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.
HEY, YOU WITH THE STARS in your eyes. Yes, you, the all too necessary SXSW Interactive attendee. Got questions about the present and future of web design and publishing for me or the illustrious panelists on Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel at SXSW Interactive 2011? You do? Bravo! Post them on Twitter using hashtag #jzsxsw and we’ll answer the good ones at 5:00 PM in Big Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center.
Topics include platform wars (native, web, and hybrid, or welcome back to 1999), web fonts, mobile is the new widescreen, how to succeed in the new publishing, responsive design, HTML5, Flash, East Coast West Coast beefs, whatever happened to…?, and many, many more.
Comments are off here so you’ll post your questions on Twitter.
The panel will be live sketched and live recorded for later partial or full broadcast via sxsw.com. In-person attendees, arrive early for best seats. Don’t eat the brown acid.
“INCREASINGLY, the motivations of writers and the motivations of the businesses they work for are at odds with each other. Journalists, enabled by the web, are increasingly defining success according to exposure, and news organizations are increasingly defining success according to the limitation of exposure.” — Frank Rich and the price of paywalls for writers
Future generations of digital product people would benefit from this approach to digital archiving; to understand the decisions we made, the tradeoffs we had to live with, and the context in which we operated. It’s why reading Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine is still useful to us today, while spending time with the Data General Eclipse MV/8000 (if you could even get your hands on one) isn’t. In 20 years, even if you could get a page of the Huffington Post to render faithfully, it wouldn’t do much for you. But if you had archival footage of the HuffPo user experience, combined with insight into the decision making process of the design team, combined with background information on the economics of content and online advertising in 2011, along with an understanding of how Twitter and Facebook worked — that would be much more useful, and would give you a richer understanding of both the product and its context.
I’VE TRAINED my cats to think they’re in charge, and to think they exact a tribute of two breakfasts from me each morning.
Initially I feed them each half a small can of salmon. The white cat finishes first, and scratches at the cabinets for more. As if in response, I feed them each a half can of whitefish, exactly as I always intended to. They finish with gusto, convinced that they’ve won.
I am so in client services.
And if you want to know how to succeed in client services, I’ve just told you.
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!
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:
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.)
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.
HOSTING IS HARD. So why exactly are we offering hosting? Why get into a business that requires tremendous patience, extraordinary responsiveness, and technological wizardry? Mr Hoy tells all in the cleverly titled announcement, Happy Cog Hosting.
The teacher who chastised you for “mindless doodling” was wrong on both counts. Far from shutting down the mind, the act of doodling engages the brain in the kind of visual sense-making people have practiced for over 30,000 years. Doodling sharpens concentration, increases retention, and enhances access to the problem solving unconscious. It activates the portions of the visual cortex that allow us to see mental imagery and manipulate concepts, and unifies three major learning modalities—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Doodle Revolution leader Sunni Brown introduces strategic doodling and presents the ABCs of our shared visual alphabet.
You don’t have to be a great singer to write a great song—just ask Bob Dylan. Likewise, you needn’t be a Leonardo to draw your way to more and better ideas. Sketching helps you generate concepts quickly, exploring alternatives rapidly and at no cost of resources. The looseness of a sketch removes inhibitions, granting clients and colleagues permission to consider and challenge the ideas it represents. Mike Rohde outlines the practice, surveys the tools, and shares ways to become confident with this method of brainstorming, regardless of your level of artistic ability.
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.
CRAIG MOD is our guest today January 13, 2011 in Episode No. 34 of The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”), co-hosted by Dan Benjamin and recorded at 12:00 PM Eastern (new time!) before a live internet audience.
Mod (craigmod.com, @craigmod) is a writer, designer, publisher, and developer concerned with the future of publishing and storytelling. Based in Tokyo for a decade, he is co-author and designer of Art Space Tokyo, an intimate guide to the Tokyo art world. Since October 2010 Craig has been working in the California Bay Area helping sculpt the future of digital publishing with Flipboard.
Craig speaks frequently on the future of books, publishing, and digital content design. In this week’s A List Apart he presents the initial release of Bibliotype, an HTML baseline typography library for tablet reading released under the MIT License.
Captured from Twitter, here is Tom Henrich’s partial reconstruction of my conversation with Tantek Çelik, Glenda Bautista, Andy Rutledge and others on the merits of self-hosting social content and publishing to various sites rather than aggregating locally from external sources.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
A few things I wrote elsewhere might repay your interest as well:
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?
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.
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!