Archive: February 12th, 2005

The web is a many-splendoured thing

About a week ago, I was having a chat with Andy about all things web related. It seems that Andy and I use the web in very different ways.

I work on the web. I also play on the web. When I want to be entertained, I turn to the web for entertainment. When I want to be informed of current events, I turn to the web for news. My RSS reader has groups with labels like culture, food, technology and news. I read blogs by fellow web designers but I also read blogs by musicians, mothers, waiters and prostitutes.

Andy, on the other hand, uses the web almost exclusively for work. If he wants news, he turns to newspapers, radio and television. His RSS reader has feeds related to web design. He reads blogs about web design and CSS.

This is reflected in what we write about. Andy writes about web design, CSS and accessibility. I write about web design, books, music, politics, what I had for lunch, what I did on my holidays and what’s the world coming to anyway…

My fellow web designers tell me they enjoy reading my posts on design and the DOM but they skip over all that other, irrelevant stuff. Meanwhile, my friends and family members tell me they enjoy reading my journal to catch up with what I’ve been doing but they skip over all that gobledegook about browsers and bugs.

Now, I like to think of myself as a renaissance man. Perhaps the term short-attention-span man would be more accurate. In any case, the thought of reading and writing about one single topic just doesn’t appeal to me. That’s why this journal will only ever be of limited appeal. How many people out there are simultaneously interested in CSS, JavaScript, Star Wars, Irish traditional music and life in Brighton?

Most of my fellow web designers are far more focussed in what they write. They investigate the minutiae of CSS and write articles on their findings. It brings them lots of well-deserved recognition within the web design community. They’d be the first to admit that it can be hard work to consistently come up with the goods.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve avoided going down that route with my journal. I don’t ever want it to become hard work. I like the fact that this journal is something separate from my work. I don’t think I’d enjoy feeling pressured to write.

For me, writing online has always been about pleasure. Sure, I write about work-related stuff too, but only because that too gives me pleasure.

I was inspired to start writing online because of people like Derek Powazek, Jeffrey Zeldman and Jason Kottke. They all happen to be very talented designers but that’s only part of their appeal. The thing that really struck me about these people was that they each had a distinct voice.

Voice is that certain something, that je ne sais quoi that makes something a pleasure to read. The subject matter and design is only half the story. It’s the voice that gives life to writing.

That’s my opinion. It’s an opinion that colours my approach to the web. I guess I’m quite language-centric whereas somebody like Andy is far more information-centric.

That’s okay. It’s a big web out there and there’s room for everyone. It’s important to recognise that.

I sometimes get frustrated when I read web design blogs that refer to “bloggers” or “the online community” when they actually mean “web design bloggers” and “the online web design community”. The same goes for political bloggers. They often talk as if there were no other kind.

I think it’s important to maintain a healthy sense of perspective. There is a vibrant and active community of web design blogs but there is an equally vibrant community of blogs about knitting.

Usually when web designers are looking for perspective, they are urged to get away from the computer, get outside and into the real world. I think it’s equally important for me as a web designer to stay at the computer but to explore the web beyond the sphere of design blogs.

Then again, I am in a fortunate position. As a freelancer working from home, the line between work and leisure is often quite blurred. I like it that way. Instead of spending hours at work followed by hours at leisure, I spent my entire time flitting between the two.

I’m sure it would be different if I worked at an office from nine ‘till five. In that situation, I imagine the last thing I’d want to do when I clocked off would be to sit in front of the computer some more.

So I count my blessings. I work and play on the web. I get pleasure from both. The work can be hard sometimes but it’s also very rewarding when I can add something to the collective goodness that is the world wide web.

The web rewards me in return. It constantly surprises me with new and unexpected treasures. I get to read what other people have chosen to put online. I discover voices that speak directly to me.

I love it.