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12 July 2002
[11 am]
Wednesday’s Brainstorms and Raves examines the human cost of stealing content, design, and bandwidth from other people’s sites — a cost we know well. This site’s Pardon My Icons collection (1995–97) gets hundreds of thousands of daily hits from kids who attempt to use our icons as avatars in teen chatrooms.
        Our icons don’t show up in these chatrooms (we’ve manipulated .htaccess files to discourage bandwidth theft), but our server still gets hit every time any viewer opens a chatroom page that attempts to display one of our icons by including its full URL.
        Your referrer logs may tell you when a blog with 1,000 readers links to your site. Our referrer logs display almost nothing but failed attempts by heavily trafficked chatroom pages to load our images.
        Partially to prevent this traffic from impacting your attempt to read our site, we’ve been paying for high-level commercial hosting since 1996. The upside is, Google notices all the traffic and ranks our site fairly highly as a result.

A few readers have complained about the cost of tickets to Meet the Makers. We remind you that Meet the Makers events are free to any designer or developer who requests “VIP” tickets.

Regarding recent coverage of Cast’s Bobby accessibility validator, a reader said: “Bobby proves a site can be accessible yet unusable.”
        HTML compliance issues aside, Cast’s Bobby is probably as good a tool as could be built, given the slippery algorithmics of accessibility testing. And the online version of Bobby is free, bringing accessibility testing within reach even for those who have no budget.
        But Bobby’s deceptively simple interface is confusing and could use work. The options that make Bobby usable are unusably hidden. When longtime Bobby users hack Bobby’s URLs because they don’t know the tool’s tests can be modified in any other way, that indicates a usability problem worth fixing.
        We also remind you that, unlike CSS and HTML validators, no accessibility validator can grant your site an unconditionally clean bill of health. Human judgement is always required. :::

11 July 2002
[6 pm | 3 pm | 2 pm]
Kvetch, November 1997 – July 2002. Rest in peace.

Meet the Makers is a series of one-day events for creative people in a technical world, featuring “behind-the-screens” interviews with some of the web’s most outstanding innovators. Upcoming MTMs in San Francisco and New York City are free to any hands-on web designer or developer who requests VIP tickets. Brian Alvey is MTM’s Producer and Host; Jason McCabe Calacanis, Co-host. Mister Zeldman is an Advisory Board member.

W3C has issued Web Services Description Language (WDSL) 1.2 and WSDL 1.2 Bindings as working drafts. WSDL is an XML format for describing web services. WSDL 1.2 Bindings describes how to use WSDL with SOAP 1.2, HTTP, and MIME. W3C invites comments.

Last night a dinner companion who had viewed this photo told us we were dating out of our league. All men date out of their league.

Yesterday, we noted that the online version of Cast’s Bobby only tests for AAA conformance with WAI guidelines. Reader Keith Bell found that you can force Bobby to test for A or AA conformance by hacking the URL in Bobby’s non-valid, servlet-generated query string.
        Here’s how it works: Enter your URL and click Submit. Bobby will generate a web page telling you your site needs repair. That web page has a servlet-generated URL that you can edit by hand. In your browser’s address bar, change “aaa” at the end of Bobby’s URL to “a” or “aa” and you can test for compliance at that level.

Update: Oh, dear, sweet, mother of God. There is a way to test for A or AA conformance without hacking the URLs Bobby generates. The option to do so is hidden on an advanced Customization Page along with other interesting features including browser emulation. Good Bobby. We will not speak of Bobby again. (Hat tip: Pete, friend of Bobby.)

37signals has redesigned using CSS for layout and XHTML 1.0 for markup. We wonder if this new design will be harder or easier to steal.

Chris Casciano’s PlaceNameHere has also been redesigned using CSS for layout and XHTML 1.0 for markup. Library Doodles is a typical Casciano product. We had the pleasure of dining last night with Chris, Todd Dominey, Aaron Boodman, and Aaron’s friend Susan. We won’t say which one made the crack about dating out of our league.

Connected Earth, recently completed at a cost of £1,000,000, wins the prize for the worst browser and plug-in detection of all time. Your nephew writes better JavaScript.
        In a recent attempt to visit the site using IE5/Mac, Flash Player 6, and Quicktime, we were told to come back using IE5, Flash 5, and Quicktime, then redirected to a plain white page that said, “your browser is incompatible with Connected Earth.” (As you can see, the plain white page provides no means of navigating back to the site’s home page, or even of bookmarking the site for another try with a different browser. Sweet.)
        Undaunted, we tried again, using Mozilla 1.0. This time the site recognized that Quicktime was installed, but told us to use IE and to download Flash. We entered anyway, and were soon feasting our eyes on everything the site had to offer the Mozilla user. Connected Earth’s slogan is “How communication shapes the world.” We will not comment on the attendant irony.
        We’re told the site does work on one version of IE/Win. We’re also told that browser detection is the least of its problems. That a client spent £1,000,000 on this thing should send chills down the spine of any sentient being. Simon Wilson has more.

Dan Rubin discovered an oddity in the W3C’s online CSS validator: if you enter a URL that lacks a trailing slash, the validator returns an error:

I/O Error: Unable to contact target server after 3 tries.

Rubin has consistently reproduced the error in several generations of IE for Mac and Windows, Navigator 4 and 6 (Mac/Win), Mozilla 1.0 (Mac/Win), and Opera 5 (Mac/Win). What makes the trailing slash oversight error especially weird is that W3C itself frequently leaves off trailing slashes in its URLs. :::

10 July 2002
[5 pm]
To get respect in the design community, all sites must done in Flash, in pop-up windows that eat the screen. If you must use HTML, bury your sub-pages in pop-up windows that can’t be directly linked to. If you can’t avoid content, make your text 9px tall, single-spaced, and stick it in an iframe with a JavaScript scroller that only works in IE. Better yet, make it GIF text and avoid using alt attributes. Insist that would-be viewers change their screen resolution before allowing them to view your site. That’ll show them who’s boss. Done all that? Dude, you are one badass mofo pixel gangsta, yo.

Change of voice.

Drububu is an amazing site, showcasing creator Arjan Westerdiep’s extraordinary pen and ink, animation, and programming skills, not to mention his playful sense of humor. You could easily spend hours exploring this strangely wonderful site. Link nicked from K10k.

In “Web Page Reconstruction With CSS,” Christopher Schmitt of The Babble List and High Five deconstructs Digital Web Magazine’s HTML table-based template and rebuilds it in CSS. Check the Before and After pop-ups, then read the tutorial. Schmitt is the author of the upcoming Designing CSS Web Pages (New Riders: 2002).

Digital Tallinn, a virtual visit to a small European city, plunges you into a charmingly medieval yet recognizably modern world via skillful use of Quicktime VR.

“The medium is elastic.” The Heather Champ interview at SXSW peeks into the mind of the longtime indie site designer. Champ is the creator of The Mirror Project, Harrumph!, and other delights.

The winners of the StereoStyle 5inch CD design contest have been announced. After checking the grand prize winners, be sure to view the shortlist of also-rans, many of which are quite lovely.

The Web Standards Project was offline for five months and fairly dormant for a short period before that. As a result, many standards fans forget to check the site for news and updates. Don’t you be one of them. The WaSP’s front page is continually updated and its innards get massaged frequently. :::

10 July 2002
[1 pm]
In Accessibility: the myth of ugly, we said that Cast’s Bobby fails its own accessibility tests as well as W3C HTML tests. Bobby does fail W3C HTML tests but passes its own WAI AAA compliance tests with flying colors. The test was incorrectly applied to, a domain purchased by cybersquatters. We’ve avoided linking to the squatters’s domain because if you go there you’ll be buried alive in p0rn-style popup windows, particularly when you try to leave.

Bobby’s WAI validator tests only for AAA guideline conformance: the highest level of conformance, and one few sites achieve. WAI created three accessibility tiers (A, AA, and AAA) to encourage site owners to begin making their sites accessible even if they can’t hit the highest mark on the first pass. First you crawl, then you walk, then you run.

As noted yesterday, the WAI site conforms with AA guidelines. While not as strong a proof of concept as AAA conformance would be, WAI’s developers have taken a legitimate approach to accessibility, just as XHTML 1.0 (or even HTML 4.01) Transitional are legit approaches to standards-compliant markup.

From that perspective, it’s a pity that the online version of Bobby tests only for AAA compliance, marking anything less as in need of repair. To continue the analogy, this would be like W3C’s validators marking anything less than XHTML 1.1 Strict as in need of repair.

Bobby’s analysis of the W3C WAI website (“needs repair”) creates a perceptual problem for WAI in the same way that failing XHTML or CSS validation would diminish perceptions of The Web Standards Project.

More importantly, if you take pains to make a client’s site accessible by conforming with WAI’s A or AA guidelines, but Bobby claims the site “needs repair,” your client may feel that the time and money spent on accessibility has been wasted.

If you fail Bobby’s Section 508 test, you know your site has problems, and you can interpret Bobby’s checklists to begin fixing them. Alas, the same is not true for Bobby’s WAI tests on any site that aims lower than AAA conformance — a hoop too high for most most of us.

We trust and use Bobby’s Section 508 tests, but can’t say the same for its lofty WAI tests, though we hope that changes some day. We congratulate Cast on achieving AAA conformance and apologize for Monday’s error. :::

9 July 2002
[3 pm | noon | 11 am]
The WaSP’s Dreamweaver Task Force has issued an assessment of Dreamweaver MX. The Dreamweaver Task Force worked with Macromedia through various stages of product development to help improve Dreamweaver’s support for web standards and accessibility. The Web Standards Project is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards that ensure simple, affordable access to web technologies for all.

Web Site Garage, a service as old as the commercial web, is about to bite the dust. A note at Netscape says Web Site Garage Services (including Tune Up, GIF Lube, and Hitometer) will be discontinued 15 August. No word on why.

Web standards in the House: We stumbled upon these U.S. Congress XML draft DTDs, part of a project by the House of Representatives to produce legislative material in XML. Excellent idea. Slightly less excellent is a note advising you to “use IE5 or greater” if you wish to view the sample files. Funny, we were able to view them just fine in Mozilla and Opera. Whereas in “IE5 or greater” in Mac OS, the XML displays as raw Source.

In yesterday’s mini-opus on Accessibility: the myth of ugly, we mentioned that many accessibility sites fail accessibility tests, and included the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative among those that fail. The characterization was overly harsh.
        The WAI site claims only to comply with its own AA accessibility guidelines, not with the more stringent AAA guidelines WAI created and Cast’s Bobby tests for. Bobby’s assessment of WAI’s front page (“Repair needed. This page does not yet meet the requirements for Bobby AAA Approved status.”) indicates the limitations of Bobby’s tests rather than failure on the part of WAI’s developers to comply with WAI’s own guidelines.
        Still, if the creators of the WAI accessibility guidelines find it too difficult to achieve the AAA status they themselves invented, what are the owners of commercial sites supposed to think, and what level of accessibility compliance should they strive for?
        The WAI site is informational. It contains hyperlinked text and almost no images. Its layout makes useit look practically baroque. The WAI site includes no complex transactional forms, no database queries, no scripting or other elements commonly found on all but the most rudimentary websites.
        If a site this elementary can’t comply with its creators’s highest level accessibility guidelines, one wonders whose sites the guidelines are intended to serve.

Susan Kare, creator of the original (1984) Mac icons and fonts, has created a series of tiny text fonts for Flash and Photoshop. Hat tips: Jim Heid and Michael Schmidt.

The oddly-named skti is an inexpensive ($10.61 U.S.) web editor for Mac OS X. It includes syntax highlighting, autocomplete, search and replace, and “tag trees” for ColdFusion and CSS.

Pirated Sites, Tim Murtaugh’s hall of shame for websites suspected of stealing other sites’s content, design, or code, has been redesigned using CSS layout and XHTML 1.0. Looks darned nice, too. :::

8 July 2002
[2 pm]
Point. Counterpoint. :::

8 July 2002
[2 pm | noon]
Accessibility: the myth of ugly
Many web practitioners still believe that accessiblity is an ugly, no-frills affair. Not true. Images, table layouts, style sheets, JavaScript, server-side technologies like PHP, and embedded technologies like Flash and Quicktime are all compatible with the rigors of accessible site design.

Accessibility mainly takes place under the hood. Most accessibility enhancements are invisible. For instance, to accommodate people who can’t use a mouse, you might trigger JavaScript events with onkeypress in addition to onclick. Onclick works for the mouse user; onkeypress, for the person who navigates via the keyboard.

Impact on the site’s visual design: none whatsoever. Cost of making these changes: a few minutes of your time, whether you create your web pages by hand or add accessibility attribute placeholder fields to your publishing tool.

Benefit of adding accessibility attributes to your site: you reach more readers, visitors, and customers — not only people with disabilities, but also those who access the web via Palm Pilots, cell phones, and other non-traditional devices.

Bad design is not normative

If accessibility takes place under the hood and is invisible to most web users, why do so many otherwise well-informed web designers wrongly equate accessibility with ugly, low-end design?

Maybe because some accessibility advocates are not designers, while others are actually hostile to design. People who can’t design and people who hate design tend to create ugly sites, but this has do with the authors’s biases and limitations, not with accessibility.

One or two well-known usability advocates are also hostile to design, but that’s simply their unfortunate prejudice. Usability is not anti-design, and good design is part of good usability. The same goes for accessibility: the ugliness of some accessibility advocates’s sites is their problem, not yours. Treat such sites as sources of information rather than models of accessible design.

The folly of inaction

Accessibility laws pertain to many sites now and will apply to more in the future. Yet many site owners, managers, and directors will not build accessibility into their site requirements until their legal departments tell them they must. This could be a costly mistake.

If you begin planning for accessibility today, you won’t be forced to rebuild your entire site six months from now. If you wait ’til your legal department tells you to change, the cost of redesigning could exceed your budget.

For content and commerce sites, accessibility is neither complex nor costly once included in your normal workflow. Accessibility is more complicated and more expensive to implement in rich media sites, which makes learning about it all the more urgent for folks who create such sites.

Learn more

Joe Clark’s Building Accessible Websites (New Riders, available for pre-order) and Jim Thatcher et al’s Constructing Accessible Web Sites (Glasshaus) are excellent and both demand space on the shelf of anyone who designs, builds, owns, or manages websites.

Clark’s is the best-written book we’ve seen on the subject. It debunks hoary myths, talks sense instead of dogma, and is a pleasure to read. The Glasshaus book, written by multiple authors, includes vital stuff on the limits of push-button testing software and tips on accessible Flash MX authoring.

Meantime, Dive Into Mark’s 30 Days to a More Accessible Weblog is incredibly informative. Author Mark Pilgrim knows his stuff, and after reading, so will you. We disagree on a few small points (we use an empty space in our null alt attributes) but Pilgrim’s spent more time on this issue than most of us and his 30 day opus constitutes a remarkable public service.

We’ll be talking about accessibility and Section 508 at Web Design World Seattle and writing about it in an upcoming Macworld article and future issues of A List Apart. Over the coming days, we’ll also include some easy accessibility tips in The Daily Report. :::

The author and his opinions.
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