Ding dong, SOPA is dead.

DING DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD. For now, at least, the “ill-conceived lobbyist-driven piece of legislation” known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is no more:

Misguided efforts to combat online privacy have been threatening to stifle innovation, suppress free speech, and even, in some cases, undermine national security. As of yesterday, though, there’s a lot less to worry about.

…Though the administration did [not] issue a formal veto threat, the White House’s opposition signaled the end of these bills, at least in their current form.

A few hours later, Congress shelved SOPA, putting off action on the bill indefinitely.

Political Animal – Putting SOPA on a shelf

The maker makes: on design, community, and personal empowerment

THE FIRST THING I got about the web was its ability to empower the maker. The year was 1995, and I was tinkering at my first website. The medium was raw and ugly, like a forceps baby; yet even in its blind, howling state, it made me a writer, a designer, and a publisher — ambitions which had eluded me during more than a decade of underachieving desert wanderings.

I say “it made me” but I made it, too. You get the power by using it. Nobody confers it on you.

I also got that the power was not for me alone: it was conferred in equal measure on everyone with whom I worked, although not everyone would have the time or desire to use the power fully.

The luckiest makers

Empowerment and desire. It takes extraordinary commitment, luck, and talent to become a maker in, say, music or film, because the production and distribution costs and risks in these fields almost always demand rich outside investors and tightly controlling corporate structures. (Film has held up better than music under these conditions.)

Music and film fill my life, and, from afar, I love many artists involved in these enterprises. But they are mostly closed to you and me, where the web is wide open, and always has been. We all know gifted, hard working musicians who deserve wide acclaim but do not receive it, even after decades of toil. The web is far kinder to makers.

To care is to share

Not only does the web make publishers of those willing to put in the work, it also makes most of us free sharers of our hard-won trade, craft, and business secrets. The minute we grab hold of a new angle on design, interaction, code, or content, we share it with a friend — or with friends we haven’t met yet. This sharing started in news groups and message boards, and flowered on what came to be called blogs, but it can also slip the bounds of its containing medium, empowering makers to create books, meet-ups, magazines, conferences, products, you name it. It is tough to break into traditional book publishing the normal way but comparatively easy to do it from the web, provided you have put in the early work of community building.

The beauty is that the community building doesn’t feel like work; it feels like goofing off with your friends (because, mostly, it is). You don’t have to turn your readers into customers. Indeed, if you feel like you’re turning your readers into customers, you’re doing it wrong.

If you see a chance, take it

The corollary to all this empowerment is that it’s up to each of us to do something positive with it. I sometimes become impatient when members of our community spend their energy publicly lamenting that a website about cats isn’t about dogs. Their energy would be so much better spent starting bow-wow.com. The feeling that something is missing from a beloved online resource (or conference, or product) can be a wonderful motivator to start your own. I created A List Apart because I felt that webmonkey.com wasn’t enough about design and highfive.com was too much about it. If this porridge is too hot and that porridge is too cold, I better make some fresh, eh?

I apologize if I sometimes seem snippy with whiners. My goal is never to make anyone feel bad, especially not anyone in this community. My message to my peers since the days of “Ask Dr Web” has always been: “you can do this! Go do it.” That is still what I say to you all.

State of the web: of apps, devices, and breakpoints

IN The ‘trouble’ with Android, Stephanie Rieger points out the ludicrous number of Android screen sizes on a typical UK client’s website and comes to this conclusion:

If … you have built your mobile site using fixed widths (believing that you’ve designed to suit the most ‘popular’ screen size), or are planning to serve specific sites to specific devices based on detection of screen size, Android’s settings should serve to reconfirm how counterproductive a practice this can be. Designing to fixed screen sizes is in fact never a good idea…there is just too much variation, even amongst ‘popular’ devices. Alternatively, attempting to track, calculate, and adjust layout dimensions dynamically to suit user-configured settings or serendipitous conditions is just asking for trouble.

I urge you to read the entire article—it’s brief yet filled with rich chocolatey goodness.

Responding to it, Marc Drummond concludes that responsive web design default breakpoints are dead and urges designers to “use awkwardness as your guideline, not ephemeral default device widths” and return to fluid design. (I believe he may actually be thinking of liquid layout—the kind we practiced back in the early mid-1990s when cross-platform and multi-manufacturer desktop screen sizes and pixel-per-inch ratios—not to mention strong user font, size, and color preference options—made fixed-width layout design challenging if not impossible. As I understand fluid design, it is merely another word for responsive design, in that it relies on CSS3 media queries set to breakpoints.)

We’ve lost our compass

Rieger and Drummond are hardly alone in feeling that “our existing standards, workflows, and infrastructure” cannot support “today’s incredibly exciting yet overwhelming world of connected digital devices” (futurefriend.ly) and that something new must be done to move the web forward. And of course ppk has been warning us about the multiplicity of platforms and viewports on mobile since 2009.

Agreed: that is an exciting and challenging time; that fixed width layouts do not address, and adaptive layouts (multiple fixed-width layouts set to common breakpoints) do not go far enough in addressing, the challenges posed by our current plethora of mobile screen sizes, zoom settings, embedded views (i.e. “browser” windows inside app windows, often with additional chrome) and what Rieger calls “the unintended consequences” that occur as these various settings clash in ways their creators could not have anticipated.

As consumers, we’ve all had the experience of seeing the wrong layout at the wrong time. (Think of a site with both mobile and desktop versions—whether these versions are triggered by CSS3 media queries or JavaScript and back-end magic is beside the point because technology is beside the point—good user experience is all this is supposed to be about. On a Twitter app on a mobile device, the user follows a link; the link opens in the browser built into the Twitter app. Which version of the site does the user see? The mobile one or the desktop? Often it is the desktop, and that can be a problem if the app’s version of the browser does not permit zoom. Even if it is a mobile version, it may be the wrong mobile version, or it may not fit comfortably inside the app’s browser window.) Considering our own experiences and reviewing Rieger’s chart, it is easy to share Drummond’s conclusion that breakpoints are dead and that all sites should be designed as minimally as possible.

If breakpoints are dead, responsive design is dead

Of course, if breakpoints are dead, responsive design is dead, because responsive design relies on breakpoints both in creative workflow and as a key to establishing user-need-and-context-based master layouts, i.e. a minimal layout for the user with a tiny screen and not much bandwidth, a more fleshed-out one for the netbook user, and so on.

But responsive design is not dead; it has only begun. It is not a panacea but was never intended to be. It is simply the beginnings of an approach.

I respect those colleagues who say breakpoints are dead, understand how they reached this conclusion, and am eager to see where it takes them in the coming months as they experiment with new methods, perhaps developing wonderful and unforeseen best practices. I hope design will be a brilliant part of these new methods, not something that gets abandoned to create a bland but workable lightweight experience for all.

But I also believe it is possible to draw a different conclusion from the same data. It is even possible, I believe, to say the present data doesn’t matter—at least not in the long run.

Tale of the chart

There was a time in the late 1990s when industrious web designers showed how atrocious CSS support was in browsers. Eric Meyer’s Master Compatability Chart for Web Review, formerly at http://www.webreview.com/pub/wr/style/mastergrid.html, was one of the best, but is no longer available for your historical viewing pleasure—not even at the mighty Wayback Machine. That’s too bad, as it would have perfectly illustrated my point. The chart used a variety of colors to show how each detail of the entire CSS specification was or was not supported (and if supported, whether it was supported correctly and completely, partially and correctly, partially and somewhat incorrectly, or completely incorrectly) in every browser which was available at the time, including, if memory serves, close to a dozen versions of Netscape, Explorer, and Opera.

Looking at that chart induced nausea and vertigo. It was easy to draw the conclusion that CSS wasn’t ready for primetime. (That was the correct conclusion at the time.) It was also easy to look at the table and decide that table layouts and font tags were the way to go.

That’s what most designers who even bothered looking at Eric’s chart decided, but a few (Eric and me included) drew a completely other inference. Instead of trying to memorize all the things that could go wrong in each browser, we created general rules for what worked across all browsers (e.g. font-size in px, floats for layout) and advocated design based on the things that work. This, I believe, is exactly what the futurefriend.ly and Move the Web Forward folks are doing now: trying to figure out commonalities instead of bogging down in details. (This is why some in our community have labeled futurefriend.ly and Move the Web Forward “WaSP II.”)

The other inference Eric, I, and others in the 1990s drew from Eric’s chart was that browser makers must be petitioned to support CSS accurately and correctly. We and many of you reading this engaged in said petitioning, and thanks largely to help from with the browser engineering community (from people like Tantek Çelik and Chris Wilson and organizations like Mozilla) it came to pass.

Of mice and markets

We cannot, of course, petition all the makers of, say, Android devices to agree to a set of standard breakpoints, because there are over 500 different Android devices out there, many of which will fail in the coming months—or if not outright fail, simply be replaced in the course of planned obsolescence AKA upgrading that drives the hardware segment. And each new product will in turn introduce new incompatibilities (AKA “features”).

In the short run it’s going to be hell, just as the browser wars and their lack of support for common standards were hell. But it is the short run.

500 standards is no standard. Give a consumer 500 choices and the price-driven consumer picks what comes with her plan, while the selective consumer begins gravitating toward a handful of emerging market leaders. Eventually this nutty market will stabilize around a few winning Android platforms (e.g. Kindle Fire) and common breakpoints will emerge. What The Web Standards Project achieved with browser makers, the market will achieve with phones.

Until that time, designers certain can abandon breakpoints if they can find a way to do good design under purely fluid conditions—design that pleases the user, satisfies the client, and moves the industry forward aesthetically. But designers who persist in responsive or even adaptive design based on iPhone, iPad, and leading Android breakpoints will help accelerate the settling out of the market and its resolution toward a semi-standard set of viewports. This I believe.

When I see fragmentation, I remind myself that it is unsustainable by its very nature, and that standards always emerge, whether through community action, market struggle, or some combination of the two. This is a frustrating time to be a web designer, but it’s also the most exciting time in ten years. We are on the edge of something very new. Some of us will get there via all new thinking, and others through a combination of new and classic approaches. Happy New Year, web designers!

.net Magazine’s Top 25 Web Design Books

CONGRATULATIONS TO A List Apart technical editors Aaron Gustafson and Ethan Marcotte, whose Adaptive Web Design and Responsive Web Design were ranked #1 and #2 in .net Magazine’s “Top 25 Books for Web Designers and Developers” of 2011.

Other top-ranked web design books include CSS3 for Web Designers by Dan Cederholm, Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin, and Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.

Four of the top 25 were A Book Apart books: namely, Responsive Web Design, CSS3 for Web Designers, Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski, and The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane.

I contributed to the article but did not nominate any A Book Apart books.

Congratulations to these authors!

The top 25 books for web designers and developers | Feature | .net magazine.

New MobiUs Browser For iOS Makes Mobile Web Apps Act More Like Native Apps

Mobile development firm appMobi is launching a new HTML5-powered browser for iOS on Monday which will bring additional capabilities typically found only in native apps to the mobile Web. The MobiUs Web App Browser, as it’s being called, works both as a standalone browser alternative or in conjunction with Apple’s mobile Safari, similar to the way browser extensions work on the desktop Web.

“…The browser integrates two full sets of APIs from both appMobi and from PhoneGap (1.0) to give the Web apps a native look-and-feel, plus the ability to access all the hardware features of the smartphone.”

More: New MobiUs Browser For iOS Makes Mobile Web Apps Act More Like Native Apps | TechCrunch.

Meet the 10K Apart Winners

ANNOUNCING THE WINNERS of the second annual 10K Apart contest (“Inspire the web with just 10K”) presented by MIX Online and An Event Apart.

Responsive apps under 10K

Last year’s 10K Apart challenged readers to create the best application they could using no more than 10K of images, scripts, and markup. We wanted to see what you could do with HTML5, CSS3, and web fonts, and you blew us away.

For this year’s contest, we asked you to step up your game by not only awing us with brilliant (and brilliantly designed) apps built using less than 10K of web standards and imagery, but we also insisted you make those awesome apps fully responsive.

(If you found this page by accident, responsive design accommodates today’s dizzying array of notebooks, tablets, smartphones, laptops, and big-screen desktops—and anticipates tomorrow’s—via fluid design experiences that squash and stretch and swell and shrink and always look like ladies. Ethan Marcotte pioneered this design approach, which takes standards-based progressive enhancement to the next level, and which achieves its magic via fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries. But I digress.)

We worried. Oh, how we worried.

We worried that demanding responsive design on top of our already tough list of requirements would kill the contest. That it was just too hard. Maybe even impossible. Silly us.

Once again, you overwhelmed us with your out-of-the-box creativity, dazzling technical chops, and inspiring can-do spirit. During the few weeks of our call for entries, people and teams from 36 countries produced 128 astonishingly excellent apps. With that many great entries, judging was a beast! Fortunately we had excellent help. But enough about us. On to the winners!

Grand Prize Winner

The mysteriously named L&L has won the 10K Apart Grand Prize for Bytes Jack, an HTML Blackjack game that is totally fun to play—unless you have a problem with gambling, in which case, try one of the fantastic runners-up: Space Mahjong by Toby Yun and Kyoungwoo Ham (Best Technical Achievement); Sproutable, by Kevin Thompson (Best Design); or PHRASE: Make Lovely Circular Patterns Based on Text Phrases (People’s Choice), by Andy Gott.

L&L will receive a paid pass to any An Event Apart conference event, a $3000 Visa Gift Card, and copies of Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design and Aaron Gustafson’s Adaptive Web Design.

In addition to these four winners, there are twelve honorable mentions that will delight any visitor—and astonish any web designer-developer who tries to figure out how these wizards worked their magic in under 10K. See all the winners or view the entire gallery and decide whom you would have awarded best in show.

P.S. We love you

An Event Apart thanks our hard-working, insanely inspired friends at Mix Online.

The 10K Apart hearkens back to Stewart Butterfield’s 5k Contest of yesteryear. Back then, Stewart challenged web designer-developers to create something magical using less than 5K of code and images—and the community responded with a flowering of creativity and awesome proto-web-apps. Stewart, we salute you!

Facebook: the real semantic web?

Longtime tech pundit and thinker Esther Dyson posted on Twitter today that Facebook was launching the “semantic Web” without calling it that. Good, because hardly anyone ever understood what that meant. But Zuckerberg in effect summarized it in common parlance and defined what the semantic Web is: “Last year we announced the open graph, so you could connect to all the things in the world. This year, we’re taking the next step—we’re going to make it so that you can connect to anything you want in any way you want.” The original idea of the semantic Web, promoted most of all by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, generally omitted people. Perhaps only Facebook, based on genuine identity, could build a real semantic Web that centers around people and what they do.

Facebook’s Changes—It’s All About the Platform – Forbes.

Boston Globe’s Responsive Redesign. Discuss.

AS EVERY WEB DESIGNER not living under a rock hopefully already knows, The Boston Globe has had a responsive redesign at the hands of some of today’s best designers and developers:

The spare Globe website has a responsive design that adapts to different window sizes, browsers and devices, and it has a built-in Instapaper-type feature that saves articles for reading off various devices on the subway. The overhaul has incorporated the talents of Boston design firms Filament Group, and Upstatement, as well as a large internal team, and pre-empts the need to build separate apps for each device.—New York Observer

As the first responsive redesign of a “real” website (i.e. a large, corporately financed, widely read newspaper site rather than some designer’s blog), the site has the potential to raise public awareness of this flexible, standards-based, multi-platform and user-focused web design approach, and deepen perceptions of its legitimacy, much as Mike Davidson’s standards-based redesign of ESPN.com in 2003 helped convince nonbelievers to take a second look at designing with web standards:

In a major step in the evolution of website design, the Boston Globe relaunched their site today using a Responsive Design approach. For a consistent experience across mobile and desktop browsers, they redesigned the site to add and remove columns to the layout based on the width of your browser window.

This marks the first major, high-traffic, content-heavy website to adopt a responsive design. The lead consultant behind the project is none other than Ethan Marcotte, the designer who wrote the book on responsive design. Much as ESPN changed the way we worked by being one of the first to launch a fully CSS driven site a decade ago, the Boston Globe’s redesign has the potential to completely alter the way we approach web design.—Beaconfire Wire

More work remains to be done. Some sections of the paper have not yet converted, and some site architecture has yet to be refreshed, so it is too early to call the overhaul a complete success. But it is clear that Ethan Marcotte, author of Responsive Web Design and creator of responsive design, together with the geniuses at Filament Group, Upstatement, and the Globe’s internal design/development team have managed to work beautifully together and to solve design problems some of us don’t even know exist.

Congratulations to the Globe for its vision and these designers and developers for their brilliant work.