’s also a way to cast different perspectives on an individual, thus getting a refined profile. First ticket to your privacy, second ticket to your own nature.

a hot air balloon not taking off because of a Facebook crate attached to it

A key issue here is the unlimited period of time these companies can hold on to private information, or analysis results derived from them. I don't see any problem with providing a service for free in exchange of some data about you, as long as it is made very clear, and as long as this data is wiped out by default after a certain amount of time. Otherwise it's a dent in our natural freedom to change and evolve as individuals.
I'm especially thinking of all today's teens on Facebook, learning to deal with the adult's life complexities through this medium. As much as I have faith in the human sense of adaptation and that they certainly will adapt to this new situation, I'm very glad my teenage years aren't documented anywhere else than in my memory, and by a hundred or so pictures in a box somewhere. Far from a database I don't own and a search engine able to resurface failures, heart aches, grand naivety or lost hopes in a tenth of a second.

Empathy

The real trigger deciding me to write this article is the design talent acquisition Facebook has made in the past two years or so, as quite a few very talented designers joined the company. People whose track record I respect a lot were going to work on a product I deplore. I was sad — and still am — because it felt like a waste of their valuable time and talent. I didn't really know why at the time, but writing this article was of some help.

For social media to make a profit, it needs to be a two-sided product : the users interact with side A, the service they access without paying money. This interaction feeds and grows side B: the informations provided by users about themselves are used to offer better targeted advertising for brands, from which the money comes from.

In the case of social media involving personal informations, there's a good chance that if users find out the things they tell each others in a supposedly private environment are used in their back, they will be less likely to interact this way, thus diminishing the accuracy of advertising, and revenue.
"How can we make money out of users interacting with each others, without them noticing" is the equation they are trying to solve. Put differently, "how can we get them to reveal themselves to us with their consent?" — I'm just paraphrasing Sheryl Sandberg here [8]. Horace Dediu called this process "getting to know you" on his 5by5 podcast The Critical Path (couldn't find back the reference episode though, sorry): you agree to give some details about you in exchange of a free service. I'd call it "getting to really really reaaaaally know you". The terms aren't clear at all [9], and users have absolutely no idea what social media products know about them. The users, thinking they get something for free, pay with invisible money which valuation isn't clear and set. This doesn't fit the definition of an agreement to me, rather the one of an abusive position possible because of the users's misinformation.

The Facebook and Google products are essentially conduits sucking as much details on users lives as technology allows today [10]. They're digital hoovers. Being useful, usable and/or fun is just a strategy to accomplish large data collection. By the way, from this point of view, doesn't Apple's Siri look like a pretty darn silent, inviting and efficient personal data conduit? Talk to me: way less friction than Facebook's wall, photo imports and privacy setting control panels. Anyhow.

If we follow along with this vacuum cleaner metaphor, as a designer for these services, your task is to conceive and formalize the most attractive and powerful hoover you can come up with. Designers at Facebook are working on solving the "making people interact with each others better" problem. It's a very complex challenge one can be proud to be tackling, especially at this scale. It demands empathy, imagination and every other practical qualities a good designer should have.

Design is about bringing solutions to problems people have, or don't realize they’re having, with a production process and experience that are both elegant and profitable for both parties - the company they work for, and their clients.
Designers have this role where they make users needs or wants meet the company goal of making money within its operational constraints. The product resulting from their work is a solution to how can those two ends meet.
Design is about harmony. Every aspect of the product you consider rings true with the others, and the whole thing resonates in a unified chord. When we refer to great designers like Ray and Charles Eames, Dieter Rams or Paul Rand as inspirations, we praise their ability to formalize harmony in the products they conceived, but also between their client needs and capabilities, the users needs, the production processes, and how the product fits in the cultural context.

What's also inspiring in these hero designers works is the integrity, honesty and care for the user. These people were genuinely generous and empathic to the individuals who are using or seeing what they put out in the world.

As a designer of a social media company collecting personal informations, should you care about what happens to the data once it's collected and how it's used? My personal point of view is yes, you should if you believe you care about your users. Can you? Given what's at stake, I don't think you really can, but I'd love to be proven wrong. Should you feel bad about it? Of course. Because, unlike car designers can't do much to save the lives wasted on roads (cars move fast by essence), social media products can be designed to be more respectful. It's not a matter of technology, it's a matter of will.

Statistically speaking, the better designed these services collection personal data are, the more sensible informations will be collected, and thus the more fuck-ups derived from this data collection there will be. Murphy's law is strong.

As of today, social media companies are making a profit at the expense of the user, in a way that is not clearly stated to him, and of which the extent is not limited in any way. Social media designers, you have to find a way to communicate the terms a little better, and to limit how personal informations will be used - all in all, you owe users the trust they give you in response to the promise your product offers, the promise you have conceived and formalized.

What now?

Problems have solutions, it's what they're made for. As a conclusion, here are some of the ideas I came up with while thinking of these shits falling, slow motion, towards beautiful spinning fans.

A. The priority seems to educate. It's going to be a long time before these privacy issues come to an end, so we should tell our pairs about them. It should be made clear to everyone that anything feeding these services is "public domain". We have no control on the hard drives our informations live on, thus we should expect the worse and behave as if it were available to our work colleagues or old aunt. If you upload a picture on Facebook you're not ready to show it to your mom, you're doing it wrong.
One possible form it could have is a browser extension displaying a picture of a spooky guy smiling at you hovering the sensible services websites when you're using them. Think baconlicio.us, but with a spook instead of nice crispy bacon.

B. If it's not your server, it's not your data. Couldn't smartphones hold our database and provide access to it? They're connected to the internet, on most of the time, powerful and sport great memory capacities. Basically Tent.io hosted on your smartphone. Data plans, transfer speeds and battery life might not be ready for this, especially when it comes to sharing photos and videos, but when they will be it could be something worth considering. The idea of having the data dear to our life in our pockets just like our home keys or our money just makes sense.

C. Headless data. I'm feeling a bit like a unicorn in a minefield here - as a designer having no clue of how database actually work - but couldn't we have a way to format personal data so that:

  • it is anonymous by default,
  • your data and your name are linkable if you expressly approve it,
  • this link is obfuscated for everybody but for you and the people you approved,
  • this link is dynamic, existing during connection and user activity but dead when usage goes idle.

Cell biology is full of schemes and complex strategies when it comes to how cell data (DNA, RNA, proteins) is used. I'd look into it if I were to start somewhere.

[1] Our Commitment to the Facebook Community - Facebook blog https://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=10150378701937131

[2] Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg @ Charlie Rose http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11981 - 48:00 - Sheryl Sandberg: "The only things Facebook knows about you are things you've done and told us. It is self reported". —

[3] The Social Network - Do I have your full attention? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mehUC5l-lGM

[4] Legal Procedures against “Facebook Ireland Limited” by an austrian law student http://europe-v-facebook.org/EN/Complaints/complaints.html

[5] Path uploads its users Address Book to their servers http://www.redmondpie.com/contactprivacy-tweak-offers-alert-notifications-when-an-app-attempts-to-access-address-book/

[6] The life of others by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405094/

[7] Following Digital Breadcrumbs To 'Big Data' Gold on NPR http://www.npr.org/2011/11/29/142521910/the-digital-breadcrumbs-that-lead-to-big-data

[8] Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg @ Charlie Rose http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11981 - 20:05 - SS "Google is fundamentally about algorithms and machine learning and that has been and continues to be very important - they're doing a great job. We start from a totally different place, we start from the individual: who are you? what do you want to do? what do you want to share?" —

[9] Terms of service; didn't read http://tos-dr.info/

[10] Mark Zuckerberg & Sheryl Sandberg @ Charlie Rose - 45:45 - MZ "Sure, people have a lot of information on Facebook, but that's information they've put into the service. If you look at other companies wether it's Google or Yahoo or Microsoft, where they have search engines and ad networks, they also have a huge amount of information about you. It's just that they're collecting that about you behind your back. You're going around the web and they have cookies and they're collecting this huge amount of information about who you are, but you never know that." CR "Don't you find that a bit scary?" MZ "I think it's less transparent than what's happening on Facebook". —

The title is from a song, and preludes one of the best guitar solos ever performed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUbTW928sMU

I don't think "Booky" is a great name for a Facebook impersonation, but it's the best I found.

For 3

It makes a lot of sense to agree on a icon for revealing a hidden navigation when browsing a website from a small screen. An icon needs to be iconic, doesn't it? The three lines navicon consensus Jordan Moore illustrated last week in his Smashing Magazine article is, from my point of view anyway, the ideal candidate. I will support it by implementing it in projects to come.

The advantage this representation has over the other candidates is that it can easily translate into different styles. The symbol is so essential that whatever style your site happen to live in, this icon will still be identifiable - baroque, modern, americana, caveman, you name it. Three horizontal strokes. Cogs, item lists and grids don't provide as much expressive flexibility.

On top of this ability, what I love about this choice is that it could also be a great indication for a gesture. It is very likely it will appear on screens that not only small, but also touch sensitive. Three horizontal lines tells the user "touch me and I'll show you the navigation". It could also be easily understood as "swipe three fingers horizontally and I'll show you the navigation". Knowing, because you saw the icon when the page appeared, that a three fingers horizontal swipe could lead you to the navigation without having to scroll scroll scroll to the top of the page could be of some comfort. Now, to trigger this sort of thinking in your day to day user, it would need to be implemented very widely and consistently.

three horizontal lines, and the three fingers swipe to the right symbol

What I'm trying to say here is, if we are to agree on a standard appearing on small touch devices, why not extend this standard beyond the button, to a gesture.

Right here, it would be awesome to point you to a demo I would have set up so we could see how and if it works in reality, but it looks like implementing it is still a little too hardcore for my javascript skills - working on it. In the meantime, let's think about it.

Happycog acknowledged the choice of this icon by replacing it on its blog. Swift.
jGestures seems to be the place to start, before this sort of multitouch event becomes available in touch devices browsers.

Preprocess that

Alison Wagner had a good post on Cognition where she outlined the pros and cons of using a CSS preprocessor. What makes her point of view valuable are the months of practice she had before writing it, after a first post where she said preprocessors had drawbacks she wouldn't do with.

It almost won me over, but I’m still sitting in the no-go camp, and haven’t LESSed or SASSed any project yet. The following explains why I don’t feel it would make my current process less of a chore and/or save me that much time, and how some of the benefits promised by css preprocessors are already there in the CSSEdit app. This makes my point of view less valuable than hers, but the comparison of LESS or SASS with CSSEdit has not been discussed elsewhere, as far as I know, so here it is.

–____–__–____–___–__

Opening a 4000+ lines CSS file in a regular code editor can provide you with a pretty good definition of "plain": even with syntax coloring, it’s the code equivalent of white noise. Scroll along and it goes shhhhhhh...margin...padding...font-size...margin...border...background...margin...padding...margin...margin...shhhhhhh. A CSS document really has no visual hierarchy at first glance, it looks flat, boring and uninviting. As much as I enjoy working with CSS, this is a truth hard to ignore.

From what I understand of CSS preprocessors, their features allow to add structural meaning (nesting rules) and to eliminate all the repetitions (variables and mixins) inherent of the language and the vendor prefixes situation.
I totally relate to this and applaud the efforts of the devs who took upon themselves to add meaning where there was none. Nonetheless (...), pure CSS is still amazing.

LcssVE

The beauty of CSS, from a designer's point of view, lies in its combined nature of being a blueprint medium and a product feature at the same time. Every browser is a little factory to which we send a blueprint made of html, css, js and images. Upon reception, it outputs our intended final product on the users’s screens. Coming from product design where you send technical drawings and material recommendations, and kind of hope for the best when the product comes out of the assembly line, it’s kind of magical to be able to do quality control so far towards the user. It’s also very easy coming from the screen to peak into the blueprint thanks to debug tools like Firebug.
This is WYSIWYG on the dancefloor: WYSIWYGIWYS. What you see (assets) is what you get (screen) is what you see (inspector).

It is a remarkable opportunity to be able to read your own specifications right in the product. Having a layer of abstraction sitting between the two is an opportunity for misinterpretation or doubt, and can feel like a step backward in that regard.

The lack of structural meaning and repetitions in CSS had been identified by some guys in beautiful Belgium, and they provided a solution where your production code is still pure CSS. They used the graphical user interface as a way to extract meaning from the code, and let you manipulate code through these metaphors without changing any of its conventions. The software, CSSEdit, sits along your decisions and your code, but it’s not obfuscating it. It’s presenting it in an easier to work with way.

In order to let you see how preprocessors and CSSEdit overlap, I'm going to run through Allison's article topics and show you how the later handles them.

Nesting reduces repetitions in rule names

The tedious aspect of writing states or children rules never really hit me. In retrospect, it takes me more time to make an opinion about how to style a given element and adjusting it than writing two extra words, so I don’t relate to this argument. Instead of copy and paste, CSSEdit lets you Command + D the rule you want to extend. Now, I get that it's not about laziness but fluidity — the thing is nesting can have its downsides when debugging. As Andy Clarke wrote last year:

Nested rules promote bad practice too. The CSS they produce reeks of over specificity. [...] This is clearly a case where your knowledge of what’s best should override using a tool."

Nesting rules also add overall visual structure

This is where CSSEdit offers one of its best feature, and where preprocessors fall short: the styled rules list. It sits on the left of your code and saves you tens of minutes a day at least. I'll let you search for the reddish list items on the screen shot below. You can search for it in the raw code too, and compare.

A CSSEdit document

On top of that, as you can see above, you can create folders to semantically group your rules, and nest them as much as needed, without caring about indentation levels. It works with comments in your code: /* @group -- */ to open a folder, and /* @end */ to close it. I use this list also as a way to control I really have specified my links different states: if I don't see two or three rules with the same name and different typographic features, a little bell rings in my brain.

Variables to store your site's colors hex values

Here, CSSEdit lets you use the Mac's system wide color wheel's palette. It's not often that I come across someone using it, and this is sad because it's very handy, especially when you edit on-screen documents of different nature for the same client: website, Power Point or Keynote presentations, newsletters, pdfs... It can store up to 300 swatches, which should cover your needs. I usually group them based on active projects, and subgroup them by hues. Team work is where preprocessors variables have a clear advantage over CSSEdit: referencing colors by "blueGreen_4" is more efficient than "fourth blue from the right in the system palette I set you up last week" update. Allison also mentioned how easy it is to distribute a color change on a whole project. I would temper this argument by adding it depends on the project's scale. If you happen to work mainly on small sites, CSSEdit's filtering search box (by style name or style source) lets you update colors in seconds. I've done it on large Magento e-commerce projects with no problems, but if your color change has to be applied to a dozen of stylesheets, you're better off with a nicely named variable no doubt.
In the article quoted above, Andy Clarke wrote about how preprocessors can manipulate color to generate lighter, darker, less saturated instances of a given reference. I feel really bad for publicly disagree with such a noble figure of our trade, but mathematics should stay outside color choices. These decisions should be made based on how colors look and feel rather than on a given value percentage delta. Let's recall here that colors appearing to be the same optically may not have the same hex reference depending on the shape they're applied to, and vice versa. A light orange on a 48px bold Helvetica title will appear more dense than a darker orange applied to a 12px Verdana regular. Keep this in mind when setting up the guide lines of your design system. Above all, trust your judgement: scale this color wheel to the max and "move things around until they feel right".

Another clear win for preprocessors: mixins

They get the love they deserve for gradients or box-shadows, given how tedious it is to write all the vendor specific rules to ensure compatibility. CSSEdit doesn't support CSS3 rules, but its more recent (although partial) incarnation does, and you can visually edit gradients with it. But writing a mixin with two hex values is more efficient for sure.

All that being said

Not being able to switch from the navigator to the stylesheet with a precise number to target is the strongest no-go signal to me. The current version of Web Inspector for Safari 6 doesn't display line numbers, and I tried to work this way for a couple days, to know if it was really important. I lost too much efficiency not being able to aim at a line number in my code. If you encountered the same problem, you can either switch to Chrome and let the eye of Sauron peak in your browsing habits, or you can install Webkit Nightly and select the previous version of Web Inspector from the developer menu. By the way, the new layout is very well done, despite this let's hope temporary lack of line number in the Styles panel.

Just as design decisions, choosing the right tool is also a matter of context. From what I understand – and I might missing something as I haven't tried them sufficiently – preprocessors are great when you're part of a dev team working on a large project like a corporate intranet, and/or if your design sports a great number of gradients and box shadow. Preprocessors are talked about a lot these days, and it can be tempting to add one in your workflow just because it's talked about a lot these days. Consider carefully your situation before your move and ponder if it will really save you time. Just got started with HTML and CSS? You would be better off spending time learning and mastering regular CSS rather than learning a way to write less of it. In the end, browsers parse CSS and you have to have a good understanding of how it works.

On my side, I will follow Allison’s final recommendation and translate the stylesheet of a responsive project I just finished into SASS to get a better feel from it. And maybe switch to it, who knows.

Udpate: Nigel Warren responded to this color topic explaining how you can name colors, switch palettes and share them with your team in a few clicks. Better than what I thought it was.

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