ON SUNDAY, while leading a discussion on the future of web design and publishing, I noticed a slightly confused look appearing on some faces in the audience. The discussion had been billed as “Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel,” and I thought perhaps there was a disconnect for some in the audience between “design” and such topics as where content comes from and who pays for it.
So I asked, “Who here is in publishing?”
A few hands were gently raised.
Uh-huh. “And how many of you work on the web?”
Every right hand in the room shot up.
“You are all in publishing,” I explained.
Now, I like a good rounded corner talk as much as the next designer. I’ve given my share of them. Also of line height and measure, color and contrast, how to design things that don’t work in old versions of Internet Explorer, and so on. In the practice of web and interaction design, there will always be a place for craft discussions—for craft is execution, and ideas without execution are songs without music, meaningless.
But right now (and always) there is a need for design to also be about the big strategic issues. And right now, as much as design is wrestling with open vs. proprietary formats and the old challenges of new devices, design is also very much in the service of applications and publishing. Who gets content, who pays for it, how it is distributed (and how evenly), the balance between broadcast and conversation, editor and user—these are the issues of this moment, and it is designers even more than editors who will answer these riddles.
We Didn’t Stop The Fire.
OUR LIBRARY IS BURNING. Copyright extension has banished millions of books to the scrapheap. Digital permanence is a tragically laughable ideal to anyone who remembers the VHS format wars or tries to view Joshua Davis’s 1990s masterpieces on a modern computer. Digital archiving is only as permanent as the next budget cycle—as when libraries switched from microfilm to digital subscriptions and then were forced to cancel the subscriptions during the pre-recession recession. And of course, my digital work vanishes the moment I die or lose the ability to keep hosting it. If you really want to protect your family photos, take them off Flickr and your hard drive, get them on paper, and store them in an airtight box.
Though bits are forever, our medium is mortal, as all but the most naive among us know. And we accept that some of what we hold digitally dear will perish before our eyes. But it irks most especially when people or companies with more money than judgement purchase a thriving online community only to trash it when they can’t figure out how to squeeze a buck out of it. Corporate black thumb is not new to our medium: MGM watered down the Marx Bros; the Saatchis sucked the creative life and half the billings out of the ad agencies they acquired during the 1980s and beyond. But outside the digital world, some corporate purchases and marriages have worked out (think: Disney/Pixar). And with the possible exception of Flickr (better now than the day Yahoo bought it), I can’t think of any online community or publication that has improved as a result of being purchased. Whereas we can all instantly call to mind dozens of wonderful web properties that died or crawled up their own asses as a direct result of new corporate ownership.
My colleague Mandy Brown has written a moving call to arms which, knowingly or unknowingly, invokes the LOCKSS method (“Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe”) of preserving digital content by making copies of it; she encourages us all to become archivists. Even a disorganized ground-level effort such as Mandy proposes will be beneficial—indeed, the less organized, the better. And this is certainly part of the answer. (It’s also what drives my friend Tantek’s own your data efforts; my beef with T is mainly aesthetic.) So, yes, we the people can do our part to help undo the harm uncaring companies cause to our e-ecosystem.
But there is another piece of this which no one is discussing and which I now address specifically to my colleagues who create great digital content and communities:
Stop selling your stuff to corporate jerks. It never works. They always wreck what you’ve spent years making.
Don’t go for the quick payoff. You can make money maintaining your content and serving your community. It won’t be a fat fistful of cash, but that’s okay. You can keep living, keep growing your community, and, over the years, you will earn enough to be safe and comfortable. Besides, most people who get a big payoff blow the money within two years (because it’s not real to them, and because there are always professionals ready to help the rich squander their money). By contrast, if you retain ownership of your community and keep plugging away, you’ll have financial stability and manageable success, and you’ll be able to turn the content over to your juniors when the time comes to retire.
Our library is burning. We didn’t start the fire but we sure don’t have to help fan the flames. You can’t sell out if you don’t sell. Owning your content starts with you.
Blue Beanie Day Haiku Contest, Revisited
IN NOVEMBER, as part of the 4th Annual Blue Beanie Day to support web standards, we announced a web standards haiku contest, with prizes donated by Peachpit/New Riders (“Voices That Matter”) and A Book Apart. Entries were posted on Twitter with the hashtag #bbd4, with judging to follow in December. It should have been easy.
Not even mighty Google was able to uncover more than a few of them.
We wrote to our friends at Twitter to ask for help, but they were too busy dating supermodels on a pile of money to get back to us. With existing entries sucked into the void formerly known as Twitter search results, and with all those great books to give away and all those eager participants to thank, we have only one choice:
Blue Beanie Day Haiku Contest Phase II—This Time It’s Personal
Attention, web design geeks, contest fans, standards freaks, HTML5ophiles, CSSistas, grammarians, bookworms, UXers, designers, developers, and budding Haikuists. Can you do this?
Do not tell me I
Am source of your browser woes.
Write a web standards haiku (like that one), and post it on Twitterright here between today and Friday, December 24th. Entries must be “postmarked” no later than 11:59 PM Eastern. Judging will be held the week after Christmas, with winners announced before the New Year.
Can I re-post the haiku(s) I submitted in November?
Can I create one or more new haikus?
Yes, of course.
How many entries may I post?
As many as you like. However, you can only win once. (In other words, if you post the best ten haikus, you won’t win ten prizes, you’ll win one.)
I can’t post my entry here. (I’m behind a firewall.)
Unfortunately, posting behind firewalls is disabled on this site. (By doing this, I remove 99% of comment spam.) Try posting from your phone, or from a location other than your current one.
For seven years, progressive enhancement has been how we build sustainable, interoperable, and accessible web solutions.
Now that the release of ARIA is approaching, let’s see how ARIA fits within progressive enhancement strategy. Can we use ARIA in a way that respects progressive enhancement? Can we use ARIA in ways that ensure we have a working solution at every level?
Web developers interested in accessibility issues often look to WAI-ARIA to bridge the accessibility gap created by ubiquitous scripting and make web applications more accessible to blind and visually impaired users. But can we recommend WAI-ARIA without reservation? Are there times when appropriate semantic HTML elements are preferable to custom widgets?
About the Magazine
A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices.
Illustration by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart.
iPad as the new Flash
iPad. Never have so many embraced a great product for exactly the wrong reasons.
Too many designers and publishers see the iPad as an opportunity to do all the wrong things—things they once did in Flash—without the taint of Flash.
In the minds of many, the iPad is like Flash that pays. You can cram traditional publishing content into an overwrought, novelty Flash interface as The New York Times once did with its T magazine. You may win a design award but nobody will pay you for that content. Ah, but do the same thing on the iPad instead, and subscribers will pay—maybe not enough to save publishing, but enough to keep the content coming and at least some journalists, editors, and art directors employed.
It’s hard to argue with money and jobs, and I wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Alas, the early success of a few publications—publications so good they would doubtless survive with or without iPad—is creating a stampede that will not help most magazines and interfaces that will not please most readers.
Everything we’ve learned in the past decade about preferring open standards to proprietary platforms and user-focused interfaces to masturbatory ones is forgotten as designers and publishers once again scramble to create novelty interfaces no one but them cares about.
Luke Wroblewski’s Touch Gesture Reference Guide gives designers plenty of ammunition to create dynamic user experiences that work on a wide variety of mobile phones and devices (including iPad) while these same sites can use traditional desktop browser effects like hover to offer equally rich experiences on non-touch-enabled browsers. Unless your organization’s business model includes turning a profit by hiring redundant, competing teams, “Write once, publish everywhere” makes more economic sense than “Write once, publish to iPad. Write again, publish to Kindle. Write again, publish to some other device.”
I’m not against the iPad. I love my iPad. It’s great for storing and reading books, for browsing websites, for listening to music and watching films, for editing texts, presentations, and spreadsheets, for displaying family photos, and on and on. It’s nearly all the stuff I love about my Mac plus a great ePub reader slipped into a little glass notebook I play like a Theremin.
I’m not against iPad apps. Twitterific for iPad is by far the best way to use Twitter. After all, Twitter is really an internet service, not a website; Twitter’s own site, while leaps ahead of where it used to be, is hardly the most useful or delightful way to access its service. Gowalla for iPad is my constant companion. I dread the idea of traveling without it. And there are plenty of other great iPad apps I love, from Bloom, an “endless music machine” by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, to Articles, which turns Wikipedia into an elegant reading experience, to Mellotronics for iPad, an uncannily accurate Mellotron simulator packed with 13 authentic voices—“the same production tapes featured on Strawberry Fields Forever” and other classic tracks (not to mention tracks by nouveau retro bands like Eels).
There are apps that need to be apps, demand to be apps, and I admire and learn from them like every other designer who’s alive at this moment.
I’m just not sold on what the magazines are doing. Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.
The future of web standards
“Cheap, complex devices such as the iPhone and the Droid have come along at precisely the moment when HTML5, CSS3 and web fonts are ready for action; when standards-based web development is no longer relegated to the fringe; and when web designers, no longer content to merely decorate screens, are crafting provocative, multi-platform experiences. Is this the dawn of a newer, more mature, more ubiquitous web?”
Originally written for .net magazine, Issue No. 206, published 17 August in UK and this month in the US in “Practical Web Design” Magazine. Now you can read the article even if you can’t get your hands on these print magazines.
Sacrebleu! The French edition of the ebook of Monsieur Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 For Web Designers is in the top five sellers in the iTunes Store Français.
To answer your other questions: an eBook version in English is coming to books.alistapart.com next week, will soon thereafter also be sold via the iTunes Store, and will be followed by a PDF version. Get those downloading fingers in shape now!
Clark on Apple’s weak type
Apple has a typography desk. It is not exactly crowded with developers vying for every square centimetre, but it really exists. Have you ever heard of it? …
Then compare Microsoft, which has two divisions focussed on type and reading (Typography and Advanced Reading Technologies). Esteemed colleagues Simon Daniels and Kevin Larson are but two of many people with a high profile in the type business who work for Microsoft (in those departments respectively). MS Typo itself does a great deal of work. Apart from commissioning the confusable Microsoft C-fonts, the department does everything from creating box-drawing characters for teletext fonts to designing Liberian symbol systems….
As you’d expect, I urge Apple to get back into the business of type design. The chief lesson of the Web must be observed: Do what works and don’t do what doesn’t work.
Worth reading in its entirety, rereading, bookmarking, and sharing (especially with friends at Apple): Where Microsoft beats Apple on the Personal Weblog of Joe Clark, Toronto. Nobody does it better.
Opera loves my web font
And so do my iPhone and your iPad. All it took was a bit o’ the old Richard Fink syntax and a quick drive through the Font Squirrel @Font-Face Kit Generator (featuring Base 64 encoding and SVG generation) to bring the joy and wonder of fast, optimized, semi-bulletproof web fonts to Safari, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, iPhone, and Apple’s latest religious device.
Haven’t checked IE7, IE8, IE9, or iPad yet; photos welcome. (Post on Flickr and link here.)
What I learned:
? Even if manufacturer supplies “web font” versions with web license purchase, it’s better to roll your own web font files as long as this doesn’t violate the license.