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.
"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.
3. Projectcool has a different focus....
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.
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.
4. "Anyone can build a great website."
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.
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
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
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.
9. You maintain a number of discussion lists as well.
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.
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.
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.
The lists are all part of the peoplesphere section of the Project Cool
website. As are web-based discussion areas.
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.
11. Talk about your mission to persuade other web designers that
Liquid is The Way.
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.
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.
12. Do you see the web changing radically in the next few years, or do you merely see the technology changing?
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.
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.
14. Where does creativity come from?
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
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
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.
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.