Monthly Archives: March 2004

Thank you Radio, and TypeKey

After two years of using Radio Userland, I decided to migrate this weblog to Movable Type. I wrote a UserTalk script to export my data for importing into Movable Type, and everything went about as well as could be expected. I’m making small tweaks to the design, and I added some category pages (still filing old posts in the appropriate categories, since that wasn’t preserved in the migration). Otherwise it’s the same site for now. I originally purchased Radio thinking I would customize it, having done a fair bit of Frontier programming back in the day. I haven’t had time, so for now I’ll give Movable Type a try.

The Six Apart folks have something interesting planned for weblog comments, sort of a single sign-on system with (presumably) a central user registration server. More information is up at It will be interesting to see how open their system is, and what other services could potentially be build on top of it.

SXSW Day 4: Fun, fun, and designing for people

The last day of SXSW tends to be less about substance and more about winding down after the long weekend and leaving on a positive note. In the morning I listened to Gabriel Jeffrey talk about his success with Group Hug. It was a fun session. He is also doing some interesting things with his weblog, such as linking each person’s name in the comments to a Wiki page. The other hilarious panel of the day was about online dating. The mix of backgrounds among the panelists made for a lively session, and with the tension between the panelists, topped off when Jonathon Abrams (Friendster) tried to hook up with fellow panelist Courtney Johnson (Tickle), you had to wonder if it was all an act. Somehow Lane Becker kept it all together.

The session by Jason Fried of 37signals was the exception to the above. For readers of their weblog, Signal vs. Noise, the content was familiar. It was a more formal presentation than their game show session from two years ago. I had to leave halfway through, but picked up good notes from Damon and the full slideshow is now online. Also check out the sample chapter from their new book.

Jason just posted some thoughts on the conference, specifically challenging the dominance of CSS and Web Standards this year.

“There’s way too much talk about CSS and XHTML and Standards and Accessibility and not enough talk about people. CSS and Standards Compliant Code are just tools — you have to know what to build with these tools. Great, I’m glad your UI doesn’t use tables. So what? Who cares if it still doesn’t let people achieve their goals. Web standards are great, but people’s own standards include getting things done (and that’s still too hard to do online).”

I agree 100%, and it’s something I joked about in my last post. I made the point more fiercely in an early draft of my day 1 post, but ended up editing it out. I’m looking forward to reading the comments on Jason’s post, and the other blog posts that will fall out from it.

SXSW Day 3: Design, user experience

Weather changes. The first two days of SXSW were marked with light rain, but today was a beautiful day. Leaving the EFF party tonight, we saw lightning off in the distance. Now, as I write this back at my house, a thunderstorm is passing overhead. A hard rain fell. Lightning flashes and a lingering thunder echoes as it continues eastward.

Several very good sessions today, including an excellent afternoon session by Jeffrey Veen on user-centered design and the Adaptive Path process. The morning was back-to-back CSS panels. Nothing particularly new was discussed in those, but I found it interesting to hear how the different designers represented on the panel approach design.

Dave Shea: “We don’t care about usability.” He sees CSS as a way for designers to expand the possibilities of their work. (Witness Zen Garden.)

Doug Bowman: “CSS is beautiful.” Not just what the user sees but the structure and underlying code, and the craft that brings it all together. (Review slides.)

Jeffrey Zeldman wasn’t there, but he might as well have been. There is a great trick that modern web developers are playing. When justifying their work, they replace any mention of “CSS” with “Web Standards.” But wait — wasn’t HTML 3.2 and table-based layout a “web standard”? :-) Of course what they really mean is modern web standards, but this accidentally shorthand aids their cause tremendously, I think. And when I say their cause, I really mean our cause. (Resist bad browsers.)

SXSW Day 2: Ideas, Joe Trippi

One of the things I like about SXSW is that it’s a time to just think about new ideas without necessarily trying to relate them directly to a particular work project. When I take notes, I write down interesting quotes or concepts that the speakers are presenting, but I also intersperse my own opinions. It’s important to capture ideas at the time they spark, and today there were enough to fill a book. Instead of summarizing the day I will take some of the themes and work through them in later posts this week.

I should at least note that it was great to hear Joe Trippi speak, though. Ryan posted some photos from that session and the keynote.

SXSW Day 1: Web design accessibility, Frog party

I almost skipped the accessibility panel but I’m glad I didn’t. As usual Jeffrey Veen did a great job of putting the current web practices into perspective with stories from the old school of web design. It used to be that every day was a battle with designers who were taking what they learned from the print or traditional multimedia worlds and trying to stamp it on to web design, whether it fit or not. But the new crop of designers look at building for the web as a craft. Veen says it’s about “designing for the web natively.” Exactly. He sees it now as a business case — that good design just tends to lead to degradable and accessible sites.

Ironically, just a year ago Veen shared the stage at SXSW with Kevin Lynch of Macromedia. Kevin was talking about rich Flash-based applications that often see the web as more of a networking infrastructure than a platform in its own right. Now we see other pieces of Macromedia’s strategy: their Central product by-passes the web browser entirely. Granted, they are doing some very interesting stuff, but it’s not entirely relevant to designing for the web. The new reality of web development that Veen spoke about is that designers are embracing what the web is about rather than fighting against it or trying to control it.

The next panel continued the accessibility discussion. James Craig brought up Veen’s “Business Value of Web Standards” essay, and Jim Allan mentioned the needs of Palm devices as another business case to help sell accessibility standards.

And then there’s usability. Why is it that many standards-based and accessible web sites are more usable than others? I think there are two reasons.

First, adhering to standards is not just conforming to the specification but also following the recommendation of those standards. For example, use the alt attribute on images to specify a text version. But as Jim Allan said in the session, “you can’t just blindly follow the guidelines.” The second part is the education of this new class of web people. What tools do they use? BBEdit and HomeSite. They are hand-coding this stuff which means they’ve built dozens or hundreds of web sites. You have to build up a level of experience with what works and what doesn’t to make progress on usability, and you have to be a veteran web user to know the existing best practices.

After dinner we went to the Frog party, where I met up with Mason Hale and even ran into Carl de Cordova, who was a co-founder of WebEdge, the Mac web developers conference I was a part of years ago. I have a bunch of old photos and archives of the old WebEdge site that I should post one of these days (the domain was unfortunately taken over by a car company). Also met Dan Cederholm, chatted with Eli Pariser of, and received the Jakob Nielsen playing card (collect all 8) from the OK/Cancel folks. A good day.

Almost SXSW

SXSW Interactive officially begins tomorrow. I met with Ryan and Damon this afternoon to discuss the design for a project at work, eat lots of food, and finish round 2 of my effort to convince Ryan that fixed-width layouts are usually a bad thing. Light rain fell as we made the short walk over to the convention center with Sam Ruby, who has a session on Wikis this Sunday. Lane Becker is also on the panel, so it should be an interesting one. (At least I think they are on the panel. The PDF schedules don’t list either one of them.)

Other sessions that look good:

  • Democracy in Action:
  • Joe Trippi presentation
  • Weblogs and Emergent Democracy
  • Replacing Billboard, Bestseller Lists and Editors with Robots: Paul Bausch, Cameron Marlow, Erik Benson (Amazon)
  • Hi-Fi Design with CSS: Doug Bowman, Dan Cederholm, Dave Shea, Chris Schmitt
  • The Frontiers of User Experience: Jeffrey Veen
  • Ridiculously Easy Group Forming: Adam Weinroth (Easyjournal), Tantek, David Sifry, Pete Kaminski, Sam Ruby
  • The Three Little Things: Jason Fried

Reading, ASCII, and PDF

I started reading the electronic version of Eastern Standard Tribe. Hoping to get through some of it by SXSW and pick up a hard-copy there. I’ve also been reviewing my Cocoa books, since I’ve been porting the user interface of an application to Cocoa (still lots of Carbon and cross-platform C++ underneath). More on all that some other time.

For now, here are two somewhat contrasting quotes from the authors of those books, on file format standards:

James Duncan Davidson: “I’m pretty sure that I’ll always be able to open a PDF file.”

Cory Doctorow: “ASCII is the new PDF!”

Two years blogging

Today marks the two year anniversary of this weblog. It’s been a good experience, and even if the content is not always fresh it’s still a worthwhile endeavor and will continue. Expect the posts to ramp up to at least one a day through SXSW this weekend. Here’s the post from one year ago, also during SXSW.

It’s also voting day here in Texas. On the one hand it will be annoying to vote after the Democratic nomination has already been wrapped up, but on the other hand I’m not voting for a candidate so much as an idea. We can do better.

Kite Festival

Kite The weather was perfect today for the Zilker Kite Festival. It’s really incredible to see hundreds of kites flying overhead as you walk around. Homemade kites, children’s kites, giant kites, colorful kites. Kites shaped like cats, boats, dragons, snakes.

We arrived late in the afternoon, so we missed most of the contest portion of the event except for the “largest kite” category. If you ever thought flying a kite was easy, try one which requires more than one people holding the rope, with their heels dug into the ground just to keep from being lifted into the air.

Happy flying!