29 November 2007

Thence the Email Standards Project?

Over the past 24 hours everybody and their first cousin seems to be talking about this e-mail thingy per the title. I'm going to read up on it in a bit, but…

It occurs to me that as a proverbial Neanderthal who still believes HTML has no place in e-mail, I find the whole idea to be a non-starter.

Let them eat attached PDF’s, I say.

Update, 45 minutes later:

I scribbled more (similar) opinions on the subject over at Zeldman’s.

26 November 2007

Thoughts on The Game

I thought I would be happier.

It’s a testimony to how well Lawrence has treated me — all bitching and drama and the fact that I want to move on aside — and how well Columbia didn’t¹, that I of all people would be disappointed to see KU lose the game.

Now I find myself anxious to see MU win its next two games. That’s the only way I can be convinced that KU earned its loss.

I’m not saying that KU was robbed, either, just that KU’s poll position represents three years of hard work by players and coaches, while for MU I figure it’s a lot to do with chemistry-by-chance.

…Or maybe I’m just jaded after spending so damned many years watching MU’s athletics program swing between extremes of sharp dealing and screwing around.

¹I lived in Columbia, I went to MU, I came of age in that place, and hardly a day goes by that I’m not reminded of the person I became while I was there. I even feel touches of nostalgia from time to time. But none of that changes the fact that I left that town with my tail completely between my legs, dammit.

22 November 2007

Thoughts: typesetting print-only pages

Earlier today I posted a comment on Twitter about the habit of some sites in which they set fixed-width columns for their bodycopy on print-specific layouts.

In short, this habit annoys me.

Print-only page audience

Other than printing, there’s one other reason to visit a print-only page: to click to an un-paginated article. I’m a fan of pagination, but not if it requires me to load a series of brand new pages; a solution like the one used for several years on iht.com is far preferable, to a point.

The result is that I, like so many other people, will click over to the print-only page for the benefit of making one single page request more, rather than three or more.

The point is that print-only pages get a lot of online use, because I know I’m not the only person who feels hostile toward excessive pagination.

…Which leaves us with bad and thoughtless typesetting

The practice of producing print-only pages with static column widths and auto-leading is, in short, a bad one.

  • Auto-leading on long pages underscores the best reason for pagination, namely avoiding the discomfort of keeping one’s place in the copy while scrolling.

    However, I don’t believe that oversight is intended as a disincentive. Someone probably believes that auto-leading will conserve paper, but decreasing leading on magazine articles won’t conserve that much; increase leading by one-sixth of a line and, if you’re using twelve-point type, you reduce the number of words that can fit on a page by 60 or so (15%). Assuming stories of 500-1,000 words and plugging in this metric, auto-leading suggests that most of your stories will print across two or three pages.

    Where does this leave the cutoff?

    Pagination points in words for stories printed with 12-point bodycopy, with and without increased leading
    PageAuto-leading+ 1/6

    The conclusion that can be drawn is that the only common story length likely to cause paper “waste” as a result of an increase in leading is 700-750.

    Unless 750 words is a happy place in your editorial guidelines, why not increase leading on the print-only pages? Your visitors will love you for it.

  • Fixing the column width in pixels is an inconvenience to those who use text zoom rather than page zoom.

    Once Firefox 3 (which will support page zoom) ships, this concern will go away. In the meantime, it’s a pain to see my words-per-line decrease when I increase the type size.

    If ’twere me, I would:

    1. Link a stylesheet of type="print,screen”
    2. Create both @screen and @print blocks in that stylesheet
    3. Emplace width: 50em; in my screen bodycopy rule and no width attribute at all in my print bodycopy rule (which will allow the copy to occupy the full width of the printed page).

    …Why a line length of 50ish ems?

    50ish ems often translates to twelve or thirteen words, which is at the low end for optimizing the legibility of long passages of text. That approach also allows for fully justified margins, which for all but the longest paragraphs convey the idea of higher production values. Especially long pieces should avoid justified margins, however, as the ragged right margin eases place-keeping.

    The alternative is to allow the lines to run completely across the screen in both print and screen media, which at higher pixel pitches will improve readability at the expense of legibility.

This is all rather pie-in-the sky thinking, and when I look at my most recent print-only ruleset I see that I let the bodycopy run across the breadth of the page — you could say that I’m thinking this through for the first time.

18 November 2007

Frameworks: it’s the fidelity, stupid.

Jeff Croft asks:

  1. What is it about CSS frameworks that bothers you so?

    What bothers me about frameworks in general is that they fool inexperienced users into believing that their tool of choice can solve any problem efficiently, when in fact one-size-fits-all tools wind up being so complicated to learn that the student is better off just learning the fundamentals of the underlying technology anyway.

    When I limit the answer to the scope of CSS, the same objections raised by one of my own A List Apart articles rear their proverbial head: by pouring your work product into a framework, you’re building around the abstractions it creates, rather than the objectives and specifications of your project.

  2. Do you want CSS and (X)HTML to be easier for everyone, or would you rather it be a highly-skilled craft that requires the assistance of experts?

    I want Web publishing to be easy for all of those who want to engage in it, a desire which I hope is adequately expressed by the fact that I’m publishing this post on Blogger (of all possible platforms). Ideally this publishing will be done right, and I fart in the general direction of tool developers who are too lazy to ensure that their tool will, in fact, do it right.

    [I am far from convinced that framework developers in general are undeserving of that particular wrath.]

  3. Why is this just coming up now? Why did no one mind when Yahoo released their CSS framework, but people are bothered by Blueprint? What’s the difference?

    …The responsible parties at Yahoo have made a number of good faith efforts to engage with the WebDev community generally and the standards advocacy community in particular, while Google does things their (secretive, paternalistic) way and expects everyone to like it, no matter what. It stands to reason, then, that Google attracts criticism from the people who accommodate Yahoo.

  4. Do you simply oppose the idea of frameworks as a whole? Do you also dislike the JavaScript frameworks that have been so popular recently? Do you also dislike backend frameworks like Django, Rails, and CakePHP? Or is there something specific to CSS that renders it somehow inappropriate for these frameworks?

    Yes, yes, yes, no. See my answer to question [1], and don’t forget that when given a tool that permits laziness, lazy people will take full advantage of that permission. This is partly informed by my own experience: the vast majority of Web application developers I’ve worked with are lazy as hell when it comes to learning client-side fundamentals, and limp along on crap markup unless and until their jobs require them to take things up a notch. To this I can add that during my recent week in the Bay Area, I was surrounded by people who have been going toe-to-toe with just the sort of lazy developers I’m railing about here.

The bottom line of this argument is not about the accessiblity of the technology, but rather about the work habits and professionalism of the people who work with it daily.

Jeff’s post closes with the following:

“…[Top tier CSS experts are] realizing, quite frankly, that their skill set may be less valuable in the future than it has been for the past couple of years.

“I’d love to be proven wrong, but until someone speaks up with some good reason why CSS frameworks shouldn’t be used, instead of simply asserting that they shouldn’t, I’m convinced these folks are just trying to drum up some false job security.”

Congratulations, sir, you’ve just maligned as cowards people whose only wrong was disagreeing with your position. That is not the way to win an argument.

I ask you to win against this argument:

Until adequate compiler-like tools exist that make possible automagic transitions from two- to three-column layouts (to say nothing of more sophisticated evolutions) in the course of (re-) designing a site, frameworks serve the purpose of allowing the lazy to be even lazier, the ignorant to be even more clueless, and the shortsighted to be even more thoughtless toward the poor s.o.b.’s who will be forced to live with the unintended consequences of their implementation decisions. Furthermore, it is unconscionably irresponsible for framework developers to tout their work as broadly useful, even in the hands of inexperienced people who haven’t learned any better.

The good, bad, and indifferent southpaw

“Things Lefties Are maybe Not So Good At!” turned up on StumbleUpon, and I found it whiny. My own take:

  • Public telephones: not a problem. If ya just gotta do the full smash left-handed, you hold the receiver between shoulder and ear and let your fingers do the walking just like anyone else. Working a cellphone keypad right-handed is hell, though.
  • Remote controls: huh? They suck, end of story. See also my comments about cellphones.
  • Tone arms: again — huh?
  • Writing: since this can’t be taught with the mirror method, it takes a lot of practice to get up to speed with one’s right-handed peers... but after controlling for extensive computer use, my printing’s always been spiffy. My cursive is another story entirely. And I never, ever bother with felt-tipped pens for writing, and I would sooner take the time to do a slideshow than attempt a whiteboard presentation; while more time-consuming, the former approach ensures that people will actually be able to read the ideas I’m trying to express.
  • Scissors: like so many items on this list, a non-issue for kids (and consequently adults) who suck it up and go to the effort of catching up.
  • Trousers with one back pocket: again, a non-issue. You get into the habit, and on blue jeans and the like, the left pocket always goes empty.
  • Zippers: not a problem, except that I didn't get the hang of them until I was well past my ninth birthday.
  • Recreation requiring sticks or clubs: now this list starts to make some real sense. I refuse to learn golf because of the hassles that go along with being a left-handed golfer. I’ve never shown any aptitude for hockey or baseball (though I suspect that has more to do with my comparatively poor depth perception), and I struggled through learning billiards, which I shoot right-handed except when forced into shots that other players make behind-the-back.
  • Shoelaces: the mirror method rulez, people. Problem is, no-one figured that out to my benefit until I was seven years old. That was one of my more significant humiliations as a kid.
  • Notebooks: looseleaf paper, sewn/perfect binding, and top-set spirals are da bomb — and chances are on any given day that you can go to a store that sells them.
  • Checkbooks: oh, puh-leeze. Tear the leaf out before you write on it. How hard is that?
  • The chained pens at the bank: oh yes, now you’re cookin’ with gas.
  • ATM machines: huh? The greatest risk for me is losing my card in the older machines that don’t return your card before spitting out your money, because the focus of my attention drifts to the left as a matter of course. Actually operating the things is not any particular challenge, though.
  • Keypads and mice: again, practice makes perfect. I can easily pass ten-key tests aimed at non-experts, have been able to since I was a teenager. And mice pretty much need to be on the right, since the housings of most mice are molded specifically for the right hand. Even a mouse that’s symmetrical on the axis parallel with the direction I’m facing is a pain in the ass to use left-handed, after so many years of right-handed mousing.
  • Duelling elbows in restaurant booths: now, this one I feel with my gut. If I’m out to eat with you, I will insist on sitting on your left, and that will be the end of the conversation.

Moving on from the list on the linked page, the two things that always drive me up the wall are cabinet video games and kitchen setups, which almost universally demand the greatest dexterity from one’s right hand if one is to avoid crossing or switching hands in the course of using them. Bleh.

12 November 2007

In Silicon Valley, oddly enough for the first time

Courtesy of a friend and colleague, I’ve been asked to spend this week in San Jose working for a Company You’ve Probably Heard Of. (…Not the first, but the first I’ll be allowed contractually to claim once the gig’s done.)

Given that today makes the first time since high school that I’ve been in the Bay Area, and given further that the Valley presents something completely different from what I expected, this trip is a little bit like something out of film. (…Less so than I would expect of San Francisco, but enough all the same.)

Give me ’til Friday, and I’ll surely have some thoughts to share… but until then, I must get my lappie back to usable condition (I restored from image immediately before leaving Lawrence) and get my head down so that I can bill some hours and impress the client (which is the whole point of the trip).

07 November 2007

Google as the new Microsoft, and what it might mean

[Much of what follows is speculative and based on my memory of things I’ve read online, mostly in blogs but less frequently in personal communications.]

I should be working, but a thought finally coalesced with respect to Google: they suffer from the same hubris that makes Microsoft so intolerable, similar not only in degree but also in character.

[As if to support my point, this item just turned up on my Twitter stream.]

By all reports Google is a great place to work, and despite its size still retains a hothouse vibe. Their decision to open a data center in the Columbia Gorge warms my native-Oregonian heart. It’s undeniable that some Really Cool S--t is finding its way out of Menlo Park. As it stands, the Web is better for the fact that Google’s in the marketplace.


Google’s recent business moves, their defensive silence toward the community of Web standards advocates, the tone of their press and public relations — not least Eric Schmidt’s conniptions after he was thoroughly made by c|net on the strength of data provided by Google itself — and a small number of personal communications leave me feeling uneasy about the stamp that Google is bound to put on the Web.

Whether they realize it or not, Google’s gone out of their way to convince me that they know what’s best for the Web, doing so in a tone so paternalistic and annoying that my reaction can be best summed up in words of one syllable.

While I may be part of a tiny minority now, I’m certain that I’m not alone — and that I’m likely to be among climbing numbers of distinguished company as time goes on, if current trends remain in place.

A List of Bad Things I Don’t Want: Google Edition

  • A monopoly market in the Web ad brokering space

    Yes, I know that there are other vendors out there, and some of them are doing quite well. I’ve even had one of them as an end client. However, Google stands by silently while the press insinuates that they’re in direct (and hostile) competition with Microsoft and Yahoo for brokerage market share — a silence which speaks quite loudly.

    This is a problem because: as the clear leader in search, and being the only one of those Big Three whom I can count on to really Get It and innovate (sorry, Yahoo, but that’s the writing I see on the wall, hooray for overly-deep orgcharts), I reckon it’s a matter of time before they have a commanding market share. With that outcome supposed, consider further that Wall Street loves revenue, and that Google’s rank and file have a personal interest in the health of their stock holdings. Given this intersection of interests and the lack of transparency about Google’s ad revenue payments to publishers, I’m discouraged by the thought of what might happen over time.

  • Ubiquitous — if not inevitable — single-source toolkits

    For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Google’s been working overtime to make pretty new toys for us Web developers. Google’s people are smart, and their tools are terrific, but what happens when those tools achieve ubiquity? I would think that all hell will start to break loose, security-wise.

    This is a problem because: monocultures are bad, yet Google seems quite happy to try and create some.

  • Process opacity

    Google refused to yield on privacy issues. They maintain strict silence about details of subjects such as blacklisting and revenue payments to publishers. Despite experience and contacts, I know exactly squat about their application beta test process, and not for lack of keeping in touch. To be honest, when I consider those things I wonder if I’m looking at a company that has a Politburo rather than an executive team.

    This is a problem because: in a future where a single company has its hands into every page request, that company ought to be transparent to a point for the sake of the public good… but Google’s culture militates toward secrecy, a fact which is unlikely ever to change.

  • Horizontal integration and/or presence to the point of absurdity

    Rather than focussing on “killer apps” Google is getting its fingers into every-damn-thing, and they’re not terribly shy about their intention to plaster their name on as much online real estate as possible. Whether we realize it or not, we as users are already forced to deal with Microsoft’s omnipresence on our desks. The last thing I want is for any company, even Google, to homogenize the Web in the spirit of Microsoft’s example.

    This is a problem because: in the long run it will hold the Web back by limiting the avenues along which innovation and creativity can move.

  • Significant privacy-destroying design flaws in critical applications

    This is related to the fear of toolkit ubiquity outlined above, and to a degree my feelings on this matter are due to Google being a victim of its own success. People rely on GMail to conduct business, and in fact I may be cornered into doing the same thing before long. The prospect of Yet Another GMail Hole is the one thing that’s stopped me, though.

    This is a problem because: at the bottom line, it’s the same problem suffered by Microsoft — get enough valuable data or resources in one basket, and some unscrupulous and/or attention-whoring shitbag will go out of his way to ruin the days of several million people… in this case, using Google’s platforms and infrastructure to do it.

  • A market environment in which one company can be coerced by any authority into surrendering personal data by the metric boatload

    Search, GMail, Desktop, Maps, Blogger, Analytics, and AdSense all provide data that in appropriately intelligent and resourceful hands can be used to conduct all manner of surreptitious surveillance. When I consider the attitude toward civil liberties of the sitting Presidential Administration, and further the precedent set by Yahoo when it rolled over for the Chinese government, I am deeply discouraged about Google’s ability — even given the best of intentions, and its public interactions with the U.S. Government to date — to protect its users’ right to privacy.

    This is a problem because: societies without effective safeguards of personal privacy melt down eventually, and Google is going out of its way to be part of the problem — in part because of the market it’s in, but also because of its own strongly-hewn culture of secrecy.

  • “The standards are what we say they are, ’n y’all can just f--k off.”

    Microsoft’s already doing this, and has been for years with its foot-draggin’, platform-embracin’, interface-extendin’, market-assimilatin’, monopoly-havin’ ways. And here’s Google, twisting-spindling-mutilating the Web toolset and screaming from on high that that’s just they way it has to be.

    After more than five years of being called upon to live up to the requirements of being attached to the best-known Web standards advocacy organization on the planet short of the W3C itself, I am here and now calling Google’s position a steaming heap of lies — all the more because in search and ads, they are clinging to lowest-common-denominator implementation methods that actually retard market adoption of up-to-date platforms… in spite of the fact that they have literally hundreds of people in their organization who are far smarter than I ever dreamed of being. If I can make it work, and if I can imagine ways in which it can be made to work in environments I haven’t worked in, why can’t they?

    This is a problem because: the evolution of the Web will only move at a glacial pace (with respect to its potential) until both Microsoft and Google wise up. So, why is a company for which the first standing order is “don’t be evil” being part of the problem, rather than being part of the solution? In all cases save destructive mutation. evolution is a good (i.e., not-evil) thing, yet as part of the problem Google is stunting that evolution. Good job, guys!

  • All of the above, plus willful ignorance of the wisdom of crowds.

    I’ve heard tell of many smart people who’ve been recruited by Google, which should not come as a surprise. What will surprise you is that the potential roles for these prospects were worked out by management before they were ever contacted, to the point that they were told in great detail what they would be doing if hired — not unlike a military officer being sent to a new billet. This speaks for some sort of grand vision on which the public’s not being let in, and that’s the part that really scares me.

    This is a problem because: any company that seems inclined to ignore its customers, preferring instead to follow an analogue of a Five Year Plan, is not a company I want anywhere near the Web that is my living and my link to the outside world. And I don’t give a damn how smart the people at that company are, if that’s how they wanna play it.

And before you cry “Godvinski!”

The more thoughtful among you have probably noticed that I’ve made two archly-put comparisons between Google and the Soviet Union. Part of that editorial position is by way of introducing an additional element of fear into my rhetoric, for sure. More to the point, however, years of private and academic study of post-1812 Russian history make the comparison too easy for me to make. Maybe I’m just seeing Sergey Brin’s stamp on Google’s culture and freaking out¹, but on consideration I see that as a bit of a stretch. There’ve surely been a lot of changes since Google brought aboard professional managers.

However, that Google reminds me of Russia² for any reason should by itself be instructive, even without the quasi-political subtext.


All of the points I outlined above, especially the last, leave me under the inescapable impression that Google thinks it knows what’s good for us, better than we do. Thanks to Microsoft we already deal with one company that’s foisted that view on its market, and we’re all familiar (to a greater or lesser degree) with the manifold consequences of that attitude. The thought that we’re letting it happen all over again is bothersome, to say the least.


¹As cultural traits go, mania for secrecy is pretty well a Russian one. All generalizations, comparisons, and contrasts aside, I really do hope that I’m looking at an absurdly misplaced but mostly harmless cultural artifact, and not some flaw in an important system (Google as a company) that could bring down the full smash to the detriment of the entire Web.

²Yes, I know better than to conflate Russia and the USSR, but in this instance I’m referring to Russia as the latter’s predecessor and successor state. Yeah, that’s me, being pedantic so that you don’t need to. You’re welcome.

06 November 2007

Asus Eee: forward to the past for graphic design on the Web?

Well, it’s not the world per se that’s getting smaller. The Web is another story, because of developments in the ultra-mobile PC space — and I strongly believe that these developments will have far-reaching consequences for best practices of graphic design on the Web, if they take hold in the marketplace.

Think small

Almost two years ago, I tore open a box with a buy.com shipping label and removed my brand-new subnotebook computer, which since then has earned a lot of oohs and aahs — it’s obviously not a Macintosh of any description, and it was somewhat underpowered even when I bought it (1GHz Celeron M CPU, 512MB RAM, 60GB HDD, XP Home), but it’s still a piece of work. I’m a Web guy. I don’t need tons of juice to get my job done.

More to the point, I’ve spent my entire adult life living the car-less lifestyle, so a rig that I could easily carry and shoehorn into small-ish public spaces was (and is) a wonderful thing to own.

Now that it’s been two years, I’ve started looking casually for a replacement… which means that I’ve noticed the announcement of the Asus Eee and its appliance-ish cousins that are already on the market.

I may well buy one, even if I need to get a portable disk drive too; $400 is a hard price to beat for a widget that can support everything I need except graphics, and my professional development is definitely taking a sharp turn toward the programming end of things.

Don’t misunderstand me — the Eee is a 1.5G product at best, and it’s a matter of time before OEM’s concede that keyboards are both necessary and constrained by a hard lower bound on size. Kids and petite women can get mileage from machines like the Eee, and so can folks like me who are smallish-handed and know how to type. As for bigger guys¹, or power users who are tethered to ergonomic keyboards², fuhgeddaboutit… and if you rave on stylus interfaces, expect me to guffaw in your general direction.

My point is that people want small and affordable machines that they can actually use, and I strongly believe that eventually the 7" display, or something close to it, will gain share in the user population.

Necessity is the mother of invention ’n allathat. Touchscreens will improve, or someone will come up with a more-usable yet adequately-simple keyboard design that will fit into that form factor.

If I’m right, that means that the march to 1024w layouts will falter. Ponder that.


¹My best friend in town stands 6'4" and weighs 240#. He runs in terror from the prospect of borrowing my notebook.

²…But I can’t stand ’em. I do not need some smartypants industrial designer telling me how to use my hands; as a sinistral, I have my own way of doing things. I also have a ton of acquaintances who swear by ergos.

Pajamas and production

“Facts and Opinions about Zeldman” is a fair assessment of my own frame of mind as well. It’s just… instructive, I guess, that I can’t claim the high-toned appointment calendar.

I’ve actually given much thought to the matter of dress lately, usually in a spirit of disbelief — “I get paid how much to walk to my desk and make what every day while wearing whatever I please?! You can’t be serious.”

[For those who might be wondering, typically I do don street clothes before putting myself to work each mor^H^H^Hday.]

In the inaugural post of this weblog (which is linked in the sidebar, for those of you visiting Blogspot directly) I hinted at tremendous ennui, and the question of dress is part of that — how much effort and attention to detail does it cost to even out the karma of someone who works in the environment I do, but was brought up to take stock in the Teutonic work ethic?

Over in another corner, you have outposts like Web Worker Daily which fairly glorify the advantages of offsite telecommuting.

So as I flounder — what was my original point going to be, anyway? — I can’t take my mind away from the fact that whatever this laid-back freelancing life can be called, it’s nothing that many people would recognize as a job. Even my once-stepfather, who telecommuted intermittently during the last five years of his long career as a freelance software engineer, promptly retired into circumstances where he was called upon to work long days with his hands. My father spends all of about ten or twelve hours on campus, yet teaches two online courses and thus draws a full package — but worked on mind-blowing schedules when I was a kid.

Oh, hell, I should just stop questioning it, and remember four things:

  1. I’m damn good at this job.
  2. I’m damn lucky to have it.
  3. I certainly could stand to put in more hours, billable or not.
  4. Gratitude is the point, not guilt.

05 November 2007

Scribbles: benefits of Web standards

One of the ongoing discussions in The Biz has to do with the business benefits of {x}. Since I’m formally attached to the Web Standards Project, the {x} on my mind today (as on many days) is Web standards. (Betcha didn’t see that comin’.)

So… there are three ways I can think of to improve a process or deliverable:

  1. make it faster,
  2. make it better, and/or
  3. make it cheaper.

For the sake of note-taking and reading aloud as much as any other, I’m writing to answer the implied questions as they relate to standards-friendly site development.

Web standards are faster because…

…The reduced overhead of standards-friendly markup improves load times — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

…That same markup improves the signal-to-noise (i.e., content-to-markup) ratio, resulting in content that’s easier to maintain.

…Given effective project management and sufficiently trained operators, standards-friendly processes and tools allow for narrower specialization by virtue of separation of content, behavior, presentation, and business logic. This in turn makes it possible to throw more people at projects in parallel.

Web standards are better because…

…They make feasible technologies such as Ajax and third party applications which can add depth to the user experience.

…The same separation and cleanliness benefits that can improve time-to-delivery and load times also simplify modularization and thus provide greater facility for extending sites and applications in lieu of redesigning them from the ground up to account for new features.

…Well informed use of CSS makes possible layout techniques that table-constrained producers and designers can only dream of.

Web standards are cheaper because…

…The same parallel production approach outlined above can be eschewed in preference to a serial approach involving smaller teams, reducing capital investment in projects down to a manageable rate. (This is one of the more important reasons behind my preference for small teams.)

…Modularization and cleaner production values at the code-and-markup level reduce maintenance requirements.

…Improved load times result in incrementally reduced investment in bandwidth and hardware.

Sounds great, but why the hard sell?

The only reasons these plusses do not make a slam-dunk case for Web standards are:

  • increased testing requirements, and
  • the need to re-train.

The more important of these issues is re-training, which is usually difficult, but not always difficult.

A wealth of resources such as w3schools, the MSDN Library, CSS Zen Garden, and A List Apart (among many) exist to bring along those who are just starting to learn about the current state of Web technology.

For those who need ongoing support in their education, css-discuss and other communities keep the fledgling learner in good company.

The rest of the re-training task is taken up in the course of actually doing, a process which culminates in the production of a site built entirely to the spirit, and quite possibly the letter, of established W3C Recommendations and other recognized best practices… entirely from arbitrary design documents.

Once an operator is properly trained, testing is simplified, because he or she will already have become quite familiar with many of the bugs and other pitfalls faced in the course of undertaking standards-friendly development. The others can — as a rule — be sussed out in community/form threads and, as a last resort, via search engine queries. I can speak for the effectiveness of both of these avenues for avoiding and working around browser bugs.

This leaves the conscientious project sponsor with two questions:

  1. Who bears the cost to train my people?
  2. How can I best make the switch?

The answer to the first question is somewhat academic, in part because your people will learn in the course of applying knowledge to their work on your projects, and elsewise because the added skill will make them more valuable to the marketplace. Either way, operators will rightly expect you to share some of the wealth gained from your improved bottom line. If you do not pay for formal training, you’ll only be putting off raises demanded either by your operators directly, or by the marketplace.

However, the share you give up from the improved bottom line will only be incremental; your organization will still enjoy the lion’s share. This is a fair expectation because among other benefits, your people will experience fewer hassles and less tedium in their jobs (all other factors being equal).

The answer to the second question is more complicated, because you've essentially got two choices: either go cold turkey from one approach to the other, or travel slowly.

Of these the latter offers the least aggravation for all participants. If you can start with some smaller projects — e.g., product marketing microsites and internal applications — you can set up your operators to act on what they’ve been learning, while simultaneously reducing the risk to your bottom line.

The reduced risk does not automatically translate to reduced hassle or delays, but when people are being trained, when is that ever the case?

One other contingency: transitioning from the contract build to ongoing maintenance

Let’s suppose you hire some hotshot hired gun (like, uhhh, meeeeee!) to equip your site with the newest, shiniest standards-friendly bells and whistles. Let’s suppose further that your fulltime Web team can’t tell asses from elbows when it comes to Ajax or CSS. What then?

This scenario requires multiple remedies.

Excellent documentation

Exhaustive explanation of the template, stylesheet, and code structures used during the design of the project is a must-have.

Onsite training

Somebody should come onsite and put your team through an ad hoc boot camp. Alternatively — if your hired gun isn’t especially facile at public speaking — there should be an internal forum or mailing list set up for the benefit of maintainers, along with contractually defined support requirements. This turns your contract team into little more than a glorified helpdesk, and they may choose to refer some other team for the job. The bottom line is that untrained people will have questions — and lots of them. Someone should be on tap to answer those questions.

Effective management

Project and department managers with the communication skills required to successfully track and define problems at the appropriate level — who have a clear idea of the obstacles their people are facing — can make the best use of the time and other resources spent to ensure that the problems are solved.

In short, Web standards adherence is an endeavor that rewards those with initiative. Why not become one of them?

Web pet peeves

[I first posted this on 21 October to Chapel, where I’ve blogged sporadically for quite some time. It belongs here, too. I’ll still be posting the really weeeird stuff over there, because that’s what it’s for.]

I ran into a major Web pet peeve and posted it to Twitter, in the process remembering that I have several others (a few of which I spent all afternoon working around)…

  • Web sources cited by mass media outlet content that don't link directly to them
  • e-commerce sites that break at ANY point when you’re using a browser other than Internet Explorer
  • e-commerce sites that don't create a semi-permalink to a customizable cart item
  • any application that breaks the instant you press the Back button, without warning you in advance of the consequences of doing so
  • failure to provide range selection support (beyond “check all”) for series of checkbox selection inputs (e.g. mail inbox)
  • applications that crash on purportedly tested platforms
  • process-critical services and applications that do not have a System Status resource
  • sites and applications that treat content sections like static search results
  • project sponsors who fancy themselves graphic designers despite a total lack of training and experience
  • ads with sound on otherwise silent sites
  • categorically, ads that talk
  • news and social linking sites that toss resources down the memory hole without consequently returning a 410 (Gone) status code along with the title of the clobbered resource (or at least some indication that something formerly lived there)
  • applications that enforce user behavior by limiting choice in a bizarre way (here’s looking at you, Facebook Status)
  • sites that are only useful if you pay, yet imply otherwise in their create-an-account pitch
  • anyone anywhere in any context asking how to “hide” source markup and things of the like
  • anyone anywhere in any context believing that because their fucking nephew can “make a web page” in twenty minutes, they’re entitled to a full custom e-commerce site for a few hundred bucks…
  • …and contrapositively, anyone who bilks the clueless out of thousands at a time for crap they build in twenty minutes with Flash or Dreamweaver
  • anyone who thinks that just because they’re entitled by the right to free speech to an opinion, they really just ought to share it, despite the stench of banality and/or thoughtlessness it emits
  • anyone who mistakes ignorance for willful malice
  • anyone who mistakes obstinacy for courage
  • anyone who thinks it’s okay to be narrow-minded about the narrow-minded

Aaahhh. Now I’m done.

If you bear any witness to irony, by all means bask in it.