An Interview with Marvin Danig, creator of Toucaan

Marvin Danig

Today I would like to welcome Marvin Danig creator of Toucaan a free and open-source CSS framework for building “native apps” using web technologies.

Hello Marvin, Please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hey there! Thank you for having me on Trending Projects

I’m an indiehacker from Washington DC. Well, the term indiehacker is fairly new, whereas I have been a work-from-home part developer, part designer for the last 10 years. My first love has always been the web, and the open-source community but due to the nature of this business, I kind of have my fingers dipped into literally everything. It’s quite a spread… you name it, and I might have played with that piece of technology at some point in time.

I am currently focused on building Red Goose, a web2app conversion engine for web developers. It uses iOS/Swift, Android/Kotlin, Ruby, JavaScript, Docker, and Node to name a few.

At what age did your interest in computers and computer programming start?

Well, I guess I’m one of those who had an early start on computers. I think it was in 1993 when my dad brought home an IBM Thinkpad. It was one of those earliest versions with a red-colored TrackPoint! Back then it was a different time and I remember writing my first program in GW-Basic.

Bubblin Superbooks
Bubblin Superbooks

Could you tell me about your day job and how you got to where you are now?

Well, it’s a day-and-night job for me to be frank. For the next few weeks, I will be focusing on developing Red Goose full time, but my wife and I also lead a specialty digital book publishing company in Washington D.C. It’s called Bubblin Superbooks.

We are sometimes referred to as the Penguin Random House of the web since we do modern digital books on the web using the traditional techniques of publishing.

Toucann - A CSS framework for intrinstic app-like interfaces.
Toucann – A CSS framework for intrinstic app-like interfaces.

What inspired you to build Toucaan and how would you describe it to someone who may never have heard about it?

Toucaan is a free and open-source CSS framework for building “native apps” using web technologies.

It was born out of my curiosity about what is an intrinsic web design as opposed to a responsive one, which you know has been the norm for a while. Toucaan is based on the idea that the web has evolved enough in the past five years so as to allow the development of fast mobile apps using plain HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I mean the landscape of the web itself has changed radically and many of the assumptions taken by the regular older CSS frameworks are no longer valid.

For example, a Tesla car is a web-connected device with a solid standards-compliant web-browser. Does your app support that? An Apple Watch too has a web browser, but it is a sub-inch viewport and so on… I wrote about re-thinking css frameworks from scratch for the new web sometime back, although I continue to learn new facts about it myself and Toucaan is still in the development phase.

What is the tech stack behind Toucaan?

Toucaan is written using postcss, sass, node, and webpack.

The output is a single human-readable CSS build instead of fancy components or css-in-js type of tooling. I wanted Toucaan to be as close to the building blocks of the web as possible (i.e. as plain HTML and CSS), instead of what is on hype in the community right now.

Have you been working on anything new that you would like to share?

Well, there is always something new on the horizon to tinker with. Have you seen Deno?

Web development is evolving so rapidly. What changes would you like to see in the next 5 years?

Ah, yes! The web has always been in a state of flux. It’s hard to predict where the web is going to be in the next five years, for it is a long time in the tech world, but I sure hope at least the following are going to be on the list of changes that will come true:

  1. Web design to evolve and become more “app-like” so to speak. For example, websites will lose footers completely? Yeah, I think that’d be nice.
  2. This one is naught, but CSS will probably include standard physical units like `–inch`, `–cm` in the form of pre-declared global css variables. It will allow incorporating physical size into web design and I think it is much needed now, IMO.
  3. Open-source licensing will evolve and be modernized according to the new realities of our world. An MIT license on an individual’s repo, for example, doesn’t have the same appeal as the one managed by Facebook or Google. I think that the licensing model does need some solid disruption and we must incorporate measures to make sure that the proto-nations are viewed differently from ground soldiers and individuals working on open-source all by themselves.
  4. More representation. I think people of color have contributed a lot to the canvas of the web, and yet we see near-zero people of color serving on committees or leading the web standards initiatives and similar groups. 

This must change and people from all cultures and walks of life must be included in the spec-making process. That would be good for the web.

What are you learning right now?

I am learning to play the guitar these days. It’s quite difficult but helps me detox the stress of pandemic.

What are your future goals?

I intend to scale Red Goose to its first 100 paid clients by the end of 2020.

What is the best advice someone has given you?

Quoting Kevin Straszburger, a fellow indie-hacker here, for I believe this is one of the most insightful pieces of advice out there for anyone starting today:  “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.”

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a career in web development?

Take it slow. In baby steps. And question everything! Critical thinking is important.

Peter Norvig has said teach yourself programming in ten years and that is so very true for web developers even. The surface of the web and the included APIs are enormous and there is only one way to pick up the fundamentals.

Start from the basics. Pick up HTML followed by CSS, followed by JavaScript, and so on.

I know that there is a lot of fancy hyped-up tooling out there, and people will swear by jQuery or React or Vuejs as if there is something magical going on under the hood, but there isn’t. You don’t need any of the jazz to begin your career in web development.

Start it simply, keep it simple and up the ante only slowly.

Are there any podcasts, books, or websites you would like to recommend?

Well, Google is your friend. I usually recommend Mozilla Developer Network to newbies but there are hundreds of free and open resources out there to help anyone to get started on web development.

How can readers find out more about you and your work?

I usually spend my time on BubblinGithub, or Twitter. Feel free to reach me anytime!

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