20 March 2005 12 noon | 10 pm est


Among my favorite panels at this year’s SXSW Interactive was one I’d expected not to love. “The Flash vs. HTML Game Show” sounded as fresh as an old gym sock. I knew the participants to be extremely accomplished, creatively as well as executionally. That’s why I went. I expected to see skilled work. But I didn’t reckon I’d learn much.


Here’s the panel in a nutshell: At the start of Round 3, Google’s Chris Wetherell showed how he’d used web standards to design the Gmail online mail application. (Note, it was web standards, not merely HTML, that powered the “HTML” team.) Next, SpireMedia’s Kevin Conboy showed how he had re-engineered Gmail using Flash instead of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. The audience then clapped for the efforts of each side. The side we clapped louder for won that round.

I’ve mentioned Chris and Kevin but could have highlighted any of the combatants. You would kill to work with the likes of Eris Free, Vera Fleischer, Jaxxon Repp, and Dunstan Orchard. Everyone on the panel, not least moderator Jane Wells, had a high level of expertise coupled with an engagingly dynamic (or adorably shy) personality. The work was creatively inspiring; the “behind the design” discussions were to the point. But the surprise kick of the panel came from someplace completely different.

What was fresh and unexpected was the way panelists approached their tasks as users. Over and over, from the Flash and the “HTML” side, one heard comments like the following:

“I thought, as a user, what would I like to see here?”

For instance, when both teams reimagined Ludicorp Research’s Yahoo’s Flickr, the panelists in charge began by talking about why they loved the Flickr application — and then discussed (and executed) changes that could make Flickr even better from a user’s perspective. As a bonus surprise, on the night before the panel, the folks at Ludicorp implemented some of the changes made by the HTML team. (Digital) life imitates (virtual) game show.

Thinking like a user. It seems so obvious. But it is not.

When I think back to the many bleeding-edge CSS, DHTML, and Flash presentations I’ve seen or participated in over the years, the motivation was inevitably, “How hard can I push Flash?” or “How many objects can I move on this page?” or “What else can I show you in Firefox that won’t work in IE?”

It was never, “What would the user like?”

Yet in The Flash vs. HTML Game Show, designers with cutting edge skills were more interested in creating great user experiences than in manipulating their chosen technology for its own sake. Nobody on the panel and nobody in the audience thought twice about this user orientation. That is a profound change, and I hope it continues to spread.

10 March 2005 5 pm est

SXSW Bound

Schedule of Zeldman Events

Our little crew is off to Austin TX for another joyous installment of SXSW Interactive. See some of you there!

3 March 2005 10 am est

In today’s Report:
Digital Gallery launches
A great cultural institution puts hundreds of thousands of rare images online, free.
Good job!
A Manhattan-based web shop seeks client-side developers with strong, standards-driven HTML and CSS skills.

Digital Gallery launches

Fashion illustrations and illuminated manuscripts. Civil War photos and Japanese prints. The NYPL Digital Gallery, launched today, provides free access to over 275,000 images (soon to be 500,000) digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the world-renowned New York Public Library collections.

Four years in the making, the project shows how a great cultural institution can use the internet to distribute its richest and rarest content to all comers. Covering the launch in The New York Times, Sarah Boxer writes:

Let the browser beware. The New York Public Library’s collection of prints, maps, posters, photographs, illuminated manuscripts, sheet-music covers, dust jackets, menus and cigarette cards is now online. If you dive in today without knowing why, you might not surface for a long, long time.

Visitors can use the images any way they choose:

You can collect ’em, enlarge ’em, download ’em, print ’em and hang ’em on your wall at home. All are free, unless, of course, you plan to make money on them yourself. (Permission is required.)

Barbara Taranto of the Digital Library Program headed the effort. (The full credits rival those of a major motion picture.) Carrie Bickner Zeldman, who, among other things, managed the technical team that built the software, briefly describes how the publishing system uses XML to ensure fast public delivery.

Good job!

The Daily Report’s longtime pal Tim Murtaugh — he of Cloud King and Pirated Sites fame — informs us that his company is looking to hire standards-aware front end web experts:

IconNicholson, a Manhattan-based web shop, has openings for full-time client-side developers with strong, standards-driven HTML and CSS skills. Experience with JavaScript and server-side languages (ASP, PHP, etc) a plus, but not required. Must have an eye for both design and clean code. Send your resume to Tim Murtaugh [tmurtaugh AT iconnicholson.com] for more information.

IconNicholson has a strong design sensibility, to which Tim and his hires have added a respect for the user’s time and needs. As if that weren’t enough, the agency is housed on the eighth floor of the famous Puck Building, where Soho meets Nolita. Which means you will never lack for a good place to have lunch or a funky bar or gym in which to decompress after work.