NYC microformats workshop

Join Tantek Celik Wednesday 12 August at the first-ever microformats workshop to be held in New York City. An Event Apart fans get 40% off the advance price of $195 (regular $375) with discount code aea40 when you order by midnight tonight.

In the past year, microformats support has been launched and built into products and services by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Yelp and numerous other companies, as well as nearly every new social network website.

Taught by industry leader Tantek Çelik, the workshop will cover just about everything you need to know to get started with microformats.

In half a day you will learn how to add key well-established microformats to your website to benefit your users, help your website’s findability in search engines, and provide a standards based API for web developers.

You will learn not just the theory of microformats; you’ll also get down and dirty with some hands-on markup:

  • What are microformats? Get a good grounding in the kind of problems microformats are designed to solve… and find out where the limits of microformats are (by design).
  • Foundations for microformats. it’s important to understand the value of meaningful markup before implementing microformats. This will get you thinking about how you should be marking up your content using plain ol’ semantic HTML before adding any microformat enhancements.
  • Incremental building blocks. From simple elemental microformats that consist of nothing more than adding an attribute, right up to compound microformats that can be mashed up together, you’ll meet them all.
  • Smell the microformats. Just as you can develop a nose for wine tasting, you can also develop a sense for spotting which content is just crying out to be microformatted. Once you’ve learned to see these patterns, you’ll never surf the web the same way again.
  • Add microformats to your sites. Using a combination of exercises, this workshop will teach you to how to spice up your content with semantic goodness. If you’re up to the challenge and bring your laptop, by the end of the workshop you’ll have added microformats to your site in HTML4, XHTML, or HTML5.
  • Powerful user experience enhancements. Add powerful one-click contact info download and event subscription functionality for your users to easily add your site to their address books and calendars.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO). With both Google and Yahoo now indexing microformats and using them in search results, it’s critical to make sure your site properly marks up contacts, events, and reviews with microformats for search engines to discover, index, and display better results to users.

[tags]microformats, tantek, workshop, conference, webdesign, webdevelopment[/tags]

Why Standards Fail

Back in 2000, CSS co-creator Bert Bos set out to explain the W3C’s design principles—“to make explicit what the developers in the various W3C working groups mean when they invoke words like efficiency, maintainability, accessibility, extensibility, learnability, simplicity, [and] longevity….”

Eventually published in 2003, the essay, although ostensibly concerned with explaining W3C working group principles to the uninitiated, actually articulates the key principle that separates great design from the muck we normally wade through. It also serves as a warning to Bert’s fellow W3C wizards not to seek the dark magic of abstract purity at the expense of the common good. Tragically for these wizards, and for we who use their technologies, it is a warning some developers of W3C specifications continue to overlook.

Design is for people

In his introduction, Bert summarizes the humanistic value that is supposed to be at the core of every web standard:

Contrary to appearances, the W3C specifications are for the most part not designed for computers, but for people. … Most of the formats are in fact compromises between human-readability and computer efficiency….

But why do we want people to read them at all? Because all our specs are incomplete. Because people, usually other people than the original developers, have to add to them….

For the same reason we try to keep the specifications of reasonable size. They must describe a useful chunk of technology, but not one that is too large for an individual to understand.

Over the succeeding 25 web pages (the article is chunked out in pamphlet-sized pages, each devoted to a single principle such as “maintainability” and “robustness”) Bert clearly, plainly, and humbly articulates a series of rather profound ideas that are key to the web’s growth and that might apply equally admirably to realms of human endeavor beyond the web.

For instance, in the page entitled “Use What Is There,” Bert says:

The Web now runs on HTML, HTTP and URLs, none of which existed before the ’90s. But it isn’t just because of the quality of these new formats and protocols that the Web took off. In fact, the original HTTP was a worse protocol than, e.g., Gopher or FTP in its capabilities….

And that fact shows nicely what made the Web possible at all: it didn’t try to replace things that already worked, it only added new modules, that fit in the existing infrastructure. …

And nowadays (the year 2000), it may look like everything is XML and HTTP, but that impression is only because the “old” stuff is so well integrated that you forget about it: there is no replacement for e-mail or Usenet, for JPEG or MPEG, and many other essential parts of the Web.

He then warns:

There is, unfortunately, a tendency in every standards organization, W3C not excluded, to replace everything that was created by others with things developed in-house. It is the not-invented-here syndrome, a feeling that things that were not developed “for the Web” are somehow inferior. And that “we” can do better than “them.” But even if that is true, maybe the improvement still isn’t worth spending a working group’s resources on.

Shrinkage and seduction

In his gentle way, Bert seems to be speaking directly to his W3C peers, who may not always share his and Håkon‘s humanism. For, despite what designers new to CSS, struggling for the first time with concepts like “float” and the box model may think, Bert and Håkon designed the web’s layout language to be easy to learn, teach, implement, maintain, and (eventually) extend. They also designed CSS not to overwhelm the newcomer with advanced power at the cost of profound complexity. (“CSS stops short of even more powerful features that programmers use in their programming languages: macros, variables, symbolic constants, conditionals, expressions over variables, etc. That is because these things give power-users a lot of rope, but less experienced users will unwittingly hang themselves; or, more likely, be so scared that they won’t even touch CSS. It’s a balance.”)

This striving to be understood and used by the inexperienced is the underlying principle of all good design, from the iPhone to the Eames chair. It’s what Jared Spool would call usability and you and I may consider the heart of design. When anything new is created, be it a website, a service, or a web markup language, there is a gap between what the creator knows (which is everything about how it’s supposed to work), and what you and I know (which is nothing). The goal of design is to shrink this ignorance gap while seducing us into leaping across it.

What were once vices are now habits

You can see this principle at work in CSS, whose simplicity allowed us to learn it. Although we now rail against the limitations of CSS 1 and even CSS 2.1, what we are really complaining about is the slow pace of CSS 3 and the greater slowness with which browser makers (some more than others) adopt bits of it.

Note that at one time we would have railed against browser makers who implemented parts of a specification that was still under development; now we admire them. Note, too, that it has taken well over a decade for developers to understand and browsers to support basic CSS, and it is only from the perspective of the experienced customer who craves more that advanced web designers now cry out for immediate CSS 3 adoption and chafe against the “restrictions” of current CSS as universally supported in all browsers, including IE8.

If CSS had initially offered the power, depth, and complexity that CSS 3 promises, we would still be designing with tables or Flash. Even assuming a browser had existed that could demonstrate the power of CSS 3, the complexity of the specification would have daunted everyone but Eric Meyer, had CSS 1 not come out of the gate first.

The future of the future of standards

It was the practical simplicity of CSS that enabled browser engineers to implement it and tempted designers to use (and then evangelize) it. In contrast, it was the seeming complexity and detachment from practical workaday concerns that doomed XHTML 2, while XHTML 1.0 remains a valid spec that will likely still be working when you and I have retired (assuming retirement will be possible in our lifetime—but that’s another story).

And yet, compared to some W3C specs in progress, XHTML 2 was a model of accessible, practical, down-to-earth usability.

To the extent that W3C specifications remain modular, practical, and accessible to the non-PhD in computer science, they will be adopted by browser makers and the marketplace. The farther they depart from the principles Bert articulated, the sooner they will peter out into nothingness, and the likelier we are to face a crisis in which web standards once again detach from the direction in which the web is actually moving, and the medium is given over to incompatible, proprietary technologies.

I urge everyone to read “What is a Good Standard?“, and I thank my friend Tantek for pointing it out to me.

[tags]W3C, design, principles, bertbos, maintainability, accessibility, extensibility, learnability, simplicity, specs, standards, css, markup, code, languages, web, webdesign, webstandards, webdevelopment, essays[/tags]

.net interview

There was a point in the 90s when I felt like a sucker for doing HTML and CSS.”

The .net Zeldman interview is available for your downloading pleasure (4.2 MB PDF). For more of the best in web design and development, visit netmag.co.uk.

Update, 27 May 2009

An HTML version of the interview has now been posted on .net’s website.

[tags]webdesign, webdevelopment, magazine, interview, .net, netmag, interview, interviews, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman[/tags]

State of the web

Web designers and developers power the global economy, but almost nothing is known about who we are, where we live, how we work, what tools we use.

The A List Apart survey (2007 survey, 2007 detailed findings, 2008 survey) of over 32,000 full-time, part-time, and freelance web designers, developers, and related user experience professionals began answering questions about who works in this field, where we are located, which kinds of businesses and organizations employ us, under which titles we work, what we earn, how satisfied and secure we are, and so on.

Complementing this information, in 2008 Web Directions North conducted a State of the Web 2008 survey of designers, developers, and other web professionals to find out more about our philosophies, technologies, and best practices. The findings include details and analysis of all responses to over 50 questions. You can read all the questions, download the complete (anonymized) set of responses, read detailed analysis, and more.

What percentage of your peers who took the survey use JavaScript for Ajax communication with the server? What percentage don’t use JavaScript at all? How many still test their sites in IE 5.0? The answers to dozens of questions like these await you.

[tags]webdirections, survey, webdesign, webdevelopment[/tags]

ALA 272: Accessible web video, better 404

In Issue No. 272 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

This is How the Web Gets Regulated

by JOE CLARK

As in finance, so on the web: self-regulation has failed. Nearly ten years after specifications first required it, video captioning can barely be said to exist on the web. The big players, while swollen with self-congratulation, are technically incompetent, and nobody else is even trying. So what will it take to support the human and legal rights of hearing impaired web users? It just might take the law, says Joe Clark.

A More Useful 404

by DEAN FRICKEY

When broken links frustrate your site’s visitors, a typical 404 page explains what went wrong and provides links that may relate to the visitor’s quest. That’s good, but now you can do better. With Dean Frickey’s custom 404, when something’s amiss, pertinent information is sent not only to the visitor, but to the developer—so that, in many cases, the problem can be fixed! A better 404 means never having to say you’re sorry.

[tags]alistapart, closedcaptioning, captioning, captions, webvideo, video, accessible, accessibility, 404, error, reporting, usability, programming, design, webdesign, webdevelopment[/tags]

ALA No. 270: progressive enhancement 2; work at home

In Issue No. 270 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Progressive Enhancement with CSS

by AARON GUSTAFSON

Organize multiple style sheets to simplify the creation of environmentally appropriate visual experiences. Support older browsers while keeping your CSS hack-free. Use generated content to provide visual enhancements, and seize the power of advanced selectors to create wondrous (or amusing) effects. Part two of a series.

Working From Home: The Readers Respond

by OUR GENTLE READERS

We asked. Our gentle readers answered. In A List Apart No. 263 we inquired how you walk the blurry line when you work from home. Here are your secrets—how to balance work and family, maintain energy and focus, get things done, and above all, how to remember the love.

[tags]progressiveenhancement, workathome, webdesign, webdevelopment, alistapart[/tags]

ALA 266: next generation sprites, metaphors

In Issue No. 266 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

CSS Sprites2 – It’s JavaScript Time

by DAVE SHEA

In 2004, Dave Shea took the CSS rollover where it had never gone before. Now he takes it further still—with a little help from jQuery. Say hello to hover animations that respond to a user’s behavior in ways standards-based sites never could before.

Mapping Memory: Web Designer as Information Cartographer

by AARON RESTER

The rise of the social web demands that we rethink our traditional role as builders of digital monuments, and turn our attention to the close observation of the spaces that our users are producing around us. It’s time for a new metaphor. Consider cartography.

[tags]daveshea, aaronrester, alistapart, webdesign, webdevelopment, informationarchitecture, userexperience, css, sprites, jquery, animation, navigation[/tags]

The Survey for People Who Make Websites

It’s back, it’s improved, and it’s hungry for your data. It’s A List Apart’s second annual survey for people who make websites.

I took it! And so should you. The Survey for People Who Make Websites.

Last year nearly 33,000 of you took the survey, enabling us to begin figuring out what kinds of job titles, salaries, and work situations are common in our field.

This year’s survey corrects many of last year’s mistakes, with more detailed and numerous questions for freelance contractors and owners of (or partners in) small web businesses. There are also better international categories, and many other improvements recommended by those who took the survey last year.

Please take the survey and encourage your friends and colleagues who make websites to do likewise.

[Comments off. Pings on.]

[tags]survey, web design survey, webdesign, webdevelopment, professional, alistapart[/tags]

ALA No. 262: Binding & Subversion

In Issue No. 262 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, Ryan Irelan invites us to collaborate and connect with Subversion, and Christophe Porteneuve explains how to get out of binding situations in JavaScript.

Comments off.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, webdevelopment, javascript, binding, subversion, Christophe Porteneuve. Ryan Irelan[/tags]