Big Web Show № 109: Bring Me The Head of Tim Berners-Lee
IN BIG WEB SHOW № 109, Robin Berjon and I enjoy a calm, rational conversation about EME, DRM, the MPAA, and the W3C. Enjoy.
The episode was sponsored by Squarespace. Links mentioned:
- “Please Bring Me More of That Yummy DRM Discussion” by Robin Berjon
- About Robin Berjon
- Robin Berjon (@robinberjon) on Twitter
- “We Are Huxleying Ourselves Into The Full Orwell” by Corey Doctorow
- News of the MPAA’s W3C Membership reaches Colonel Kurtz
- Web platform tests on Github
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
- Test The Web Forward blog
- Test The Web Forward W3C announcement by Robin Berjon
- The Main Problem With The Invention of the Internet
It’s 2014. Is Web Design Dead?
IN A RECENT article on his website, Web Standards Killed the HTML Star, designer Jeff Croft laments the passing of the “HTML and CSS ‘guru’” as a viable long-term professional position and urges his fellow web design generalists to “diversify or die.”
The reason the Web Standards Movement mattered was that the browsers sucked. The stated goal of the Movement was to get browser makers on board with web standards such that all of our jobs as developers would be easier.
What we may not have realized is that once the browsers don’t suck, being an HTML and CSS “guru” isn’t really a very marketable skillset. 80% of what made us useful was the way we knew all the quirks and intracries of the browsers. Guess what? Those are all gone. And if they’re not, they will be in the very near future. Then what?
Evangelizing true compliance, not mastering workarounds for compliance failures, was always the point. Evangelizing was key. Browsers weren’t going to stay standards compliant if nobody made use of that compliance; likewise, W3C specifications weren’t going to advance unless designers seized hold of technologies like CSS to push type and layout on the web as far as they could go—and then complain that they didn’t go far enough.
It took a village of passionate browser engineers, designers, front-end developers, and generalists to bring us to the web we have today. Does the movement’s success mean that many of those who led it will become jobless, like Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution?
Jeff Croft is correct when he says “the goal of the Web Standards Movement was for it to not have to exist.” But we should take this a step further. The goal of the web standards movement was to remove needless complexity and absurdity from the process of creating websites so we could focus our attention where it should be: on design, content, and experience. Evangelizing standards to browser makers and our fellow designers was not a career path, and was never intended to be—any more than aiding a wounded buddy turns a soldier into a physician.
HTML “gurudom” was never a career path for anyone, aside, maybe, from a couple of talented authors. Same thing with CSS trickery. Doing black magic with CSS3 can get you a slot on a web design conference stage, but it’s not a career path or proper goal for most web designers.
Fascinatingly, to me, anyway, while many of us prefer to concentrate on design, content, and experience, it continues to be necessary to remind our work comrades (or inform younguns) about web standards, accessibility, and progressive enhancement. When a site like Facebook stops functioning when a script forgets to load, that is a failure of education and understanding on the part of those who created the site; all of us have a stake in reaching out to our fellow developers to make sure that, in addition to the new fancy tricks they’ve mastered, they also learn the basics of web standards, without which our whole shared system implodes.
This doesn’t mean “go be an HTML guru.” It does mean cherish the lessons of the recent past, and share them with those who missed them (or missed the point). Wisdom is not a job, but it is always an asset.
Never fear, web design generalists: many companies and organizations require your services and always will—from universities still seeking “webmasters,” to startups seeking seasoned folks with multiple areas of understanding to direct and coordinate the activities of younger specialists. But if jack-of-all web work is feeling stale, now may be the time to up your game as a graphic designer, or experience designer, or front end developer. “Diversify or die” may be overstating things a bit. But “follow the path you love” will always be good advice.
The Black Hole of The Valley
STOP ME if you’ve heard this one: Guy goes into a venture capital firm, borrows money. Uses money to turn neat idea into product. Gives away product (or sells well below cost) to build a following and thus a demand.
Customers love product, imbue it with their life energy and creativity. Community grows, but not cashflow, because money was something to be figured out later. More investors throw more money at the product, on the theory that what it needs is fancier offices or fifty designers united behind no vision in particular.
Surprisingly (at least to the participants), several rounds of throwing cash and bodies at what was once a neat idea fail to generate ludicrous return on investment. Capitalists demand that product idea be changed.
Change of idea fails to generate ludicrous return on investment. Customers, no longer sure what product is about (or even that it has a future) become less passionate.
Usage falters, then rapidly hits event horizon.
Guy starts shopping no longer loved or interesting product at fire sale price.
Eventually big internet company sucks product and product team into itself, where both disappear forever.
The Lords of Vendorbation
noun : Unusable web-based intranet software foisted on large populations of users who have no say in the matter. For example, the “dynamic” website for your kid’s school, on which you can never find anything remotely useful—like her classroom or the names and email addresses of her teachers. Merely setting up an account can be a Borgesian ordeal minus the aesthetics.
Tried updating a driver’s license, registering a name change after a marriage, or accomplishing pretty much any task on a local, state, or federal website? Congratulations! You’ve been vendorbated. In ad sales? In publishing? Travel agent? Work in retail? Y’all get vendorbated a hundred times a day. Corporate America runs, not very well, on a diet of dysfunctional intranets sold by the lords of vendorbation.
Terrible food kills a restaurant. Terrible music ends a band’s career. But unspeakably terrible software begets imperial monopolies.
Wholesale contractual vendor lock-in between vendors of artless (but artfully initially priced) web software and the technologically unknowing who are their prey (for instance, your local school board) creates a mafia of mediocrity. Good designers and developers cannot penetrate this de-meritocracy. While they sweat to squeeze through needle’s eye after needle’s eye of baffling paperwork and absurd requirements, the vendorbators, who excel at precisely that paperwork and those requirements, breeze on in and lock ‘er down.
Vendorbation takes no heed of a user’s mental model; indeed, the very concept of a user’s mental model (or user’s needs) never enters the minds of those who create vendorbatory software. I say “create” rather than “design,” because design has less than nothing to do with how this genre of software gets slapped together (“developed”) and bloated over time (“updated”).
Vendorbatory product “design” decisions stem purely from contingencies and conveniences in the code framework, which itself is almost always an undocumented archipelago of spaghetti, spit, and duct tape started by one team and continued by others, with no guiding principle other than to “get it done” by an arbitrary deadline, such as the start of a new school year or the business cycle’s next quarter.
Masturbation, or so I have read, can be fun. Not so, vendorbation. It is a nightmare for everyone—from the beleaguered underpaid lumpen developers who toil in high-pressure silos; to the hapless bureaucrats who deserve partners but get predators instead; from the end users (parents, in our example) who can never do what they came to do or find what they want, and who most often feel stupid and blame themselves; to the constituents those users wish to serve—in our example, the children. Will no one think of the children?
Cha-ching! Like a zombie-driven un-merry-go-round spinning faster and faster as the innocents strapped to its hideous horses shriek silently, the vendorbation cycle rolls on and on, season after bloody season, dollar after undeserved dollar, error after error after error after error in saecula saeculorum.
Think it’s bad now? Wait till the lords of vendorbation start making their monstrosities “mobile.”
Doff of the neologist’s toque to Eric A. Meyer, whose cornpensation helped crystalize what to do with the bad feelings.
AN EVENT APART Chicago—a photo set on Flickr. Pictures of the city and the conference for people who make websites.
Notes from An Event Apart Chicago 2013—Luke Wroblewski’s note-taking is legendary. Here are his notes on seven of the ten presentations at this year’s An Event Apart Chicago.
#aeachi—conference comments on Twitter.
Chicago (Foursquare)—some of my favorite places in the city.
An Event Apart Chicago—sessions, schedule, and speaker bios for the conference that just ended.
AEA Chicago 2013 on Lanyrd—three days of design, code, and content on the social sharing platform for conferences.
A handful of seats are available for the final event of the year, An Event Apart San Francisco at the Palace Hotel, December 9–11, 2013. Be there or be square.
Filed under: An Event Apart, architecture, Best practices, Chicago, cities, Code, creativity, Design, Designers, glamorous, IXD, mobile, Mobile, Multi-Device, Standards, State of the Web, Usability, User Experience, UX, Web Design, Web Standards, Working, Zeldman
Flat design is destroying the woodgrain background industry.
— Jeffrey Zeldman (@zeldman) August 6, 2013
GOING TO BE SAD when all these social networks I’ve been pouring my life into get shut down by basic economics or bought by Yahoo.
I CAME to AdobeMAX in Los Angeles to give a talk to a room full of designers. Before arriving, I thought of Adobe as a historically important 20th century company that was slowly leaking relevance—a company web designers in the era of responsive design have begun to think of with a combination of fondness and embarrassment, like a beloved but somewhat shameful old uncle.
I came to LA with those perceptions, but I leave with the impression of an exciting 21st century company in emergence.
Realistic products for a magical age
The products I saw were both amazing and realistic. It was amazing to see a responsive design prototyping application that works independently and inside Photoshop, created by passionate people who actually work in our field and who consulted with Ethan Marcotte, for Pete’s sake.
That was the amazing part, but the equally important realistic part was that nobody was pretending this tool would be used to deliver final code on your website. It was not a responsive Dreamweaver I saw, but a prototyping tool, to help designers figure out how their responsive design should work (and maybe show the prototype to a boss or client for approval). Just prototyping. Nobody pretending they had a product that would make the difficult craft of front-end design redundant. No such intention behind the product. A product for the real work-flow of 21st century design teams. No marketing puffery, no inflated claims to set designers’ teeth on edge.
We are now them
More than that. Every Adobe employee I saw seemed to be excited, happy, and on-board with the mission. I see that kind of energy at good startups and small studios. I never see it in big corporations. It sometimes seemed to me that Adobe hadn’t so much acquired Typekit as the reverse: that the people and thinking behind Typekit are now running Adobe (which is actually true), and that the mindset of some of the smartest consultants and designers in our industry is now driving a huge corporation.
I never expected to see that in my lifetime, and to me, it is even more impressive than the amazingness and realism of the new product line or the transformation of the company from a shrink-wrapped product manufacturer to an inventor of cloud-based services. I never expected to see people like us running companies like that.
It makes me feel good about the future, when so many other things conspire to make us feel the opposite.
140 Characters is a Joke
THERE IS ALWAYS more to the story than what we are told. I am not omniscient. It is better to light a single candle than to join a lynch mob. Other people’s behavior is not my business. Truth is hard, epigrams are easy. Anything worth saying takes more than 140 characters. Blogging’s not dead. F____ the 140 character morality police.
Big Web Show 79: Eric Meyer
IN EPISODE No. 79 of The Big Web Show (“everything web that matters”), I interview CSS guru, Microformats co-founder, O’Reilly and New Riders author, and An Event Apart co-founder Eric A. Meyer (@meyerweb) about upcoming CSS modules including grid layout, flexbox, and regions; his career trajectory from college graduate webmaster to world-renowned author, consultant, and lecturer; founding and running a virtual community (CSS-Discuss); becoming an O’Reilly writer; the early days of the Mosaic Browser and The Web Standards Project’s CSS Samurai; “The Web Behind” variation of The Web Ahead podcast, and more.
Listen to the episode.
Eric A. Meyer has been working with the web since late 1993 and is an internationally recognized expert on the subjects of HTML and CSS. He is the principal consultant for Complex Spiral Consulting and lives in Cleveland, Ohio, which is a much nicer city than you’ve been led to believe. Author of “Eric Meyer on CSS” (New Riders), “Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide” (O’Reilly & Associates), “CSS2.0 Programmer’s Reference” (Osborne/McGraw-Hill), and the CSS Browser Compatibility Charts, Eric co-founded and co-directs An Event Apart, the design conference “for people who make websites,” and speaks at a variety of conferences on the subject of standards, CSS use, and web design.
Photo: Chris Jennings