Frameworks like Rails, Django, jQuery, and the Yahoo User Interface library have improved web developers’ lives by handling routine tasks. The same idea can work for designers. Learn how to harness the power of tools, libraries, conventions, and best practices to focus creative thought and energy on what is unique about each project.
Are we not (wo)men? Cut us and we bleed. Present us with a problem and we solve it—using judgement, experience, and the ability to generalize. Learn why machines will never be able to do our jobs, and how knowing that fact can build respect for the profession.
Plus, in Editor’s Choice, this memento from our 22 August 2005 relaunch:
Should your blog have a business? Jim Coudal shares insights into the adventure of transitioning from client services to product creation.
A List Apart explores the design, development, and meaning of web content, with a special focus on web standards and best practices. Explore our articles or find out more about us.
[tags]alistapart, jeff croft, coudal, jonathan kahn, frameworks[/tags]
Daily Reports from 1997 on
Our “Twelve Years of Web 1.0 Goodness” theme continues with a mini-retrospective of Daily Reports from 1997 on. (Earlier Reports are lost due to over-writing.) You don’t need the WayBack machine to go way back in zeldman.com history. Enjoy these representative Daily Report pages from …
Damn, that’s good eatin’. There are thousands of entries; these are just some I found while clicking idly along. As I look at them, I mostly focus on column width, font, text size, and color. I can’t bring myself to read them (although I’m sure some are okay). What is the value, anyway, of an old blog entry? Compared to an old song, an old valentine, not much. What an odd activity for so much human energy to have been channeled into.
[tags]blogs, blogging, daily report, blog history, zeldman, zeldman.com[/tags]
Comments are the lifeblood of the blogosphere
I spent the latter half of last week with my dad (photos). I did not bring a laptop, nor did I use any of his computers to access the internet. The trip was about dad, not about dad between e-mails.
When I returned to New York City, 193 comments awaited me in the moderation queue. 191 were spam. Some concerned a young lady. Others promoted medications. Two of the 193 comments were actually relevant to my site’s content, although they were trackbacks, not comments. (By the way, Wikipedia, which is it? TrackBack, with an intercap, or Trackback, without? Wikipedia’s trackback entry has it both ways.)
I use Askimet to control comment spam, and although it missed the 191 spam comments previously mentioned, it did flag as spam an additional ten comments, eight of which were spam. The other two were actual reader comments—the only real comments that came in while I was away. Askimet works for most users. Nothing works for me. But I digress.
Executive Summary: Of 203 comments received in a three-day period, two were comments (falsely flagged as spam), two others were trackbacks, and the rest were spam, although 191 of them were not identified as such. If comments are a site’s lifeblood, my site is having a stroke. (Which, by the way, was a popular verb in 42 of the spam comments I received.)
If I wrote more frequently, I would not get less spam, but I would enjoy a higher proportion of actual comments. I wrote every day, several times a day, for years here before comment systems, let alone blogging tools, were available. These days I have less time to write here or anywhere. But I will write more, promise.
I would get much less spam if my site were less frequently linked to and visited, but who wants a less-linked, less-visited site?
I would get no spam if I turned off comments, but I would also get no comments. And comments, real comments, are good.
Anticipating your users’ needs is the key to making a good impression; it’s the little things that matter most. ALA’s technical editor Aaron Gustafson explains why progressive enhancement means good service.
As Web 2.0 Buying Season winds down, it is pleasant to consider what was different about it. This time, for the most part, the buyers have been farmers, not butchers. They bought to nurture, not to kill.
The merger years
Before the web, I worked in advertising. I survived the Merger Years. Charles and Maurice Saatchi, the art collectors, were among several groups scooping up ad agencies as investments. Not infrequently, incompatible shops were jammed together to see what stuck. My first New York ad job was at one of these misbegotten unions; I started on the very day more than half the staff got canned as a direct result of the merger.
The new owners had performed unholy matrimony, forcing a dewy-eyed little shop in Minneapolis to love and cherish a dull, aging cash cow in New York. They probably imagined that the cold New York joint would warm to the creative touch of its young spouse, while the Minneapolis branch would somehow grow as lucrative as the boring but high-earning Gotham shop. It wasn’t meant to be. Clients ran screaming; staff were kicked out after them.
Behind the iron doors
“Oh, boy, my first New York job!” I said aloud as I approached the iron doors.
I walked into a tragedy. Women wept, carrying boxes. Ashen-faced middle-aged copywriters with bad portfolios—parents of young children—suddenly realized that they were unemployable.
The floor on which I was to work was being frantically redecorated to match the corporate colors of Minneapolis as almost everyone who worked there was laid off within a space of hours. “Pardon Our Appearance, We Are Redecorating” proclaimed a happy illustrated painter on a large sign. His was the only grin to be seen. Someone eventually drew an executioner’s hood over the happy painter’s head, and replaced his brush with an axe. Okay, that was me.
Over the next few years, the Saatchis brought in one brilliant outside creative director after another to try to make the merger work. I learned from all of them. The place was great for me in that way. It was also a fine source of drinking buddies. Almost nobody could handle the daily surrealism sober.
I worked at other places over the years. The great ones were small and created their own cultures. The not-so-great ones had almost always been good until they got too big.
Web for sale
Years later, I was a web designer doing independent content on the side. Some of my friends were also doing independent content. Some of them sold their sites to corporate buyers.
I was glad to see creative people get a paycheck, but suspicious because of what I had seen of mergers in my previous career. I feared that the buyers might not understand what they had bought, and might try to make it something it was not. And that indeed is what happened, every time.
In one instance, a married couple and their friend built up one of the first great educational sites for web developers. Everybody who knew the acronym HTML read this site in the mid- to late 1990s. It was informative, opinionated, and leading-edge. The writers were front-line web developers. They weren’t just ahead of the curve, they were helping to shape it. And they weren’t just technology writers, they were personalities. Huge personalities.
They also knew how to keep readers coming back, and and how to turn readers into a community. One way they did both these things was by honoring a different website every weekday. Hundreds of thousands of web professionals tuned in Monday through Friday to find out what site was being put forward as cool, and to argue passionately about whether it deserved such kudos.
It all changed the moment a traditional publisher bought the site, for what, by later standards, was surely a mere chest of shells and beads.
What the publishers got for their investment, after destroying everything else about it, was residual search engine juice. Maybe that was enough for them.
When a famous old-school stock photography concern bought iStockphoto, some of us feared that it spelled the end for that independent photo community. Not so. iStockphoto is still iStockphoto, only now it has money. Likewise, Yahoo! bought flickr as flickr—not as a list of users to exploit or a URL to slap ads on. It bought del.icio.us as del.icio.us; all the purchase did (besides generate paychecks) was integrate the social bookmarking tool into other Yahoo! properties (like flickr). Similarly, Dodgeball is still Dodgeball despite its purchase by Google.
One could list these buyouts all day, but it would soon grow tedious. The point is, buyers now buy to own, not to run (and ruin).
Are today’s buyers smarter? Or are they just too busy to meddle? What do you think?
25 A List Apart staffers, Happy Cogs, and friends broke bread (well, more accurately, we broke spring rolls) at Mekong River Restaurant in Austin, Texas. Here Peter is seen making sweet love to his noodles. Missing, and missed: Dan Benjamin, Krista Stevens, Erin Lynch, Andrew Fernandez, Tanya Rabourn, and Andrew Kirkpatrick.
So you think you know all about whitespace. You may be surprised. Mark Boulton, type expert to the stars, shows how micro and macro whitespace push brands upscale (or down) and enhance legibility in print and online.
For designers who find web standards as easy to grasp as a buttered eel, Craig Cook shows how to stop the hurting and turn on the understanding. Learn how web standards work, and why they are more than simply an alternative means of producing a visual design.
Of late, The Economist has been paying greater attention to the web, undoubtedly because investors are doing likewise. The magazine even gets some things right. It’s great to see a hard-working innovator like Six Apart‘s Mena Trott get profiled in the magazine’s business section. I only wish the journalist who profiled Ms Trott could have laid off the condescending sexism. (“Girly whim?”) Why don’t they tell us what she was wearing?
This free after-school program for kids from kindergarten to sixth grade is “the only after-school and summer safe haven for children in Hoboken’s public housing neighborhood—a neighborhood with a history of violent crime and drug-related arrests.” ’Tis the season for giving (not that poverty ever goes out of season); support the Center!
“The [U.S.] government discriminates against blind people by printing money that all looks and feels the same, a federal judge said Tuesday in a ruling that could change the face of American currency.” Hat tip: Sean Jordan.
If you’ve browsed the web design section of any bookstore lately, you’ve seen him staring at you. The blue hat. The mustache. The blinding neon background. He’s Jeffrey Zeldman, publisher of the influential web development magazine, ‘A List Apart’ and author of the book Designing With Web Standards (DWWS). The first edition of the DWWS was published in 2003, and now 2006 brings us an updated 2nd edition. In a market flooded with XHTML, CSS, and web standards books, is DWWS 2nd Ed. still relevant?
Readers read web pages. Readers print web pages. In 1999, the way to help readers print web pages was obvious to every major site owner: buy a proprietary, multi-million-dollar content management system avec service contract to generate multiple versions of every page. After all, you needed seven versions of every page to handle all the browsers out there; you might as well treat print the same.
In 2001, A List Apart started promoting print style sheets, and by 2003, all the cool kids were doing it. They were also mostly using free or low-cost, generally open-source, content management systems. Yay, open source! Yay, web standards!
But a problem remains: all those ponderous 1999 websites have trained readers to expect a “print this page” button and subsequent in-browser preview. How can you satisfy this basic user expectation while still enjoying all the benefits of web standards?
show how the page will look when it’s printed, perhaps display a preview message explaining what this new view is about, and then automatically print the page.
McVicar’s method isn’t the only way to do this—others will likely be mentioned in the comments—but his technique is straightforward and clean, and it takes care of users without making the mistake of trying to educate them about something in which they’re profoundly uninterested (namely, web development).
Also in this issue: “How to be a Great Host,” by John Gladding. These days, many people’s web business plan looks something like this: “Ajaxy goodness + ???? = Profits!” Other straw men seem to think five blog posts plus text ads by Google plus discussion board software guarantees a buyout by Google. It doesn’t.
Building a community takes time and work. No amount of social bookmarking and tagging can rush that process. But you can learn to avoid mistakes. And you can save time by following time-tested approaches. (Learning from your mistakes is overrated.) Gladding’s article is filled with smart, “first do this, then do that” tips that can help you grow your site’s audience with discussion that works.
The Missus (aka the Rogue Librarian) has been laboring for some time on a new community site. Today it launched.
Things I Learned the Hard Way is a place where women can share life lessons about home, family, friendship and work. Our contributors write well and they want to share their experience with others.
The new site is a place for women of different ages, situations, and life experiences to share hard-won knowledge, from the maternal to the Machiavellian (how do some female bosses use “advice” and “compliments” to keep female employees down?), the silly to the sublime. Participation is encouraged; writers are sought.