29 April 2003 :::
10 am est
Redesign in progress. Kindly reload. Morning edition follows. More to come real soon.
To celebrate the release of Quicktime 6.2 for Mac and Windows, we’ve created a little movie for you. (WARNING: Contains rapidly flashing images. Not safe for epileptics.) Quicktime 6.2 is a free download and so is our little flick, which can be used as a low-fi screensaver if you so desire. :::
Ten years of graphical desktop browsers
Wired News remembers: “Grunge was fashionable. Version 1.0 of the Linux kernel was about ready to make its debut. Intel’s snappy new 66-MHz Pentium processor had just been introduced” in April of 1993 when Mark Andreessen and Eric Bina released beta copies of Mosaic, the browser that allowed regular people to discover the World Wide Web. :::
Peerless? iTunes 4 first look roundup
As anyone reading this already knows, Apple has released iTunes 4, featuring a peer to peer song purchasing system that might satisfy consumers, artists, and record companies alike. Dr Dre said: “Man, somebody finally got it right” (quoted in Fortune). Dennis Mudd, CEO of Music Match: “It’s the first pay-music service that’s better than illegal music services” (quoted in HotWired).
At What Do I Know, Todd Dominey discusses the unobtrusive way the “Music Store” is incorporated into the application:
Quite possibly the best part of the Music Store is what you don’t see – the pop-up ads, annoying news feeds, or other ‘push’ data that any other company with a similar service would have shoved down their users’ throats. iTunes was, and always will be, a standalone application for ripping, burning, organizing, and listening to your mp3 collection – period. It is not a shopping cart, or marketing vehicle for Apple (or any record company) to push unwanted advertising onto your desktop. The store ‘entrance’ is a small, innocuous link in the source window. No reminders. No ads. No annoying crap.
Steven F. shares his first take: “People who are saying ‘I think I’ll stick with free!’ are lost customers. They will not pay at any price. The question is, of the remaining users, will the return be sufficient to make the service worthwhile?” Jeremy Keith avers, “I also wouldn’t be surprised if the price per song, currently $0.99, came down, probably to coincide with the service being opened up to Windows users (perhaps through a website rather than a desktop application). For now, it’s an enjoyable, convenient, and above all, guilt-free way to download music.”
28 April 2003 :::
4 pm est
Redesign in progress. Kindly reload.
An XML button for this site’s RSS feed now appears in the left-hand sidebar. If the color does not change when you mouse over the button, kindly reload. If your browser does not refresh style sheets, refer to Hot cache from March, 2003. :::
25 April 2003 :::
3 pm | noon est
We’re leaving for a family event and will return Sunday night.
“You sold out”
Initial reactions to our hand-rolled RSS feed have been binary if not bipolar. Some are happy; others claim we’ve sold out, contradicting our own argument that design and words are both essential parts of a site’s content — that the experience created by design influences the way you perceive words.
We haven’t changed our minds about that. We’ve worked too long in media businesses and been exposed to too many ads, commercials, magazine layouts, films, TV programs, catalogs, and store displays to naively believe for even a moment that pictures and layout have no influence on the way people perceive words.
Even novels, which are pure literary expressions, take on meaning from the design of the book jacket, the interior design, and the kind of paper used. Borrow a 1960s paperback edition of a James Bond novel from your public library. Buy a 2002 edition of the same book with modern cover art and quite different interior design. It is almost like reading two different books.
Designers know this. Book publishers know this. Book buyers may not know it consciously, but they respond with their wallets.
On the other end of the spectrum, without the swoosh, and without the (primarily wordless) creative executions, “Just do it” would be a meaningless set of words.
Our hand-coded, fledgling RSS feed does not pretend to deliver this site as a text channel. It is simply a notification system listing freshly posted topics along with their permalinks. It most closely resembles an opt-in email. This, it seems to us, is an excellent use of RSS.
Update: an overwhelming majority of letter writers agree. Sample comments: “I’m happy to see you’ve added an RSS feed, and I think you’re right on target for viewing RSS as an adjunct of, rather than an alternate to, your regular site.” “Thanks for finally making an RSS feed! I had stopped visiting your site because of its lack of one. I hope you decide to keep maintaining it. I’m sure many of your other readers appreciate it as well.” You’re happy, we’re happy. :::
We love this dirty town
In our harbor stands a gift from France that says, “Come on down.” And the world comes. In the past few days alone, we’ve managed to spend time with word star Kevin Smokler and with Steph and Karl of W3C. Last night it was Joe Clark, Kelly Goto, and Kat and Eric Meyer, three-fourths of whom are here to speak at an event Carrie put together at The New York Public Library. We love our pals and we love this dirty town. :::
Two for tool bar
Chris Casciano has updated his free developer tool bar that installs in any XUL-based Gecko browser. Version 0.51 adds a Firebird/ Phoenix-compatible installer, support for the encoding of complex URLs, P3P validation, and a link to the DevEdge sidebar tabs. :::
Ten billion words about abbreviation
Refer to Wednesday’s section on acronyms, abbreviation, and the Acrobot tool. Ben Meadowcroft informs us that Acrobot is correct to label HTML and PHP abbreviations and not acronyms, and he points out that acronym will be discontinued in XHTML 2 so that those who care about semantic markup can stop pounding their heads against the wall trying to figure out whether a given set of letters is an acronym, an abbreviation, an initialism, or what.
In XHTML 2, any type of abbreviation will simply be listed as an abbreviation. Now there is an example of XHTML 2 making markup simpler and easier to understand.
24 April 2003 :::
4 pm | 9 am | 8 am est
Practice in front of a bush.
There is no /coming.html at zeldman.com. Hasn’t been for quite a while, although many sites still link to that non-existent page. If you follow an old link to /coming.html, our server will transparently redirect you to zeldman.com (root), which is where The Daily Report is actually located. The redirect prevents the old link from breaking. Still, if you link to The Daily Report, you might want to use its actual URI, www.zeldman.com, and not the non-existent one ... although there is something kind of zen about using a non-existent URI. :::
There is no ping
Readers ask why we stopped pinging weblogs.com. The answer is, we never pinged it to begin with. Kids, we do this stuff manually, like happy little 19th century wood carvers. Automated pinging is beyond us. We can barely pronounce the word ping. We did, however, ping weblogs.com for the first time this morning, after creating our little RSS feed. :::
23 April 2003 :::
Many personal sites today are produced via publishing tools like Movable Type and Blogger. Such tools automate file management and uploading, facilitate categorization and bookmarking, enable immediate reader feedback via online comment forms, and even automagically generate XML-based syndication feeds, permitting newsreader users to gulp down your text (or part of it) whether they visit your site or not. These tools are amazing and are either free or priced to move.
Despite the power and ready availability of these publishing products, we still roll each page of zeldman.com by hand, partially because we are used to doing so and find it enjoyable; but also because we like to see our writing in its visual context, and to rethink that visual context each time we prepare to publish even the briefest blurb. We are always thinking about the page, and the way the look of the page impacts the words. You can do that with a publishing tool, too, of course, but there are more layers involved, and the convenience of instant publishing encourages, well, instant publishing.
Hand coders can roll their own RSS feed, and we’ve considered doing so, but we prefer that you see our words in the context of the page because, for us, text alone does not equal content (although text sans layout is fine in limited environments like Palm and Nokia). We can readily see the benefits of an RSS feed for BBC News, and it also makes sense on sites where page layout is primarily a delivery system for writing, as cigarettes are a delivery system for nicotine.
But most smokers would rather puff than inject nicotine, and most of us used to be as hungry to see a site as to read its words. RSS feeds may subtly discourage that impulse to seek, see, bookmark, and return.
RSS feeds are a natural for sites like Lawrence Lessig’s blog or Metafilter. (Not that those sites are unattractive or poorly designed – quite the contrary. It’s just that on those sites, words truly are everything.) But more design-oriented, visually striking sites such as K10k and Adactio now have RSS feeds, and we’re less certain of the benefits there. In the case of K10k, news feed links gain value and credibility from their visual context. Removed from that context, the links lose value: one notices that some are not well written, or do not provide a clear reason to visit the linked site. K10k offers much more than a news feed of course, but not in RSS; the site is meant to be visually explored and experienced, but its RSS feed may discourage such exploration because, hey, you’ve got the links, why bother visiting the site?
RSS turns commercial and personal sites alike into text broadcasting channels that can be quickly scanned like radio frequencies. This is great in many ways, but it has a downside nobody seems to have noticed.
RSS feeds are a wonderful tool and make sense for many sites, especially news and informational sites and any other site where words are everything. If you write well and present only summaries in your RSS feed, you might greatly increase your readership by reaching people who never heard of you until you showed up in their news reader. Indeed, the lack of an RSS feed might lower your readership. (Our stats remain steady but your mileage may vary.)
But RSS feeds seem to have commodified the personal web space, turning every scribbler into a pundit or “journalist,” and these are roles to which few personal site designers are fitted. Some sites can afford to be judged by their words alone. Many others can’t, or might prefer not to be. Syndication is here to stay and it has a lot going for it. But something is lost in the translation. Reading Plastic Bag in a news reader is like getting the text of your favorite magazine in email. Nice. But not the same. :::
It’s a good idea to use the
acronym elements along with appropriate title attributes, but many of us neglect (or don’t know how) to do so. Accessify’s free online Acrobot tool processes many acronyms and abbreviations to use the right tag and generates the appropriate title attribute if the acronym or abbreviation resides in its database. Common web acronyms like PHP and HTML are found in its database; others, like NASA, are not – but you can add new ones to the tool’s database if you sign up as a registered member, which is also free. The tool sometimes marks up acronyms as abbreviations, but this is easy to correct by hand.
Mark Newhouse discovered a GIF animation bug in Apple’s Safari browser. The GIFplex is a series we created in 1995 to exploit then-new animated GIF technology. View in any browser, then compare in Safari. Not a make-or-break bug, and not one that’s likely to impact most web pages, but it might be worth fixing (or rethinking, if it was a deliberate design decision intended to lower RAM requirements). :::
22 April 2003 :::
8 pm est
Presently enjoying: Jimmy McGrath Photography site designed by Juxt Interactive. Iconfactory Pixelpalooza 2003 icon design contest winners. Netdiver close-up interview with boy wonder Eric Meyer. Meet the Makers conversation with Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap.
21 April 2003 :::
5 pm | 9 am est
Designing With Web Standards went to the printers on Friday and will soon be available in stores. Bibbity, bobbity, boo.
Cingular Wireless, three quarters full
Cingular Wireless is the latest large commercial site to embrace CSS layout and XHTML. Cingular UE designer Brandy Fortune and her colleagues have done a superb job of bringing modern, standards-based techniques to bear on a complex web layout, and the site’s happy, poppy feel works well. As often happens when large, CMS-driven sites convert to standards, there were validation, accessibility, and display problems at launch; Ms Fortune and her team mates are now working to correct these. :::
In his distinguished eleven-year career, Noel Rubin has designed the pod racer screen graphics for Star Wars Episode One, typefaces including Carver, Fajita, and Rubino, the well-known Battlebots SVG splash image, and much more. Teknoel is his personal site, and on it you will find downloadable desktop images and unique navigational schema realized in Flash.
It is the navigational ideas, shown in the site’s Theory section, that impress us the most. Some readers will want to point out that these navigational schemes are less usable than traditional (X)HTML pages, and others will huff that such schemes are not semantic. The site is not trying to be semantic and it is not about bookmarking. It is about a user experience that emulates the futuristic screen graphics for which its author is known. :::
It’s the economy
Keith Bell applauds the WThRemix competition but takes issue with the winning entry’s departure from the W3C’s existing brand. He argues that Ben Darlow’s excellent entry, which took an honorable mention, did the best job of updating the actual brand.
Slashdot readers discuss the winners. Says one: “What’s important to realize is that the day has finally arrived when you can have a standards compliant and cross-user-agent accessible site, and look good! What’s important now is to keep moving forward! ... Make it a goal one weekend to make your site validate with less than five errors. It really is remarkably easy; we’re talking about markup and style sheets here, people.” We like the cut of that comment’s jib. :::