The Polling Place Photo Project

The Polling Place Photo Project is a nationwide experiment in citizen journalism that seeks to empower citizens to capture, post and share photographs of democracy in action. By documenting their local voting experience on November 7, voters can contribute to an archive of photographs that captures the richness and complexity of voting in America.

The Polling Place Photo Project is part of Design for Democracy, an initiative of AIGA, the professional association for design.

[tags]democracy, usa, voting, polls, AIGA, designfordemocracy[/tags]

Monday breakfast links

Berners-Lee: reinventing HTML

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web and founder of the W3C, announces reforms:

It is really important to have real developers on the ground involved with the development of HTML. It is also really important to have browser makers intimately involved and committed. And also all the other stakeholders….

Some things are clearer with hindsight of several years. It is necessary to evolve HTML incrementally. The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn’t work.

9 to 5 = average
To be great in design takes passion and work.
Sending XHTML as text/html Considered Harmful to Feelings
I love this.
Web Directions North
Our Australian friends set up camp in Vancouver, for what looks like a great two-day conference on standards-based design and development (Vancouver Canada, February 6-8 2007). Speakers include Kelly Goto (Gotomobile), Andy Clarke (malarkey), Adrian Holovaty (Chicago Crime, Washington Post), Douglas Bowman (Google Visual Design Lead), Dan Cederholm (SimpleBits), Joe Clark (joeclark.org), Dave Shea (CSS Zen Garden), Cameron Moll (Authentic Boredom), Molly Holzschlag (Molly.com), Veerle Pieters (Veerle’s Blog, Duoh!), Kaitlin Sherwood (Google Maps US Census mashup), Tantek Çelik (Technorati).
Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance
By Andrew Kirkpatrick, Richard Rutter, Christian Heilmann, Jim Thatcher, Cynthia Waddell, et al. Don’t let the unsexy title fool you. Vast and practically all-encompassing, this newly updated classic belongs on every web designer’s shelf. (Better still, open it and read.)
I Cannot Possibly Buy Girl Scout Cookies From Your Daughter at This Time
By Charlie Nadler in McSweeney’s.
Gemini Girl
New women’s blog elegantly designed by Ray McKenzie.
eMusic: 33 Folkways LPs
Thirty-three important Folkways Recordings for download. Louis Bonfa, Mighty Sparrow, Woodie Guthrie, Henry Cowell and more.
On having layout – the concept of hasLayout in IE/Win
Technical but reasonably easy to follow discussion of why Internet Explorer’s rendering of your design may suck differ from your expectations
“Apple’s Backup App is Shit”
God bless SuperDuper.

[tags]W3C, webdirections, accessibility, haslayout, browsers, mcsweeney’s, folkways[/tags]

We hold most of these truths

A copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand is on public view at The New York Public Library. Accompanying it are several of the very first printed versions known to have survived.

Standing in the presence of these yellowing pages is like glimpsing the face of God, for they are the foundation of American democracy, and their core idea underlies all human rights struggles, liberation movements, and emergent democracies around the world.

The version in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand is fascinating not only because it’s in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand, but also because it contains passages that would have ended slavery at the birth of the American nation. But those passages had to be deleted before the Declaration could be signed by representatives of states where slavery was practiced.

Put another way, the client bought a document intended to liberate all humanity, but demanded changes that kept part of humanity in chains. It would take another 100 years and hundreds of thousands of deaths before slavery ended, and the tragic legacy of African enslavement plagues the U.S. to this day. (At The New York Times: a slide show of Freedom Rider portraits, a work in progress by my friend Eric Etheridge.)

So the next time a client requests changes that make your work less beautiful, less usable, or less smart, remember that greater people than you have lost bigger battles over far more important matters.

The Declaration of Independence is on view at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue now through 5 August and admission to the Library is of course free. If you’re in New York City this summer, the exhibit is worth a look. (Plug: And if you’re in town next week for An Event Apart, the Library is just a few blocks away from the Scandinavia House venue.)

Flick’d Away

Until 22 June I had a Flickr Pro account, through which I posted hundreds of photos (most of which were visible only to friends and family) in carefully crafted and lovingly maintained sets. On the morning of 22 June my Pro account expired without notice, and all but the most recent 200 photos were flushed off the site—like that!

The minute I discovered my “Pro” status had expired, I placed a two-year reorder. That was six days ago, and the upgrade is still pending. See, Flickr likes you to pay with PayPal—there doesn’t seem to be any other way to pay—and PayPal can take a week or more to slowly leech the funds from your bank.

Although it’s not the best of all possible user experiences, I guess I’m okay with the sudden, unannounced bump-down of my account status. And I’m semi-sanguine about waiting a week for PayPal to transfer the funds, although they ought to provide methadone while you wait. But the unceremonious dumping without notice or warning of hundreds of family photos feels rough, and wrong, and if I may say so, unFlickr-like.

For this is a program that nearly always understands how people feel. It knows why we take pictures. It knows how we share with each other. Flickr is the warmest and most human web application I know. Thus it is not only upsetting but also out of brand character for Flickr to trash a member’s family albums without so much as a warning.

I feel like the landlord busted down the door to my apartment and set my family albums on fire (all but the most recent 200 pictures) for nonpayment of rent he didn’t tell me was due. I expect utility and insurance companies to bully and bluster and break my heart. But I and you and we expect more and better of Flickr—and the program almost never lets down. A user experience mistake like this feels quadruply wrong precisely because user experience is what Flickr typically gets so right. (It’s like Apple, that way; and we all know what happens when Apple makes the smallest misstep.)

Of course Flickr is a nice way to stay close to far-away friends and family. But it’s also much more than that. For us, it’s the primary tool we’ve used to save our family’s history during our daughter’s first two years of life. And I’ve got to tell you, it kills me that our trip to Spain (where our kid saw The Simpsons for the first time—in Spanish!), a magical day at a Manhattan flea market, her first experience of an ice arena, and more, are simply gone. Using iPhoto, with about ten hours of work, I can probably recreate fair semblances of some of the discarded photosets. But not the texts and the comments by friends and family.

So to my gifted friends at Flickr, who have given us a product many of us can’t imagine living without, this small request: Please notify members early and often as their Pro accounts near their expiration date, and allow a grace period of at least a few days before removing the fragile and irreplaceable human constructions with which we have entrusted you. Thanks.

Updated 10 am ET, 28 June 2006

Ah. Saith Flickr: “If your Pro account expires, don’t panic! None of your photos have been deleted.” Thank you, Suzanne Carter-Jackson (and over 100 other readers) for locating this hidden piece of reassurance.

I contend that I’ve still stumbled onto a problem—that this is one of the very, very, very few things Flickr gets exactly wrong.

Thought. Instead of apparently deleting all but 200 of a user’s photos, sets, and comments, and then hiding the fact that they aren’t really gone on an obscure Flickr Help page, wouldn’t it be better to simply keep the pictures up?

It’s not a question of storage: Flickr claims to be storing the photos anyway. So why send a user into panic by hiding pictures you have every intention of showing again once a PayPal payment clears?

For that matter, why hide the pictures at all? Even if a user deliberately let their Pro account lapse and had no intention of becoming a “Pro” user again, didn’t the Pro account they paid for the first year ensure them the right to keep the photos they uploaded during their Pro period online?

Shouldn’t the “penalty” for ending a “Pro” account be that you can’t upload boatloads of photos any more? Isn’t that sufficient motivation to make most folks re-up their Pro accounts? It was for me. I re-upgraded long before I knew that Flickr had removed almost all of my photos from the site.

While I’m deeply relieved to know that the family photo treasure trove I spent two years building is still intact somewhere on a Flickr server and will be shown again once Yahoo gets its hands of my small, greasy wad of virtual dough, I’m disappointed at being put through a somewhat user-hostile experience on a site I consider among the smartest and best ever mounted on the web. I will keep this post up to remember that nothing, not even Flickr, is perfect, and in hopes that my colleagues there will rethink this bit of architecture.

It’s really pretty simple:

  • Let people know their Pro account is about to expire. Notify them by email and RSS and do it more than once.
  • If a Pro account lapses, keep the photos online that were posted while the account was active.

Over 100 Flickr users wrote to me (a testament to Flickr’s popularity) and I am grateful to all. Several suggested that Flickr had probably tried contacting me to alert me to the expiration, and that its message had gotten trapped in SPAM filters. This is possible, although I filter for Flickr way ahead of filtering for Trash, and I receive dozens of Flickr messages every day, from people who want to become contacts. Flickr messages always seem to reach me, is my point.

I also checked Flickr’s online message board to see if there was notice there, and found none. So it appears that no automated expiration notices were sent to my account, but who can say for sure?

A Fine Day to Quit Sniffing Glue

Last night, some weird instinct made me post a duplicate Event Apart NYC schedule here, and it’s a good thing I did. For this morning, An Event Apart dot com was gone. In its place was a smiling “coming soon” placeholder, courtesy of domain registrar GoDaddy. I was not notified that the domain was about to elapse. I was not notified that it had elapsed.

Now, GoDaddy is run by smart people, and notifying customers by email that their account is about to expire is undoubtedly something they do. I’m sure they tried to contact me. There at least a dozen ways one or more email messages intended to reach me could have gone astray. Not their fault. And, although I cringed with shame at this technological depantsing, not really my fault, either. Only someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder would log in to a registrar every few days just to be sure one of their domains wasn’t about to expire. The problem isn’t people, it’s email.

A suggestion to GoDaddy and similar businesses: given that email has become extraordinarily unreliable, especially for people who receive vast quantities of it; and given too that many customers change email accounts from time to time, and in so doing, may become unreachable; wouldn’t it make sense (and be kind of cool) to offer your customers RSS feeds in addition to email notification? An RSS feed might send a notice when a customer registers, another when the account is set to expire in 60 days, still another when the expiration date is 30 days away, and so on.

Most people who do what I do don’t see half their mail, but they always check their RSS reader. Is my freely shared thought.

So, back to my briefly elapsed domain (which, thank goodness and American Express, is once again online). Did I mention that I am a walking usability test? I’m sure I’ve told you that, but maybe just not lately. What works fine for the average user almost never works for me. By the way, the average user was recently spotted in Northville, Michigan, purchasing 10 lbs. of potting soil and a garden hose.

Anyway, An Event Apart is back.