Real type on the web?

A proposal for a fonts working group is under discussion at the W3C. The minutes of a small meeting held on Thursday 23 October include a condensed, corrected transcription of a discussion between Sampo Kaasila (Bitstream), Mike Champion (Microsoft), John Daggett (Mozilla), Håkon Wium Lie (Opera), Liam Quin (W3C), Bert Bos (W3C), Alex Mogilevsky (Microsoft), Josh Soref (Nokia), Vladimir Levantovsky (Monotype), Klaas Bals (Inventive Designers), and Richard Ishida (W3C).

The meeting started with a discussion of Microsoft’s EOT (Embedded OpenType) versus raw fonts. Bert Bos, style activity lead and co-creator of CSS, has beautifully summarized the relevant pros and cons discussed.

For those just catching up with the issue of real type on the web, here’s a bone-simple intro:

  1. CSS provides a mechanism for embedding real fonts on your website, and some browsers support it, but its use probably violates your licensing agreement with the type foundry, and may also cause security problems on an end-user’s computer.
  2. Microsoft’s EOT (based on the same standard CSS mechanism) works harder to avoid violating your licensing agreement, and has long worked in Internet Explorer, but is not supported in other browsers, is not foolproof vis-a-vis type foundry licensing rules, and may also cause PC security problems.

The proposed fonts working group hopes to navigate the technical and business problems of providing real fonts on the web, and in its first meeting came up with a potential compromise proposal before lunch.

Like everyone these days, the W3C is feeling a financial pinch, which means, if a real fonts working group is formed, its size and scope will necessarily be somewhat limited. That could be a good thing, since small groups work more efficiently than large groups. But a financial constraint on the number of invited experts could make for tough going where some details are concerned—and with typography, as with web technology, the details are everything.

I advise every web designer who cares about typography and web standards—that’s all of you, right?—to read the minutes of this remarkable first gathering, and to keep watching the skies.

[tags]web typography, typography, standards, webstandards, W3C, fonts, embedded, @fontface, EOT, workinggroup[/tags]

Fast high-speed access for NYC internet professionals

I’m home watching a sick kid and waiting for Time Warner Cable to come make a third attempt to install a cable modem. If you’re good at math, that means Time Warner Cable, the market leader in my city, has twice failed to install the correct cable modem in my home.

Because the web never sleeps, even web professionals who work in an office need reliable high-speed access when they are at home. Speakeasy provided that service via DSL in our old apartment (our previous DSL provider having been wiped out, literally, on September 11, 2001), but, as documented in old posts on this site, it took two months of comedic mishap for Speakeasy to get our home DSL working. And after Best Buy bought Speakeasy, it became harder and harder to contact the company’s technical support people to resolve service problems—of which there were more and more. By the time we moved out of our old apartment in December, 2007, frequent gapping and blackouts made our 6Mb Speakeasy DSL service more frustrating than pleasant to use.

The monopoly wins the bid

So when we moved to the new apartment, we decided to immediately install cable modem access as a baseline, and then secure reliable DSL access for redundancy. Time Warner Cable had set up a deal with our new building, and no cable competitor was available to service our location (you read that right), so the Time Warner got the gig. They came quickly and the system worked immediately. The digital HD cable fails once a week, probably due to excessive line splitting, but that’s another story, and we don’t watch much TV, so it doesn’t bug us, and it isn’t germane here.

Unwilling to repeat the failures and miscommunications that marked our Speakeasy DSL installation, I went ahead and had Time Warner Cable set up the wireless network. It costs extra every month, and Time Warner’s combination modem/wireless/Ethernet hub isn’t as good as the Apple Airport devices I own, but it makes more sense to pay for a system that’s guaranteed to work than to waste billable hours debugging a network.

Due to the thickness of our walls, the wireless network never reached our bedroom, but otherwise everything was hunky-dory. Within a few days of moving in, we had reliable, wireless, high-speed internet access. Until Time Warner told us otherwise.

The notice

Last spring we received a form letter from Time Warner stating that they’d installed the wrong modem, and that we were not getting the service we’d paid for. Apparently this was true for all customers who chose the service. Some of our money was refunded, and we were advised to schedule a service appointment or come to the 23rd Street office for a free replacement modem.

I went to the 23rd Street office, took a number, and within about fifteen minutes I was sitting in front of a representative. I showed him the form letter and requested the new modem.

He asked me for my old modem.

I said I hadn’t brought it, and pointed out that I hadn’t been instructed to bring it.

We both reread the form letter.

“It’s implied,” the rep said.

“Implied?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “If we’re going to give you a new modem, of course we’ll want your old modem.”

I guess it was implied. But it wasn’t stated. And when you charge an installation fee, a hardware fee, and a monthly service fee, and then give people the wrong modem, you probably shouldn’t rely on inference in your customer support copy. To avoid compounding your customer’s frustration, you should probably be absolutely explicit.

I didn’t say these things to the rep, because he didn’t write or approve the copy or send the wrong modem to all those homes. I left empty-handed and continued to use the modem we had. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. Whatever the poorly written form letter had to say about it, as a customer, I didn’t have a problem with the modem.

A visit from a professional

As summer ended, Time Warner Cable sent me a new form letter. This time I was told, rather darkly, that if I failed to replace my modem, I definitely would not get the service I was paying for. Indeed, my service level would somehow be lowered, although it appeared that I would continue being billed a premium price.

So I called Time Warner, arranged a service visit, and spent the day working at home.

Around the middle of the service window, a Time Warner Cable authorized technician showed up with a regular DSL modem (not a wireless modem).

“You have wireless?” he asked in amazement.

“Yes,” I said. “Doesn’t it say that on your service ticket?”

“Hey, I’m just a consultant. I don’t work for Time Warner Cable,” he helpfully informed me.

“So are you going to get a wireless router from your truck?” I offered after a pause.

“I don’t have those,” he said.

We looked at each other for a while, and then he said, “Besides, you don’t need to replace your modem. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“Come again?”

“There’s nothing wrong with your modem. You don’t need to replace it,” he said.

Then he called someone to inform them that he hadn’t swapped modems.

Then he asked me to sign a form.

“What am I signing?” I asked. “That you didn’t do anything?” I said it more politely than it reads.

“You’re signing that I was here,” he said. So I did.

That evening, as I was bathing my daughter, Time Warner Cable called to ask if I was satisfied with the experience.

I said frankly I was confused why I’d had to stay home all afternoon for a service visit on a modem that didn’t need to be replaced.

The nice lady said she would talk to her supervisor and run some tests.

I was on hold about five minutes, during which my daughter found various ways of getting water out of the tub and onto me.

The nice lady came back on and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but we just ran tests, and you do have the wrong modem. We’ll need to send someone out.”

So here I am, two weeks later, waiting for a technician to come try again. Will this one bring the right hardware? The suspense is awesome.

Although New York is a leading creator of websites and digital content, the town’s home and office internet connectivity lag behind that of practically every other U.S. city. Two factors account for it:

  1. An aging infrastructure. It’s hard to deliver best internet services over a billion miles of fraying, overstretched, jerry-rigged copper line.
  2. Monopoly. How hard would you try if you had no real competitors?

In future installments, I’ll discuss our adventures securing high-speed access to our studios at Happy Cog New York, and discuss the pros and cons of Verizon home DSL.

[Update: Don’t miss the denoument.]

[tags]timewarner, timewarnercable, speakeasy, Verizon, DSL, cablemodem, internet, access, highspeed, high-speed, roadrunner, turbo[/tags]

ALA No. 270: progressive enhancement 2; work at home

In Issue No. 270 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Progressive Enhancement with CSS

by AARON GUSTAFSON

Organize multiple style sheets to simplify the creation of environmentally appropriate visual experiences. Support older browsers while keeping your CSS hack-free. Use generated content to provide visual enhancements, and seize the power of advanced selectors to create wondrous (or amusing) effects. Part two of a series.

Working From Home: The Readers Respond

by OUR GENTLE READERS

We asked. Our gentle readers answered. In A List Apart No. 263 we inquired how you walk the blurry line when you work from home. Here are your secrets—how to balance work and family, maintain energy and focus, get things done, and above all, how to remember the love.

[tags]progressiveenhancement, workathome, webdesign, webdevelopment, alistapart[/tags]

An Event Apart Chicago sells out

An Event Apart Chicago, the final AEA event of 2008, has sold out. If you’ve already secured a seat for this remarkable two-day web design conference, we look forward to seeing you October 13–14 at the Sheraton Towers Chicago—along with Andy Clarke, Sarah Nelson, Robert Hoekman Jr., Jason Fried, Cameron Moll, Rob Weychert, Derek Powazek, Curt Cloninger, Jason Santa Maria, Jeffrey Veen, and your hosts, Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman (that’s me).

If you’ve missed the opportunity to join us this year, we’ll announce An Event Apart’s 2009 schedule on Wednesday, October 1, 2008. Stay tuned.

Update: An Event Apart has announced the first cities in its 2009 schedule.

[tags]aneventapart, webdesign, conference, conferences[/tags]

ALA 268: rethinking standards

Q. Why did the semantic web cross the road?
A. @#$% you!

Issue No. 268 of A List Apart fine-tunes the mechanics of progressive enhancement and rethinks the assumptions of standards-based design:

Web Standards 2008: Three Circles of Hell

by MOLLY E. HOLZSCHLAG

Standards promised to keep the web from fragmenting. But as the web standards movement advances in several directions at once, and as communication between those seeking to advance the web grows fractious, are our standards losing their relevance, and their ability to foster an accessible, interoperable web for all?

Test-Driven Progressive Enhancement

by SCOTT JEHL

Starting with semantic HTML, and layering enhancements using JavaScript and CSS, is supposed to create good experiences for all. Alas, enhancements still find their way to aging browsers and under-featured mobile devices that don’t parse them properly. What’s a developer to do? Scott Jehl makes the case for capabilities testing.

Comments off.

[tags]alistapart, progressiveenhancement, webstandards[/tags]

A List Apart is changing

A List Apart, for people who make websites, is slowly changing course.

For most of its decade of publication, ALA has been the leading journal of standards-based web design. Initially a lonely voice in the desert, we taught CSS layout before browsers correctly supported it, and helped The WaSP persuade browser makers to do the right thing. Once browsers’ standards support was up to snuff, we educated and excited designers and developers about standards-based design, preaching accessibility, teaching semantic markup, and helping you strategize how to sell this new way of designing websites to your clients, coworkers, and boss.

Most famously, over the years, writers for ALA have presented the design community with one amazing and powerfully useful new CSS technique after another. Initially radically new techniques that are now part of the vocabulary of all web designers include Paul Sowden’s “Alternative Styles,” Mark Newhouse’s list-based navigation, Eric Meyer’s intro to print styles, Douglas Bowman’s “Sliding Doors,” Dave Shea’s “CSS Sprites,” Dan Cederholm’s “Faux Columns,” Patrick Griffiths and Dan Webb’s “Suckerfish Dropdowns,” Drew McLellan’s “Flash Satay,” and so on and so on. There are literally too many great ones to name here. (Newcomers to standards-based design, check Erin Lynch’s “The ALA Primer Part Two: Resources For Beginners“.)

Web standards are in our DNA and will always be a core part of our editorial focus. Standards fans, never fear. We will not abandon our post. But since late 2005, we have consciously begun steering ALA back to its earliest roots as a magazine for all people who make websites—writers, architects, strategists, researchers, and yes, even marketers and clients as well as designers and developers. This means that, along with issues that focus on new methods and subtleties of markup and layout, we will also publish issues that discuss practical and sometimes theoretical aspects of user experience design, from the implications of ubiquitous computing to keeping communities civil.

The trick is to bring our huge group of highly passionate readers along for the ride. My wife likens it to piloting the Queen Mary. (Q. How do you make the Queen Mary turn left? A. Very, very slowly.)

The slow, deliberate, gradual introduction of articles on business and theory has not pleased all of ALA’s readers, some of whom may unrealistically wish that every issue would present them with the equivalent of a new “Sliding Doors.” It is possible, of course, to publish one CSS (or JavaScript or Jquery) article after another, and to do so on an almost daily basis. We could do that. Certainly we get enough submissions. The trouble is that most articles of this kind are either edge cases of limited utility, or derivatives that do not break significant new ground. (Either that, or they are flawed in our estimation, e.g. relying on dozens of non-semantic divs to create a moderately pleasing, minor visual effect.)

We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed, and some readers don’t seem to mind, and that’s fine. But any content you see in ALA has been vetted and deeply massaged by the toughest editorial team in the business. And when you see a new “design tech” article in our pages, you can be sure it has passed muster with our hard-ass technical editors.

Moreover, the fields of meaningful new CSS tricks have mostly yielded their fuels. We’ve done that. We’ve done it together with you. While a few new lodes of value undoubtedly remain to be tapped, we as a community, and as individuals who wish to grow as designers, need to absorb new knowledge. ALA will continue to be a place where you can do that.

When we began focusing on web standards in 1998, we were told we were wasting readers’ time on impractical crap of little value to working designers and developers. But we kept on anyway, and the things we learned and taught are now mainstream and workaday. While we apologize to readers who are again being made irritable by our insistence on occasionally presenting material that does not fall directly within their comfort zone, we hope that this experiment will prove to be of value in the end.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, magazine, editorial, content, focus, change, publishing, standards, webstandards, css, design, layout, userexperience[/tags]

SiteAssist Professional

Released Wednesday, August 27th, SiteAssist Professional creates entire CSS-based websites in minutes. Since that sounds ridiculous and impossible, I’ll say it again: the product creates websites in minutes, with clean markup, and nicely optimized CSS.

The software package includes 14 designs, each with 12 color schemes. You can customize everything and save your own designs. SiteAssist Professional works with Dreamweaver templates and imports from Eric Meyer’s CSS Sculptor and CSS Menu Writer .

While I wouldn’t use SiteAssist Professional to design sites for my clients, I would definitely use it to quickly mock up good-looking, standards-compliant, interactive walk-throughs. It’s also great for pro bono or friend-and-family work—any time you need to create a viable website without spending a ton of time.

The product lists for $199.99 but is available for just $149.99 during a two-week introductory special.

[tags]css, software, tools, siteassist, webassist[/tags]

ALA 266: next generation sprites, metaphors

In Issue No. 266 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

CSS Sprites2 – It’s JavaScript Time

by DAVE SHEA

In 2004, Dave Shea took the CSS rollover where it had never gone before. Now he takes it further still—with a little help from jQuery. Say hello to hover animations that respond to a user’s behavior in ways standards-based sites never could before.

Mapping Memory: Web Designer as Information Cartographer

by AARON RESTER

The rise of the social web demands that we rethink our traditional role as builders of digital monuments, and turn our attention to the close observation of the spaces that our users are producing around us. It’s time for a new metaphor. Consider cartography.

[tags]daveshea, aaronrester, alistapart, webdesign, webdevelopment, informationarchitecture, userexperience, css, sprites, jquery, animation, navigation[/tags]

The Survey for People Who Make Websites

It’s back, it’s improved, and it’s hungry for your data. It’s A List Apart’s second annual survey for people who make websites.

I took it! And so should you. The Survey for People Who Make Websites.

Last year nearly 33,000 of you took the survey, enabling us to begin figuring out what kinds of job titles, salaries, and work situations are common in our field.

This year’s survey corrects many of last year’s mistakes, with more detailed and numerous questions for freelance contractors and owners of (or partners in) small web businesses. There are also better international categories, and many other improvements recommended by those who took the survey last year.

Please take the survey and encourage your friends and colleagues who make websites to do likewise.

[Comments off. Pings on.]

[tags]survey, web design survey, webdesign, webdevelopment, professional, alistapart[/tags]

AEA Boston 2008 session notes

Early, initial linkage and reviews. Let us know what we missed!

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: Understanding Web Design

Luke Wroblewski: “Jeffrey Zeldman’s Understanding Web Design talk at An Event Apart Boston 2008 highlighted factors that made it challenging to explain the value and perspective of Web designers but still managed to offer a way to describe the field.”

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: The Lessons of CSS Frameworks

Luke Wroblewski: “At An Event Apart Boston 2008, Eric Meyer walked through common characteristics of several Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) frameworks and outlined lessons that can be learned from their structure.”

Functioning Form – An Event Apart: Good Design Ain’t Easy

Luke Wroblewski: “Jason Santa Maria’s Good Design Ain’t Easy talk at An Event Apart 2008 argued for deeper graphic resonance in the presentation of content online.”

KarlynMorissette.com: An Event Apart: Day one schedule

Karyln is an educator who attended An Event Apart Boston 2008, sat in the front row, and took fabulous notes. This summary post links to her individual notes from each session of day one.

Karlyn’s session notes are informative, opinionated, and fun to read, and include photos of speakers and presentations. Well worth your time!

KarlynMorissette.com: An Event Apart: Day two schedule

Karyln assesses day one and posts links to her individual notes from each session of day two (except for the last session, as “you had to be there” for the live critiques).

Idiot Banter: An Event Apart session notes

Notes from all sessions.

Slide sharing

Luke Wroblewski – An Event Apart: Web Application Hierarchy

“In my Web Application Hierarchy presentation at An Event Apart Boston 2008, I walked through the importance of visual hierarchy, visual principles for developing effective hierarchies, and utilizing applications of visual hierarchy to communicate central messages, guide actions, and present information. Download the slides from my presentation.”

Quirksmode: AEA Boston slides

From Peter-Paul Koch’s presentation on unobtrusive scripting.

[tags]aneventapart, design, webdesign, conference, aeaboston08, session notes, downloads[/tags]