15 Questions for Glenn Davis

15 Minutes explores deep web space with Glenn Davis, chief technology officer of projectcool.com, and creator of the original Cool Site of the Day.

Glenn Davis, in his own space
"Anyone can build a great website."

1. When, how, and why did you start Cool Site of the Day?

Sigh. Such an old question. In August of 1994 I decided to start showing the web some of the great websites I was finding daily, thus CSotD (pronounced SEE-sought-DEE) was born. To quote Carl Steadman in Suck, "It was daily, it was cool, it was nothing but a god damn link." The formula worked and I was the web's first critic.

2. I'm sure you've been over this a million times, but why did you leave?

Actually, this is the part that's rarely asked.
          InfiNet, the company I had been working for, owned CSotD, even though for the first year they made me put a disclaimer on it stating that it was solely the work of Glenn Davis. Virginia employment law made it theirs. After a year of running it they realized that it might be a good thing. I had had several arguments with them at different points when they wanted to shut it down due to the resources, etc.
          Once they realized that it was a good thing, they wanted to start disassociating me from it, and branding it to themselves. It was a bit too late to do that fully, since I had spent a long time effectively branding my own name to it, but the writing was on the wall that if I stayed I would start being sidelined. CSotD's traffic had peaked, and since they wanted to "refocus" it, it was time to consider other options.

3. Projectcool has a different focus....

You know, most people think that. It's really not true, though. My focus has always been to inspire others with good website design. CSotD hid this behind the word "cool;" but when you think about it, the majority of web users online when it started were all people who were building the web. I was simply showing them the good to inspire them to create better. Because of the effective reach of CSotD, many people say that I helped shape the web into what it looks like today.
          InfiNet didn't understand this and and they didn't understand my audience. That much is evident from their selections after I left. (Nov 18, 1995 I think.) They went to a Beavis & Butthead definition of cool with schoolboy humor in an expanded CSotD.
          My CSotD was never about that. Project Cool was the next logical evolution in my version of CSotD. It's about helping people build great websites. We do that by example, but also by creating bite sized tutorials to introduce people to web building.

4. "Anyone can build a great website."

That's my belief. It just takes a bit of guidance and access to understandable knowledge. That word "understandable," it's important. You don't introduce people to website building by using geek-speak. You have to talk human to human, and that's something we strive for at Project Cool.

5. What does "Martin" do?

Teresa Martin? She runs the company and keeps us focused. Without her there would be no Project Cool. She's the CEO who works wonders. People tell us that an independent publisher can't exist on the web but they told us that 2.5 years ago too. Teresa keeps proving them wrong. She keeps the business going and she does some of the writing as well as overseeing new projects. She and I (mainly she) have produced two books as well.

6. Do you ever tire of seeking out new websites for Projectcool?

You betcha. I hate that part but I can't see not doing it. It's such an important part of who I am and what I do. 95% of the web is dreck and I have to weed out the good so that I can feature one great website every day of the year. I may be biased, but I've never seen anyone that can find good websites with the consistency that I can. If I could, I probably would have offered them a job.

7. What makes a site great? What makes it worthy of a Projectcool sighting?

A great site is one that works well for its intended audience and does so with elegance or style. The key to that definition is "intended audience." A site has got to have a focus.

8. Why did you start devSEARCH and how did you implement it?

devSEARCH was created because I couldn't find the information I needed for a web page. I knew what site had it, but I just couldn't find it. It was then just a matter of implementing a search engine and sending out a spider to index the sites that I used in building the web. Those were just a couple at the time.
          Then it became apparent that others could benefit from a search engine like this. So I expanded it and polled the Project Cool users for the sites that they used most often. Those are the sites that are indexed by devSEARCH.
          There are currently 22 sites indexed, and I'm thinking about building the 2.0 version with more capabilities.

9. You maintain a number of discussion lists as well.

The best resource for anyone building the web is other people doing the same thing. So we provide topical mailing lists where people can discuss the things they are struggling with. We also provide a one-way announcement mailing list, where I announce new things in a stream-of-consciousness format. You're liable to learn more than you bargained for. I'm not afraid to speak my mind about anything, or to share recipes.
          The lists are all part of the peoplesphere section of the Project Cool website. As are web-based discussion areas.

10. You are often played off against Jacob Neilsen in your Internet World mini-column. I know usability is important to you, though I reckon you'd define it differently from Mr. Neilsen.

Actually, I've been paired with Roger Black more times than anyone else. He and I often find our opinions in sync though our approaches to design are completely different.
          But when it comes to usability I think it's important that the user be able to forget that they are on the web and instead focus on the information that they came in search of. I don't think Jacob, or anyone else, would disagree with that. We just have different approaches.

11. Talk about your mission to persuade other web designers that Liquid is The Way.

Webpage building is a lot like bar tending. Build it right and it will work no matter the container. In days long past there were thought to be four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. A web page, in my opinion, has three elements: Liquid, Jello, and Ice.
          Ice is an element that is frozen solid. Nothing about the element will change if a page is resized. There are a lot of Ice designs on the web in which the entire site is carved from it. Those are the sites that are frozen to the left side of the browser and only look best at a certain size.
          Jello is a bit more flexible. It is a design that, if the the browser window is resized, will center itself to fit the display.
          Liquid is the epitome of good web design and the fluid that should be used to hold web pages together. A liquid page will resize to fit whatever size browser window (within reason) that the user has available.
          Why is liquid so important? Because the real goal in building a website is to provide the user with a seamless interface to information. The site should not intrude on the user's thought processes, but should gently guide them to their desired destination. If a site doesn't look right because it doesn't fit the user's browser window, then the design has become intrusive to the user.

12. Do you see the web changing radically in the next few years, or do you merely see the technology changing?

The web has been changing radically in the past few years and I don't see this trend stopping. While there are some barriers to entry showing up – like the lack of across-the-board standards support in browsers – I don't think it's going to stop people from getting on the web as publishers, either personal or professional. At Project Cool we fully intend to continue to help demystify those barriers.

13. How did you start? What is your background and training?

Training? None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
          When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. Space has always fascinated me and I've spent a lifetime reading Science Fiction and thinking about possibilities. Though I've always held a passion for science I've also held a passion for the arts. I was an accomplished musician when I was young.
          When I started using computers in 1980 I was interested in both the programming aspects as well as the potential to generate art. The first computer I actually owned, an Atari 800xl, was chosen in part because of the extended color palette it offered. I wrote a program that allowed me to paint on it and I coded different fractal generation algorithms and image processing routines.
          As computers evolved so did some of my skills, and I started concentrating more the the creation and less on the programming. My favorite computer was the Amiga and with it came my introduction to 3-D rendering and raytracing.
          Eventually I built a PC so that I could beta test some new 3-d software that was being developed by Caligari Corporation (trueSpace) and also started learning Photoshop 2.5. Later I switched to a Mac. When it became apparent that I'd have to be using PC's to keep up with the Web and DHTML I switched back to the PC platform.
          Everything I know about design and the web comes not from training, but from careful study of what works. When you've looked at as many websites as I have you start to get a feel for it.

14. Where does creativity come from?

If I knew that I'd be a rich man. I find inspiration all over the place but surprisingly little of it comes from the web. I find mine in books, artwork, movies, experimentation, and the world around me. Watching how people use things can be inspiring. You can learn so much just from observing others. Didn't I say earlier that people are your best resource?

15. In 25 words or less, write your own epitaph.

A mentor who helped birth the Web.

Glenn's URLS:

© 1995 — 2001 - 1999 Jeffrey Zeldman Presents        Credits