25 Jul 2012 12 pm eastern

Proposed standards for the care and feeding of user generated content

THIS MORNING Contents Magazine launched the beginning of something both good and important: a set of guidelines that could lead to a safer world for user-created content.

Contents believes (and I agree) that products and services which make a business of our stuff—the photos, posts, and comments that we share on their platforms—need to treat our content like it matters. Not like junk that can be flushed the moment a product or service gets acquired or goes under.

On the web, popularity waxes and wanes; beloved services come and go. AOL was once mighty. MySpace was unstoppable. Nobody expected Geocities, Delicious, or Gowalla to just disappear, taking our stories, photos, and memories with them. But that’s what happens on the web. Tomorrow it could be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr. We can continue to blindly trust these companies with our family histories, and continue to mourn when they disappear, taking our data with them. Or we can demand something better.

Contents and its small team of advisors have devised three simple rules customer-content-driven services and apps should follow to respect and protect our content:

  • Treat our data like it matters. Keep it secure and protect our privacy, of course—but also maintain serious backups and respect our choice to delete any information we’ve contributed.
  • No upload without download. Build in export capabilities from day one.
  • If you close a system, support data rescue. Provide one financial quarter’s notice between announcing the shutdown and destroying any user-contributed content, public or private, and offer data export during this period. And beyond that three months? Make user-contributed content available for media-cost purchase for one year after shutdown.

You may see this as a pipe dream. Why should a big, successful company like Facebook listen to us? But citizen movements have accomplished plenty in the past, from bringing web standards to our web browsers, to peacefully overthrowing unpopular governments.

I’m on board with the new Contents guidelines and I hope you will be, too. If enough of us raise enough of a sustained fuss over a sufficient period, things will change.

More at Special Report #1: Data Protection — Contents Magazine.

Filed under: "Digital Curation", Advocacy, Announcements, Applications, Best practices, Design, social networking, software, Standards, State of the Web

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23 Mar 2012 11 am eastern

Web Type Will Save Us (Or, Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Retina Display?)

WITH RETINA DISPLAY technology on the verge of ubiquity and some of today’s best web design minds rightfully fretting about it (see PPK, Stephanie Rieger, Brad Frost, and Stuntbox if you’ve missed this latest Topic Of Concern), it seems to this old web slinger that web type is poised to replace photography as the dominant element of web design aesthetic appeal in the next few years.

After all, responsive web design already called upon us to create and swap multiple versions of the same image. And now Retina Displays reveal the lack of quality in all web images — compelling us, perhaps, to create high-resolution image versions which some users lack the bandwidth to download, and to lather our sites with yet more JavaScript as we try to detect whether or not each user’s device requires a higher-res image (shades of 1999!).

But type is type is type, and the higher the resolution of the device, the better that type will look, with no bandwidth overhead.

In that spirit, although we haven’t yet worked with it ourselves, we welcome the launch of TypeButter. Developed by David Hudson and designed by Joel Richardson, TypeButter is a plug-in that “allows you to set optical kerning for any font on your website.”

Soon, CSS and browsers will let us set type properly without the need for widgets and plug-ins. Until then, widgets and plug-ins fill the gap. Thank you, David and Joel, and all you beautiful web type designers and polyfill wizards.

Filed under: Applications, apps, CSS, CSS3, Fonts, HTML, Real type on the web

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29 Dec 2011 12 pm eastern

State of the web: of apps, devices, and breakpoints

IN The ‘trouble’ with Android, Stephanie Rieger points out the ludicrous number of Android screen sizes on a typical UK client’s website and comes to this conclusion:

If … you have built your mobile site using fixed widths (believing that you’ve designed to suit the most ‘popular’ screen size), or are planning to serve specific sites to specific devices based on detection of screen size, Android’s settings should serve to reconfirm how counterproductive a practice this can be. Designing to fixed screen sizes is in fact never a good idea…there is just too much variation, even amongst ‘popular’ devices. Alternatively, attempting to track, calculate, and adjust layout dimensions dynamically to suit user-configured settings or serendipitous conditions is just asking for trouble.

I urge you to read the entire article—it’s brief yet filled with rich chocolatey goodness.

Responding to it, Marc Drummond concludes that responsive web design default breakpoints are dead and urges designers to “use awkwardness as your guideline, not ephemeral default device widths” and return to fluid design. (I believe he may actually be thinking of liquid layout—the kind we practiced back in the early mid-1990s when cross-platform and multi-manufacturer desktop screen sizes and pixel-per-inch ratios—not to mention strong user font, size, and color preference options—made fixed-width layout design challenging if not impossible. As I understand fluid design, it is merely another word for responsive design, in that it relies on CSS3 media queries set to breakpoints.)

We’ve lost our compass

Rieger and Drummond are hardly alone in feeling that “our existing standards, workflows, and infrastructure” cannot support “today’s incredibly exciting yet overwhelming world of connected digital devices” (futurefriend.ly) and that something new must be done to move the web forward. And of course ppk has been warning us about the multiplicity of platforms and viewports on mobile since 2009.

Agreed: that is an exciting and challenging time; that fixed width layouts do not address, and adaptive layouts (multiple fixed-width layouts set to common breakpoints) do not go far enough in addressing, the challenges posed by our current plethora of mobile screen sizes, zoom settings, embedded views (i.e. “browser” windows inside app windows, often with additional chrome) and what Rieger calls “the unintended consequences” that occur as these various settings clash in ways their creators could not have anticipated.

As consumers, we’ve all had the experience of seeing the wrong layout at the wrong time. (Think of a site with both mobile and desktop versions—whether these versions are triggered by CSS3 media queries or JavaScript and back-end magic is beside the point because technology is beside the point—good user experience is all this is supposed to be about. On a Twitter app on a mobile device, the user follows a link; the link opens in the browser built into the Twitter app. Which version of the site does the user see? The mobile one or the desktop? Often it is the desktop, and that can be a problem if the app’s version of the browser does not permit zoom. Even if it is a mobile version, it may be the wrong mobile version, or it may not fit comfortably inside the app’s browser window.) Considering our own experiences and reviewing Rieger’s chart, it is easy to share Drummond’s conclusion that breakpoints are dead and that all sites should be designed as minimally as possible.

If breakpoints are dead, responsive design is dead

Of course, if breakpoints are dead, responsive design is dead, because responsive design relies on breakpoints both in creative workflow and as a key to establishing user-need-and-context-based master layouts, i.e. a minimal layout for the user with a tiny screen and not much bandwidth, a more fleshed-out one for the netbook user, and so on.

But responsive design is not dead; it has only begun. It is not a panacea but was never intended to be. It is simply the beginnings of an approach.

I respect those colleagues who say breakpoints are dead, understand how they reached this conclusion, and am eager to see where it takes them in the coming months as they experiment with new methods, perhaps developing wonderful and unforeseen best practices. I hope design will be a brilliant part of these new methods, not something that gets abandoned to create a bland but workable lightweight experience for all.

But I also believe it is possible to draw a different conclusion from the same data. It is even possible, I believe, to say the present data doesn’t matter—at least not in the long run.

Tale of the chart

There was a time in the late 1990s when industrious web designers showed how atrocious CSS support was in browsers. Eric Meyer’s Master Compatability Chart for Web Review, formerly at http://www.webreview.com/pub/wr/style/mastergrid.html, was one of the best, but is no longer available for your historical viewing pleasure—not even at the mighty Wayback Machine. That’s too bad, as it would have perfectly illustrated my point. The chart used a variety of colors to show how each detail of the entire CSS specification was or was not supported (and if supported, whether it was supported correctly and completely, partially and correctly, partially and somewhat incorrectly, or completely incorrectly) in every browser which was available at the time, including, if memory serves, close to a dozen versions of Netscape, Explorer, and Opera.

Looking at that chart induced nausea and vertigo. It was easy to draw the conclusion that CSS wasn’t ready for primetime. (That was the correct conclusion at the time.) It was also easy to look at the table and decide that table layouts and font tags were the way to go.

That’s what most designers who even bothered looking at Eric’s chart decided, but a few (Eric and me included) drew a completely other inference. Instead of trying to memorize all the things that could go wrong in each browser, we created general rules for what worked across all browsers (e.g. font-size in px, floats for layout) and advocated design based on the things that work. This, I believe, is exactly what the futurefriend.ly and Move the Web Forward folks are doing now: trying to figure out commonalities instead of bogging down in details. (This is why some in our community have labeled futurefriend.ly and Move the Web Forward “WaSP II.”)

The other inference Eric, I, and others in the 1990s drew from Eric’s chart was that browser makers must be petitioned to support CSS accurately and correctly. We and many of you reading this engaged in said petitioning, and thanks largely to help from with the browser engineering community (from people like Tantek Çelik and Chris Wilson and organizations like Mozilla) it came to pass.

Of mice and markets

We cannot, of course, petition all the makers of, say, Android devices to agree to a set of standard breakpoints, because there are over 500 different Android devices out there, many of which will fail in the coming months—or if not outright fail, simply be replaced in the course of planned obsolescence AKA upgrading that drives the hardware segment. And each new product will in turn introduce new incompatibilities (AKA “features”).

In the short run it’s going to be hell, just as the browser wars and their lack of support for common standards were hell. But it is the short run.

500 standards is no standard. Give a consumer 500 choices and the price-driven consumer picks what comes with her plan, while the selective consumer begins gravitating toward a handful of emerging market leaders. Eventually this nutty market will stabilize around a few winning Android platforms (e.g. Kindle Fire) and common breakpoints will emerge. What The Web Standards Project achieved with browser makers, the market will achieve with phones.

Until that time, designers certain can abandon breakpoints if they can find a way to do good design under purely fluid conditions—design that pleases the user, satisfies the client, and moves the industry forward aesthetically. But designers who persist in responsive or even adaptive design based on iPhone, iPad, and leading Android breakpoints will help accelerate the settling out of the market and its resolution toward a semi-standard set of viewports. This I believe.

When I see fragmentation, I remind myself that it is unsustainable by its very nature, and that standards always emerge, whether through community action, market struggle, or some combination of the two. This is a frustrating time to be a web designer, but it’s also the most exciting time in ten years. We are on the edge of something very new. Some of us will get there via all new thinking, and others through a combination of new and classic approaches. Happy New Year, web designers!

Filed under: Applications, apps, Responsibility, Responsive Web Design, State of the Web, The Essentials, UX, Web Design, Web Design History, Web Standards, Websites

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22 Dec 2011 10 am eastern

Migrate if you like, but Touristeye is not a Gowalla partner.

RECENTLY A COMPANY CALLED Touristeye has been emailing Gowalla users, encouraging them to migrate their data to Touristeye now that the Gowalla service is closing down. The emails tell you how a Gowalla friend (who is named) has just migrated her/his data to Touristeye and invite you to join her or him. Although Touristeye does not claim to be a Gowalla partner, there is a strong implication that the migration is seamless and that it was authorized by Gowalla. Not so.

Gowalla has not created a migration tool for Touristeye or released any migration tool as yet; the Austin-based check-in tool has no affiliation with Touristeye, and did not authorize Touristeye to reach out to Gowalla customers.

I can’t fault Touristeye for trying to increase its customer base by reaching out to the abandoned Gowalla community, and I have no opinion on Touristeye’s service, as I haven’t tried it. If Touristeye appeals to you, by all means check it out. Personally, I have replaced my Gowalla fix with (yes, four) four apps: Foursquare (for social check-ins and tips about places), Instagram (for photos and seamless Foursquare integration), Path (for the aesthetic rush I miss), and Facebook (because my people who don’t know from Foursquare, Instagram, and Path are there; and Facebook’s new Timeline even makes it fun).

An official Gowalla migration tool is coming is coming soon.

Filed under: Applications, apps, business, Community

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9 Dec 2011 4 pm eastern

Pro Tip

Little tip. People don't want apps to look and work more like websites. They want websites to look and work more like apps.

Filed under: Applications, apps, Best practices, Design, State of the Web

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2 Sep 2011 10 am eastern

Fast Company on Adobe Muse

DESIGN GURU Jeffrey Zeldman, says while he likes Muse for its ease of creating layouts, it still doesn’t answer his plea for a better Internet. ‘Software can’t generate HTML that is search-engine friendly, accessibility-friendly, and portable between desktop and mobile,’ he says. ‘Only web design professionals who understand semantic markup, responsive and adaptive web layout, and mobile user interface can do that.’”

Adobes Muse Lets Designers Make Websites Without Knowing Code | Co. Design.

Filed under: Adobe, Applications, Authoring, Best practices, Code, Design

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10 Jul 2011 10 am eastern

Essential iPhone Photo Apps

“EVER SINCE the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone has become my primary camera. Aside from its terrific image quality, it’s the abundance of photo apps that make it shine. I get asked a lot about what apps I use, which are good, etc. Here’s my list.”—Jim Barraud

Essential iPhone Photography Apps

Filed under: Apple, Applications, art direction, Community, iphone

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27 Jun 2011 4 pm eastern

My Favorite Mac Software (on Bagcheck)

30 Mar 2011 1 pm eastern

A Day Apart: Live Notes on Mobile Web Design with Luke Wroblewski

Luke Wroblewski, A Day Apart, Mobile Design

A FEW QUICK NOTES from the first hour of A Day Apart: Mobile Web Design, an all-day learning session led by Luke Wroblewski (aka Day III of An Event Apart Seattle), Bell Harbor Conference Center, Seattle, WA:

Audience questions for Luke

  1. How to take a website for desktop to mobile?
  2. Do we need to care about non-Webkit?
  3. Trade-offs between native and web
  4. How to navigate differences between different versions of Webkit?
  5. Mobile e-commerce: best practices
  6. Challenges with different cultures/languages
  7. Media queries
  8. If no budget, what can focus on web to make mobile ok?
  9. How to take a website for desktop to mobile?
  10. Mobile e-commerce best practices
  11. Multiple screen sizes and pixel densities
  12. Time for one project: go mobile or tablet (in e-commerce)
  13. CMSes and mobile—sigh
  14. Best practices for page load

WHY MOBILE? Convincing clients/bosses to care

  • Of the 50% of total mobile commerce in the US, 70% of it is coming from one iPhone application (eBay).
  • eBay: global mobile sales $2 billion in 2010, $600 million in 2009. Real commercial opportunities emerging on mobile.
  • Best Buy: mobile web users doubling every year: 30M (2010), 17M (2009), 6M (2008).
  • PayPal: mobile transactions increased six-fold in 2009: $25M to $141M.

SOCIAL

  • Double-digit (28%) rise in social networking on mobile web.
  • Twitter: 40% of tweets sent via mobile, 16% of new users start on mobile.
  • Facebook: 200 million active mobile users.
  • Instagram: iPhone only app took three months to hit one million users. Six weeks later they hit two million users.
  • Mixi (Japan): 85% of page views on mobile vs. 14% 4.5 years ago.

PRODUCTIVITY AND MEDIA

  • Google: mobile searches grew 130% in Q3 2010
  • Pandora: 50% of total user base subscribes to the service on mobile
  • Email: 70% of smartphone users have accessed email on mobile device

“I don’t want to be the record executive clinging to CD sales.”

ADDITIONAL USAGE

Yelp: every other second a consumer calls a local business and generates driving directions from a Yelp mobile app.]]27% of all Yelp searches come from their iPhone application, which had 1.4 million unique users in May 2010.

Zillow.com: Viewing active listings 45% more often from mobile devices (audience is primarily active buyers, on location or scoping out neighborhoods)

Facebook: People who use Facebook on their mobile devices (200M active) are twice as active on Facebook as non-mobile users.

Shift in Usage

Let’s look at Gmail:

  • Visitors to web-based emails sites declined 7%.
  • Visitors accessing email on mobile devices increased 36%.

But what about mobile web usage?

Twitter Usage

40% of tweets sent via mobile.

16% of new users start on mobile.

Mobile web usage

  • Mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access devices worldwide by 2013.
  • 600% growth in traffic to mobile websites in 2010.
  • Facebook and Twitter access via mobile browser grows by triple digits in 2010.
  • Average smartphone user visits up to 24 websites per day.
  • Top 50 websites constitute only 40% of mobile visits.
  • Opera Mini traffic up 200% year/year.

For more…

Follow the live tweets at afeedapart.com.

Filed under: An Event Apart, Applications, Best practices, business, Design, mobile, Standards, State of the Web, Surviving

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16 Feb 2011 4 pm eastern

Episode 39: Crowd Fusion’s Brian Alvey live on The Big Web Show

Brian Alvey

BRIAN ALVEY (home, Twitter) is our guest on The Big Web Show Episode 39, recording live Thursday, February 16, at 12:00 PM Eastern at 5by5.tv/live.

Brian is CEO of Crowd Fusion, a publishing platform that combines popular applications like blogging, wikis, tagging and workflow management, and a leader in the content management world. He co-founded Weblogs, Inc.—home to Engadget, Autoblog, TUAW and more—and built the Blogsmith platform, both of which were acquired by Aol and are essential to their current strategy. Brian has been putting big brands on the web since 1995 when he designed the first TV Guide website and helped BusinessWeek leap from Aol to the web.

Brian built database-driven web applications and content management systems for many large companies in the 1990′s including Intel, J.D. Edwards, Deloitte & Touche and The McGraw-Hill Companies. His 1999 Tech-Engine site was a “skinnable HotJobs” which powered over 200 online career centers including XML.com, Perl.com, O’Reilly & Associates Network, DevShed, and Computer User magazine.

He has been the art director of three print magazines (I met him in 1995 when he was art director for “Net Surfer” or something like that) and was the Chief Technology Officer of Rising Tide Studios where he developed The Venture Reporter Network, which is now a Dow Jones property.

In 2003, Brian invented and launched Blogstakes, a sweepstakes application for the blogging community. He is a former Happy Cog partner of mine; at Happy Cog, Brian built content management systems for customers including Capgemini, A List Apart, and the Kansas City Chiefs. He was also the creator and host of the Meet The Makers conference, a series of talk show-style events that were so compelling, they helped inspired me to create An Event Apart with Eric Meyer.

And I’ll stop there. Ladies and gentlemen, a legend and true creative force in this medium. Please join us at tomorrow on 5by5.tv/live for a lively and wide-ranging discussion.

The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) records live every Thursday at 12:00 PM Eastern. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!

The Big Web Show #39: Brian Alvey.

Filed under: Applications, apps, architecture, art direction, Authoring, Best practices, Brands, business, Community, content, Damned Fine Journalism, Design, Designers, development, Happy Cog™, Journalism at its Finest, Microblogging, Platforms, State of the Web, The Big Web Show

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