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Posthumous Hosting and Digital Culture

THE DEATHS of Leslie Harpold and Brad Graham, in addition to being tragic and horrible and sad, have highlighted the questionable long-term viability of blogs, personal sites, and web magazines as legitimate artistic and literary expressions. (Read this, by Rogers Cadenhead.)

Cool URIs don’t change, they just fade away. When you die, nobody pays your hosting company, and your work disappears. Like that.

Now, not every blog post or “Top 10 Ways to Make Money on the Internet” piece deserves to live forever. But there’s gold among the dross, and there are web publications that we would do well to preserve for historical purposes. We are not clairvoyants, so we cannot say which fledgling, presently little-read web publications will matter to future historians. Thus logic and the cultural imperative urge us to preserve them all. But how?

The death of the good in the jaws of time is not limited to internet publications, of course. Film decays, books (even really good ones) constantly go out of print, digital formats perish. Recorded music that does not immediately find an audience disappears from the earth.

Digital subscriptions were supposed to replace microfilm, but American libraries, which knew we were racing toward recession years before the actual global crisis came, stopped being able to pay for digital newspaper and magazine descriptions nearly a decade ago. Many also (even fancy, famous ones) can no longer collect—or can only collect in a limited fashion. Historians and scholars have access to every issue of every newspaper and journal written during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, but can access only a comparative handful of papers covering the election of Barack Obama.

Thanks to budget shortfalls and format wars, our traditional media, literature, and arts are perishing faster than ever before. Nothing conceived by the human mind, except Heaven and nuclear winter, is eternal.

Still, when it comes to instant disposability, web stuff is in a category all its own.

Unlike with other digital expressions, format is not the problem: HTML, CSS, and backward-compatible web browsers will be with us forever. The problem is, authors pay for their own hosting.

(There are other problems: the total creative output of someone I follow is likely distributed across multiple social networks as well as a personal site and Twitter feed. How to connect those dots when the person has passed on? But let’s leave that to the side for the moment.)

A suggestion for a business. Sooner or later, some hosting company is going to figure out that it can provide a service and make a killing (as it were) by offering ten-, twenty-, and hundred-year packets of posthumous hosting.

A hundred years is not eternity, but you are not Shakespeare, and it’s a start.


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A List Apart Design Fonts Formats industry Jason Santa Maria Real type on the web Standards State of the Web Tools Web Type Day webfonts webtype

Get Real With Real Fonts

A List Apart, for people who make websites.

Web fonts are here. Now what? In Issue No. 296 of A List Apart for people who make websites, Nice Web Type’s Tim Brown debuts Web Font Specimen, a handy, free resource to see how real fonts really look on the web; and Jason Santa Maria discourses on web type, showing how to avoid using fonts that don’t work on the web, and achieve graceful pairings of fonts that do.

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Fonts Formats Web Standards webfonts webtype

House Party

REAL FONTS on the web: House Industries supports WOFF format.

…a font format for the Web that satisfies the needs and concerns of browser makers, web designers, and type foundries. … WOFF offers compression to speed page load times, freedom from thorny legacy issues, and inclusiveness (font outlines can be Postscript or TrueType).

WOFF has the support of a wide spectrum of the type community; from peers such as Emigre, Hoefler & Frere-Jones, Commercial Type, etc., and larger foundries such as Linotype and Monotype. Today it has also gained the support of Mozilla in the their release of Firefox 3.6 (Mozilla has a full list of designers and foundries that support WOFF on that page). We hope and expect that WOFF will quickly gain support in other major browsers as we support, endorse and expect to license our library for use on the Web in the WOFF format in the future.

Read more

  • The Problem: We have the fonts, we have the CSS and the workaround for IE. What we don’t have is beautiful, reliable, consistent cross-platform rendering of real fonts like Gotham, Franklin, Garamond, etc. — 29 October 2009
  • Web Fonts and Standards: How real fonts work on the web via standard CSS. Making it work in IE. The licensing hurdle. Rise of the middlemen and their effect on the adoption of font embedding standards. — 17 August
  • Web Fonts Now, for Real: David Berlow of The Font Bureau publishes a proposal for a permissions table enabling real fonts to be used on the web without binding or other DRM. — 16 July 2009
  • Web Fonts Now (How We’re Doing With That): Commercial foundries that allow @font-face embedding; browser support; Cufón and SIFR, oh, my; Adobe, web fonts, and EOT; Typekit debuts; — 23 May 2009
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Chicago Deep Dish

Dan Cederholm and Eric Meyer at An Event Apart Chicago 2009. Photo by John Morrison.

For those who couldn’t be there, and for those who were there and seek to savor the memories, here is An Event Apart Chicago, all wrapped up in a pretty bow:

AEA Chicago – official photo set
By John Morrison, subism studios llc. See also (and contribute to) An Event Apart Chicago 2009 Pool, a user group on Flickr.
A Feed Apart Chicago
Live tweeting from the show, captured forever and still being updated. Includes complete blow-by-blow from Whitney Hess.
Luke W’s Notes on the Show
Smart note-taking by Luke Wroblewski, design lead for Yahoo!, frequent AEA speaker, and author of Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks (Rosenfeld Media, 2008):

  1. Jeffrey Zeldman: A Site Redesign
  2. Jason Santa Maria: Thinking Small
  3. Kristina Halvorson: Content First
  4. Dan Brown: Concept Models -A Tool for Planning Websites
  5. Whitney Hess: DIY UX -Give Your Users an Upgrade
  6. Andy Clarke: Walls Come Tumbling Down
  7. Eric Meyer: JavaScript Will Save Us All (not captured)
  8. Aaron Gustafson: Using CSS3 Today with eCSStender (not captured)
  9. Simon Willison: Building Things Fast
  10. Luke Wroblewski: Web Form Design in Action (download slides)
  11. Dan Rubin: Designing Virtual Realism
  12. Dan Cederholm: Progressive Enrichment With CSS3 (not captured)
  13. Three years of An Event Apart Presentations

Note: Comment posting here is a bit wonky at the moment. We are investigating the cause. Normal commenting has been restored. Thank you, Noel Jackson.

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Design DWWS editorial Formats Kindle Publications Publishing writing

Kindling II

Refer to the previous post on Kindle. Two salient points, omitted from the previous discussion and verified this morning, are worth mentioning:


  • The Kindle edition of Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition, is free of conversion errors, to the best of our knowledge. As an author who hopes to sell copies of his work, I should have pointed that out in my initial post.
  • Kindle for iPhone can sometimes create the appearance that a Kindle edition is missing content. Before contacting the publisher to report an error, try switching to the smallest available font size and then re-viewing the page that appeared to be missing some content. Asides, in particular, suffer from this problem, in which text is present but exceeds the viewport, and there is no scrolling mechanism or indication that additional content exists.

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Design downloads editorial Formats Publications Publishing writing

Kindling

The process by which books are converted to Kindle format introduces errors which do not get corrected. Every publisher knows this, though none will say so on record.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with Kindle or its format. The problem is one of economics. The cost of a printed book covers some degree of proofing and checking—not enough, but some. The cost of a Kindle book does not support editorial quality control, and the multi-step conversion process, handled in bulk by third parties, chops out content and creates other errors that no one fixes because no one is there to do QA.

I love the idea of Kindle. I love Kindle on my iPhone. As the economics of publishing continues to change, perhaps one day soon, a Kindle edition will contain the same text as the printed book. Until it does, Kindle is great for light reading. But if it’s critical that every word, comma, and code sample come through intact, for now, you’re better off with print.

Update

Two salient points I should have made in this post are covered in Kindling II, posted 27 August 2009.

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