Flash, iPad, Standards

Lack of Flash in the iPad (and before that, in the iPhone) is a win for accessible, standards-based design. Not because Flash is bad, but because the increasing popularity of devices that don’t support Flash is going to force recalcitrant web developers to build the semantic HTML layer first. Additional layers of Flash UX can then be optionally added in, just as, in proper, accessible, standards-based development, JavaScript UX enhancements are added only after we verify that the site works without them.

As the percentage of web users on non-Flash-capable platforms grows, developers who currently create Flash experiences with no fallbacks will have to rethink their strategy and start with the basics before adding a Flash layer. They will need to ensure that content and experience are delivered with or without Flash.

Developers always should have done this, but some don’t. For those who don’t, the growing percentage of users on non-Flash-capable platforms is a wake-up call to get the basics right first.

Whither, plug-ins?

Flash won’t die tomorrow, but plug-in technology is on its way out.

Plug-in technology made sense when web browsing was the province of geeks. It was a brilliant solution to the question of how to extend the user experience beyond what HTML allowed. People who were used to extending their PC via third-party hardware, and jacking the capabilities of their operating system via third-party spell checkers, font managers, and more, intuitively grasped how to boost their browser’s prowess by downloading and updating plug-ins.

But tomorrow’s computing systems, heralded by the iPhone, are not for DIYers. You don’t add Default Folder or FontExplorer X Pro to your iPhone, you don’t choose your iPhone’s browser, and you don’t install plug-ins in your iPhone’s browser. This lack of extensibility may not please the Slashdot crowd but it’s the future of computing and browsing. The bulk of humanity doesn’t want a computing experience it can tinker with; it wants a computing experience that works.

HTML5, with its built-in support for video and audio, plays perfectly into this new model of computing and browsing; small wonder that Google and Apple’s browsers support these HTML5 features.

The power shifts

Google not only makes a browser, a phone, an OS, and Google Docs, it also owns a tremendous amount of video content that can be converted to play in HTML5, sans plug-in. Apple not only makes Macs, iPhones, and iPads, it is also among the largest retail distributors of video and audio content.

Over the weekend, a lot of people were doing the math, and there was panic at Adobe and schadenfreude elsewhere. Apple and Adobe invented modern publishing together in the 1980s, and they’ve been fighting like an old unmarried couple ever since, but Apple’s decision to omit Flash from the iPad isn’t about revenge, it’s about delivering a stable platform. And with HTML5 here, the tea leaves are easy to read. Developers who supplement Flash with HTML5 may soon tire of Flash—but Adobe has a brief but golden opportunity to create the tools with which rich HTML5 content is created. Let’s see if they figure that out.


Discussion has moved to a new thread.


Posthumous Hosting and Digital Culture

THE DEATHS of Leslie Harpold and Brad Graham, in addition to being tragic and horrible and sad, have highlighted the questionable long-term viability of blogs, personal sites, and web magazines as legitimate artistic and literary expressions. (Read this, by Rogers Cadenhead.)

Cool URIs don’t change, they just fade away. When you die, nobody pays your hosting company, and your work disappears. Like that.

Now, not every blog post or “Top 10 Ways to Make Money on the Internet” piece deserves to live forever. But there’s gold among the dross, and there are web publications that we would do well to preserve for historical purposes. We are not clairvoyants, so we cannot say which fledgling, presently little-read web publications will matter to future historians. Thus logic and the cultural imperative urge us to preserve them all. But how?

The death of the good in the jaws of time is not limited to internet publications, of course. Film decays, books (even really good ones) constantly go out of print, digital formats perish. Recorded music that does not immediately find an audience disappears from the earth.

Digital subscriptions were supposed to replace microfilm, but American libraries, which knew we were racing toward recession years before the actual global crisis came, stopped being able to pay for digital newspaper and magazine descriptions nearly a decade ago. Many also (even fancy, famous ones) can no longer collect—or can only collect in a limited fashion. Historians and scholars have access to every issue of every newspaper and journal written during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, but can access only a comparative handful of papers covering the election of Barack Obama.

Thanks to budget shortfalls and format wars, our traditional media, literature, and arts are perishing faster than ever before. Nothing conceived by the human mind, except Heaven and nuclear winter, is eternal.

Still, when it comes to instant disposability, web stuff is in a category all its own.

Unlike with other digital expressions, format is not the problem: HTML, CSS, and backward-compatible web browsers will be with us forever. The problem is, authors pay for their own hosting.

(There are other problems: the total creative output of someone I follow is likely distributed across multiple social networks as well as a personal site and Twitter feed. How to connect those dots when the person has passed on? But let’s leave that to the side for the moment.)

A suggestion for a business. Sooner or later, some hosting company is going to figure out that it can provide a service and make a killing (as it were) by offering ten-, twenty-, and hundred-year packets of posthumous hosting.

A hundred years is not eternity, but you are not Shakespeare, and it’s a start.


Heart trouble

My marriage resulted in a daughter, Ava, and a dog, Emile. My daughter, thank God, is fine. But Emile has become ill, first with pneumonia, which he survived, and now with pulmonary hypertension, which is going to kill him.

The pneumonia manifested as coughing, fainting, dramatic weight loss, and lack of energy. A week in a veterinary hospital’s intensive care unit saved his life. And, for a few weeks afterward, although still underweight, he seemed to be recovering.

Then he began fainting again, often falling into his own urine and feces, sometimes while emitting what sounded like a scream of terror. The light would go out of his eyes. Grabbing his feet, patting his side, I’d lie on the floor, coaxing him back from the other world. Then it was back to the veterinarian, or, as two days ago, to the veterinary hospital’s ICU.

At the hospital, they prescribed a new medicine, which he starts today. They also told me, in doctor language, that he won’t be with us much longer.

It’s too soon to give up hope, too soon to pull the plug, but the day of horrible choices is approaching.


The Stars Look Down

Favrd

It wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last. Like an angry Hebrew God, he creates things and then, in fits of pique, destroys them.

Sometimes, on the web, communities end because money runs out. Not the case here. Sometimes they end because one company buys another, and that is almost never good for anyone except a couple guys who get rich. Again, not the case here. No money changed hands or ever would have. This was an exchange far below the radar of the venture capitalists who flatten the earth in their endless quest for the gold that leaks from bubbles before they pop.

Here we had a smallish but passionate international community of fun, bright people who not only amused but, yes, loved each other. Now it’s gone. Just like that, poof.

Alas, stars on Twitter have become mere take-out menus hung on the doors of other restaurants.

Whatever.

Short URL: zeldman.com/?p=3198

On Self-Promotion

Zeldman

You are a shameless self promoter!” he said.

I can’t speak to the “shame” part, but for the rest: guilty as charged.

Self-promotion may appear revolting, but it’s the only promotion that’s guaranteed in this business. Do it right, and only haters will hate you for it. To get, you must give.

Love your work

If you write or design, you must believe in what you do. If you don’t believe you have something to express, there are plenty of other jobs out there. If you believe in what you do, and if you’re doing it for real, you must find ways to let people know about it.

Sometimes this takes the direct form of a case study. The assumption in publishing such a study is that someone out there might be interested in the service your team provided, the thinking you brought to the problem, and so on.

There is a difference between being arrogant about yourself as a person and being confident that your work has some value. The first is unattractive, the second is healthy and natural. Some people respond to the one as if it were the other. Don’t confuse them. Marketing is not bragging, and touting one’s wares is not evil. The baker in the medieval town square must holler “fresh rolls” if he hopes to feed the townfolk.

The love you make

But direct self-promotion is ineffective and will go unnoticed unless it is backed by a more indirect (and more valuable) form of marketing: namely, sharing information and promoting others.

Is your Twitter feed mostly about your own work, or do you mainly link to interesting work by others? Link blogs with occasional opinions (or occasional techniques, or both) get read. The more you find and promote other people’s good work, the more in-the-know and “expert” you are perceived to be—and the more you (or your brand, if you must) are liked.

You can’t fake this. If you’re linking to other people’s work as a ploy to make others link back, it’s obvious, and you’ll fail. If you’re sharing half-baked information half-heartedly, nobody will stick around.

This may sound Jedi-mind-trick-ish, but never create a blog or a Twitter feed with the explicit idea of promoting yourself. Create for the joy of creating. Share for the joy of the sharing, and because the information you’re sharing genuinely excites you. Do that, and the rest will follow.

zeldman.com/?p=3061

Write When Inspired

In writing four books and an unknown quantity of articles and blog posts, I’ve discovered the simple secret to maintaining quality. I share it with you here in mnemonic nursery rhyme fashion:

Write when inspired; rest when tired.

Whether the task is writing, design, or hanging a picture straight, it is obvious that we do our best work when healthy, rested, refreshed, alert, and eager to do the job for its own sake.

But anyone who has done professional work also knows that we must often work late into the night at the behest of deadlines. There are jobs that call for us to push ourselves, not merely creatively (which is exhilarating), but physically—even when our bodies need rest, our minds are dimmed, our concentration dented, and our inspiration nonexistent.

Therein lies our conflict, and one key to the difference between good and great.

Design is a hurting thing

Work is work, and we must do what we must do. But when quality matters most, the old saw about “good or fast—choose one,” holds true. Pushing through to the finish line when you have nothing left inside you is great for marathon runners, but not so hot for creative professionals. In particular, if you’re trying to write clearly and well, it’s better to let a deadline slide by a day than to “just finish up.”

I call out writing in particular because if you push out a design when you’re exhausted, the details and balance will suffer, and it won’t be as great as it can be—but the public has such a low expectation of aesthetics in web design that you might get away with it. Only you and a few of your designer friends will recognize the sloppy, ill-considered bits that make your work good when it could have been great. Of course, your designer friends will think less of you, and you’ll cringe every time you see the site, but if you don’t have a taste for masochism, you shouldn’t be in design, because the hurt will kill you.

Night of the living deadlines

There’s a reason they call them deadlines.

With design that could have been great but was ever so slightly bungled due to exhaustion in the face of ridiculous deadlines, it is only the designer and the rare armchair aesthetician who know.

But when writers push themselves to make a deadline, everyone knows, because the passages where they cheated are unclear, unpersuasive, ineffective. A reader needn’t follow the exact art and subtle science of kerning or vertical grid building to recognize when a sentence isn’t clear, or fails to make a convincing point, or doesn’t seem to entirely belong with its older and younger brother sentences.

When I let a publisher’s deadline push out a piece of writing before it is ready, it is like thrusting a helpless preemie into the cruel world. And it’s not just external deadlines that can wreck my work. Say I’m writing here, where there are no deadlines. I get nearly to the end of what I want to say, and then I’m called away by work or family. When I return to the blog post hours later to wrap things up and publish, I’m distracted, and the powerful emotion and single idea that initially led me me to write has flown over the garden wall. If I just bang out a finish, the whole piece will be weakened. I know because I’ve done it.

Will no one think of the readers?

Currently I’m working on the third edition of Designing With Web Standards, and in addition to mentally approaching it as a new book in order to truly rethink and reinvigorate it, I’m also sticking like epoxy to the discipline of holding back chapters until they are ready. This sounds like what a writer would always do, but trade publishing is like a slave galley in a Roman galleon—if the sufferer beside you collapses under the whip, you need to row harder. You won’t get that placement at Borders if you don’t finish on time. Amazon won’t give you that special promotional push if you don’t turn it in six weeks earlier than your contract says you must, &c.

Never mind the bollocks. You are not writing for Amazon, or to fit a staff proofreader’s vacation schedule, as important and real as those considerations may be. You are writing for readers, a duty as sacred, in its way, as parenting. If you don’t believe the previous sentence, if you think writing is mainly about getting paid, I’m sorry you wasted your time reading this page, and I hope you find another way to earn a living soon. The world is already choking on half-considered, squeezed-out shit. There’s no need to add to the pile.

If you want to be great, or at least to be better, start by breathing, taking breaks, and working intensely when the mood is on.

[tags]writing, inspiration[/tags]

In defense of web developers

It has only been a few days but I am already sick of the “XHTML is bullshit, man!” crowd using the cessation of XHTML 2.0 activity to condescend to—or even childishly glory in the “folly” of—web developers who build with XHTML 1.0, a stable W3C recommendation for nearly ten years, and one that will continue to work indefinitely.

A coterie of well-informed codemeisters, from ppk to Ian Hickson, has always had legit beefs with XHTML, the most persuasive of which was Hickson’s:

It is suggested that HTML delivered as text/html is broken and XHTML delivered as text/xml is risky, so authors intending their work for public consumption should stick to HTML 4.01, and authors who wish to use XHTML should deliver their markup as application/xhtml+xml.

This problem always struck me as more theoretical than real, but I pointed it out in every edition of Designing With Web Standards and left it to the reader to decide. When I wrote the first edition of the book, some versions of Mozilla and IE would go into Quirksmode in the presence of HTML 4, breaking CSS layouts. To me, that was a worse problem than whatever was supposed to be scary or bad about using well-formed XHTML syntax while delivering it as HTML all browsers could support.

The opportunity to rethink markup

The social benefit of rethinking markup sealed the deal. XHTML’s introduction in 2000, and its emphasis on rules of construction, gave web standards evangelists like me a platform on which to hook a program of semantic markup replacing the bloated and unsustainable tag soup of the day. The web is better for this and always will be, and there is much still to do, as many people who create websites still have not heard the call.

A few who became disenchanted with XHTML early retreated to HTML 4, and as browsers stopped going into Quirksmode in its presence, valid, structural HTML 4 became a reasonable option again. But both HTML 4 and XHTML 1 were document languages, not transactional languages. They were all noun, and almost no verb. So Ian Hickson, XHTML’s biggest critic, fathered HTML 5, an action-oriented toddler specification that won’t reach adulthood until 2022, although some of it can be used today.

And guess what? HTML 5 is as controversial today as XHTML was in 2000, and there are just as many people who worry that a specification of which they don’t entirely approve is being shoved down their throats by an “uncaring elite.” Only this time, instead of the W3C, the “uncaring elite” is Mr Hickson, with W3C rubber stamp, and input from browser makers, including his employer.

XHTML not dead

All of this is to say that XHTML is not dead (XHTML 2 is dead, thank goodness), and HTML 5 is not here yet. Between now and 2022, we have plenty of time to learn about HTML 5 and contribute to the discussion—and browser makers have 13 years to get it right. Which is also to say all of us—not just those who long ago retreated to HTML 4, or who became fans of HTML 5 before it could even say “Mama”—are entitled to be pleased that standard markup activity will now have a single focus, rather than a dual one (with XHTML 2 the dog spec that no one was willing to mercy-kill until now).

Entitled to be pleased is not the same as entitled to gloat and name call. As DN put it in comment-44126:

What is really rather aggravating is how many people are using this news as a stick with which to beat any developer or freelancer who’s had the audacity to study up on and use XHTML in good faith–or even, much to the horror of the Smug Knowbetters, admire XHTML’s intelligible markup structure–for the brand-new-minted sin of doing the most with XHTML that’s possible. The ‘unofficial Q&A’ is ripe with that kind of condescension. …[D]on’t pin users (front-end developers are merely users of specifications) with Microsoft’s failure to support the correct MIME type.

Read more

  • Web Fonts, HTML 5 Roundup: Worthwhile reading on the hot new web font proposals, and on HTML 5/CSS 3 basics, plus a demo of advanced HTML 5 trickery. — 20 July 2009
  • HTML 5: Nav Ambiguity Resolved. An e-mail from Chairman Hickson resolves an ambiguity in the nav element of HTML 5. What does that mean in English? Glad you asked! — 13 July 2009
  • Web Standards Secret Sauce: Even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. Thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit, in the form of Safari, has been a surprising force for good on the web, raising people’s expectations about what a web browser can and should do, and what a web page should look like. — 12 July 2009
  • XHTML DOA WTF: The web’s future isn’t what the web’s past cracked it up to be. — 2 July 2009

[tags]HTML, HTML5, W3C, WTF, XHTML, XML[/tags]

In defense of the low-fiber tweet

Hey… You were one of my early influences into the realm of embracing standards so I thought you’d be cool to follow….

However, you seem to be one of the many techie’s that get a ton of followers and the ego takes over. I find no value in your 90% of your tweets.

It’s nice to know that Spiderman movies make you cry, but I really don’t care and probably most folks don’t either. But if they do more power to them!

Sure.. maybe it adds a little bit of personal intrigue but I’d rather see 90% value and 10% fluff. If I wanted to follow a comedian there are tons of them to choose from. And while I do follow some entertainers, that’s not why I chose to follow you, but it is the reason that I’m choosing to not follow you now.

Take the ego down a few notches and provide some value.

[Name withheld]

If you’re looking for web design “value” from me, read A List Apart and zeldman.com. Both are free.

You can also download my first web design book free, or buy Designing With Web Standards, or attend An Event Apart, or hire Happy Cog.

Those are the means through which I provide web design value to the community and clients.

My Twitter feed is for personal expression, a basic human right.

Please close the door on your way out.

“Taking Your Talent to the Web” is now a free downloadable book

Taking Your Talent To The Web, a guide for the transitioning designer, by L. Jeffrey Zeldman. Hand model: Tim Brown.

RATED FIVE STARS at Amazon.com since the day it was published, Taking Your Talent to the Web (PDF) is now a free downloadable book from zeldman.com:

I wrote this book in 2001 for print designers whose clients want websites, print art directors who’d like to move into full–time web and interaction design, homepage creators who are ready to turn pro, and professionals who seek to deepen their web skills and understanding.

Here we are in 2009, and print designers and art directors are scrambling to move into web and interaction design.

The dot-com crash killed this book. Now it lives again. While browser references and modem speeds may reek of 2001, much of the advice about transitioning to the web still holds true.

It’s yours. Enjoy.

Oh, yes, here’s that ancient Amazon page.


Short Link

Update – now with bookmarks

Attention, K-Mart shoppers. The PDF now includes proper Acrobat bookmarks, courtesy of Robert Black. Thanks, Robert!