For years, for the sake of some hack standup comic’s guaranteed cheap chuckle, the hallowed untruths have recirculated: Yoko broke up the Beatles. (She didn’t.) Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet. (He didn’t.) Some third thing. (It wasn’t.)
And our acceptance of these lies begat an easy swallowing of bigger lies, amid a deepening skepticism about the very notion of truth. After smiling faintly at the eleventh joke about Yoko, many among us came to believe it was based on a truth. The more who believed, the more who thought surely it must be true.
Knowing that previous human beings believed all kinds of old bullshit doesn’t keep us from swallowing new bullshit and asking for seconds. The earth is flat. Jews drink the blood of Christian children. Our crops failed because that woman who rebuffed our advances copulated with Satan. We would have won the war if only our leaders hadn’t sold us out and stabbed us in the back.
AS MUCH as I love reading (and writing and publishing) books and articles about design, I’ve never learned as much from a book as I’ve picked up over time while rubbing shoulders with colleagues who share my work space.
It’s why, even though NYC office rents are ludicrously expensive, I opened a shared design studio space in gently trending NoMad, Manhattan in January of 2012. And why, just three short months ago, I leaped at the chance to help launch the Shopify Partners Studio Program—a coworking space and casual mentoring program for exceptionally talented freelance ecommerce designers and developers.
The first six participants included a web developer and social media consultant; a visual experience designer; a freelance web developer and blogger; two freelance designer/developers; and a copywriter/marketing consultant. Three of them sought feedback from me on exciting business and product ideas they’d come up with; two asked me for career guidance and business advice. All taught me more than I taught them, and inspired me to look at my own work and career with fresh eyes.
Most or all of these lovely and talented people will be moving on soon, as the next phase of Shopify Partner Studio begins. Which brings us to you.
Apply now to join the next round of Shopify Partner Studio! If selected for residency, you’ll gain access to a suite of opportunities to kickstart your business, including:
Free rent and high-speed Internet for three months in my studio on lower Madison Avenue.
Mentorship from your humble narrator, Shopify executives, and “other industry icons.” (I put the quotations around Shopify’s phrase to not sound like a complete egomaniac.)
Fast-tracked access to the Shopify Experts Marketplace, where Shopify sends its 243,000 merchants looking for help with store, theme, and app builds.
A free Shopify store to build your portfolio website.
A free ticket to Smashing Conference NYC.
So what are you waiting for? Join me and some of your smartest colleagues in an experience that just might help make your career. Apply now to the Shopify Partners Studio Program.
While 45% of all people managers at Slack are women, it’s noteworthy (and not shown above) that fully 41% of all people working at Slack have a woman as their manager. This means that 41% of our people report to a woman who helps set their priorities, measure their performance, mentor them in their work, and who make recommendations that will impact their compensation and career growth.
REGISTERING for school, paying bills, updating government documents—we conduct a significant part of our daily lives through web forms. So when simply typing in your name breaks a form, well, user experience, we have a problem. As our population continues to diversify, we need designs that accommodate a broader range of naming conventions. Aimee Gonzalez shows how cultural assumptions affect what we build on the web—and how fostering awareness and refining our processes can start to change that.
As a photographer, I now have to choose whether to prevent people from using my photos, or prevent Yahoo from selling them. I can’t have both.
I want people to use my photos. That’s why I take them. I want that usage to be unencumbered. That’s why I chose a Creative Commons license. Some of the publications and businesses that use my photos make no money at all. Others make a little something. I don’t care either way. That’s why I chose a Commercial Attribution license. The license makes my work available to all publications and products, whether commercial or non-commercial. Fine with me.
But Yahoo selling the stuff? Cheesy, desperate, and not at all fine with me. I pay for a Flickr Pro account, and am happy to do so. That’s how Yahoo is supposed to make money from my hobby.
I know the site’s founders (who left years ago). Other friends of mine still work there as designers & developers. They are great people. Talented, user-focused, righteous. None of them is for this.
I’ve had a Flickr Pro account for about ten years. I love Flickr. Sometimes, for years, it has been like loving a friend who is in a coma. Now it’s like helplessly watching a cocaine-addicted friend snort up their kid’s college fund.
Whether or not CC licenses would benefit from what Jen proposes, Yahoo, if it understood the spirit of the community it bought in Flickr—or even if it simply wanted to pretend to understand—could prevent a lot of bad feeling by writing to members whose work is covered by CC Attribution licenses; asking for feedback on its plan; making the plan opt-in; and offering some kind of revenue sharing for those members who don’t mind having Yahoo sell prints of their work. That Yahoo doesn’t think of this—and that some usually thoughtful people are defending Yahoo on the grounds that the CC license allows what they’re doing—I find profoundly depressing. We were a community. What happened?
FANS OF ICON ART and The Big Web Show, listen up. Tomorrow’s Big Web Show guest is Justin Dauer (AKA @pseudoroom) of The Dead Pixel Society. Justin was a web icon artist in the mid-1990s, back when I also dabbled in the art. Indeed, it was talented folks like Justin and my friends at The Iconfactory who made me realize that specializing in icons was probably not going to be a thing for me, as they were so much better at it.
Ah, for the days when a pixel was a pixel!
To celebrate those times and that body of work, Justin has gathered together some of the best of those 1990s icon artists at The Dead Pixel Society. Its mission: to “honor the humble pixel with desktop icon creations we would’ve designed the past 18 years, via 1996 ResEdit-esque constraints.” The site, although it has not yet officially launched, is now available in preview.
I loved those days of the early web, when progressive enhancement meant making sure it worked in 16 colors as well as 216. So I’m quite excited about my upcoming conversation with Justin. You can listen in to the live taping tomorrow, Thursday October 2nd, from 10:00AM–11:100AM EDT on 5by5.tv. The final, edited show will be posted a few hours later at 5by5.tv/bigwebshow; you can also subscribe via iTunes and/or RSS. Here’s looking at you, pixel!
IN BIG WEB SHOW ? 115 on Mule Radio, I talk with Anil Dash, a hugely influential entrepreneur, blogger, and web geek living in NYC.
Things we discuss include:
How government, media, and tech shape the world, and how we can influence them in turn. Our first meeting at SXSW in 2002. How selling CMS systems teaches you the dysfunction at media companies and organizations. Working for the music industry at the dawn of Napster. RFP-EZ. The early days of blogging.
Designing websites for the government—the procurement problem. If we’re pouring all this time into social media, what do we want to get out of it? How big institutions work and how to have an impact on them. Living in “Joe’s Apartment.”
Why, until recently, federal agencies that wanted a blog couldn’t use WordPress or Tumblr and how the State Dept got on Tumblr. Achieving empathy for institutions. Being more thoughtful about what I share and who I amplify on social media. The launch of Thinkup, and a special offer exclusively for Big Web Show listeners.
HARD TO BELIEVE, but it was ten years ago that I first heard Lawrence Lessig give a talk at SXSWi about an idea he had to save content from death by copyright law.
At the time, copyright law and digital creativity were at odds, and tens of thousands of cultural artifacts were disappearing from the commons because of the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, a copyright extension pushed through congress by the late Sonny Bono at the behest of the Disney corporation. Corey Doctorow, one of Lessig’s partners on the SXSW panel, memorably likened the destruction to the slow motion burning of the Library of Alexandria.
But Lessig had a plan. And, remarkably, it worked: “For a decade now, Creative Commons has made legal sharing and remixing easier for everyone. After ten years, it has become the default third way.”
IN A GORGEOUSLY PACED ESSAY at n+1, “the magazine that believes history isn’t over just yet,” an amazing young (22?) writer named Alice Gregory reviews a novel by Gary Shteyngart while simultaneously describing her exhausted and shattered mental life as a Twitter- and Tumblr-following, iPhone-carrying, socializing-while-isolated Internet addict, i.e. modern young person:
This anxiety is about more than failing to keep up with a serialized source, though. It’s also about the primitive pleasure of constant and arbitrary stimulation. That’s why the Facebook newsfeed is no longer shown chronologically. Refresh Facebook ten times and the status updates rearrange themselves in nonsensical, anachronistic patterns. You don’t refresh Facebook to follow a narrative, you refresh to register a change—not to read but to see.
And it’s losing track of this distinction—between reading and seeing—that’s so shameful. It’s like being demoted from the category of thinking, caring human to a sort of rat that doesn’t know why he needs to tap that button, just that he does.
Sometimes I can almost visualize parts of myself, the ones I’m most proud of, atrophying. I wish I had an app to monitor it! I notice that my thoughts are homeopathic, that they mirror content I wish I weren’t reading. I catch myself performing hideous, futuristic gestures, like that “hilarious” moment three seconds into an intimate embrace in which I realize I’m literally rubbing my iPhone screen across his spine.
SXSW INTERACTIVE is an amazing festival, conference, and annual gathering of the tribes—a place to see, be seen, and find out not only what’s happening on the web, but what will happen in the coming 18 months. The festival’s explosive growth—from minor music festival adjunct to megalopolis attracting over 20,000 interactive attendees this year—mirrors the miraculous growth of the internet itself. And the festival’s challenge echoes the challenge all internet community faces: in a word, scale. Not just the mechanics of scale, but the gauntlet of obstacles that must be overcome if a community is to grow wildly while remaining true to itself.
It is hard for someone who has not attended to imagine the scale of the thing—I flew here from New York on a JetBlue jet whose every passenger seemed to be attending this show; it was like a flying blogroll. For that matter, it’s too big for attendees to completely comprehend. It’s like New York City that way: you can visit, get a taste of it, you can even move there and be part of it, but you can never take it all in. And of course it is impossible for current attendees who missed the early years of SXSW Interactive to picture what the conference was like in the old days, when almost everyone attending knew everyone else personally or by reputation.
Each year I wonder if this will be the year the festival gets too big for its own good (or too big to be good), and each year SXSWi remains great—but great in a different way than before (again, just like the internet). Each year I salute the people behind this show. I could not even dream of putting on an event like this. I am a boutique guy at heart. I know how to make small things good for a select group of people with a certain taste and interest. The people behind SXSW cater to select needs and special tastes, too—but they also do massive. I’m looking forward to this year’s show, which begins today, and to my own panel and the panels and presentations of my friends (including friends I haven’t met yet).
As for the lost intimacy of SXSW that some of us long-time attendees lament, it isn’t really lost. The first trick is to show up on Thursday, before most attendees get here. Register early with short lines, then buy a water and sit anywhere in the vast conference center. Within five minutes, you will meet new people; within ten, you’ll see old friends. You can then go off with these new or old friends and enjoy a luxurious lunch table at a place you won’t even be able to get into after Friday.
Always arrive a day early. You will not regret it. My experiences yesterday and the memories I will take with me have already more than justified this year’s pilgrimage here.
And once the festival begins? Don’t be afraid to occasionally skip a panel and go off with people you bump into (whether that bump takes place in the hallway or on Gowalla and Foursquare).
OUR LIBRARY IS BURNING. Copyright extension has banished millions of books to the scrapheap. Digital permanence is a tragically laughable ideal to anyone who remembers the VHS format wars or tries to view Joshua Davis’s 1990s masterpieces on a modern computer. Digital archiving is only as permanent as the next budget cycle—as when libraries switched from microfilm to digital subscriptions and then were forced to cancel the subscriptions during the pre-recession recession. And of course, my digital work vanishes the moment I die or lose the ability to keep hosting it. If you really want to protect your family photos, take them off Flickr and your hard drive, get them on paper, and store them in an airtight box.
Though bits are forever, our medium is mortal, as all but the most naive among us know. And we accept that some of what we hold digitally dear will perish before our eyes. But it irks most especially when people or companies with more money than judgement purchase a thriving online community only to trash it when they can’t figure out how to squeeze a buck out of it. Corporate black thumb is not new to our medium: MGM watered down the Marx Bros; the Saatchis sucked the creative life and half the billings out of the ad agencies they acquired during the 1980s and beyond. But outside the digital world, some corporate purchases and marriages have worked out (think: Disney/Pixar). And with the possible exception of Flickr (better now than the day Yahoo bought it), I can’t think of any online community or publication that has improved as a result of being purchased. Whereas we can all instantly call to mind dozens of wonderful web properties that died or crawled up their own asses as a direct result of new corporate ownership.
My colleague Mandy Brown has written a moving call to arms which, knowingly or unknowingly, invokes the LOCKSS method (“Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe”) of preserving digital content by making copies of it; she encourages us all to become archivists. Even a disorganized ground-level effort such as Mandy proposes will be beneficial—indeed, the less organized, the better. And this is certainly part of the answer. (It’s also what drives my friend Tantek’s own your data efforts; my beef with T is mainly aesthetic.) So, yes, we the people can do our part to help undo the harm uncaring companies cause to our e-ecosystem.
But there is another piece of this which no one is discussing and which I now address specifically to my colleagues who create great digital content and communities:
Stop selling your stuff to corporate jerks. It never works. They always wreck what you’ve spent years making.
Don’t go for the quick payoff. You can make money maintaining your content and serving your community. It won’t be a fat fistful of cash, but that’s okay. You can keep living, keep growing your community, and, over the years, you will earn enough to be safe and comfortable. Besides, most people who get a big payoff blow the money within two years (because it’s not real to them, and because there are always professionals ready to help the rich squander their money). By contrast, if you retain ownership of your community and keep plugging away, you’ll have financial stability and manageable success, and you’ll be able to turn the content over to your juniors when the time comes to retire.
Our library is burning. We didn’t start the fire but we sure don’t have to help fan the flames. You can’t sell out if you don’t sell. Owning your content starts with you.
Paul Ford is our guest on The Big Web Show, taped live before an internet audience at 1:00 PM ET tomorrow, 14 October 2010, on the 5by5 network at live.5by5.tv.
Paul is a freelance writer and computer programmer. He was an editor at Harper’s Magazine from 2005–2010, and brought Harper’s 159-year, 250,000-page archive to the web in 2007; the system now supports tens of thousands of registered subscribers. More recently he helped the media strategy firm Activate with the launch of Gourmet Live, a re-imagining of Gourmet Magazine for iPad, and co-founded Popsicle Weasel, a small company totally focused on microsites.
He has written for NPR, TheMorningNews.org, XML.com, and the National Information Standards Organization’s Information Standards Quarterly, and is the author of the novel Gary Benchley, Rock Star (Penguin/Plume). Paul programs in PHP, Java, and XSLT2.0, but lately is all about Python and Django. His writing has been anthologized in Best Software Writing I (2005) and Best Music Writing 2009. He enjoys both software and music.
He will teach Content Strategy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City starting in 2011. His personal website, started in 1997, is Ftrain.com. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife Mo and the obligatory cats.
The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is recorded live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET on live.5by5.tv. Join us!
Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of recording, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web. Subscribe and enjoy!
The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is taped live in front of an internet audience every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of taping, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.
Many people still think NYC is this way. It ain’t. I visited NYC as a wide-eyed teenager during this era and met pederasts, opium dealers, and prostitutes without even trying. I visited again as a young man at the end of the decade, goggly over the music scene (which was already packaged and dying).
When I finally moved to NYC in 1988, large parts of it were still pretty ragged. You could cop dope behind The New York Public Library and get shot on Avenue B. You could also accidentally start a fire in your apartment and not get kicked out. Or so I have, uh, read.
For all the dings on his soul, Rudy G really changed this town. He made it much more expensive but also much, much safer and more livable. Today it is one of the safest and most beautiful cities in America. A lot of change in a short time.