10 May 2012 6 am eastern

My Glamorous Life: The Power Compels You

I DREAMED that my friend Jason Santa Maria took a job at a popular new startup that had exploded onto the world scene seemingly overnight. A fascinating visual interface was largely responsible for the popularity of the company’s new social software product. It was like a Hypercard stack that came toward you. A post full of exciting social significance just for you would appear in a self-contained deck with rounded corners. The next post would pop up on top of the first. The next, on top of that one. And so on. In my dream, people found this back-to-front pop-up effect thrilling for some reason.

Having imagined the interface, I next dreamed that I went to visit the startup. There were so many cubicles, so many shiny people running around, holding morning standups and singing a strange company song, that I could not locate my friend Jason’s desk. Someone grabbed me and told me the founder wanted to see me.


THE FOUNDER was an ordinary looking white guy in his late twenties. I was surprised that he wore beige chinos with a permapress crease. With all the TV and newspaper hubub around his product, I guess I’d expected a more stylish and charismatic presence.

The founder told me he was concerned because his mother, apparently a cofounder or at least an officer of the company, was of the belief that I had contempt for their product and disliked her personally. I assured him that I liked the product. Further, I had never met his mother, never read or heard a word about her, and felt only goodwill toward her, as I bear toward all people in the abstract. I don’t hate people I don’t know.

“It would be cool if you told mom that yourself,” he said. And suddenly two assistants were whisking me off to speak to her directly.


THE AUDITORIUM-SIZED waiting room outside the founder’s mother’s office was filled with at least a thousand people who had come to talk to her before me. They seemed to have been waiting for hours. There was an air of boredom and rapidly thinning patience, mixed with excitement and the kind of carnival atmosphere that surrounds things that blow up suddenly in the press. It felt like the jury selection room for a celebrity murder case. Only much, much bigger.

The two assistants escorted me to the very front of the auditorium, to an empty row of seats abutting the door to the founder’s mother’s private office. “Special treatment,” I thought. I was thrilled to be cutting to the front of the line, apparently as a result of the founder’s directive to his assistants. The front row chairs were reversed, facing back to the rest of the auditorium, so I was put in the somewhat uneasy position of staring out at the mass of people who had been waiting to see the founder’s mother since long before I arrived.

After a while, Ian Jacobs of the W3C was brought to the front of the room and seated near me.

We waited as other people were shown into the founder’s mother’s presence.


AFTER FIVE or six hours of drowsy waiting, I realized that the room was set up to mirror the software’s interface: people from the very back of the auditorium were first in line, and were shown into the founder’s mother’s presence first. Gradually, the hall of applicants emptied from the back to the front. Those of us in the very front of the line were actually the last people of all who would be admitted to the holy presence. It was a smart marketing touch that apparently permeated the company: everything real people did in the building in some way echoed the characteristics of the software interface — from the end of the line coming first, to the way the rounded conference tables echoed the shapes of individual news posts in the software’s back-to-front news deck.

What a smart company, I thought. And what a good joke on me, as I continued to sit there forever, waiting to see someone I’d never met, who held a baseless grudge against me, which it would one day be my task to talk her out of.

Filed under: dreams, Existence, interface, Jason Santa Maria, Small Business, Standards, Startups, State of the Web, The Essentials, The Profession, W3C

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10 Dec 2010 8 am eastern

Top Web Books of 2010

It’s been a great year for web design books; the best we can remember for a while, in fact!” So begins Goburo’s review of the Top Web Books of 2010. The list is extremely selective, containing only four books. But what books! They are: Andy Clarke’s Hardboiled Web Design (Five Simple Steps); Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 For Web Designers (A Book Apart); Dan Cederholm’s CSS3 For Web Designers (A Book Apart); and Eric Meyer’s Smashing CSS (Wiley and Sons).

I’m thrilled to have had a hand in three of the books, and to be a friend and business partner to the author of the fourth. It may also be worth noting that three of the four books were published by scrappy, indie startup publishing houses.

Congratulations, all. And to you, good reading (and holiday nerd gifting).

Filed under: A Book Apart, books, Brands, Browsers, Code, Collectibles, Community, content, CSS, CSS3, Design, E-Books, editorial, eric meyer, HTML, HTML5, Small Business, Standards, State of the Web, The Profession, This never happens to Gruber, Web Design, Web Design History, Web Standards, work, writing, XHTML

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3 Nov 2010 1 pm eastern

Gary Vaynerchuk on The Big Web Show Episode 26


The Big Web Show

GARY VAYNERCHUK is our guest on Episode #26 of The Big Web Show, taped live before an internet audience at 1:00 PM ET Thursday 4 November at live.5by5.tv. Gary is the creator of Wine Library TV, the author of the New York Times bestselling book Crush It!, and the co-founder with his brother AJ of VaynerMedia, a boutique agency that works with personal brands, consumer brands, and startups.

The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is recorded 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 recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!

Filed under: Big Web Show, books, Brands, business, Career, content, Dan Benjamin, New York City, people, Publishing, Respect, Self-Employment, Small Business, speaking, The Big Web Show, The Profession, work, writing

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22 Sep 2010 10 am eastern

Episode 20: Designing Web Applications, Managing Teams, and Creating Readability


Rich Ziade

Rich Ziade, creator of the popular reading tool Readability, guests on Thursday’s today’s episode of The Big Web Show, co-hosted by Dan Benjamin and taped before a live internet audience.

Richard Ziade is the founding partner of Arc90, a consulting firm, product shop, and idea incubator based in New York City. Arc90 has a reputation as one of the best web application design shops around. Alas, nearly all their web application design work is for private corporate clients. Thus most of us don’t get a chance to see and learn from Arc90′s work. Fortunately we can get a taste of what they’re about by visiting the Arc90 Lab, where the company shares ideas, tools, and the occasional experiment in web technology.

During Thursday’s Friday’s taping of The Big Web Show, we will probe Rich (if you’ll excuse the disgusting imagery) to find out where his ideas come from, how Arc90 manages the balance between product development and client services, and how to build a reputation when your client services agreements prevent you from having a public portfolio. I will also try to force Rich to tell our listeners if he has any awesome future plans for Readability.

Prior to Arc90, Richard worked in various roles crossing disciplines in design, technology and product management. Rich shares his occasional thought on design and technology at his blog: www.basement.org.

The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is taped live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET today at 2:00 pm! on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of taping, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.

Filed under: Applications, apps, Big Web Show, Chicago, Design, Small Business, software, The Big Web Show, Typography

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5 Aug 2010 8 am eastern

The Big Web Show Episode 15: Social Media, Social Capital

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt, social media entrepreneur, author of The Whuffie Factor, cofounder of Citizen Agency, and one of Fast Company’s “women in tech—nine thought leaders who are changing our ideas about technology” is our guest on today’s episode of The Big Web Show, co-hosted as always by Dan Benjamin, and taped in front of a live internet audience.

The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) 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.


Miss_rogue photo courtesy Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

Filed under: Big Web Show, business, Community, Culture, Marketing, Small Business, social networking, State of the Web

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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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17 Aug 2009 4 pm eastern

Click My Lit Panel

In “New Publishing and Web Content,” a proposed panel for SXSW Interactive, I will lead book and new media publisher and entrepreneur Lisa Holton, designer, writer, and W.W. Norton creative director Mandy Brown, novelist, web geek, and Harper’s editor Paul Ford, and writer, editor, and content strategist Erin Kissane in an honest and freewheeling exploration of the creative, strategic, and marketing challenges of traditional and online publishing—and how content strategy and design can help.

Topics covered will include:

  1. What is content strategy?
  2. For magazines that are born digital, what opportunities and challenges does the internet offer editors and publishers?
  3. For traditional magazines, what opportunities and challenges does the internet offer editors and publishers?
  4. How can traditional book publishers harness the energy and talent of the online community?
  5. What new forms are made possible by the intersection of traditional publishing and social networking?
  6. How can design facilitate reading?
  7. How can design encourage readers to become writers and publishers?
  8. What is the future of magazines and newspapers?
  9. What is the future of books?
  10. How can editors and publishers survive and thrive in this new climate?

If this sounds like a panel you’d enjoy seeing, vote for New Publishing and Web Content via the SXSW Interactive Panel picker.

ShortURL: zeldman.com/x/55

Filed under: A List Apart, Appearances, business, Community, conferences, content, Design, events, Ideas, industry, Marketing, Publications, Publishing, Small Business, speaking, Standards, State of the Web, Surviving, SXSW

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30 Mar 2009 2 pm eastern

“Freelance to Agency” Podcast

PRESENTING the full audio recording of “From Freelance to Agency: Start Small, Stay Small”, a panel at SXSW Interactive 2009 featuring Roger Black (founder of agencies huge and small), Kristina Halvorson (freelancer turned agency head), and Whitney Hess (agency pro turned freelance), and moderated by yours truly.

The panel was about quitting your job (or coping with a layoff), working as a freelancer, collaborating with others, and what to do if your collaboration starts morphing into an agency. We sought to answer questions like these:

  • What business and personal skills are required to start a freelance business or a small agency? Is freelancing or starting a small agency a good fit for my talents and abilities?
  • Is freelancing or starting a small agency the right work solution for me in a scary and rapidly shrinking economy? Can the downsides of this economy work to my advantage as a freelancer or small agency head?
  • I’ve been downsized/laid off/I’m stuck in a dead-end job working longer hours for less money. Should I look for a new job or take the plunge and go freelance?
  • What can I expect in terms of income and financial security if I switch from a staff job to freelancing? What techniques can I use as a freelancer to protect myself from the inevitable ups and downs?
  • How do I attract clients? How much in-advance work do I need to line up before I can quit my job?
  • How do I manage clients? What client expectations that are normal for in-house or big agency work must I deliver on as a freelancer or the head of a small or virtual agency? Which expectations can I discard? How do I tell my client what to expect?
  • Do I need an office? What are the absolute minimum tools I need to start out as a one-person shop?
  • How big can my freelance business grow before I need to recast it as a small agency?
  • What models are out there for starting an agency besides the conventional Inc. model with all its overhead? Which model would work best for me?
  • Who do I know with whom I could start a small or virtual agency? What should I look for in my partners? What should I beware of?
  • If I’m lucky enough to be growing, how do I protect my creative product and my professional reputation while adding new people and taking on more assignments?
  • How big can my agency grow before it sucks? How I can grow a business that’s dedicated to staying small?

Whitney Hess has written a fine wrap-up of the panel, including a collection of tweets raving about it, some of Mike Rohde’s visual coverage, and links to other people’s posts about the panel.

LISTEN to “From Freelance to Agency: Start Small, Stay Small”.

[tags]design, webdesign, podcast, recording, SXSW, SXSWi, SXSWi09, panels, panel, freelance, agency, smallagency, transition, survival, economy[/tags]

Filed under: business, Community, Design, development, Freelance, Self-Employment, Small Business, Surviving, Web Design, work, Working

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