Ten Years Ago on the Web

2006 DOESN’T seem forever ago until I remember that we were tracking IE7 bugsworrying about the RSS feed validator, and viewing Drupal as an accessibility-and-web-standards-positive platform, at the time. Pundits were claiming bad design was good for the web (just as some still do). Joe Clark was critiquing WCAG 2. “An Inconvenient Truth” was playing in theaters, and many folks were surprised to learn that climate change was a thing.

I was writing the second edition of Designing With Web Standards. My daughter, who is about to turn twelve, was about to turn two. My dad suffered a heart attack. (Relax! Ten years later, he is still around and healthy.) A List Apart had just added a job board. “The revolution will be salaried,” we trumpeted.

Preparing for An Event Apart Atlanta, An Event Apart NYC, and An Event Apart Chicago (sponsored by Jewelboxing! RIP) consumed much of my time and energy. Attendees told us these were good shows, and they were, but you would not recognize them as AEA events today—they were much more homespun. “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” we used to joke. “My mom will sew the costumes and my dad will build the sets.” (It’s a quotation from a 1940s Andy Hardy movie, not a reflection of our personal views about gender roles.)

Jim Coudal, Jason Fried and I had just launched The Deck, an experiment in unobtrusive, discreet web advertising. Over the next ten years, the ad industry pointedly ignored our experiment, in favor of user tracking, popups, and other anti-patterns. Not entirely coincidentally, my studio had just redesigned the website of Advertising Age, the leading journal of the advertising profession.

Other sites we designed that year included Dictionary.com and Gnu Foods. We also worked on Ma.gnolia, a social bookmarking tool with well-thought-out features like Saved Copies (so you never lost a web page, even if it moved or went offline), Bookmark Ratings, Bookmark Privacy, and Groups. We designed the product for our client and developed many of its features. Rest in peace.

I was reading Adam Greenfield’s Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, a delightfully written text that anticipated and suggested design rules and thinking for our present Internet of Things. It’s a fine book, and one I helped Adam bring to a good publisher. (Clearly, I was itching to break into publishing myself, which I would do with two partners a year or two afterwards.)

In short, it was a year like any other on this wonderful web of ours—full of sound and fury, true, but also rife with innovation and delight.


As part of An Event Apart’s A Decade Apart celebration—commemorating our first ten years as a design and development conference—we asked people we know and love what they were doing professionally ten years ago, in 2006. If you missed parts onetwothree, or four, have a look back.

 

 

Help Carolyn Wood

Carolyn Wood needs your help.ONE OF THE NICEST web professionals I’ve ever worked with desperately needs and deserves our community’s help, compassion, and kindness.

Many of you, whether you knew it or not, have benefited from Carolyn Wood’s work on A List Apart, Digital Web, The Manual, and Codex: the journal of typography. For two decades, she has been a tireless, egoless motive force of great projects—always eager to help, never seeking the spotlight.

Now she needs our help. Like nobody ever needed help before. Catastrophic medical problems, together with lack of support from the insurance system, have left Carolyn in a life-or-death crisis. Only by our whole community pulling together can we hope to raise the huge sums Carolyn will need to survive.

Please help by donating what you can, and by sharing Carolyn’s support page with anyone in your network who is compassionate and will listen.

Life is often unfair. But a network of caring, compassionate web folk can send a ray of light into Carolyn’s undeserved lonely darkness. I know we can do it!

Please donate, and please share Carolyn’s page with your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and the actual human beings you know: www.youcaring.com/carolyn-wood-585895.

Love. Listen. Learn.

NOTE: Below is a transcript of my aural contribution to Episode № 185 of The ShopTalk Show (“This Idea Must Die”):

AS A COMMUNITY, we have to stop demonizing those with whom we disagree.

Attacking the intelligence, moral fiber, and grip on sanity of those who hold opinions contrary to ours is nothing new on the internet. It’s as old as newsgroups. A minute after somebody started alt.opinions.design, a second person signed up just to tell the first person to screw off.

And of course it’s even older than that. Progressive groups that try to bring positive change to their community are always splitting into factions that despise each other. If you’ve seen Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian,” and remember the sequence where the zealots are sitting in an ancient square, attacking other zealot groups for being “splitters,” you have a good idea of how far back this goes.

To J. Edgar Hoover, there was no difference between Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky—but, boy, did the Stalinists and Trotskyites disagree with that point of view. Ask two Communists a question and you’ll get three answers and four bullets. And, minus the bullets, the same is true for social-progress-minded web designers and developers. And equally true for reactionaries, who think the system is fair for everyone, since it’s always been good to them.

Until we are free to disagree on the most sensitive of subjects without maligning each other’s integrity, we will not be able to solve the biggest problems we face as a people and an industry.

I’m Jeffrey Zeldman. Thanks for listening.


I encourage you to listen to Episode № 185 of The ShopTalk Show (“This Idea Must Die”).

Why humans run the world

History professor Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, explains why humans have dominated Earth. The reason’s not what you might expect:

The real difference between us and other animals is on the collective level. Humans control the world because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. Ants and bees can also work together in large numbers, but they do so in a very rigid way. If a beehive is facing a new threat or a new opportunity, the bees cannot reinvent their social system overnight in order to cope better. They cannot, for example, execute the queen and establish a republic. Wolves and chimpanzees cooperate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of intimately known individuals. Among wolves and chimps, cooperation is based on personal acquaintance. If I am a chimp and I want to cooperate with you, I must know you personally: What kind of chimp are you? Are you a nice chimp? Are you an evil chimp? How can I cooperate with you if I don’t know you?

Only Homo sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers. One-on-one or ten-on-ten, chimpanzees may be better than us. But pit 1,000 Sapiens against 1,000 chimps, and the Sapiens will win easily, for the simple reason that 1,000 chimps can never cooperate effectively. Put 100,000 chimps in Wall Street or Yankee Stadium, and you’ll get chaos. Put 100,000 humans there, and you’ll get trade networks and sports contests.

Source: Why humans run the world

The joy of content creation (and the hazards of building in someone else’s sandbox)

AN INSPIRING STORY of content creation, which is also, although this particular tale ends happily, a warning about the hazards of building in someone else’s sandbox.

Stampylongnose makes wonderful videos about Minecraft (among other things) and is the first independent content creator in my young daughter’s world. She follows him like you followed your first favorite blogger.

In “1 Million Subscribers Special – From Then To Now,” he shares how he became an independent video producer on the web—how he lost everything when Google arbitrarily pulled the plug—and how the community that loved him, and one great Google admin, fought to restore his work.


“The independent content producer refuses to die.”

140 Characters is a Joke

THERE IS ALWAYS more to the story than what we are told. I am not omniscient. It is better to light a single candle than to join a lynch mob. Other people’s behavior is not my business. Truth is hard, epigrams are easy. Anything worth saying takes more than 140 characters. Blogging’s not dead. F____ the 140 character morality police.

Unsung Heroes of Web and Interaction Design: Derek Powazek

WE TAKE the two-way web for granted today, but it wasn’t always this way, and the democratizing power of HTML wasn’t manifested overnight. Derek Powazek is one of the pioneering designers who helped bring the two-way web into being.

Informed web designers admire Derek’s now-defunct 1996 personal storytelling site {fray} as one of the first (the first?) examples of art direction on the web, and it certainly was that. Each {fray} story or set of stories was different; each had its own design and layout. Often the site made then-cutting-edge technologies part of the story—as in one tale about the theater, which was told via draggable framesets. (At the conclusion of each page, the user dragged on “theater curtains” made of Netscape frames to reveal the next page, or stage, of the story.) {fray} and Derek are justly famous for promoting true storytelling art direction on the web, in an era when most websites followed strict rules about inverted-L layouts and other now-happily-forgotten nonsense.

But while many fondly remember the site for its art directional achievements, what goes unnoticed is that {fray}, in 1996, was a massive leap forward into the two-way web we take for granted today. The democratizing web that makes everyone an author and publisher, whether on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or WordPress, thereby fulfilling Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision for HTML; this web we alternately joke about and fiercely defend; this web in which we spend half our lives (whether on desktop or mobile); this global town hall in which we share the most mundane details of our lives, as well as those things about which we are most passionate—this two-way web would not exist today if not for pioneering interaction designs that showed the way. And Derek Powazek’s {fray} was among the first and most important of those pioneering designs.

Now, web design had been “interactive” since Sir Tim invented HTML. Clicking blue underlined links to explore content is by definition interactive. And the first commercial websites, contrary to what the previous decade’s “Web 2.0” evangelists would have had you believe, were not one-way communications. The Batman Forever site my first web partners and I worked on in 1995 pushed design and content out to the masses, to be sure—but the site also had discussion forums, where individuals could contribute their viewpoints. Sites before ours had sported such discussion forums; sites after ours would, too.

What Derek did with {fray}, though, took the two-way web to a whole new level. Instead of siloing content by producer (“official” web content here, “user” discussion forums there), Derek integrated the reader’s response directly into the content experience.

I don’t know if {fray} was the first site to do this, but it was the first site I saw doing it—the first site I know of that not only made the entire reading community an equal content authoring partner with the site’s own writers, designers, and developers, but also underscored the point by putting the site’s content and the readers’ content in the same place visually (and therefore conceptually). Fray.com wasn’t just about showing off Derek and his talented partners’ brilliance. It was about encouraging you to be brilliant.

Today we take embedded article/blog post comments for granted, but they wouldn’t exist without a memorable precursor like fray.com. Your blog’s comments may not owe their existence to a flash of insight you personally experienced while reading {fray}, but you can bet that the convention was grandfathered by a designer who was influenced by a designer who was influenced by it.

In the nearly two decades since {fray} debuted, Derek has worked on many things, most of them community driven. Cute-Fight is his latest. Here’s to our democratic, personal web, and to one of the champions who helped make it that way.

New on Foursquare: great architectural experiences

Great Architectural Experiences is a list I’ve begun on Foursquare. Currently there are 29 33 35 entries.

The list is not limited to buildings. After all, some of New York’s greatest architectural experiences include crossing Brooklyn Bridge on foot; walking for miles along 5th Avenue north of 59th Street; and observing the shifting dynamics of nature versus culture when exploring the city-ringed, human-designed masterpiece that is Central Park. Friends visiting New York often ask what they should see. Here is a partial answer. More to come.

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.