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Readability 2.0 is disruptive two ways

RELEASED LAST WEEK, Arc90’s Readability 2.0 is a web application/browser extension that removes clutter from any web page, replacing the typical multi-column layout with a simple, elegant, book-style page view—a page view that can be user customized, and that “knows” when it is being viewed on a mobile device and reconfigures itself to create an platform-appropriate reading experience.

In so doing, Readability focuses the user’s attention on the content, creating an enhanced—and often much more accessible—reading experience. It also subverts the typical web browsing design paradigm, where each website offers a different visual experience. Instead, to the Readability user, all web content looks the same, once she has clicked a button to engage the Readability view.

If Readability did only this, it would represent a significant directional departure for the web and for site owners, in that, for the first time in the history of designed websites, branded look and feel is subordinated to a user-focused content experience that transcends the individual site.

Of course, this was always supposed to be possible in HTML, and it always was possible for users of some assistive devices and for CSS experts who felt like creating intricate personal style sheets, but those are edge cases, and Readability is for everyone.

Readability 1.0 was released as open source. Apple used its code for the “Reader” view in Safari. The creators of Flipboard used its code too. And the creators of the open-source Treesaver swapped code and rights with the makers of Readability to enhance both products. I’ve never seen a humble open-source project, created by a not-terribly-well-known shop get so quickly accepted and absorbed by companies like Apple and by the creators of cutting-edge web and hybrid apps.

That was Readability 1.0. What Readability 2.0 adds to the mix is automatic payment for content creators. How it works is simple: I pay a small fee each month to use Readability. Most of that money gets divided between the creators of the web pages I’ve viewed in Readability. This makes Readability 2.0 disruptive two ways:

  1. As mentioned earlier, for the first time, branded look and feel is secondary to the user’s desire to engage with written content in a visually comfortable environment. (That Readability 1.0 premiered around the same time as the iPad is not coincidental.)
  2. For the first time, content monetization is no longer the problem of content creators. Writers can stop being salespeople, and focus on what they do best: creating compelling content. The better the content, the more people who engage with it via Readability, the more money writers will make—with no bookkeeping, no ad sales, and no hassle. This is a huge subversion of the ad paradigm.

Many of us who watched Arc90 develop Readability worried that short-sighted publishers and site owners would misunderstand and reject the app, maybe even sic’ing their lawyers on it. But in the hectic two weeks just ending, publishers have had time to absorb what Readability 2.0 does and what it could mean to them—and according to Readability creator and Arc90 founder Rich Ziade, the reaction is positive.

Have publishers suddenly grasped the web? Perhaps not. But it’s a rare publisher who’d say no to extra money, risk-free. We are in a wait-and-see, try-it-and-see phase of publishing and the web—past the initial Web 2.0 euphoria and into the hard business of creating great stuff (and finding new ways to keep old great stuff, like great writing and reporting, alive). No one is quite sure what will work. And publishers risk nothing by participating in the Readability program. If the program succeeds, they make additional revenue for their content. If it fails, it’s no skin off their budget.

I’ve interviewed Rich Ziade on The Big Web Show and I’m an advisor on the project but it was only last night, when Rich was addressing my MFA Interaction Design class at School of Visual Arts, that I realized for the first time how profoundly disruptive—and powerful—Readability 2.0 really is. (Video of that class session is available.)

If you love reading and the web, I urge you to give Readability 2.0 a try.

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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.

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2010: The Year in Web Standards

WHAT A YEAR 2010 has been. It was the year HTML5 and CSS3 broke wide; the year the iPad, iPhone, and Android led designers down the contradictory paths of proprietary application design and standards-based mobile web application design—in both cases focused on user needs, simplicity, and new ways of interacting thanks to small screens and touch-sensitive surfaces.

It was the third year in a row that everyone was talking about content strategy and designers refused to “just comp something up” without first conducting research and developing a user experience strategy.

CSS3 media queries plus fluid grids and flexible images gave birth to responsive web design (thanks, Beep!). Internet Explorer 9 (that’s right, the browser by Microsoft we’ve spent years grousing about) kicked ass on web standards, inspiring a 10K Apart contest that celebrated what designers and developers could achieve with just 10K of standards-compliant HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. IE9 also kicked ass on type rendering, stimulating debates as to which platform offers the best reading experience for the first time since Macintosh System 7.

Even outside the newest, best browsers, things were better than ever. Modernizr and eCSStender brought advanced selectors and @font-face to archaic browsers (not to mention HTML5 and SVG, in the case of Modernizr). Tim Murtaugh and Mike Pick’s HTML5 Reset and Paul Irish’s HTML5 Boilerplate gave us clean starting points for HTML5- and CSS3-powered sites.

Web fonts were everywhere—from the W3C to small personal and large commercial websites—thanks to pioneering syntax constructions by Paul Irish and Richard Fink, fine open-source products like the Font Squirrel @Font-Face Generator, open-source liberal font licensing like FontSpring’s, and terrific service platforms led by Typekit and including Fontdeck, Webtype, Typotheque, and Kernest.

Print continued its move to networked screens. iPhone found a worthy adversary in Android. Webkit was ubiquitous.

Insights into the new spirit of web design, from a wide variety of extremely smart people, can be seen and heard on The Big Web Show, which Dan Benjamin and I started this year (and which won Video Podcast of the Year in the 2010 .net Awards), on Dan’s other shows on the 5by5 network, on the Workers of the Web podcast by Alan Houser and Eric Anderson, and of course in A List Apart for people who make websites.

Zeldman.com: The Year in Review

A few things I wrote here at zeldman.com this year (some related to web standards and design, some not) may be worth reviewing:

iPad as the New Flash 17 October 2010
Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.
Flash, iPad, and Standards 1 February 2010
Lack of Flash in the iPad (and before that, in the iPhone) is a win for accessible, standards-based design. Not because Flash is bad, but because the increasing popularity of devices that don’t support Flash is going to force recalcitrant web developers to build the semantic HTML layer first.
An InDesign for HTML and CSS? 5 July 2010
while our current tools can certainly stand improvement, no company will ever create “the modern day equivalent of Illustrator and PageMaker for CSS, HTML5 and JavaScript.” The assumption that a such thing is possible suggests a lack of understanding.
Stop Chasing Followers 21 April 2010
The web is not a game of “eyeballs.” Never has been, never will be. Influence matters, numbers don’t.
Crowdsourcing Dickens 23 March 2010
Like it says.
My Love/Hate Affair with Typekit 22 March 2010
Like it says.
You Cannot Copyright A Tweet 25 February 2010
Like it says.
Free Advice: Show Up Early 5 February 2010
Love means never having to say you’re sorry, but client services means apologizing every five minutes. Give yourself one less thing to be sorry for. Take some free advice. Show up often, and show up early.

Outside Reading

A few things I wrote elsewhere might repay your interest as well:

The Future of Web Standards 26 September, for .net Magazine
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 new web?
Style vs. Design written in 1999 and slightly revised in 2005, for Adobe
When Style is a fetish, sites confuse visitors, hurting users and the companies that paid for the sites. When designers don’t start by asking who will use the site, and what they will use it for, we get meaningless eye candy that gives beauty a bad name.

Happy New Year, all!

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Episode 32: Mandy Brown on publishing, Typekit, and more

MANDY BROWN (@aworkinglibrary) is our guest today, Thursday December 23, 2010 in Episode No. 32 of The Big Web Show, co-hosted by Dan Benjamin and recorded at 1:00 PM Eastern before a live internet audience.

Mandy is co-founder and editor for A Book Apart and a contributing editor for A List Apart for people who make websites. A veteran of the publishing industry, she spent a decade at W. W. Norton & Company, an independent and employee-owned publisher, where her work involved everything from book design to web design to writing about design. She serves as Community and Support Manager for Typekit and writes frequently on the Typekit blog.

Named “Video Podcast of the Year” in the 2010 .net Awards, The Big Web Show covers “Everything Web That Matters” and records live every Thursday at 1:00 PM Eastern on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!


P.S. This is the last Big Web Show session of the year. We’ll be off next week. (Something about Christmas and New Year’s.) Thank you for watching and listening. We love you bunches!

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Awesome web apps in 10k or less

The 10K Apart Challenge had a simple premise: Could you build a complete web application using less than 10 kilobytes? … A joint effort between An Event Apart and MIX Online, the 10K Apart reaped 367 web applications in 28 days—everything from casual games to RIAs—that demonstrate, even with their tiny footprints, what is truly possible with modern [web] standards.

Read about the winning entries: 10K Apart – IEBlog.

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iPad as the new Flash


Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

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.

While some of this will lead to useful innovation, particularly in the area of gestural interfaces, that same innovation can just as readily be accomplished on websites built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—and the advantage of creating websites instead of iPad apps is that websites work for everyone, on browsers and devices at all price points. That, after all, is the point of the web. It’s the point of web standards and progressive enhancement.

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.

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The future of web standards

Jeffrey Zeldman on 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?”

The Future of Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman

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.

See also: I Guest-Edit .net magazine.

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HTML5 For Web Designers is a hit in the US iTunes store.

UPDATE: As of today, 27 September 2010, Jeremy’s book is ranked 33. It has climbed 11 points since yesterday.

Jeremy Keith’s excellent HTML5 For Web Designers, the first publication from A Book Apart, is a hit in the American iTunes store.

Comments, if you wish, may be left at Flickr.

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960 Pixel Grids Made Easy

Listen up, web designers. From Stuntbox with love comes Gridulator, a dandy free web application that calculates multi-column grids for all your pixel-based web layout needs. Creator David Sleight explains how it works:

Tell Gridulator your layout width and the number of columns you want, and it’ll spit back all the possible grids that have nice, round integers. Just the thing for pixel-based designfolk. There are inline previews, courtesy of the canvas element, and when you’re all set Gridulator can crank out full-size PNGs for you, ready for use in your CSS, Photoshop docs, or what have you. And there’s full keyboard control for you snazzy power users.

More:

Thanks, Stuntbox!

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My other iPad is a Kindle

Zeldman.com as seen on Kindle

The new Kindle has a lot going for it. It’s inexpensive compared to a full-featured tablet computer like the iPad; you can slip it in your back pocket, where it’s more comfortable than an old-style paperback; and it includes a Webkit browser. This last point is where folks like us start to give a hoot, whether we’re fans of epub reading or not.

The flavor of Kindle’s browser concerns us because it affords us the ability to optimize the mobile viewing experience with a single line of markup. You can see this in action in the photo at the head of this article (published and discussed on Flickr).

I made no tweaks for Kindle per se; the Kindle is simply responding to a line of markup I’ve been putting into my web pages since 2007—namely, the viewport meta element, which controls the width of the viewport, thus enabling mobile devices with a limited number of pixels to focus all available pixels on your site’s core content (instead of, for instance, wasting part of the small screen on a background color, image, or gradient). The technique is as simple as web design gets:

meta name="viewport" content="width=770"

(Obviously, the value of “width” should be adjusted to match your site’s layout.)

I learned this little trick from Craig Hockenberry’s Put Your Content in My Pocket (A List Apart, August 28, 2007), which I naturally recommend to any designer who hasn’t seen it.

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HTML5 and CSS3 virtual classes

IF YOU’RE BONING UP on HTML5 and CSS3, you’ll want to consider two remarkable learning experiences taking place live on the web this summer:

Learn HTML5 with John Allsopp

Here is a great educational opportunity that’s also an amazing value. Experience eight structured sessions, two live Q&A sessions, private discussion forum, practical exercises and more, from one of the world’s best and most experienced teachers of standards-based design. All for just US $9.95. That is not a typo. Live classes start 26 July 2010.

Learn CSS3 with John Allsopp

And the hits keep on coming. This virtual classroom led by Allsopp includes twelve structured sessions, three live Q&As, and more, for just $14.95. It’s the perfect complement to any other reading or training you may be doing, at a price that’s impossible to beat. Classes start 16 August.

A Book Apart Discount

As if this deal wasn’t great enough, participating in either course earns you a coupon code good for a 20% discount off Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 For Web Designers, the A Book Apart inaugural pub that’s taking the web design world by storm. The discount is good through September 1st. No, you can’t apply it retroactively to a book you’ve already purchased. (So if you’ve already bought the book, buy a second copy—one for home, one for office. Or get it for a friend. Or don’t buy it. What matters is your health. Are you eating enough? You look thin.)

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HTML5 For Web Designers Sells Out

HTML5 For Web Designers, by Jeremy Keith

The first printing of Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 For Web Designers has sold out.

For a book about web forms, semantics, and the history of markup, it’s done pretty well:

  • The book sold 1,000 copies during the first hour of pre-sales.
  • It sold 5,000 copies during the first 24 hours of pre-sales.
  • The first printing sold out within two months.

Haven’t ordered yours yet, and now they’re sold out? Not to worry: a second printing is in the works; orders will ship the week of July 26.

So where’s my book, already?

We ship worldwide. Orders generally ship within 3 days and take 7–10 days to arrive. Some orders take longer, typically because of hold-ups at your local post office, over which we have no control. (Intriguingly, foreign orders shipped quickly, in many cases arriving much sooner than US orders.) We have expedited all remaining shipments to get you your book faster.

We ship via US Postal Service, so no tracking numbers are available.

If you ordered before June 30 and still have not received your order, please be patient a few more days, and thank you for bearing with our learning curve. We know a lot about web design, but we’re still getting the hang of interpreting what mail houses and the US Postal Service mean by “guaranteed fast shipping.”

If you need to speak to someone about your order, write to us.

I want an ebook, not a dead tree! What gives?

Stay tuned; we’re working on ebook versions. Follow @abookapart to learn when they’re released.

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SlideShowPro adds HTML5

Todd Dominey at Happy Cog.

Most of us web folk are hybrids of one sort or another, but Todd Dominey was one of the first web designers to combine exceptional graphic design talent with serious mastery of code.

Being so good at both design and development that you could easily earn a fine living doing just one of them is still rare, although it looks like the future of our profession. One of the first serious designers to embrace web standards, Todd was also one of the few who did so while continuing to achieve recognition for his work in Flash. (Daniel Mall, who came later, is another.)

Finally, Todd was one of the first—along with 37signals and Coudal Partners—to abandon an enviably successful client services career in favor of full-time product development, inspiring a generation to do likewise, and helping bring us to our current world of web apps and startups.

A personal project that became an empire

In Todd’s case, the product was SlideShowPro, a project he designed for himself, which has grown to become the web’s most popular photo and video slideshow and gallery viewer. When you visit a photographer’s portfolio website, there’s an excellent chance that SlideShowPro powers its dynamic photo viewing experience. The same is true for the photo and video gallery features of many major newspaper and magazine sites, quite possibly including your favorites.

SlideShowPro

But deliberate lack of Flash support in the iPad and iPhone, while lauded here on February 1, 2010 as a win for accessible, standards-based design (“Not because Flash is bad, but because the increasing popularity of devices that don’t support Flash is going to force recalcitrant web developers to build the semantic HTML layer first”), presented a serious problem for developers who use SlideShowPro and readers who enjoy browsing dynamic photo and video galleries.

Mr Dominey has now solved that problem:

SlideShowPro Mobile is an entirely new media player built using HTML5 that doesn’t require the Flash Player plugin and can serve as a fallback for users accessing your web sites using these devices. But it’s not just any fallback — it’s specially designed for touch interfaces and smaller screen sizes. So it looks nothing like the SlideShowPro player and more like a native application that’s intuitive, easy to use, and just feels right.

The best part though is that because SlideShowPro Director (which will be required) publishes the mobile content, you’ll be able to provide the mobile alternative by simply updating the Flash Player embed code in your HTML documents. And just like when using the SlideShowPro player, because Director is behind the scenes, all your photos will be published for the target dimensions of these devices — which gives your users top quality, first generation images. The mobile player will automatically load whatever content is assigned to the Flash version, so the same content will be accessible to any browser accessing your web site.

A public beta will be released in the next weeks. Meanwhile, there is a video demo. There’s also an excellent Question and Answer page that answers questions you may have, whether you’re a SlideShow Pro customer or not. For instance:

Why mobile? Why not desktop?

We believe that (on the desktop) Flash is still the best delivery method for photo/video galleries and slideshows for it provides the most consistent user experience across all browsers and the broadest range of playback and customization options. As HTML5 support matures across all desktop browsers, we’ll continue to look into alternate presentation options.

Into the future!

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37signals’ Jason Fried live today on The Big Web Show

I have known 37signals CEO Jason Fried since he was a young copywriter who reminded me of me, only smarter and more confident. Like many of you, with a mixture of awe and pleasure, I have watched him change our industry, along with book publishing and business generally. Dan Benjamin and I are delighted to announce the mercurial Mr Fried as our guest on The Big Web Show. Join us today, 1 July 2010, for the live taping at 1:00 PM ET.

Jason’s official bio is brief, but he can write at length when he wishes: see Rework, Getting Real, and Defensive Web Design, each a classic, and to each of which he was principal co-writer and guiding force. Besides saying no to meetings, contracts, and VC money, Jason and 37signals are famous for godfathering a speedy, iterative form of web application design; for gifting the industry with Ruby on Rails; for creating a suite of beloved (yes, really) business productivity web apps; for mastering and then abandoning client services in favor of making stuff; for somehow, in the midst of all that busyness, churning out tons of fine content on their popular blog; and for being roommates with the equally fantastic Coudal Partners.

Can’t wait to interview Jason Fried in front of a live internet audience today. Hope you’ll join us.

The Big Web Show is taped live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards (often within hours of taping) via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.

Photo © John Morrison – Subism.com

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Responsive Web Design

Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte

Hot dang! Use fluid grids, flexible images, and CSS media queries to create elegant user experiences that fit any browser or device’s viewport. By Ethan Marcotte, co-author of Designing With Web Standards 3rd Edition.

A List Apart: Responsive Web Design