7 Jul 2014 12 pm eastern

Online Training to Make Sites and Apps Accessible

ACCESSIBILITY IS LIKE the weather: everyone talks about it, but not enough of us do anything about it. Austin-based Knowbility is one of the few groups in the world with the commitment and expertise to change this. If enough of us fund their new IndieGogo project, they’ll gain the resources they need to create online modules that teach the world how to make our sites work for people with disabilities. This is a cause any web designer or developer should be able to get behind.

I love the web because it is democratic, agnostic, and empowering. Progressive enhancement, responsive design, and other core components of standards-based web design are all about making sure that the experiences we create online are available to any person, via any browser, on any device. That promise is the heart of web accessibility. It will seem obvious to most folks reading this page that a site that works for all is way better than a site that works only for some.

Yet, for all the sophistication and excitement of modern web design, accessibility remains the least-taught, least-understood, least-cared-about of all our new and classic best practices. Let’s help Knowbility change that. Let’s help them help us, and, by extension, help everyone who uses the web (or tries to).

Please contribute to, and spread the word about, Online Training to Make Sites and Apps Accessible: igg.me/at/knowbility. And please hurry! There are only five days left to make a difference.

Filed under: Accessibility, engagement, ethics

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23 Jan 2014 6 pm eastern

Big Web Show № 109: Bring Me The Head of Tim Berners-Lee

17 Jan 2011 2 pm eastern

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.

Filed under: "Digital Curation", Advertising, Advocacy, architecture, Authoring, Best practices, copyright, Corporatism, Culture, democracy, Design, engagement, environment, ethics, The Essentials, The Mind, The Profession, work

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1 Jul 2010 6 am eastern

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

Filed under: 37signals, Acclaim, Announcements, Appearances, Applications, apps, Authoring, Best practices, better-know-a-speaker, business, Chicago, client services, Code, Coudal Partners, Design, ethics, HTML, Ideas, industry, interface, Interviews, Journalism at its Finest, Press, Products, Publications, Publishing, Respect, Ruby on Rails, Small Business, State of the Web, The Big Web Show, The Essentials, The Profession, User Experience

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23 Mar 2010 10 am eastern

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

Filed under: "Digital Curation", Advocacy, Authoring, books, business, Community, content, content strategy, copyright, creativity, Culture, Curation, Damned Fine Journalism, democracy, Design, downloads, E-Books, Education, ethics, glamorous, Google, Ideas, industry, Little People, Luls, Microauthoring, Publications, Publishing, Respect, social networking, Standards, State of the Web, The Essentials, The Profession, theft, writing

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28 Jul 2009 9 am eastern

In-Box Twenty

Found in my in-box on this gloriously muggy morning:


  • E-mail from a neighborhood mom interested in hiring our child’s nanny in September, when the girl enters kindergarten. Would our nanny work part-time? (No, she would not.)
  • Invitation to speak.
  • Account status message from American Express, freezing my business account.
  • Personal letter from a co-author of CSS.
  • Correspondence from one half of a feud, demanding that A List Apart delete “libelous” comments made by the other half.
  • QA correspondence on Brighter Planet beta.
  • Photo of kid on general store porch-front rocking horse, sent by ex, from mini-vacation they’re taking together.
  • Responses from speakers selected to present at An Event Apart in 2010.
  • Discussion of “send to friend” links in context of COPPA compliance.
  • Raw personal truth from my dear sponsee.
  • Notes from a developer whose web fonts platform I’m beta testing.
  • Query from a mom whose friend is expecting: what do we pay our nanny? Would she take less? (I hope not.)
  • Basecamp notifications concerning Chapters 7, 9, 2, and 4 of Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition.
  • Invitation from a social media network’s director of strategic relationships.
  • Milestone reminder.
  • Note from my brother about the release of his CD.
  • Case study for review.
  • Notice of Credit Limit Reduction on my personal account from American Express. “In this difficult economic environment, we all need to make choices about how we spend and save.”
  • Discussions of Happy Cog new business activities in various stages of ripeness.
  • Note about a magic berry that will make me look like a princess.

Typical day.

Filed under: Applications, Brighter Planet, bugs, business, Career, Code, Community, content, Design, ethics, glamorous, homeownership, parenting, work, Zeldman

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23 Oct 2008 12 pm eastern

Regarding the dishwasher

We bought our apartment in December 2007, securing it with what might have been the last mortgage ever issued in the U.S.

The apartment was completely renovated, from its dark wood floors to its schmancy new super-quiet dishwasher.

Over the summer, the formerly super-quiet dishwasher began to emit a high-decibel grinding noise 15 or 20 minutes into its cleaning cycle. It sounded like two airplanes whirring their propellors into each other. Or like giant lawnmowers attacking garbage cans.

We couldn’t find anything loose in the dishwasher — no stray steak knife caught in the motor, for instance.

We used the dishwasher a few more times. The result was the same. After 15 or 20 minutes of cleaning, the thing began setting up a drone that would have sent Thurston Moore reaching for earplugs.

The machine didn’t break, and it did clean dishes, but the noise was beyond bearing, and it seemed to us that the dishwasher must surely be damaging itself.

When you buy a renovated apartment, everything is probably under warranty, but you don’t get the paperwork or any information from the seller.

It took weeks of research and a few dozen phone calls, but eventually the wife got the dope. Our stuff was under warranty and a repair guy would come. No, not that day. Not that week. The month was looking dicey. How did Autumn sound?

We rediscovered the romance of washing dishes by hand—it really is quite therapeutic—and tranquilly waited for the great day to arrive.

Today was the great day, and I volunteered to work at home and wait for the repair guy.

Around 11:30, he showed up. He was polite, professional, and spoke mostly Chinese.

He spent about twenty minutes taking things apart and putting them together, then he called me over to explain what he had done.

I don’t speak Chinese (although I’m sure my daughter will) and he didn’t speak much English, so it wasn’t what you’d call perfect client-vendor communication. But through gestures, sounds, and a technical drawing he dashed off rather deftly on a paper towel, the repair guy gave me to understand that he hadn’t found anything wrong, so there probably wasn’t anything wrong.

He showed me that when you first turn on the water, you don’t hear a noise.

I agreed, but pointed out that the noise kicks in after 15 or 20 minutes.

He indicated that he didn’t have 15 or 20 minutes to wait for it, but if there was a noise, it probably didn’t indicate a mechanical problem, because there was no sign of damage to the machine.

On the paper towel, he drew the parts he had checked for damage, and pointed to their locations inside the machine. Since no parts were damaged, no damage had been done, and there was nothing he could do to diagnose or fix the problem.

I asked if he had found anything that might account for the noise, but the question only led to more drawing.

Eventually, through mime, more drawings, and remarkably well-timed nods, he communicated that he understood that the noise was not normal or desirable. He also conveyed that when we hear the noise, we should let the machine keep running, because eventually something might break, and then he or someone like him could fix it.

Of late nearly everything I buy has been defective in one way or another, and my service experiences, like this one, leave the matter perpetually unresolved. Recently, too, I have had several unrelated medical problems, and a visit to the doctor or doctors never quite seems to set things right. It is as if everything is broken, and everyone knows it, and we perpetually postpone the reckoning.

[tags]getsatisfaction, home, appliance, repairs, homeownership, health, economy, service, customer relations, warranty[/tags]

Filed under: business, client services, environment, ethics, experience, glamorous, homeownership, Zeldman

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11 Sep 2008 10 am eastern

The lessons of September 11, 2002

On September 11, 2002, I found myself in a place as strange as Vegas. I was there to speak at a web conference. They must have gotten a good deal on the rooms, it being the first anniversary of the attacks.

“They’re holding a conference on September 11th?” I had shouted aloud on receiving my emailed invitation to speak at the show. “How could they?”

And how could I, as a New Yorker, respond to such an invitation?

But people told me if we couldn’t hold web design conferences on September 11th, then the terrorists had won. People said many stupid things back then and still do. I don’t know why I heard wisdom, or the call of duty, in this sophistry. But off I went, persuaded that I was somehow taking a stand against the people who had so grievously harmed us.

On September 10th, I gave my talk to a roomful of hungover IT professionals. On September 11th, I slouched around the conference site at Caesars Palace feeling absurd and unreal and painfully missing the woman who is now my wife. (I love you, honey.)

In New York, George Bush was laying a wreath at Ground Zero. In Las Vegas, I was lying on a sedan chair, watching the animated flag on the JumboTron outside the Bellagio. The pixelated call to patriotism felt not merely inadequate but crazily beside the point. Its 60-second cycle seemed to proclaim that our enemies may fly our planes into our buildings, but damn it, we have big-screen animation.

Many of our subsequent responses to 9/11 have felt like that giant LCD—gung-ho about the wrong things, a garish distraction to keep us from seeing and solving our real problems. But on September 11, 2002, I only knew that it was not patriotic or wise to have left my woman alone in New York City on that day.

And that JumboTrons suck.

And that I hate Vegas.

[tags]myglamorouslife, september11, 9/11, anniversary, webdesign, conferences, lasvegas[/tags]

Filed under: air travel, cities, conferences, ethics, events, experience, family, glamorous, Web Design

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14 Jul 2008 12 pm eastern

Your US tax dollars at work

The Computing Community Consortium “supports the computing research community in creating compelling research visions and the mechanisms to realize these visions” and steals copyrighted design layouts from A List Apart magazine. (Judging by the color scheme, they stole the layout from Issue No. 254.)

The Computing Community Consortium is supported by National Science Foundation. Maybe if they steal enough layouts they can balance the budget.

Hat tip: Diwaker Gupta.

[tags]alistapart, design, theft, stealing, ethics, nsf.gov, Computing Community Consortium[/tags]

Filed under: A List Apart, Design, ethics, stealing, theft

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