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October 30, 2006

Spectacularly clueless

In what might just be the most spectacularly clueless article (on technology at any rate) I've ever read, the imaginitative named "click" (surely "click on" would have been better?), self proclaimed "The BBC's flagship technology programme" writes of "Designing a more accessible web".

Quoting "Website designer" Leonie Watson, we learn

"There's a technology called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that allows you to control the way a page is displayed, such as the colour of the text and background.

"However, that's quite a new technology, it's only been around a couple of years, and a lot of designers are still very wary of using it. They actually hard code the colours into the web page itself, which means that they can't be overridden by your browser, or OS."

My emphasis (is there an aural style sheet property "choking-on-breakfast"?)

However, all is not lost!

Leonie Watson says: "Flash is a very interesting topic in terms of web accessibility. It's actually capable of being very accessible indeed"

Phew, saved.

Oh, guess what kinds of "web" sites Ms Watson designs?

If this interview was done in 1998, I apologize to the BBC and Ms. Watson. Otherwise...

I guess, when people criticize the dubious veracity of blogs and other citizen journalism, and point out that Wikipedia is not authoritative, we need to keep in mind that even paragons of journalistic excellence like the BCC can be spectacularly and utterly wrong.

October 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

October 26, 2006

Web Directions North, tickets on sale now

I posted a little about Web Directions North a few weeks back, but we've just opened registrations, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk about the confrence a little more.

Maxine and I are putting this on with two of Canada's best web exports, Dave Shea (CSS Zen Garden, as if I have to tell you) and Derek Featherstone, one of the leading accessibility experts anywhere. I actually put these guys ahead of (ice) hockey as a Canadian export.

For the last few months we've been working hard across timezones, continents, oceans and more (those guys travel, let me tell you), to put together the best possible web design and development conference anywhere, ever. And I think we have gone pretty close.

The lineup is amazing, featuring people you know, some you probably won't, but all of whom are redefining the web. From the journalist who invented maps mashups, Adrian Holovaty (Chicago Crimes Google Maps mashup, Washington Post), technologists and visionaries like Tantek Çelik, back end gurus like Simon Willison, Javascript and Ajax maestros like Jeremy Keith and Aaron Gustafson, to amazing designers like Veerle Pieters, Doug Bowman, Dave Shea, Dan Cederholm, and many more. And I've not even mentioned our keynote speakers yet, Molly Holzschlag, Kelly Goto, Joe Clark (one of Canada's other fine exports, up there at least with Moosehead beer, no dammit, neck and neck with Wayne Gretzky), and a final mystery closing keynote speaker we'll be announcing soon. The wait will be worth it.

All these speakers really are at the cutting edge of design and development, and just plain thinking about the web.

Now, I have a bit of a set against panels, so each of these speakers will be presenting, rather than sitting at a table sharing a mike with others. Each one will have center stage for close to an hour. I'm also a bit of an old timer, and like to think I've seen it all - but truly, these people inspire me, and the others at Web Directions, and that's why we're bringin them to Canada.

To top it all off, the day before the conference there are two full day workshops, Accessibility 2.0 - Web App Accessibility by Derek Featherstone, and Aaron Gustafson and Andy Clarke covering the exciting intersection of CSS and Javascript, with Creative web development with CSS and DOM scripting.

And if that's not enough the conference is followed by an option day or two of skiing and snowboarding at Whistler/Blackcomb, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. All levels fo skill from complete beginners to Olympic standard will be catered for. And the price is really reasonable. Many of the speakers and I dare say quite a few attendees will be there, giving you yet anothr chance to meet and network with your peers.

Plus the usual receptions, parties, and more - it will be education, stimulation, inspiration and excitement.

For the next week, until November 3rd, we have $200 off the standard price, so you can register for just $CDN795, making it particularly good value for our Americans friends. We've also organised really good rates at the conference hotel, and we are even throwing in free wifi for the first 50 people to book a room.

So head on over to the site, check out the speakers, the program, and to register for the conference.

And see you in Vancouver Feb. 6, 7 and 8 (and Whistler 9 and 10)

john

October 26, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 20, 2006

Why email as we know it is over

Yeah yeah, sorry for the second use of a lame title in as many weeks.

A few days ago I posted about how I see blogging, particularly for the readers of blogs, as changing, from a vertical process (read all posts from source X) to a horizontal process (read posts about subject Y).

I've also been thinking about how we communicate one on one on the 'net of late. Now old friend and new colleague Dave Shea has posted a (near) obituary for email, I thought the time for publishing my thoughts appropriate.

A couple of months back I was speaking with someone who runs a travel/technology conference that I spoke at. He was lamenting that he just couldn't know which emails had gone to their recipients (he runs a large mailing list associated with the conference), and which hadn't. He was getting all kinds of bounce backs, people complaining that they hadn't received emails with things like special pricing and offers, and so on.

My response to him? "Get used to it". Harsh, (I didn't express it quite like that), but realistic. I've run large and small mailing lists for years, using all kinds of technology. This has always been a problem, but with the current proliferation of techniques for dealing with spam (at the relay, server, application, operating system, and just about everywhere in between) I think the day when we can count on an email to someone we have conversed with via email for years being guaranteed to arrive in their inbox are over. Which as Dave observes means that "email is a dead medium".

For one to many style communications, email/mailing lists is being replaced by RSS based subscription. With RSS in IE7 bringing simple RSS subscription to the masses, I think the days of mailing lists as meaningful mechanisms of communication are pretty much at an end.

But as Dave observes, we can't even rely on email to deliver messages to people who have authorized us explicitly to email them, or with whom we may have been communicating for a long time.

What does that leave us with?

I was very late to using chat, really only using it extensively in the last 18 months to two years. I am a surprisingly early adopter in some areas (CSS, semantic HTML, microformats) and a very late adopter in others, chat being one.
But chat has in that period probably replaced over half of the business emails (probably well over half in fact) I send. Couple this with the rise of collaboration style applications like Basecamp (and a million others), where RSS is the primary notification mechanism, and I suspect that email for me will be a rarely used, low priority means of communicating in less than 2 years time.

All media and technologies have their rise and their fall. Ironically, it is one of the real strengths of email (it's simple openness) which will ultimately prove its undoing - because the cost of abusing the technology is so low that it is worth doing. Spam literally is a cancer or a virus, which is slowly but surely killing its host, email.

So f*ck you spammers.

And RIP email. You changed the world.

October 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

October 17, 2006

microformats presentations next week in Sydney

For some curious reason, in all the excitement of the last few weeks, I've overlooked the fact thqt next week I'll be doing a half day microformats workshp at the venerable Open Standards conference in Sydney.

On wednesday October 25th I'll be holding a half day workshop, covering the what why and how of microformats - if you are a web developer you'll be using microformats like a pro by the end of it. On Thursday 26th, I'll be speaking at the conference proper, introducing the concepts, motivations, and examples of microformats.

October 17, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 16, 2006

Why blogging as we know it is over

As someone who has written this blog for several years now, and read blogs for longer, I've been pondering the shape and changing nature of blogging for a while. Mostly based on how I read blogs, and how this has changed over the time I've been doing so.

Not for a moment do I think that in the future there will be no blogs. But one aspect of traditional and contemporary blogging which I am going to predict will not be so nearly strong a pattern in "the blogosphere" in coming years is people reading blog posts based on the poster. In effect, people will be much less likely to subscribe to and read particular blogs.

Just a couple of years ago the number of blogs was substantially fewer than today. So it made sense that, like in the early days of the web, we could rely on people (just like Yahoo! when it started) to filter out good blogs, interesting blogs, and we'd read and subscribe to blogs recommended and read by the bloggers we already read. Harshly, though not entirely inaccurately termed a "circle jerk" by some, this created a power law distribution in terms of readership, where a few sites had a huge audience (the A List) and a great many sites had very few readers. This pattern, once established, tends to be stable. Which is in the long term fatal to the pattern, and so to the health of blogging generally.

This distribution of readership is largely a function of the blogging distribution mechanism - RSS feeds. When people first start using RSS and reading blogs, they tend to subscribe rapidly to many feeds, but subscribe to fewer and fewer new feeds over time. And where do people find new blogs to read ands subscribe to? The other blogs they read.

Think about your own blog reading patterns. How often do you add new blogs to your feeds? Pretty infrequently I'd guess. Certainly, that's my experience, and anecdotally the experience of people I know.
How often do you unsubscribe a feed? Probably even more infrequently than you subscribe to new ones.

So, once a blog gets in someone's list of feeds, it tends to stay there.

Which would explain why the A Listers don't tend to change over time too much. Over time, most popular bloggers tend to blog less, so as a consequence link to other blogs less. Mostly unconsciously, the A-list has kicked the ladder out from behind them. The mechanisms that made popular bloggers popular no longer work for newer blogs. In essence, as we've learned before on the web, people don't scale.

So this is one sense in which "blogging as we know it is over". The whirlwind of overnight sensations in the blogosphere, which let's face it was part of the excitement, both as a reader, and a blogger - "hey, maybe I'll be the next Kottke" - really can't happen anymore. And as established bloggers blog less, the dynamism of the blogosphere ironically diminishes, despite its massive growth in pure numbers of blogs and blog posts.

Sure, this is all handwaving, but I can imagine some simple research which might confirm my anecdotal theories - for example, asking a service like Feedburner what the churn rate of feeds is, what the take up rate of new feeds is, how frequently new users of their system add new feeds, as opposed to established users.

But does that mean the blogosphere will suffer a long slow heat death, as fewer and fewer new blogs create buzz, and established bloggers post less frequently?

I actually think a different use pattern will emerge, one less focussed vertically on blogs and bloggers, but more horizontally on individual posts. The question is, how will people find these posts, if it isn't via other bloggers recommendations?

Just as the massive growth in the number of sites back in the middle 1990s meant that humanly created directories like Yahoo! and LookSmart, and even the distributed Open Directory project didn't scale, and software took over finding and recommending sites to read, I think software intermediation will become the key distribution mechanism for blog content.

People will subscribe to automatic RSS feeds, which return results of searches or other processing, for example popular posts at services like Digg. Already at Technorati, you can subscribe to an RSS feed of posts with particular tags. It doesn't seem that you can subscribe to the results of a search, but I guess either I can't find how to do it, or it's in the pipeline.

Now, the rumours that Blog searching has been retired at Yahoo are interesting. What Technorati do better than anyone is real time search (particularly of the blogosphere), which I suspect will become an increasing competitive advantage (because I suspect it's hard). Google's searches are anywhere from hours to days or weeks after content is posted, from what I can tell, depending on the popularity of the pages, except for specialist aggregators like Google News, but currency is all in blog searching, because this morning's posts are old old news for most blog readers by afternoon.

So as the prediction season commences, here's my first prediction for 2007 and beyond. People will subscribe to and read fewer blogs by specific bloggers, and more individual posts on subject areas of interest, fond using tag and keyword based searching of latest blog posts, or of popular stories, as determined by Digg, delicious, magnolia and so on.

I also reckon this will raise the quality of blogging, as competition or readers attention will shift from blog v blog, to post v post.

And another thing...

My fervent hope? Comment whoring dies a death. Note in particular to the mainstream media as you adopt "blogging" in a pathetic effort to remain 'relevant' - A blog is not a mechanism for generating flame wars, and the number of comments on a blog post is as likely to be a measure of how bad the post is (deliberately polemical, or deliberately written to maximize the number of comments) as how interesting it is. Let's leave that nonsense to talkback radio where it belongs, eh?

October 16, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

October 09, 2006

World Day against the Death Penalty

Ever since I was quite young, I have had a visceral hatred for capital punishment. I freely admit that this predates any intellectual response to the issue, which over the years, when I can bring myself to even contemplate such barbarism, I have developed.

I feel profoundly fortunate to live in a country without the death penalty. I doubt I could ever live in a society, which whatever its strengths and virtues, was capable of such barbarity as the calculated, institutionalized taking of human life.

Tomorrow is the fourth World Day against the Death Penalty organized by Amnesty International.

I am utterly complacent about this issue, despite my strong loathing. I know there is much more I could do. But if you feel like me - do something eh?

john

October 9, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 04, 2006

Announcing the McFarlane Prize winners

Last Thursday, at the end of day one of the Web Directions South, we announced the winners of the inaugural McFarlane Prize for Excellence in Australian Web Design.

We were very honoured to have Nigel McFarlane's parents at the ceremony, and the Prize was awarded by Nigel's sister, Colleen.

Congratulations to the web development team from Museum Victoria, winners of the inaugural McFarlane Prize, for Caught and Coloured. It is a beautiful, well developed, usable and accessible site.

Congratulations too to Glass Onion, developers of the The Australian College of Physical Education site - highly commended by the Jury.

Thank you to all the nominees, and a particularly big thank you to Andy Coffey, for his painting "Page Impression" which was awarded to the winners of the prize, and to the Judges for their huge efforts and their expertise in deciding this year's winner.

We'll shortly be publishing some comments and thoughts from the Judges regarding the sites they saw - things developers are doing well, things that we could improve. So keep an eye here.

October 4, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack