Whitney Hess, Ethan Marcotte, and Jason Fried on The Big Web Show

Update! Episode 8, featuring Whitney Hess, is now available for your listening and viewing pleasure at 5by5.tv.

Whitney Hess

This Thursday 17 June at 1:00 PM EDT, join Dan Benjamin and me live on The Big Web Show as we interview Whitney Hess (bio | blog | Twitter) on on the ins and outs of user experience design—from research to wireframes to testing and beyond. Just what goes into making stuff online easier and more pleasurable to use? What kinds of projects (and clients) enable great user experiences, and which have bad UI written all over them? If a tree falls in the forest, will Whitney tweet about it? Join us for these topics and more.

24 June: Ethan Marcotte

Then on Thursday 24 June at 1:00 PM EDT, join us live as we interview Ethan Marcotte (bio | blog | Twitter), co-author of Designing With Web Standards 3rd Edition with me and Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design with Dan Cederholm. We’ll talk about designing and coding for the likes of the Sundance Film Festival and New York Magazine, and the joys of responsive web design, working remotely, and swearing profusely on Twitter.

1 July: Jason Fried

And then on Thursday, 1 July, join us as we coax 37signals CEO Jason Fried (tiny bio | book | book | book | blog | Twitter) into telling us how he really feels about bells and whistles, contracts, meetings, buzzwords, software that requires training, and startups that need investors. The controversial Mr Fried is a true rebel and innovator and one of our favorite people on the internet. Tune in and find out why.

Turn on, Tune in

The Big Web Show is taped live in front of an internet audience Thursdays at live.5by5.tv and can be watched afterwards via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.


A Feed Apart 2.0

A Feed Apart

As promised, a super-hot update to A Feed Apart, the official feed aggregator for An Event Apart, is up and running for your web design conference pleasure. You can now tweet from inside the application, and can even arrange meet-ups and make other social connections there.

Must-read: Designer Ali M. Ali talks about the interface design.

Steve Losh did back-end programming.

Nick Sergeant and Pete Karl created the original A Feed Apart and led the redesign effort.

If you can’t attend the sold-out show, which begins Monday, May 24, you can follow the live Tweetage from the comfort of your cubicle.

Enjoy An Event Apart Boston 2010 on A Feed Apart.

Boston Bound

Plane travel versus train travel, that sort of thing.

Morning finds me bound by train for Boston, capital of Massachusetts, land of Puritans, patriots, and host of the original Tea Party. Center of high technology and higher education. Where the John Hancock Tower signs its name in the clouds, and the sky-scraping Prudential Tower adds a whole new meaning to the term, “high finance.” Beantown. Cradle of liberty, Athens of America, the walking city, and five-time host to An Event Apart, which may be America’s leading web design conference. (You see what I did there?)

Over 500 advanced web design professionals will join co-host Eric Meyer and me in Boston’s beautiful Back Bay for two jam-packed days of learning and inspiration with Dan Cederholm, Andy Clarke, Kristina Halvorson, Jeremy Keith, Ethan Marcotte, Jared Spool, Nicole Sullivan, Jeff Veen, Aarron Walter, and Luke Wroblewski.

If you can’t attend the sold-out show, which begins Monday, May 24, you can follow the live Tweetage via the souped-up, socially-enriched, aesthetically tricked out new version of A Feed Apart, whose lights go on this Sunday, May 23. Our thanks to developers Nick Sergeant, Pete Karl II, and their expanded creative team including Steve Losh and Ali M. Ali. We and they will have more to say about the project soon. For now, you can always read our 2009 interview with Nick and Pete or sneak a peek on Dribbble.

There’s also a Flickr photo group and an interstitial playlist, so you can ogle and hum along from your favorite cubicle or armchair.

See you around The Hub or right here on the world wide internets.


More Mod on the Digital Book

Embracing the Digital Book by Craig Mod.

A Reading Heatmap: Key passages illuminated by layering all readers’ highlights for the same text.

LAST MONTH, he wowed us with Books in the Age of the iPad, a call to make digital books as beautiful as printed ones. This month, Craig Mod is back with Embracing the Digital Book, an article (or blog post if you must) that begins as a critique of iBooks and Kindle and moves on to discuss the e-reader of our dreams, complete with reasoned social features:

I’m excited about digital books for a number of reasons. Their proclivity towards multimedia is not one of them. I’m excited about digital books for their meta potential. The illumination of, in the words of Richard Nash, that commonality between two people who have read the same book.

We need to step back for a moment and stop acting purely on style. There is no style store. Retire those half-realized metaphors while they’re still young.

Instead, let’s focus on the fundamentals. Improve e-reader typography and page balance. Integrate well considered networked (social) features. Respect the rights of the reader and then — only then — will we be in a position to further explore our new canvas.

Embracing the digital book — Craig Mod


Stop chasing followers

The internet is not a numbers game. It’s about dialog, persuasion, and influence.

You don’t want a million people reading your HTML5 blog. You want members of the HTML5 working groups and key influencers from Google, Apple, and Microsoft reading your HTML5 blog. Likewise, it’s better to have twenty meaningful comments than a thousand +1s.

Ditto with Twitter follower counts. What it would gain you to acquire all the followers in the world? Bragging rights? Mysterious leverage? The ability to convince a not-very-bright business person that what you have to say matters, because n millions follow you?

Following doesn’t mean paying attention. You don’t want numbers on Twitter, not really. What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about.

This thing we make together. This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs. Especially not eyeballs that aren’t even watching. Eyeballs is so 90s. And it was never the right metric.

This thing. If numbers are your strategy to win at this thing, you’ve already lost. This thing is not a game. There is no winning. There is only mattering. If you don’t understand that, you aren’t making a difference.


An Event Apart Seattle

Above: Part of my deck for “Put Your Worst Foot Forward,” a talk on learning from mistakes at An Event Apart Seattle 2010.

Greetings, web design fans. I’m in Seattle doing the final prep for three days of kick-ass design, code, and content. Starting Monday, April 5 and running through Wednesday, April 8, An Event Apart Seattle 2010 features 13 great speakers and 13 sessions, and has been sold out for over a month. A Day Apart, a special one-day learning experience on HTML5 and CSS3, follows the regular conference and is led by Jeremy Keith and Dan Cederholm.

The all-star cast includes …

… And that’s just the first day.

There are also two parties (sponsored by our good friends at Media Temple and MSNBC) and seven more great speakers with topics of interest to all standards-based web designers.

If you can’t be with us, follow the Twitter stream live on A Feed Apart.

What the FAQ?

A List Apart

In Issue No. 303 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, we question the received wisdom about FAQs, and learn that, in the land of the colorblind, contrast is king.

Contrast is King
by LESLIE JENSEN-INMAN

Being colorblind doesn’t mean not seeing color. It means seeing it differently. If colorblindness challenges the colorblind, it also challenges designers. Some of us think designing sites that are colorblind-friendly means sticking with black and white, or close to it. But the opposite is true. Using contrast effectively not only differentiates our site’s design from others, it’s the essential ingredient that can make our content accessible to every viewer, including the colorblind. By understanding contrast, we can create websites that unabashedly revel in color.

Infrequently Asked Questions of FAQs
by R. STEPHEN GRACEY

We take FAQs for granted as part of our sites’ content, but do they really work, or are they a band-aid for poor content? FAQ-hater R. Stephen Gracey explores the history and usability of FAQs. Learn how to collect, track, and analyze real user questions, sales inquiries, and support requests—and use the insights gained thereby to improve your site’s content, not just to write a FAQ. Find out when FAQs are an appropriate part of your content strategy, and discover how to ensure that your FAQ is doing all it should to help your customers.

Illustration © by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart


Content wants to be paid for

Content wants to be free like communism works, like sex is just for fun, like a few days of snow disprove global warming. That the web’s existence makes all content free is a Brooklyn Bridge most of us have bought, but it just ain’t true, as Erin Kissane makes clear in Content is Expensive at Incisive.nu.

Go there, read it, and understand why (just like newspaper reporting and books) web content costs money and must be paid for or subsidized. Either that or it must serve some secondary benefit that brings in the bucks: for instance, a free web design blog might lead to paying web design gigs for its author, or so they say.

Then read Part Two: Paying For It, where Kissane considers each of these methods of subsidizing content “and how they relate to our work as content and editorial strategists.”

(Of course there will always be web content that is purely a labor of love. That is why we love the web. And it’s kind of sad, quite frankly, that you almost can’t write “Shit My Dad Says” or create a LOLcats page purely out of love any more; that even stuff tossed off as a laugh ends up being “monetized.” By the way, whoever came up with that word should be deathetized by beatingization. But I digress.)

Love Me Long Time

Those who say web users don’t spend time reading web pages haven’t met readers like you folks. According to Google Analytics, zeldman.com fans spent five minutes, fifty-five seconds reading the relatively short post, “My Love/Hate Affair With Typekit.” If Jakob Nielsen is right, and readers take in no more than 20% of the words on a page, y’all took a hella long time to read 190 words.

But generalized findings like Jakob’s are merely one data point in a universe of possibilities. Every site is a special snowflake, with stats and usage patterns all its own. Faced with an unfamiliar shopping site, we may indeed give it little more than a cursory scan before closing the window and returning to Google to fine-tune the search that led us there. But when we visit a familiar site to read, then read we do—as anyone with a good blog and a decent set of analytics tools can tell you.

Here are a few recent average times readers spent poring over various zeldman.com posts:

Post Title Average Time Spent
My Love/Hate Affair With Typekit 5:55
Crowdsourcing Dickens 3:36
20 Signs You Don’t Want That Web Design Project 7:52
Ed Bott’s Lament 4:22
Gowalla My Dreams 4:41
IE9 Preview 4:37

Morals of the story:

  1. Don’t use Peter’s stats to paint Paul.
  2. If you want people to spend time reading your site, give them better content.

Crowdsourcing Dickens

As an experiment in new new media thinking, I recently crowdsourced a new new literature version of Charles Dickens’s musty old old old lit chestnut, Great Expectations—the familiar tale of Pip, Ms Havisham, the convict Magwitch, et al.

Creative excellence and spin-worthy results required a pool of 10,000 people who had never read Great Expectations. Fortunately, I had access to 10,000 recent American college graduates, so that was no problem.

To add a dab of pseudoscience and appeal obliquely to the copyleft crowd, I remixed the new work’s leading literary themes with the top 20 Google search queries, using an algorithm I found in the mens room at Penn Station.

The result was a work of pure modern genius, coming soon to an iPad near you. (Profits from the sale will be used to support Smashing Magazine’s footer and sidebar elements.)

Gone was the fusty old title. Gone were the cobwebbed wedding cake and other dare I say emo images. It was goodbye to outdated characters like Joe the blacksmith and the beautiful Estella, farewell to the love story and the whole careful parallel between that thing and that other thing.

Gone too was the tired old indictment of the Victorian class system, and by implication of all economic and social systems that separate man from his brothers in Christ, yada yada. As more than one of my young test subjects volunteered in a follow-up survey, “Heard it.”

In place of these obsolete narrative elements, the students and the prioritized Google searches created, or dare I say curated, a tale as fresh as today’s algorithmically generated headlines.

The results are summarized in the table below.

Old Great Expectations New Great Expectations
On Christmas Eve, Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister, encounters the convict Magwitch on the marshes. n/a
The convict compels Pip to steal food from his sister’s table, and a file from her husband the blacksmith’s shop. Pip thereby shares the convict’s guilt and sin—but his kindness warms the convict’s heart. Guy on girl
Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, abuses him. Her husband loves Pip but is unable to protect him or offer him a future beyond blacksmithing. Girl on girl (multiple entries)
Pip meets Miss Havisham, an old woman abandoned on her wedding day, who sits in her decrepit house, wearing a yellowing wedding gown, her only companion the beautiful and mysterious girl Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella, but Miss Havisham has trained the girl to break men’s hearts. Guy on guy
Pip visits Miss Havisham until his apprenticeship with Joe the blacksmith begins. Pip hates being a blacksmith and worries that Estella will see him as common. Two girls, one guy
Mrs Joe suffers a heart attack that leaves her mute. A kind girl named Biddy comes to take care of Mrs Joe. After Mrs Joe’s death, Biddy and Joe will marry. Meanwhile, Pip comes into an unexpected inheritance and moves to London, where he studies with a tutor and lives with his friend Herbert. Dragons
Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor and that she intends him to marry Estella, whom he still adores. Day by day, Estella grows more cruel. Pip never tells her of his love for her. Wizards
One stormy night, Pip discovers that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham but the convict Magwitch. The news crushes Pip, but he dutifully allows Magwitch to live with him—worrying, all the while, because Magwitch is a wanted man who will be hanged if discovered. Explosions
Miss Havisham repents having wasted her life and perverted Estella. She is caught in a fire. Pip heroically saves her but she later dies from her burns. Soon afterwards, Pip and Herbert try to help Magwitch escape, but Magwitch’s old enemy Compeyson—who happens to be the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar—betrays Magwitch to the authorities. Magwitch and Compeyson struggle. Compeyson dies and Magwitch is taken to prison. Gunfights
Pip now realizes that Magwitch is a decent man and tries to make Magwitch’s last years happy ones. He also discovers that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Magwitch dies in prison shortly before he was to be executed. Pip tells the dying Magwitch of his love for Estella. Fistfights
Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by Joe, whom Pip recognizes as a good man in spite of his lack of education and “class.” Pip goes into business overseas with Herbert. Eventually he returns to England and visits Joe, who has married Biddy. They have a child named Pip. As the book ends, the middle-aged Pip makes one last visit to Miss Havisham’s house, where he discovers an older and wiser Estella. There is the implication that Pip and Estella may finally be together. Anal