Friday, June 5th, 2020
Sunday, May 10th, 2020
Friday, May 1st, 2020
Friday, December 13th, 2019
Friday, September 14th, 2018
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Our efforts to measure and improve UX are packed with tragically ironic attempts to love our users: we try to find ways to improve our app experiences by bloating them with analytics, split testing, behavioral analysis, and Net Promoter Score popovers. We stack plugins on top of third-party libraries on top of frameworks in the name of making websites “better”—whether it’s something misguided, like adding a carousel to appease some executive’s burning desire to get everything “above the fold,” or something truly intended to help people, like a support chat overlay. Often the net result is a slower page load, a frustrating experience, and/or (usually “and”) a ton of extra code and assets transferred to the browser.
Even tools that are supposed to help measure performance in order to make improvements—like, say, Real User Monitoring—require you to add a script to your web pages …thereby increasing the file size and degrading performance! It’s ironic, in that Alanis Morissette sense of not understanding what irony is.
Stacking tools upon tools may solve our problems, but it’s creating a Jenga tower of problems for our users.
This is a great article about evaluating technology.
Sunday, January 24th, 2016
A nicely documented pattern library.
Wednesday, October 14th, 2015
All the videos from the excellent Responsive Field Day are now available. Even better, the audio is also available for your huffduffing pleasure!
All the presentations and panels were great. Sophie Shepherd’s terrific talk has really stuck with me.
Here’s the 20 minute talk I gave at the inaugural Responsive Field Day in Portland.
Monday, September 28th, 2015
I spoke at Responsive Field Day here in Portland on Friday. It was an excellent event. All the talks were top notch.
The day flew by, with each talk clocking in at just 20 minutes, in batches of three followed by a quick panel discussion. It was a great format …but I knew it would be. See, Responsive Field Day was basically Responsive Day Out relocated to Portland.
Jason told me last year how inspired he was by the podcast recordings from Responsive Day Out and how much he and Lyza wanted to do a Responsive Day Out in Portland. I said “Go for it!” although I advised changing to the name to something a bit more American (having a “day out” at the seaside feels very British—a “field day” works perfectly as the US equivalent). Well, Jason, Lyza, and everyone at Cloud Four should feel very proud of their Responsive Field Day—it was wonderful.
As the day unfolded on Friday, I found myself being quite moved. It was genuinely touching to see my conference template replicated not only in format, but also in spirit. It was affordable (“Every expense spared!” was my motto), inclusive, diverse, and fast-paced. It was a lovely, lovely feeling to think that I had, in some small way, provided some inspiration for such a great event.
Jessica pointed out that isn’t the first time I’ve set up an event template for others to follow. When I organised the first Science Hack Day in London a few years ago, I never could have predicted how amazingly far Ariel would take the event. Fifty Science Hack Days in multiple countries—fifty! I am in awe of Ariel’s dedication. And every time I see pictures or video from a Science Hack Day in some far-flung location I’ve never been to, and I see the logo festooning the venue …I get such a warm fuzzy glow.
Y’know, when you’re making something—whether it’s an event, a website, a book, or anything else—it’s hard to imagine what kind of lifespan it might have. It’s probably just as well. I think it would be paralysing and overwhelming to even contemplate in advance. But in retrospect …it sure feels nice.
Monday, March 30th, 2015
Proving something that Derek Powazek told us 15 years ago:
When we clearly show what is and is not acceptable, the tone does change. People who want to share thoughtful comments start to feel that theirs are welcome, and people who want to spew hatred start to realize theirs are not.
D’hear that, Reddit?
Thursday, January 15th, 2015
Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
Oh, Jesus Christ!
Friday, November 16th, 2012
A great short talk from Clare about Code Club.
Saturday, July 30th, 2011
Hot topics, transcribed
I had a great line-up of panelists:
We discussed publishing, mobile, browsers, clients and much much more. The audio is available for your huffduffing pleasure and I’ve had it transcribed. I’ve published the transcription over in the articles section of this site, so if you prefer reading to listening, I direct your attention to:
Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
- Listen to the audio recording of this panel.
Jeremy: Okay, welcome back everyone. Thank you all for joining me for the final talk of the day. This is the Hot Topics Panel.
Hands up how many of you have been to an @media before? Okay, so most of you know the drill, that I assemble a team of people here and we talk bollocks for an hour, and it’s good fun.
I have solicited questions ahead of time on my blog; I actually opened up comments. I know! …and I got some questions from that, so I’ve collated a few of those. If you have been asking on Twitter, that’s good. If you’ve handed me scraps of paper, that’s even better; thank you very much.
At this point, it’s too late to start tweeting questions to me because I’m not going to sit here and check Twitter while I’m conducting a conversation. However, I will be opening this up to you guys, because it is all about you. We need to know what are the hot topics on your mind; what do you want to know about, and I think we’ve assembled a pretty good team here to be able to answer those questions.
I have two people from the design track and two people from the development track, so it’s an equal opportunities panel.
Furthest over there, we have Brian Suda who’s living in Reykjavik, Iceland, who is an informatician and speaking today on data visualisation. He’s also been signing his book out front which I highly recommend that you buy. I was honoured to be asked to write the foreword for the book, so that’s the best bit.
Brian: The easy bit.
Jeremy: The easy bit. It’s a great book. I highly recommend you check it out and very happy to have Brian here.
And I have Mr Bruce Lawson. The legendary, the infamous Mr Bruce Lawson, who works at Opera Software but mostly I would say he works for the web. He’s all about the open web and standards, man. I’m delighted to have him join me here.
And then here we have Relly Annett-Baker, who’s just finished speaking on content and history and everything; that was mind-blowing, it was wonderful. Relly and I used to be kind of neighbours when she was living down in Brighton, but alas, she’s moved a little further afield now, so it’s good to see her again. It’s great to have her here on the panel.
And finally, I have the one, the only Douglas fucking Crockford on this panel.
Alright, so I have assembled some questions, like I say. I thought I’d kick off with some easy ones. What’s your favourite colour …in a hexadecimal value please? No, not quite that easy.
I’ve got some nice questions through my comments on my blog, from Nicole actually, Nicole Sullivan, who you will be seeing speaking tomorrow. She wanted to know—this is a nice easy one—“What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen done with CSS3?” But actually I’m going to broaden that and just say, what’s the coolest website you’ve seen recently? What’s the website you’ve seen recently that made you go “…ooohh, that’s cool!”
Who wants to be first? If you can’t think of one, I’ll dive in and lead the way.
Okay. Has anyone seen Space Log? It’s awesome. It’s basically taking the transcripts of the Apollo landings, putting them online in a beautifully designed way. The interaction is lovely. It was all built in a week in a dev fort. It’s wonderful. Hannah Donovan who’s speaking tomorrow is one of the people behind that. Absolutely great stuff. Totally addictive! I was just going to spend five minutes looking at it and half an hour later, I’m scrolling through again. Made me remember how great the web can be. And it was all about telling stories through data, through design.
Okay. That kind of thing. What have you seen lately?
Brian: I was going to say, one of the most interesting ones with CSS technology was the Nike website. As you scrolled down, the different pieces would spin at different parallax speeds.
Bruce, you got anything?
Bruce: Coolest CSS one I’ve seen is Lea Verou’s site—who spoke here earlier—because she’s got some kick-arse demonstrations on that.
Jeremy: Right, so she’s got the demos of the different sort of textures made with CSS3.
Brian: I’ve seen them
Jeremy: Yeah, it’s awesome, so do check out Lea’s site; it is awesome.
Bruce: Probably leaverou.me?
Brian: There’s some very nice tartan plaid in there.
Bruce: And the other cool site I’ve seen is one I used in my talk, which is JackDrawsAnything.com. There’s a six year old lad whose younger brother’s been in and out of hospital, so to raise money to the hospital to say thanks, he offered to draw anything you asked him to draw, for a donation. I had him draw a slide of DRM for my talk because I didn’t have an interstitial. He was aiming to raise £100, and he’s raised 20 grand, so that’s pretty cool. JackDrawsAnything.com, and his dad’s a developer.
Jeremy: It’s a bit like child labour, but still.
Bruce: It’s a lot like child labour, but it’s for a good cause, so we’ll not report it to the authorities or Esther Rantzen.
Relly: The thing that I love about that story is that he opened it up for donations, I saw an interview about it, he’s just having a book published; he’s got a book deal around it as well to raise more funds basically and put all the pictures, collate all of the pictures. He opened it up saying, ‘hey, send me requests’. Within two weeks they had to close it because he had over a thousand requests. The kid only …he’s like at school, he’s got holidays, so at the moment he’s done around 620 of them. They estimate he’ll finish by the end of the summer holidays. He’s doing about five a day at this point, bless him.
Jeremy: Like a very specialised Mechanical Turk.
Relly: Very much so. And the pictures are brilliant, really good.
On that note, one of the things that I’ve really liked recently is irkafirka, which is …you can re-tweet something to the irkafirka account, and they pick a tweet each day to draw a picture of it and give imaginary context. A similar thing was Exploding Dog, where you used to be able to send in text messages and things. But irkafirka do one every day, and they’re really, really funny. Anything like that really tickles me where they take something and re-mould that content and turn it into something new.
Jeremy: There’s a bunch of guys doing that but they’re creating a cappella harmony versions of tweets. They pick random tweets and then perform a cappella harmonies of that tweet.
Relly: See? The web is fucking amazing!
Jeremy: What have you got, Doug? Beat that.
Douglas: I saw a website that has pictures of cats and they’re doing funny things and then there’s a caption and it’s mis-spelled and it’s really funny ‘cos cats can’t spell.
Jeremy: You are so ahead of the curve!
Bruce: I haven’t seen that. Is there a URL?
Relly: Have you got a link?
Jeremy: Okay, now you’ve got some sites to visit.
Douglas: It’s all about content.
Jeremy: Douglas. You kind of dodged the question I had for you earlier after the talk…
Well my question was kind of two part and half of it was about how do we kill IE6, but the other half was cultural resistance to new ways of programming, and I actually had a question, this is from Nadine—she left a comment on the blog. Now she was talking specifically about something like Ruby on Rails—a new framework comes along—but this applies equally to Node JS. It’s something else for developers to figure out. All of a sudden we spent years mastering SQL and now this comes along and the question is, when do frameworks enable and when do they disable the developer? In other words, all this knowledge that we’ve built up over the years, now we have to ditch and learn a whole new way of doing things.
Douglas: That’s always been the way, so since the beginning of programming there’s been resistance to advances in software development. The biggest obstacle in progressing software is the programmers, and that’s why it took a generation to move from Assembly language to Fortran. It took another generation to move away from the GOTO statement, and another generation to go Object Oriented, because there are these guys who have learned to do things and figure they’ve learned enough.
Jeremy: They get comfortable.
Douglas: And we have to wait for them to retire before we get critical mass on the next innovation. So hardware—Moore’s Law—happens in two year cycles; software happens in twenty year cycles, and it’s because of this. It’s not because we can’t come up with the ideas; it’s because there’s so much resistance among our own practitioners to moving forward.
Douglas: Which was all true. But it turned out that there was a good language hidden inside of it. So the thing that’s easier than trying to get everybody to go Fortran is that we don’t have to get everybody to go forward. It’s one site at a time, perhaps even one project at a time. And so we can do this incrementally. We don’t have to push everybody at once.
Jeremy: I guess it’s kind of Darwinian as well because the people who can change will adapt and will survive, and the people who don’t…
Douglas: Yes, so we’ll grow with the smart, young people and you know, the stupid old people are useless, so we won’t worry about them.
Jeremy: I guess that question speaks to a larger topic, and another comment from Brad Koehler.
Bruce, I wonder how you handle this? Brad says that the industry seems to be moving so fast at the minute, we seem to be sprinting just to keep up. HTML5, CSS3, responsive design, boilerplates popping up left, right and centre; tons of mobile devices to look at and try and test on. How do you keep up to date without going insane?
Bruce: That’s a great question. I’m paid to do it full time. Sometimes I go away for a fortnight’s holiday and I come back and I think “Shit, the world’s just moved around a little bit.”
I’ve no idea. What I do is follow blogs from people whose opinion I trust.
Jeremy: I speak to people these days who say they don’t even have time for that; that 140 characters is about as much as they can handle.
Bruce: Yeah, but you can’t get any real information in 140 characters.
I must admit I don’t use my RSS feed any more. I wait for people I know to tweet something that’s a link to a blog or something, another resource on the web, and that’s what I do, so I’ve got stuff filtered by my peers or people I trust.
Jeremy: So Twitter acts like a filter for you?
Bruce: Yes, but you can’t say anything really worth saying in 140 characters. It’s only ephemera.
Jeremy: But if somebody links to something, or if four or five people link to something, you know it’s something you should probably be checking out?
Bruce: Yes, but generally I pick up my mobile phone and look under R and I call Remy Sharp and he knows the answer.
Jeremy: Always good. Remy’s always good for explaining stuff.
Bruce: I’ll tweet his phone number later and you can all do it.
Jeremy: It’s awesome. Remy is the king of the lazy web. If there’s something I’d love to see built or some demo or something, I just make sure I’m in the pub with Remy, and casually let it slip while he’s in earshot and then say something like “But nobody’d be able to build that.” And then he’ll build it.
So it’s not true that there’s nothing worth that you can do in 140 characters, but it is true that if you want to give Remy a kicking for being a smartarse, no jury will convict.
Jeremy: What about you, Brian? How do you keep up? Because it seems like you’ve been specialising lately, what with the book and everything—with data visualisation—but I know that you’re interests are a lot broader.
Brian: I do a lot of reading, I mean I’ve got several hundred things in the RSS reader. Partly because I love RSS feeds because I don’t have to try and remember the two or three hundred websites. When they publish, they publish.
But also—getting back to your question—you don’t necessarily need to be on top of everything. I mean it’s great to be, for you personally for your advancement in the industry, but at the end of the day, your HTML 4 site isn’t going to stop working. It’s great to know these things, but it’s not as mission critical as people might think. I seriously doubt huge domains are going to …they need to move much slower; they have a much wider browser base. They’re not going to be jumping on these very cutting edge things very quickly.
Jeremy: I guess it’s the side of standards, web standards, that people forget; it’s not necessarily about the new shiny stuff and making that work in the latest browsers. It’s ensuring the site you built ten years ago is still going to work in a browser release ten years from now.
You say you read a lot. Do you mean physical books too?
Brian: I do. I have…
Jeremy: How’s that working out for you?
Brian: Quite difficult. I mean I’m quite …Amazon does a really good job. They finally do free shipping to Iceland so I’ve been buying quite a lot.
Jeremy: You no longer have to get everything delivered to…
Brian: Exactly. Sent to somebody else’s house and mule it all the way up to London.
Jeremy: Actually, on the subject of the physical artefacts, the digital artefacts; you have a book, a great book with an awesome foreword. People buy the physical book and maybe a couple of months later, a digital version might be released, whatever format; ePub, PDF, I don’t know. Do people feel entitled to the digital version because they have a copy of the physical version?
Brian: People I think do. I mean me as a consumer, I understand if I bought this physical CD, I can rip it into iTunes and get it in digital form. In the US that was completely legal; in the UK it just became legal recently. I think a lot of people kind of have the same thing. I bought the physical book, I paid for it, but I want to also have it on my Kindle. But at the moment, those are two …sometimes it’s more expensive to have it on the Kindle, there’s two different prices.
Jeremy: Don’t get started with the pricing model!
Brian: So as an author, that’s great for me; I get sale revenue on both. From a consumer, I can completely see where people are coming from, but also as someone who creates as well, I know it takes a lot of energy. It’s not like ripping to an mp3. There’s a lot of work involved in laying it out, getting it set up for…
Relly: It’s a whole different process.
Brian: Yes, but I don’t think that’s necessarily clearly articulated to the consumers.
Jeremy: I saw you nodding your head there, Bruce. Do you have first-hand knowledge of people expecting to have the electronic version?
Bruce: Well I know that there’s been 14,000 illegal downloads of our book from tosspot.ru or something. But Remy and I have already bought one yacht each on the proceeds, so we don’t need another.
No, we wrote the book because we wanted to write a book. We wanted to get invited to speak at things like this on the back of it. It was good for us.
Jeremy: I mean, if somebody downloads an electronic copy from a warez site, that’s probably not a lost sale.
Bruce: I’d rather that person coded the shit right because they’d read an illegal version of our book than coded shit wrong because they hadn’t been able to read the book, personally.
Jeremy: Fair enough.
You’ve kind of got all this ahead of you, Relly.
Relly: Yes. Apparently I’m doing a book! Well, I am doing a book. It’s meant to be out now, and it’s not. There’s a reason for that. Books take a long time to write. Who knew?
So I’m currently writing a book with the good people at Five Simple Steps that Brian has been publishing with, and yes, I’m going through the process at the moment going backwards and forwards with an editor. I can say hands down, Five Simple Steps are amazing publishers if you ever get the chance to do a book with them, seize it completely.
But I think the kind of educational stuff we do rather than, you know, I’m not writing a fiction book, if anyone’s wondering; I’m writing a book about my job, so other people can do my job. I think for us, what you said, we’re writing it as an education, we’re not going to make a massive profit out of it. I’m hoping for a weekend away in a caravan out of the proceeds, frankly, and any more than that is great.
Jeremy: A small caravan?
Relly: A small caravan, yes. Well, I don’t want to take the kids with me. If it’s a four berth caravan, I have to take them as well.
So there is that thing that you write a book …I could write a book and give it away for free. I like books and I quite like to have a physical book.
Jeremy: You mean a physical book?
Relly: Yes. I love my Kindle; I love reading my Kindle. I said in my talk actually that the way forward for text books generally is probably going to be things like e-readers and stuff because of the print run.
So I bought a text book for my talk called The Printing Press As An Agent Of Change and the edition that I wanted was £89 hardback, and it’s like that just makes me cry, but it’s because it’s such a small print run, and so I think with the sort of things we’re doing, moving it into digital format is going to be the way to go. Maybe with the paperback accompaniment, maybe a special edition, that kind of stuff, but more and more things are going to go in that direction because it’s the only way they’re going to be profitable really.
Jeremy: And stay up to date?
Relly: And stay up to date.
Jeremy: Douglas; your book is a technology related book, but you’ve kind of had almost like a long zoom view in that it wasn’t about to go out of date any time soon.
Douglas: It’s an evergreen.
Jeremy: An evergreen. Indeed. It’s a classic. It’ll never go out of style. But that’s kind of unusual for a technology book, right?
Douglas: It is. I mean, most technical books have a version number in the title and they go obsolete in a few months.
Jeremy: Certainly when it’s physical books. So I guess this is another area where the digital could help us, where you have a constantly updated book?
Brian: This is the tricky thing as well. People are used to paying for a .1 update of a physical book, a second edition or third edition of a book, but if you paid for a PDF, do people feel entitled to get that…
Jeremy: Lifetime updates?
Brian: Yes. And I think a lot of publishers are struggling with how to take that.
Relly: One fiction author that I’ve seen deal with that quite nicely is a guy called Jasper Fforde. He writes quite comic novels. With all of his novels, he’s had a fairly rudimentary website that he’s done himself in agreement with his publisher, where he has a making of bookumentary, where he discusses the writing the book and different locations he uses as inspiration. And where he’s made mistakes and things, he has an updated version of the book, and he actually has versions that you can cut out and print the same size as your print edition, and stick it on top, which I think is a really cute idea. But it goes to show there is a need for this kind of stuff and that may be a way of handling it.
Jeremy: On the one hand, there’s all sorts of opportunities being afforded by digitising things, for example, books. But on the other hand you have these lumbering, slow-moving industries that have been built upon physical artefacts, like the publishing industry—not Five Simple Steps but standard publishing houses. They’re ignoring the lessons of the music industry and ignoring the lessons of the film industry and making the same mistakes over and over.
That’s something somebody brought up—I got handed a question from John—which is to do with what Tom Coates was talking about today. He was talking about what BERG had called Mujicomp. It’s going to be this wonderful networked environment full of things that are useful and beautiful, all connected to a network, which is a great vision, a great dream. But looking at the way that some industries have been dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, I wonder if it might go more dystopian rather than utopian. John writes that he fears that it might be more like Ryanaircomp rather than Mujicomp, which is a frightening thought.
Brian, would you take a dystopian or utopian view of this brave digital networked future that lies ahead of us?
Brian: I think there was somebody who talked about, worried about killer robots, and he said before we get a killer robot, we’ve got a not so nice robot, and before the not so nice robot we’ve just got an angry robot.
Jeremy: Surly robot uprising.
Brian: Yes, so I think there’s a sliding scale of things we would probably stop before we had the killer robot. I would hope to think that before we ended up living in a house of Ryanaircomp, somebody would put their foot down on the Easyjetcomp, maybe the step right before.
Jeremy: Like purgatory but not hell.
Brian: So I don’t foresee it ever happening. Maybe it’ll become more popular. We see Facebook, bit of a kind of lowest common denominator that every flocks to, but I don’t, and I think there are still people with aspirational good taste that would never get down to a Ryanair.
Jeremy: But you think that would win out? You think that will in the long term…
Brian: It may tip with it. It may tip more than 50%; it would never be the way of living.
Jeremy: I guess as always with these things with technology, science fiction is a great place to look for what could happen to dystopians and the utopians. The film that I think that is of most interest to something like Mujicomp, or for designers in general, is Terry Gilliam’s Brazil because it does show a nightmare scenario where bad design is everywhere, and everything is the opposite of user-centred. Every designer …who’s seen the film Brazil? Everyone needs to see the film, because it is Ryanaircomp in film form.
Maybe it’s just me, but I find science fiction to be enormously beneficial in our industry.
Douglas: The most dystopian thing I’ve seen in digital media right now is Digital Rights Management. My reservation about buying a Kindle is that Amazon has reserved the right to delete anything they want from my device at any time for any reason, including incompetence, as they’ve already demonstrated. In order to have that right they necessarily need to know everything that I have. I don’t believe that they should have either of those rights. I’d like the device to be solely mine and I’d like to be solely responsible for what’s on it. The content industry is worried about losing control and they should, because they will. But while we still have a little bit of control, they’re trying to latch onto it as best they can with DRM, and eventually it will fail. If it doesn’t then things get really bad.
Jeremy: That would be a real dystopia. I agree; I think DRM is the epitome of the worst case scenario because what you’ll have is licensing and formats mashed together as restrictive licensing and a specific format mashed together and the result is worse, it’s like the multiplication of how bad those two things are. But I also think you’re right that it can’t in the long term succeed. As Bruce Schneier puts it; trying to make digital bits that aren’t copyable is like trying to make water that isn’t wet.
Douglas: Yes, they’re trying to repeal the laws of mathematics, and it cannot be done.
Jeremy: And we have been here already with the music industry, with the film industry. It’s sad when you see industries going down the same route. But then we have these interesting experiments; things like Five Simple Steps and other people trying interesting stuff. James Bridle—who was mentioned earlier on—he’s been doing all sorts of awesome publishing stuff. It’s an opportunity as well as a potential dystopia.
Jeremy: Someone had a question for you actually. Well I think it’s something that would relate to what you do. James Childers …I basically asked on my blog, “Tell me what grinds your gears”…
Relly: Relly. Relly grinds my gears.
Jeremy: No. A lot of people were talking about clients and how they find it frustrating. What James specifically said was “Teaching clients how to use a CMS seems impossible. They never fully grasp a concept.” Now is that a problem with the clients, or is that a problem with the CMS?
Relly: It’s a problem with the CMS. And also it’s more than that.
Jeff Eaton and Karen McGrane do a great talk together. Jeff Eaton’s really into Drupal stuff, and Karen McGrane is a UX and content strategist advocate, and they talk about how the forgotten interface of trying to use a CMS, the person who has to put this content in. Someone buys the CMS because they’ve had decisions made, they’ve had vendor meetings, a decision’s made and someone’s given them a holiday in the Bahamas or however these decisions are made. Then a completely different set of people, who aren’t necessarily from a technical background at all, are given a user interface that is wholly developer focused. Especially things like Drupal which is built by the developer community so it obviously has that kind of focus. And they’re kind of left going, “Well, I can’t make this work.” Then they start inventing their own workarounds. And that’s when the designer or developer comes back and sees what the client’s doing and goes “Yah …not like that!” Because the workflow becomes really difficult.
What we need to do is start looking back at the tools that we’re giving people and saying, “Well actually is this tool fit for purpose?” because in some cases I really don’t think it is.
Jeremy: To be fair, this isn’t just a web thing; I’ve heard this about architecture. Architects will design a building for someone who isn’t an architect. They’re designing for a completely different person and basically the architect should be made to live in that building for a year. In the same way I think the person who designs the content management system maybe should be the one using it.
Relly: A great example of that is when I lived in Brighton. I have a little boy Casper. He’s just coming up for two. When he was quite young, he was poorly quite often and he had to go to the Children’s Hospital. And the Children’s Hospital had been purpose-built for children. Apart from the beds. For some reason, they just put in these things that were meant to be like cots, but essentially they would just stop the child rolling off …the important thing was that the child was high off the ground so the nurse could get to them and could do stuff, which was fine, but I spent the entire time trying to make sure that my child who could climb out of a cot, but was not big enough for a bed, was not able to …I spent an entire night just pinning him down basically, because no one had tested this. But they thought: baby; baby in a cot; child: child in a bed and no one had thought about this…
Jeremy: Baby unit, cot unit.
Relly: Yes. No one had thought about how this was going to work. It left me with a sick child who really didn’t want to be in that bed trying to climb out of it for twelve hours, is quite tiring, and I really cursed the person that invented that bed for that reason.
Jeremy: So as I say, I’ve got quite a few comments from people talking, basically dissing clients. I think I might be the only one who’s in an agency. No, you’re in an agency as well…
Brian: I was going to say, how many people have their own …how many do they work for a product versus dealing with clients? Who does client is the question.
Jeremy: Okay, a fair few. And they’re probably all grumbling about their clients, like this comment I got…
Relly: Clients aren’t rubbish, let’s be clear on that.
Jeremy: Well this is from Chris. He says “Dumb clients always grind my gears. I end up having to spend hours, if not days, talking through how the web works in a nutshell.”
I don’t know; that’s the classic “blame the user.”
Relly: Is that not your job?
Jeremy: Explaining to Clients? I think—Bruce, tell me what you think—I think a lot of developers use clients as a crutch.
Oh, do you want to take that?
Brian: It’d better be that kidney you’re waiting for.
Bruce: I had a phone call half an hour ago telling me I’m moving house next week. That’s my reason for having the phone on.
Relly: It’s probably the Opera lawyers, isn’t it? The Opera lawyers saying, “Don’t let him speak!”
Bruce: I’m very sorry. Very rude.
Can I come back to something that Relly said about the CMSs? Because one of the reasons I left the job I used to have before joining Opera was CMSs. A horrible, horrible thing. The more expensive they are, the worse they are, I think, invariably.
There’s a million, billion different CMSs out there, all purporting effectively to do the same thing. And I’m coming around to the conclusion now there is no magic bullet. The reason there’s a million different CMSs out there is there’s a million different kinds of content out there. That’s the big trouble actually, is that they all claim they do everything. They all start life doing one thing really well. I see WordPress going this way. But it’s the best that I’ve found, in that you can’t have one CMS that does everything and is comprehensible to the human mind, let alone those stupid numpty clients…
Jeremy: Not to rag on Drupal again, but I had this very argument. I went to Drupalcon earlier this year, and it seemed to me their main problem is they’re trying to please everyone. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. Your CMS will turn into this Frankenstein type creation. Which is why it was interesting when Mark Boulton and Leisa Reichelt were taken on board to help re-design the admin interface, one of the first things they did was design principles, they boiled it down to four design principles. The thing about design principles that I really like is a lot of time it’s figuring out who’s going to get pissed off, who you’re not going to please. They were saying things like, “Go for the 80%, forget about the 20% exceptions.” “Privilege the content creator” was one of their design principles, which means you’re going to piss off other people; developers.
You’re right; it seems that software inevitably tries to scale to please everyone. What’s that phrase? All software evolves until it can send and receive e-mail…
Bruce: check e-mail.
Jeremy: Seems pretty much everything on the web has gone that way.
Brian: A quick aside back to dealing with clients.
I was recently reading a book, Predictably Irrational.
Jeremy: Dan Ariely?
Brian: Yes. It’s a really good book. It doesn’t deal with the web directly; it’s just talking about psychology and how we deal with other people.
In that, he had a guy who worked for a large accounting agency or bank, and he spent weeks and weeks building this beautiful PowerPoint presentation for his boss. He stayed in late, did everything he should, got paid for it, gave it to his boss on a Friday. Monday morning comes in, says “how did the meeting go over the weekend?” The boss said, “We dropped the project, it doesn’t matter, didn’t need your PowerPoint, but good job.” The guy was utterly crushed. He spent all that time and effort. He still got paid for it.
So then Dan Ariely did a quick experiment. He would ask for volunteers. He gave them a sheet of paper and said “I want you to circle every letter S on the piece of paper, and when you’re done, just bring it up.” For a third of the group, he would say “Thank you very much,” give them £5, look it over and count the number of Ss.
The second group, he would take the piece of paper, give them £5 and simply just put it on a stack.
Then for the third group, they would come up, he would give them £5 and immediately just put it into a shredder
Then they asked like how much self worth or how did you feel afterwards? The group where they actually checked it and the group where they just said “thank you” and put it off to the side felt fine about their work. But the group that had it shredded felt absolutely horrible.
Now all three of the groups got paid the same amount of money. At the end of the day, if that’s all you’re concerned with, why would you be unhappy?
In previous jobs, I used to do a lot of client work, and I would pitch all these great ideas, and the clients were like, “This is brilliant! …don’t have the money” or “This is brilliant, let’s get started,” and then they’d drop it. It’s the same sort of thing. I think just after a few months or six months of that, you just get really crushed.
Jeremy: If you do want to hear more about the psychology of websites, Stephen Anderson will be talking tomorrow about how we can all become mentalists and manipulate people. It’ll be awesome.
You make a good point about what motivates people and what motivates programmers.
Douglas, I don’t know if you’ve found this, but I think financial motivation—bonuses based on amount of code shipped—is probably the worst way to motivate human beings.
Douglas: Yes, it’s especially a very difficult way to motivate programmers. You can’t bribe programmers.
Jeremy: They want to solve the problem.
Douglas: Yes, they have their own motivation for why they do things and you hope that you can align their natural motivations to your objectives.
Jeremy: Do you deal with having to motivate people?
Douglas: No, I don’t actually do anything useful.
Jeremy: Okay, you just get Yahoo to underwrite your travels while you go off and talk about Node JS and stuff? Cool.
Relly: That’s another fact right there.
Jeremy: That sounds like a dream job to me.
So this being a hot topics panel, it is a very hot time on the web I would say. To me it feels like a really exciting time. There’s so much going on. It’s hard to keep up. HTML5, CSS3, web fonts, this, that, the other. But it’s exciting.
The one big hot topic surely has to be mobile and the way that mobile has kind of changed everything, I hope. I hope it’s making people re-assess everything they’ve assumed up ‘till now. That’s certainly the way I’m looking back on my work up to now; “Wow, we’ve been doing it wrong the whole time.”
Relly, when it comes to reading on the web, do you see mobile as a game changer?
Relly: I see the ability to free content from a desktop computer and move it onto other devices that then get designed with that in mind, yes completely. Not necessarily …I mean I read fine on my iPhone and I’m quite happy to do it but it’s not my first choice of place to go and do that. I would still buy a book over do that if I had the choice.
But then there’s the Kindle. I can only see things like that beginning to free up. I have this idea that …Tom Coates mentioned that he has a screen in every room of his small flat, and I think I’m probably …I think Paul and I are probably quite similar and we’ve got something quite close to that. But I kind of think about …so I have two small children, and when they’re …ten, fifteen years from now, what are they going to be doing their homework on? I’m going to be beaming it from the kitchen, checking it on my internet fridge. The ability to move all that stuff around, that’s what really excites me. More than mobile is a device, mobile is a concept; being able to take the data you want and take it with you where you want and be able to curate that. That’s what really excites me.
Jeremy: I think you’re right. You pointed to the Orbital Content article on A List Apart. I think what that shows is that if we’re not willing to provide this portability, people will find a way to do it anyway. People will interpret the lack of portability as damage and route around it, which they’re doing with services like Readability, Instapaper, Safari’s Reader; all these things which are about getting down to the atomic unit. It’s kind of interesting that maybe our job as designers is how can we design something that’s so nice to read on so many devices that people won’t have to reach for those tools?
Relly: Yes, I mean, Readability shouldn’t really have to exist. Readability is …it’s two things. Like Instapaper it allows you to read stuff in a much nicer environment than the average website. But it also pays a small amount to the person. You basically pay a donation subscription. It gets divided up between the content that you choose to read over that time, and to small artists and bloggers and article writers. That’s going to start stacking up too. Just like Etsy is providing a market-place for small craft people that wasn’t there a few years ago, I think articles and poetry and expressions like that, as well as factual stuff, that’s going to start becoming a way of cultivating this indie movement in content. I think that’s massively exciting. You’ve got things like Bandcamp as well and all that kind of stuff.
Jeremy: Again, not great for the traditional publishers, but it’s a huge opportunity for them. All of these disruptive technologies like Bandcamp, like Kickstarter, like Readability. Yes, they could destroy entire industries but they could also save industries if those industries just could see it.
Douglas. Mobile, from your perspective, you’re talking down at the infrastructure level on this with Node JS now.
Douglas: Mobile is really hard because of the huge variability in standards compliance. There are more manufacturers and more models within each manufacturer and variations within those models. It’s exponentially insane.
This industry, this community has savaged Microsoft for many years because of its variations in IE, but that is nothing compared to what goes on in mobile. But somehow those guys are getting a pass, and we should be on them because they’re much worse to us than Microsoft has ever been.
Jeremy: So we should be a lot angrier about the disparity.
Douglas: We absolutely should, yes.
Jeremy: Now, you work for a browser manufacturer that makes two mobile browsers. Do you find that the desktop world just seems easy-peasy compared to mobile?
Bruce: It’s bewildering to me, the amount of excitement there is about mobile at the moment because, frankly, the web was founded in 1834 or whenever it was, to be accessible on any device to anybody with a disability in any country in any language. So I’m really glad that people give a toss now.
It always gives me a wry smile when third-party people like Brian Rieger, for example, tell people how big Opera’s market share is and they go “No way, I thought it was only iOS.” It’s vindication for me as someone who’s been harping on about accessibility for a decade, and for the organisation I work for that’s been doing this.
But it is really, really hard. There’s light at the end of the tunnel I think, but at some point we’re going to be saying, “I’m really sorry that your mobile device is just not adept at this, here is raw content.”
I don’t know if anybody here still has workarounds to serve raw content for IE5 Mac or Netscape 4.7. I suspect, sadly, that we’re going to end up doing that with IE6. You have to draw a line at some point, which is terrible. I don’t know if you’ve got any questions about IE6…
Jeremy: I think Douglas would be able to take any questions you might have on IE6 and the fate you wish for it. What’s your plan for IE6, you want us all to…
Douglas: We all know that IE6 must die. Beyond that, I’m kinda fuzzy.
Jeremy: Okay, one day we’ll kill it.
Douglas: I thought that we would pick some day, we would all agree the major websites would refuse to serve IE6 past that date. But getting that agreement appears to be impossible.
Jeremy: Like you say, that’s one browser in the desktop world. In mobile that problem’s multiplied. Old Blackberry browsers, pre-WebKit, it’s just kind of nuts. I think you have to draw a line at some point and say, you’ll get the raw content.
Bruce: Well the way for IE6 to die is embarrassingly simple. Microsoft need to port IE9 to Windows XP which is used by 50% of the world.
Brian: I think it’s a little trickier, because I think a lot of institutions have OEM versions of IE6.
Relly: That’s true of the NHS. One of the projects that Paul and I have been working on recently, AlphaGov, which has been in prototype for the new UK Government, one of the things we had as a design principle was “Fuck IE6.” It caused such a big stink, because so many places within Government use an OEM version of IE6,. But it was just kind of like, “You could install Firefox or Opera, or Chrome, or…”
Jeremy: It has to be said here we’re talking about it as though it’s a binary choice, either a browser’s supported or it’s not. Whether we’re talking about IE6 or whether we’re talking about a multitude of different mobile browsers. But surely thanks to progressive enhancement, we can have our cake and eat it too? I think we can make sure everyone gets access to the content. They can find out about their government data, but the better browsers get the better experience, get the better APIs.
Jeremy: How do you test for that? Is there content negotiation going on?
Douglas: Yes, well the browsers identify themselves, you get to use user agent.
Jeremy: So you’re using a white-list of user agent strings?
Douglas: We’ll give the good content to the white list and if something comes in we don’t recognise then we’ll degrade to the web 1.0 experience.
Jeremy: I think that could be, or should be the way we should be building anyway, for mobile or not, is that we stop thinking about support as this binary thing.
Brian: I generally agree with you except some bits of me in the back of my head still think that, because a lot of websites have m.foobar.com, m.bbc, and it’s a completely different website. A lot of the same information, but it’s completely different. So the downside is you end up maintaining two websites, and it’s not progressive enhancement, but at the same time is it really the same objective?
We build a CMS that we’re trying to please everybody with, and it fails completely. We build this progressive enhancement website which should try and fit every situation, but it’s not necessarily, like a little piece of me says…
Jeremy: Adapts to every situation. By why do you need to be in a separate URL?
Brian: Because it’s technically…
Jeremy: God forbid a .mobi domain!
Brian: …that’s a whole problem in itself.
I worked for an airline who had the same website in half a dozen different languages, and then what’s the .mobi? Is it English? Is it French? Is it German? Whereas if it’s .dk, .de, you obviously know the localisation. When we dealt with the airlines, when you go to the .com website, you need all sorts of information; destinations, flights, prices, where things are, but maybe on the mobile, you’re like, “Well I don’t need…”
Jeremy: Now you get into tricky territory. You’re trying to mind-read what people want in the context of their device.
Brian: No, I’m just saying you can pick which URL you want to go to. If I go to m, I know I’m getting a very lightweight version with cancellations and flight times. If I go to the www, I’m getting the full site. That’s independent of the device.
Jeremy: It is interesting that we’re starting to see this “full site,” a desktop version and a “pared down site” for mobile. Quite a lot of times the mobile site is nicer because it is focused on one single task.
The reason why I’m excited about mobile is that it does, like you say, make us refocus on the way we’ve been doing things for years. “Wait a moment: why is the other site so big, bloated, filled with all this crap that nobody actually wants?”
For me this resurgence in interest goes back to the original spirit of the web, of one web, where it doesn’t matter what device you have, you should be able to get at the core content. That’s why I’m excited. It makes us revisit the sites we’ve been building for ten years.
I think a lot of people get confused that when we’re talking about this new way of doing different mobile that we’re effectively saying, “Oh we got the web figured out, we figured out that for ten years, and now we have to figure out mobile and we can apply what we’ve learned.” Whereas actually what’s happening is we’re turning ‘round, looking at what we’ve done for ten years and going, “Wow, we have not got this figured out at all,” we’ve been doing it wrong this whole time, building desktop-specific websites,” which is as bad as building mobile-specific websites or fridge-specific websites. It should be one web.
Bruce: A little while ago, about 2001, 2002, Tesco did a very good project. They built an accessible website and they had a special “cripples only” site really, it was a screen-reader site. People I know in the disability advocacy community said, “You know, this is crap. If you’re selling ads, serving ads to the desktop site, we want it on the real site, we want the ads too and know what’s going on.” That got merged. To me, mobile-only sites in 2011 is like screen-reader only sites in 2001.
Jeremy: And what’s interesting is the same thing happened back then, which was that the perfectly-abled customers were going to the accessible text-only version because it was easier to navigate; it was simpler.
Bruce: And quicker.
Jeremy And quicker, exactly. So once again, I think we’re seeing the same mistakes. Just as we did do those separate but equal sites as a bad practice back then, we’re doing the same thing now.
Brian: What happened was the separate but equal sites got merged into the big bloated site with just accessible things.
Jeremy: We went the wrong way. We went in the wrong direction, and we should have been removing stuff but we just started throwing stuff in there
Douglas: Yes, we absolutely did, we’ve had a generation of product managers and product designers who do not understand how their application delivers value, so instead they’re delivering bloat.
Jeremy: This is the classic thing where good design should be I think subtractive; it’s all about taking away but what happens is people throw stuff in.
Douglas: Minimalism is undervalued.
Jeremy: I agree.
At this point I’d like to throw it open to the audience. We might need a little bit of light to see the audience. We have some runners with microphones, so raise your hand if you have…
We’ve got someone over here on this side. Over here.
Relly: They are a beautiful bunch, aren’t they? What a good looking set of attendees.
Jeremy: Somebody’s waving madly. We’re just getting the microphone switched on. Keep your hand up sir, and we’ll get to you momentarily. There we go.
Audience member: This kind of goes back to what you’ve been talking about, Douglas, before around IE6 and how you’d like to see it die. Do you think we’re about three years away from having exactly the same problems all over again with IE8 because they won’t port it to XP?
Douglas: We already have those problems with IE9. I’m hoping 10 gets it right. But we still have the XP problem. Microsoft has dug in saying that they don’t want to go back, and I understand why they don’t want to go back. So my advice to anybody who’s on XP is, use a web browser which is not from Microsoft, and then it’ll be fine.
Jeremy: Problem solved!
Bruce: My advice is use Opera by the way.
Jeremy: So the thing is, what I would say is—the situation we were saying earler about in two to three years will be the same problem with IE8, IE9—the parallel I actually see is in a few more years we will have the same situation with mobile Safari, in that people are now making browser-specific websites, specifically for Safari, maybe for Android, in the same way that people made Internet Explorer specific websites and that’s how we got stuck with this damn problem.
Douglas: Or Netscape websites.
Jeremy: Or Netscape-specific websites for those of old enough to remember back that far, showing our age.
John, you’ve got a question.
Audience member: I was really interested in Relly’s talk effectively mapping civilisation as this kind of …how we’ve been able to access and use or carry content around with us. There’s another way of looking at civilisation which is effectively our tools. Our ability to do things and make things and manipulate and change the world. In some ways I see this possible parallel that one of the interesting things with mobile is a switch to applications from a world where there were a lot of websites which were mainly about navigating and finding content, to mobile where there was a lot more things that looked and felt like tools rather than places to access content.
Is there any valid difference there? Is this just in my head? Does this really mean anything? Tools as opposed to content.
Brian: I know, Jeremy, you had bookmarked something really interesting a few days ago.
Jeremy: Well I tend to have strong opinions on this question generally. May I?
Relly: You start.
Jeremy: I call shenanigans on web apps. People just use the word as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. “Oh you know, all these best practices we’ve learned about, putting content at a URL on the network that you access through a web browser. We don’t even even have to worry about this stuff any more because this isn’t a document at a URL, this is a web app, therefore none of the rules apply.”
We’ve been here before because this happened when Ajax hit the scene. Suddenly it was like, “It’s Ajax. It’s not a website, it’s a web app, so enhancement doesn’t matter any more, accessibility doesn’t matter any more, because it’s a web app.”
Define web app! Could somebody please do that for me?
Relly: An application on the web
Jeremy: An application on the web. Right. Okay, thank you Relly.
I will freely admit that there are application-like properties and there are document-like properties. I would say pretty much every website exists somewhere on that scale, but there are very, very, very few websites that are either pure documents or pure application. At some point, there’s content, even if that content is a service.
What I see is in the same way that, I mentioned earlier I think some developers use clients as a crutch, as an excuse to avoid trying something like, “Oh, the client will never go for it,” or they’ll use Internet Explorer 6 as a crutch to say, “Oh, we can’t try out this new technique because of Internet Explorer 6.” I see apps being used as like, “Oh, we don’t have to worry about making it with progressive enhancement or making sure it’s accessible because it’s a web app.” It literally is like people using it like a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
So while there is lots of revolutionary stuff going on and things moving to mobile devices, the context, the portability of the content or service, I call shenanigans on web apps.
Relly, did you…
Relly: Well from my point of view, when I talk to clients about content, I try not to get into specific containers of content. They say, “let’s have a blog,” and I try and say, “What are we doing with the blog? What’s the content going to be? Is it going to be content for education, content for entertainment, content for edification?” Defining it by that content rather than the container.
I see web apps as the same thing. I don’t necessarily think of a blog article and an audio podcast or whatever. I think of it as a category of that content, which I know is kind of unusual. I see the web apps versus web page stuff as a similar thing.
I’m lucky I guess in that a lot of those decisions are kind of made outside of what I do currently. I would like to be more part of them as a content strategist, but often they’re defined before I get there. When I do get involved early enough…
One of the things—I mentioned AlphaGov earlier—is we had to make the decision about what content we were going to create and what format it was going to be in. We had to be kind of arbitrary with the time. Was it going to be a tool, or was it going to be a guide or was it going to be an answer? All these decisions were made, and the further we got into the process, we started finding that our whiteboard, instead of saying guide tool, answer was guide/app/content/answer. It was too hard to draw ring-fences. You have to take it on a case by case basis.
Jeremy: So those fences were drawn up too early?
Jeremy: When what you really want to be thinking about is what’s the task.
Relly: Yes, what’s the task. And these things go hand in hand. It wasn’t just, “Right, we’re going to have six tools and nine apps” or whatever. But what we came to define as an app was a bundle of content that may be used in a different way; a tool, a guide to something, maybe a glossary related to that topic.
Jeremy: A bundle of …sorry, can you repeat that?
Relly: A bundle of content.
Jeremy: Okay. We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty. That’s the best definition I’ve heard yet.
I think Remy might have something to say on this.
Remy: I don’t agree with you Jeremy.
Jeremy: You’re wrong, obviously.
Bruce: He’s not.
Remy: I have argued that a blog is a website because it’s content and because you consume it, and anything you’re publishing yourself I would argue, you use a web app to publish that. There are grey areas, and I’m also playing devil’s advocate.
Jeremy: How does the content get on the blog?
Remy: You produce it, so anyway, This the question. No, but a comment is content you publish yourself, but like you said yourself, there is this grey scale. On the web apps or websites like Gmail where it is mostly application, mostly you doing something to produce content, rather than just consuming, their mobile version for their worst possible mobiles, you couldn’t progressively enhance that up to a desktop experience, because it would be awful. So they do user agent sniffing and deliver different websites.
Jeremy: It would be very difficult. It would be quite a challenge. This is the thing. I think a lot of people give up too quickly.
Remy: They do that now. They deliver three, almost four different versions of it, and it means that their mobile…
Jeremy: Because they approached it exactly the wrong way. When Gmail launched, it was the fully fledged one that required a certain level of browser, a certain level of technology, and then they had to retro-actively create the simpler version or versions as they’ve done now. If you start with the simple version—this is the key to all this stuff whether it’s one web, responsive design, any of this—the key is starting with what’s the most basic content or task and building up from there. They didn’t do that.
Remy: But the more advanced you get, the more you have to actually have executing in the browser and as we know, the browser that’s particularly popular isn’t good at loading and running a shitload of jobs.
Jeremy: It’s hard. I think it’s fascinating what Douglas was talking about, the fact that you can make that decision on a browser by browser basis. I would say they are getting the same content but the experience is completely different. And that’s okay. So I too am pretty excited about Node JS from that perspective. Not so much about the event driven speed and performance which is exciting too, but the fact that you could do real content negotiation based on capabilities of a browser.
John has a follow-up point
Audience member: I’d just come back and just say I agree, strangely I agree with both Jeremy and Remy, because I think having …I mean using the fact, “Oh I’m doing an app” as an excuse just to go back to a whole load of crap that we used to do, I mean clearly that’s wrong. But for example, my son is an electronic music, sort of weird, strange bangy noises, music composer and makes tools for composing and performing, and those …to me, that’s not a content thing. That’s a …it’s a tool that you use to do something.
Jeremy: It’s task based.
Audience member: So I absolutely agree with Jeremy’s thing that there’s a continuum, where there’s a tool with a bit of content that floats around in it and there’s a things that are a lot of content that have some tools associated with them. Yes, they feel at the far ends of that spectrum. I think they feel very different from each other.
Jeremy: They look like two very different things. Actually they’re two sides of the same thing.
Audience member: But yes, as the excuse for just being crap; no.
Jeremy: Right, there’s a cop-out.
I will qualify this. Between you and me, the correct answer is “it depends.” Because that’s the correct answer to every question on the web; it’s “it depends.” But just so you know, my public face and persona will always be hard-ass and say no, it’s got to be progressive enhancement and one web and that’s the way we’re going to go, but I know actually some situations …but don’t tell anyone. My reputation will be in tatters.
I’m kind of dominating this here. Sorry guys, I’m not giving you a chance. We need to get some more questions for everybody. There was…
Relly: There was Paul at the front
Paul: Taking on that point that you were just saying about how we should have built the…
Jeremy: I thought we were going to go on to different point! I’ve been dominating this!
Paul: Just one more quick thing?
Paul: Okay. The Gmail thing—it’s not going to be the case with Google but could be the case in other contexts—but what happens if the reason they didn’t build the basic one first is because they needed to show, they needed to prove the functionality of the bigger one in order to gain funding to continue the project, so they needed to do the big “Wow, yeah”, impress the stakeholders; let’s get some more money in, and then we can go back and do the stuff that we missed earlier.
Jeremy: Effectively what you’re talking about there is a process, a workflow thing, how you approach it.
Paul: I think you’re ignoring that by saying we’ve always got to start with the basics and work your way up.
Jeremy: It’s down to professional integrity as well and being able to sleep at night; being able to say, “I did it the right way.”
Paul: And then lose funding for the entire project as a result?
Jeremy: If all you care about is money, you’re a prostitute.
Paul: No, I’m not caring about the money. Caring about the project’s future!
Relly: Are you calling my husband a prostitute?
Jeremy: Sorry. Again, I’m being a hard ass. I’m being a hard ass. Could somebody more pragmatic than me take this question?
Relly: Don’t look at me. It’s my husband; I can talk about it for hours.
Jeremy: Sorry for calling your husband a prostitute.
Brian: Any sort of Agile sprint development, you’re trying to always build the least, or the most …is it the least minimal? Most valuable product for the least amount of time and effort, so in that case yes, you could easily say we’ve got two weeks to do this; what is the most valuable thing we can build for the least amount of effort? And that’s not the simplest thing with fifteen layers on top of it. It’s let’s build the high end thing, get it working; that’s the most valuable product for the least effort.
Because like you said, in two weeks’ time, your project could be canned.
Jeremy: You’re thinking on very short timescales here. Think about the legacy we leave behind.
Brian: This is also like rapid development.
Jeremy: Again, another crutch people use. Rapid development and Agile, they’re just used as a crutch when half-assed is what they mean. “We were kind of agile in our process.” “We did it half-assed.”
Relly: I love it when people use Agile as a verb, like we Agiled it.
And I’ve worked …I tend to work with a number of different agencies and move around, so I’ve been lucky in that I get to see a lot of different workflows. I’ve seen some really crap stuff and I’ve seen some really good stuff, right across the scale of Waterfall and Agile and things like that. The best things I’ve found is when people, when teams get together at the beginning and say, “Right, how are we actually going to make this work for us and what we’re able to do within a time-scale?”, rather than saying “Right, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that,” and being able to adapt to that sort of stuff.
I said in my talk that Agile is great for developers; pretty good for designers; really hard for content people because it doesn’t scale too well. Developers have got computer power on their side and they can get processes going and draw up code. And designers, they’ve got Photoshop and other things that help them do bits and pieces and Fireworks enable them to put it together. And then content people have got some words that we type out, and that takes time and scale. So if we’re all working in a one week sprint, I could tell you, it slaughters me every time. By Friday, I couldn’t produce any more words if I wanted to because the human mind doesn’t scale the same way as computing does.
So in some ways it’s being mindful of what individuals can do within that kind of development thing. I try and move myself as far back in the sprint as possible, so I might even be working like on the next sprint the previous …and that isn’t strictly Agile, capital A, you know everyone should be working on the same thing and this Scrum master should be whipping everyone at 9 o’clock every morning about what it is they’ve been doing that day, but it’s what works best if you’re then introducing content into it.
Jeremy: Agile, I mean proper Agile is kind of like teenage sex, right? Nobody’s actually doing it but everyone else assume everyone else is doing it, right?
Relly: Everyone says they’re doing it, and no one’s doing it well, right?
Jeremy: Right, exactly.
Douglas. Help me out. Tell me you wouldn’t tolerate short-term sloppiness for financial gain when the long term code is going to suffer? I mean come on, you gave us JS Lint, lead standards of coding…
Douglas: Yes, I’m very much opposed to doing sloppy crap, half-ass, however you say it over here. I’m against that. Particularly when we’re in these iterative models now where code is never finished, where you’re constantly going back and marking the thing again and again.
Jeremy: It’s like more important than ever to have good coding practices.
Douglas: Absolutely. You’ve got to be working from good, well designed stuff because it will crumble under youif you don’t.
Jeremy: So Paul, I’m glad the way that now it’s been established that you’re on the side of being half-assed and sloppy, but me and Douglas Crockford we’re like, “No; we’re doing it right.” That’s great.
But there are more questions. I think we had, put your hand up …we’ve got a microphone back here.
Audience member: With the implementation of the new cookie law coming in today being deferred by a year, are we going to …does the panel think that we’re going to have to trash the user experience to comply with the spirit of pre-consent, or can we rely on the year for the browser vendors to sort something out that will save our bacon, or is there something else?
Jeremy: Douglas, I don’t know if you’ve heard about what’s happening in this country; well in all of the European Union I believe, that basically cookies, with exceptions, but basically you can’t just set a cookie any more; you have to explicitly ask for user permission.
Douglas: It’s about time.
Jeremy: Tell me why you think this.
Douglas: Okay, so cookies were something that Netscape came up with to fix the fundamental problem with the web.
Jeremy: It’s stateless.
Douglas: The web is stateless and sessionless, and it turns out applications are statefull and sessionfull. So the web was fundamentally mis-matched for doing useful work. So Netscape came up with this silly patch that they called cookies, just to demonstrate how silly it was. And that has been the model by which we added statefullness and session-ness back into the web.
But we use it for a lot of other things, including authentication, and if you look at the original cookie spec, the word authentication does not appear anywhere in it. It was not designed for that, not intended for that. Instead it provides ambient authority which enables cross-site request forgeries and other mishaps.
Cookies are horrible, so I’m glad…
Jeremy: Cookies are example of exactly the kind of sloppy coding that…
Douglas: Yes, absolutely.
Brian: Was there the famous thing they would ask you, can you accept cookies, and if you said no, it had to set a cookie to remember that.
Jeremy: Yes, the Catch 22. Of course, if users could opt in to accept cookies, but if they opt out you have to ask them every single time, because the only way for the site to remember that users opted out would be to set a cookie which they’ve opted out of doing. It kind of messes with the head.
Relly: So from my point of view in terms of going back to the user experience stuff, and if you were here last year, you might have seen me talk about microcopy, and this is going to represent a microcopy nightmare, because we now have to explain to users what a cookie is. Apart from “Yeah, I’ll take cookies; who doesn’t have free cookies, you know?” (I fully expect the CD drawer to open and a cookie to come out.) But we now have to explain to people what cookies are; why they’re not dangerous, why they want them, what if they don’t want them, and this becomes a whole …and I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it because we should, but I just think there’s going to be a whole lot of sloppily-written explanations.
Jeremy: The thing is, the reason why this new law’s coming in—you’re going to love this, Douglas—the one kind of cookie that is allowed and doesn’t fall under the purview of this legislation is cookies for authentication.
Douglas: Oh dear.
Relly: It’s the best of everything
Jeremy: It’s the nice-to-have kind of cookies that are actually pretty harmless. Those are the ones that are getting outlawed.
Jeremy: Nicely localised!
Douglas: So does this new cookie regulation apply to local storage?
Jeremy: You see this is the interesting thing. They don’t specifically mention cookies; they mention …it could be interpreted as including local storage, I think. Does anybody want to interpret the text of the legislation, but the way I read it, it’s not specifically cookies; it’s any kind of locally storagey type thing that would include HTML5 local storage.
Relly: Can I just do a quick straw poll here? Who has actually read what this thing is? Who has read it compared to actually just heard of it?
Jeremy: I read the Cliffs notes. Somebody did a great blog post, some people at Torchbox did a sort of “here’s what you need to know” and boiled it down. I’m relying on them to have interpreted it correctly.
Relly: Yes, that’s a really handy point for me.
Jeremy: Have you ever tried to read legislation?
Relly: Well that’s exactly it, because one of the things that I’m looking at as part of this Government project is how the hell do you handle matters of legislation and make it understandable for people?
So that was a great straw poll. Thanks; that’s handy for my research. You can all collect your tenners on the way out.
Jeremy: We do not read that stuff. But an answer I guess to the question about how we’re going to deal with this cookies business, anybody got plans? Do you have a contingency plan in place at Opera for what you’re going to do?
Bruce: I was saying to Doug before, I hate doing these things because every time I come on the stage I get an email from the Opera lawyers saying, “What the fuck have you just said?” So this is …I’m a browser manufacturer. It’s the law. I can’t comment, except to say it’s a stupid law. I can’t comment because the lawyers will kick my arse every time.
Relly: Could you do it in interpretive dance and maybe we could…
Bruce: An interpretive dance about the law would just be… this does not reflect the opinion of my employers. TM.
Jeremy: All right. We’re going to have to wrap up pretty soon, but has anybody got some …oh, Remy wants to take it on. It’s going to be local storage?
Remy: No, no, no. It’s a copy question. Relly, you said that you’d have to explain cookies and so on. Aren’t the generations of people kind of rolling over, that actually you don’t need to explain cookies because they all know what it is? You don’t have to explain a mouse to your children because they know what it is already.
Relly: Yes, except that the moment that we have to ask permission for something that we didn’t really have to express too clearly before becomes the point where people ask questions.
So a kind of tangential explanation to that is if you say to someone, “We’re not going to use this for anything other than what we’ve said,” they start wondering about all the other things around that, that you haven’t given that declaration to. As soon as you’re complied to give one declaration, that’s where questions start that people don’t know.
Now those questions may be an excellent starting point for people to find out and think about this. But I don’t think there’s going to be legions of copywriters employed to give very good explanations to stuff. I think it’s going to be left to designers and developers to try and wade through and explain to users, without getting too technical, but also not leaving out stuff that’s legal. And then there’s going to be companies that have legal requirements around it who are going to add it to massive terms and conditions and it becomes another load of legal bloat.
Jeremy: Or we just flaunt the law.
Remy: Can’t we just bury it in the middle of the terms and conditions and say, “If you’re using this website,” just like the browsers where no one reads.
Jeremy The End User Licence Agreement.
Bruce: That’s not explicit agreement, is it? I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not Opera’s lawyer and I’m not allowed to speak.
Relly: Yes, I would go with that thing that it’s how we define it.
Jeremy: You are not a lawyer. Thank goodness.
So we have just touched on a few hot topics today I think, and there really are a lot of hot topics, a lot of exciting stuff happening. Things like Node JS, HTML5, CSS3, video, all this stuff.
At the same time, it does seem scary. How do we convince our clients, how do we get to use this new tech with older browsers like IE6 and how do we get past that? It’s kind of going back to the Ryanaircomp versus Mujicomp. Is this the best of times or is this the worst of times?
How do you feel about the web today and web development today? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?
Brian. Happy? Sad?
Brian: I’m happy. There’s no way this would’ve happened ten years ago. We’ve come so far. It can only go up.
Jeremy: And the price you pay is the complexity of what you need to know these days?
Brian: I think that’s inevitable though. A hundred years ago you needed to know how to drive a horse. Now you need to know so much more, I think it’s just part of life.
Jeremy: Bruce. Happy?
Bruce: Definite thumbs up. If nothing else, we’ve got even guys at Microsoft committed to doing standards-based browsers. The HTML5 stuff for better or for worse, and its genesis might be murky, but all the five browser manufacturers sitting down, committed to inter-op. Ten years ago, the idea that you could write some script and it would just work, it was a dream as you know. It’s a good time.
Bruce: I wish it weren’t. I wish it weren’t about who could be the fasted to implement standard X.
Jeremy: But surely all browsers are engaged in a permanent pissing contest?
Bruce: I wish …the idea is that instead of you can only use your bank website on IE, or whatever, which was stupid because every website should work everywhere, that’s going away now, but the pissing contest, who can implement feature X fastest, is interesting for about nineteen seconds, but the good thing is that once the browsers aren’t competing to implement proprietary nonsense, they’ll be competing upon ease of use and features for the punter, and that’s good for everybody.
Jeremy: You must be pretty happy with the situation now, just the fact people even talk about content strategy?
Relly: We’re allowed in the room, it’s really great! But I’ll say kind of how I finished my talk. I feel we’re on a knife-edge here in terms of content. It’s up to you guys to start letting us in and inviting us to conferences and giving us space to talk so that you can meet us and we can meet you and form partnerships, because I think only by forming those partnerships and having content involved is this web thing ever going to take off. Up until now it’s just been playing around, but if we’re really going to make it a mode of communication and a historical record and a thing of value, that’s the direction to go.
Jeremy: So it’s time for us to grow up?
Relly: Yes, I think so.
Jeremy: Time for the web to grow up.
Douglas; you’re an optimistic, happy kind of guy?
Douglas: Absolutely. The worst of times are way behind us, and ended about the time that Netscape failed. Things have been getting progressively better since then. Enhancing, if you will. So things aren’t as good as they should be and there’s going to be a lot of pain and misery going forward, but that is our lot in life. But overall yes, it’s all getting better.
Jeremy: And it will always be thus. There will always be some browser that’s lagging behind…
Douglas: Yes. Part of the dilemma about the web is because it is open, it’s always going to be lagging in some way, and it’s always going to be tough to get everything to move together. This community suffers more than anybody else around that. But even so, I think it’s a good place to be.
Jeremy: Good. That’s a positive declaration from everybody.
Bruce: Can I make a tangential announcement by the way, talking of better browsers and better user experience.
Jeremy: You’re not going to plug Opera?
Bruce: No, no. We’re hiring. There’s three Opera guys walking around in Opera T-shirts and we’re looking for some bad-ass User Experience people to help make the actual browser better, as well as Web Developers. So if you’re interested…
Jeremy: Well if you’re allowed to do a blatant job plug, then I’m also going to say that Clearleft is hiring. We want a User Experience person.
Bruce: We pay more!
Jeremy: We have cookies and cupcakes!
We’re hiring a User Experience person, whatever that may be, and a Project Manager. If you know any good Project Managers, send them our way.
But I believe it is now time for booze and music. Ian Lloyd is going to be spinning the decks. Is that what you say?
Relly: We had this discussion. It’s all buttons. He’s going to be buttoning the deck.
Jeremy: Okay. Ian Lloyd will be buttoning the decks. We’re going to have a DJ; we’re going to have booze outside.
But I would like you to please join me in thanking the panellists; Brian Suda, Bruce Lawson, Relly Annett-Baker, Douglas Crockford.
Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
I’m heading up to London for the next few days to soak up all the knowledge being distributed at this year’s Web Directions @media. I wish it weren’t a double-track conference—no-one should have to choose between Lea Verou and Douglas Crockford—but I’ll be doing my best to maximise my knowledge acquisition while fending off feelings of FOMO.
As well as attending, I’m also going to be facilitating. So I’m not just going there as an fomo-ing attendee; I’m also going to be a mofo-ing facilitator.
Yes, it’s that grand ol’ @media institution: The Hot Topics Panel (sszzz!):
A popular @media tradition, hosted by Jeremy Keith, the final session for day one will feature a selection of speakers discussing questions posed by conference attendees. A lively conversation and some passionate debate will occur, so bring along your questions and enjoy the robust discussion.
I also have no idea what we’ll be discussing/debating/arguing/quibbling about but I hope that by the time the panel actually starts I will have amassed some suggestions. Conference attendees can provide burning questions on the day, through whatever medium they choose; a tweet, a scrap of paper, a sandwich board.
I’d like to get a head-start on gauging the relative mean temperature of various topics. After all, the nature of the topics should probably influence my decision about who to coerce into getting up on stage with me.
That’s where you come in. What burning web design and development topics are keeping you awake? Is there something that really grinds your gears? Vent for me. Vent into my comment form.
(Yes, comments are open. No, you shouldn’t just write “First!”)
Friday, August 20th, 2010
- Listen to the audio recording of this panel.
The following was recorded at Web Directions @media in London on June the 10th, 2010. For more materials from this conference series, please visit webdirections.org. This podcast is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike 3.0 license. Please include this audio license notice with any copy or derivative work of the podcast that you distribute.
Welcome to Jeremy Keith’s hot topics panel.
Jeremy Keith: Hello everyone, and welcome to the hot topics panel, or Talk Bollocks as I like to call it. Some of you have submitted questions, and that’s excellent, but we will be opening this up to the audience fairly quickly to find out what burning topics are on your mind.
Let me introduce you to the panelists today.
I am your host, Jeremy Keith.
This is John Allsopp, he is one of your co-hosts for the two days. John has been doing web stuff for a very long time, including writing probably my favourite piece of writing ever on the web which is “A Dao of Web Design” which is ten years ago. John is just awesome.
And we have Hannah Donovan from Last.fm and Hannah will be speaking tomorrow, you should definitely check that out.
Simon Willison, currently at The Guardian, but about to be of no fixed abode as he wanders the world.
Simon Willison: A vagrant.
Jeremy: A vagrant, righting wrongs like Cain in Kung-Fu.
And we have Christian Crumlish who was at Yahoo!, curating a pattern library, and now he’s at AOL. An expert in all things social software, so if you have questions about social software, Christian is your man.
Thank you, panelists, for agreeing to be on this panel. Some had very short notice. I tapped Simon on the shoulder 15 minutes ago and asked him to pop in.
I am going to kick it off with some of these questions you’ve been kind enough to ask. This is an interesting one, I’m actually going read it out verbatim, because I quite like it. “According to the BBC’s genius of design series, design is about physical stuff. Not software, no web pages, games apps. So should we cancel or rename tomorrow’s design sessions?”
A frivolous question, but I think it speaks to a larger point. We’ve divided the sessions here into design and development, and I find it sometimes tough to figure out what is — HTML5 CSS are you talking about backend development and when it comes to design, you mean literally pixels on the screen which is visual design, or do you mean design like the kind Christian has been doing at Yahoo. Hannah, you’re a designer right?
Hannah Donovan: Yes.
Jeremy: What do you do?
Hannah: I design stuff. I don’t know, what do you want?
Jeremy: Would you consider yourself a designer because you work in graphical design programs. Or because you put ideas on paper, or perhaps some other tool? What would you call design? Big D design, little D design?
Hannah: I actually hate this question because I find people talking about it all the time, even at work where they don’t really even know how to express themselves when they’re talking about design and we end up saying, is it design or design, the interaction design versus visual design? Is it information architecture? Is it UX? Where do all these things overlap, and how does that fit with front end? etc. It all comes under the canopy of design.
I think at the end of the day, a designer is someone who can communicate visually, and that’s kind of what it’s all about. You’re making something that’s for other people to use, not for yourself. Doing that visually. That’s how I describe my role as a designer.
Jeremy: See, I have this theory about the whole field of UX. Which is that because the word design got co-opted to mean visual design — pixels, icons, that kind of thing — they couldn’t use the word design to describe what they do. So they come up with this new term UX. I’ve yet to hear a definition of UX that doesn’t apply to design. Would anybody like to take that? What’s the difference between UX and design, big “D” design? Christian, would you call yourself a designer?
Christian Crumlish: They put designer on my business card at some point, so I guess I’m a designer. When I was at Yahoo, we talked about user experience design. So we said the “D” word even in that context. At AOL where I am now, they have UI design, sort of the equivalent thing, just the older terminology for the same idea. I really would challenge the idea that design has to be working with the physical media. I think that we are living in a quasi-virtual universe now, and design has to be with a medium. I think you have to work with a substance but it doesn’t have to be a physical substance. There were sound designers 50 years ago working in Hollywood or wherever, clearly not putting matter together literally in that sense.
Some people say a designer is a problem solver, but I think that’s too vague because most interesting jobs involve solving problems. I don’t think you get too far from the visual part of it. I think there’s something intrinsic in design that is visual even when you’re not a graphic designer. I’m not a graphic designer, but I sketch a lot. My ideas have to go on paper even when I’m doing information architecture.
A lot of the time I’m trying to visualise an information space. It might be a concept map or a flow, but I’m trying to put things in a way that they can be communicated to other people and understood. I’m not really answering the question, but I think all those elements orbit the concept of design. I think user experience work is usually design work, but if you’re doing research you might be feeding the user experience process and you might not see yourself as a designer. Some people bridge research and design as well.
Hannah: I think it’s really hard to draw lines between it because at the end of the day, whatever box you try to put people in — actually this reminds me of the talk we just heard about trying to create order out of chaos — it’s just really impossible because the UX person is going to like, “Well, I was thinking it would look like this.” And the visual designer might say, “Well, I was hoping the flow would go like that.” And people end up stepping on each other’s toes or not or just blurring the lines. I think that’s totally OK. I’m all for a multi-disciplinary approach, and a holistic view to design where you try and do it all or learn about as many of those things we just talked about as possible.
Jeremy: Do you think it’s an advantage maybe to be a lone gun who does a bit of everything, because you get to do a bit of everything?
Hannah: Well, it’s hard for me to answer that question because I think I am a bit of that. So it’s hard for me to see it from any other perspective. It’s certainly been very helpful for me in my design work to be forced into doing a bit of everything.
Jeremy: Simon, if I were to ask you, if you were a designer, you’d probably say no…
Simon: Actually no, I’m willing to make quite a bold claim here. I believe I’m the least qualified person on this panel to talk about design…
John Allsopp: No, I think I am.
Simon: I don’t know, I have the visual design skills of a horse.
Nevertheless, I believe Steve Jobs said
design is how it works. I build things, and they don’t look very pretty, but I think very hard about what the thing is, the overall scope of what the thing is, how it’s going to work. And also what the user interface for interacting with that thing is. It may look awful, but I think very carefully about what questions I’m asking people and how that all fits together, and what pages there are and what URLs there are.
So actually I would claim that too is a design on that front. It’s not visual design, but I think there’s something about figuring out what product you’re building and also the URLs and the bits on the page and what the thing is that’s very important.
Jeremy: You’re a systems designer.
Simon: Yeah, maybe.
Jeremy: That works.
Simon: Systems designer I think is more about how it works in the background. Databases and all of that. But I am actually talking about user facing stuff, what the user sees, what the screens are, what the URLs are, that kind of thing. So I do that, but I’d never call myself a visual designer in a million years.
Jeremy: And John, you’re also disavowing visual design.
John: I’m terrible at it!
Jeremy: But when it comes to understanding the medium and talking about how design has to work in the medium, I think you have a better understanding of the medium of the web than anybody.
John: That’s very touching, and thank you, the check is in the mail.
When it comes to design, I actually had this revelation in the last nine months or so. I’m the sort of person that when I go the airport, I just get infuriated by the way people get lost, and how systems don’t work. And I actually have to sit down and work out how I would improve this.
I’ve been doing this all my life, and it infuriates my wife. They say, “You know what! They should just shut up about it.” Constantly — I had this experience in Japan recently, checking in on United that I’ve got to write a book about. The most shockingly bad experience that flowed into everybody’s user experience. All of these people were turning up at the airport, almost missing their planes, the queue’s a mile long, etc. Anyway, this has been an obsession for most of my life, or certainly for years, and there’s a name for this. It’s called service design. How many people have heard the term, or whether it’s widely used now.
The idea is that all these products, these sites, all these things we build are actually just part of a broader thing, this thing called a service that we’re building. So to my mind, I’m really used to that idea, how you build an overall experience. Whether it’s going into a bank, whether it’s if you’re traveling, from booking your ticket through to getting to the airport, through to getting on the plane, through to getting off the plane and getting your baggage. All of those things. You look at that experience, I don’t see too many people actually doing that sort of design.
Jeremy: Service design is totally hot. It’s the new UX. We’re all getting our business cards…
Hannah Donovan: Can I interject something here? I think this whole trying to put design into a bunch of different boxes is pretty bullshit. Because, well for one thing, some of the developers that I work with on a regular basis are some of the best designers I’ve ever come into contact with. They might not be designers with a capital “D”, but like Simon just said, they think through the way things should work very carefully and it’s amazing to work with them and bring their influences into the fold.
I have this theory that designers have a bit of a chip on their shoulder sometimes about being designers. I don’t know where they get this from, but they are always kind of maybe put down about being a designer or something?
Jeremy: Designers are the drummers of the team.
Hannah: They’re kind of like… designers are wankers for the most part. And they actually really piss me off most of the time. And it’s like they’re constantly trying to qualify their work as being designers or as being something more than just what it is. And it’s like that’s why they need to give it a different name and this year it’s service design and then next year it’s something else and now it’s UX and it’s like you can’t just call yourself a designer. You can’t just say that you communicate things and help people do stuff. And actually you’re sort of bottom of the food chain. You’re just trying to make the service work better or the product work better so that people can use it.
And I don’t know, I don’t like this all star, rock star mentality of I need to give myself a bigger name tag so that people will take me more seriously now.
Jeremy: More important they pay you with money.
Christian: A lot of it is fighting for resources in business contexts. And if you just say “Oh, I help people and I do good stuff,” that may not get your budget fulfilled for that year.
Hannah: It’s true.
Christian: So you sometimes need to present it as something valuable that other people understand.
Jeremy: I think that’s a very good point. I always hate it when other people ask me what are you, what’s your role. I like speaking in terms of what I do, I say, I make websites. But when it comes to a job title I have no idea.
And I actually started micro-blogging through my job title. It was Lineman for the County for a while. I think it’s currently Nerf Herder. Or your Standard Pleasure Model, because the job titles don’t really mean anything. There is actually a twitterbot that grabs my job title.
John, I was interested to see you come alive when you talked about your frustration with things in the world. Because I was chatting to Aral not 20 minutes ago. Where is Aral? Go “woop” Aral if you there. There he is, over there. And he’s got a little 3G dongle thing that’s really badly designed and I was able to escape fairly quickly, but he was talking my ear off.
And he was really getting upset just as you were getting upset.
John: Oh, yes, I just cannot believe someone didn’t sit down and think “You know, we can do this a bit better.” Especially airlines. Airlines you think are about planes, right? They have nothing to do with them. They’re about the experience of people getting from one point to the other. Some people are on their holiday, some people are going to a funeral, some people are going to work.
And it seems that no one sits down and thinks “What are we really doing here? What’s the point of this entire industry?”
So I think that there are two industries that are… I just can’t believe they exist. One of them is banking. God Almighty. Is there anybody who likes the experience associated with their banking at all? Ironically it’s incredibly wealth generating by all accounts. Well, occasionally there are little dips.
And the other is airlines, right? No one enjoys. How about the airline ads, “Our beautiful flat beds will fly,” it’s like for the one percent of people who fly first and business. For the 99 percent of us back in coach, it’s, like “Nyaah, nyaah!”
It’s like everything about it, everything from the advertising — the whole experience is designed to make you life horrible. You can tell I spend a lot of time on airplanes.
Simon: Have you read The Design of Every Day Things?
Simon: That book ruined doors for me. Norman doors, suddenly you see them everywhere and doors become your enemy.
John: Especially the handle, push.
Jeremy: The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman. Don lived in the UK for a while. All the examples of bad design are from when he was in the UK. Like the taps, could we get the taps right? No. The doors on the trains where you have to stick your hand out to open it? All the classic examples of bad design. I have a theory in this country we like to grumble about things, but we don’t like to actually fix them.
Christian: We like tradition.
Jeremy: Yes, we put up with a lot.
Christian: It’s always been that way. It was good enough for my dad, you know. But also I think the thing John said, maybe what distinguishes a designer from everybody else is that when you have a terrible experience at the airport, you end up sitting down with paper and trying to figure out how it should work better.
There’s that idea that things are made. You sort of understand that the stuff isn’t just immanent and existing, but that someone put it together whether intentionally or not. And so you have the mentality of a maker of things and a person who believes that things could be made better whether or not you have the expertise in that particular area. And that there’s a small amount of hubris that probably is useful to dig in around stuff that you have no business doing and try to improve it.
Jeremy: A blessing and a curse, the curse being that everything in your life is frustrating and it wasn’t before.
Christian: Exactly, and I have a background before the web in publishing and editorial. And there’s sort of a joke about once you’ve been trained as a copy editor, it’s really hard to look at menus after that and other kind of signage. Because the mind is always trying to catch those errors and fix them and you have no power to do it.
Jeremy: Simon, is anger a motivating… frustration, is frustration a motivating factor when you decide I’ve got to build an app? I’ve got to build something to fix this and make my life better.
Simon: Yes, I think so. And that’s why I love things like Greasemonkey for example. And Firefox Extensions. I kind of think it’s the difference between geeks and the general population. It’s understanding when a problem is solvable. And it’s like the most important thing about computer literacy they should be teaching in schools isn’t how to use Microsoft Word and Excel. It is how to spot a problem that could be solved by a computer and then find someone who can solve it for you.
Jeremy: That’s interesting you bring that up. Because John has been doing a lot of thinking about this. About essentially the next step in literacy being…
John: Now you’ve put me on the spot.
Jeremy: …programming as a skill in the same way that reading and writing is a skill that’s expected today. Is programming going to be something that you will need to know in order to empower yourself, to make your life better?
John: Well I think so. I genuinely feel that, and I could bore people for hours and I won’t this time, next time maybe, I generally feel that everybody can program. I think that what programming is, and I could go on for hours. The basic idea is a kind of a logical flow of instructions.
It doesn’t have to mean writing word processors or operating systems. I think the human brain is actually well-adapted to that. Probably much better, frankly, than reading and writing. We should, I think it’s a really good thing for people to be able to do.
And I think we will. I think the idea of someone who is essentially illiterate in 20 or 30 years time if they can’t program. I really feel that.
And I think that will also open up some extraordinary opportunities in our civilisation the way mass literature and literacy did. Don’t ask me exactly what. But I think it has a lot to do with for example, we’ve got these open data stuff, government transparency and a lot of really good work happening in the UK. The US and Australia as well.
But of course if you have an illiterate society an Encyclopedia Britannica is not much use. In the same way I think if you’ve got tons of data coming out of government for example, and other sources, and no one can really access it by writing little programs to swipe it and see what’s going on. It’s like having an encyclopedia in the 15th century. You still wouldn’t get in any danger even if people had that, because no one could read the thing.
So that’s one of the areas where programming, that ability to program, is going to have a profound impact on our civilization is how we can manage these huge torrents of data that we’re getting that are unstructured. Getting a signal out of that noise is a challenge. It’s one of my little current obsessions.
Jeremy: Hannah, have you started to notice this with the young folks, the kids these days?
Hannah: Well I was actually going to ask, do you think that this is already starting to happen?
John: I guess more people can… I studied computer science in the mid-1980s and you were a pretty geeky person to do that back then. I got my first computer in 1981 or 1982, like a TRS-80. You were a pretty hard-core geek then.
I think there’s been a quite significant democratisation in this stuff, in programming or whatever you want to call it. I think the web is driving that. But I look at my four year old, and I think about when she’s five, six, and seven. She’s starting to read and write now. Now she may be 13, 14, 15 before she can program in any sense, but that’s kind of a decade later than reading and writing. There’s no reason she’s not mentally equipped for it. If you can read and write…
Christian: Maybe we need a new hypercard or something that makes learning to program something that’s more graspable when you’re young.
John: Well that’s why I’m thinking about how. I’m thinking about the how as well as the…
Hannah: He’s the Kadai of programming for little kids or something. I have five younger sisters, and I think like all of them can write like basic HTML. And no one taught them in school, they just learned from being social online. I think it’s like something that every kid just needs to have now.
John: We can thank MySpace for that.
Hannah: Exactly. MySpace and LiveJournal and every other single one out there. I mean you have to be able to write a couple lines of that. It’s cool in a way.
Jeremy: Getting back to design and needing to understand the medium for design. It seems there’s one medium that seems to be cropping up a lot, especially this year, which is mobile. Which is a pretty big term. It covers many things.
If you saw John Ressig’s slides earlier, you realise just how broad mobile is. But I have a question, here. It is in one way quite specific, but it also goes to a choice that I think a lot of people are facing.
Someone writes, “We have a property search site, with a lot of imagery and complex functionality. Should we go the route of creating a mobile site or use media queries?”
I think this is the kind of question that’s on a lot of people’s minds. I guess this is kind of coming down to the question of one web versus application-specific, or device-specific sites.
Hannah, at Last.fm you were doing something recently with the Xbox?
Jeremy: Tell us about that.
Hannah: So we have an application on the Xbox that’s basically a version, sort of, of our visual radio experience. So if any of you have used Last.fm/radio and gone to that page and listened to radio online, it’s a little bit similar to that. It’s a different experience than the website. And it made total sense to make a different experience because it’s for a bloody Xbox.
Jeremy: Was it liberating? Designing for something you know exactly what the user running. You know exactly what they’ll be viewing it on?
Hannah: I guess so. It’s also kind of scary to as well. Because it’s like so different than what you’re used to. And you’re dealing with a lot of other different problems. Like, what do people’s TVs look like? How good are they? What’s the contrast? How far away are they sitting from them? All that other kind of stuff. So, I don’t know if it’s easier necessarily. It’s just trading some problems for some other problems.
Jeremy: Scary but exciting? Yeah, I think that’s the way a lot of people are feeling about mobile devices. Scary but exciting. The potentials are large.
So this whole question of one web versus devices…
Simon: In the case you just described, I would actually go for the separate mobile edition. Or the mobile optimised edition. It’s not because of technology stuff, it’s because of the context that you’re using the site in.
If you’re at a desktop device with a full sized browser window, you’re researching. You’re going to want to open up a lot of tabs. You are going to want to compare different houses.
If you are on a mobile phone, maybe you’ve just seen this for sale sign, and you want to geo-locate and see the price on the house that you’re standing outside right now. That’s something that doesn’t make any sense at all on a desktop, because you’re in your home. But actually, when you’re out and about, it makes a lot of sense.
Jeremy: So the context.
Hannah: I really agree with Simon on this. We’ve done different contexts. Different bits. Different versions of Last.fm for different devices for exactly this reason. It depends on the kind of phone you’re using too. If I have an iPhone, you can do almost anything with it, but if you don’t, then it’s a different context and you might just want to do one or two things.
Simon: It’s crucial that you’ve got the option to see the desktop version on your phones. It’s so frustrating when you can’t.
Jeremy: This came up in Jonathan’s talk, which was superb—he’s totally sold me on JQtouch. I’m going to give it a shot. Create a JQtouch version of a site.
But do I redirect people using the mobile desktop? Do I redirect them automatically? And then with the link that they can get back to the desktop? Or do I detect it and on the desktop version, show a link…
Simon: My preferred thing.
Jeremy: I got into an argument with Remy about this and he was actually convinced that it was the other way around.
Simon: It depends on how heavy your page is. If your page is like 500 kilobytes of crap then having someone load that on their mobile device just so they can click the “give me the mobile version”, is quite frustrating.
Christian: You probably want to remember what they chose in the past and default to that in the future.
I think part of this, like you say context, it’s your stories, your user stories or your scenarios where you have to think through, what is a person really going to be doing?
And I think it comes down to service design as well. I think ultimately, even if you have a completely different experience on the hand-held device, from what you have on let’s say the laptop or the desktop — I think laptops are the new desktop at this point, something like that — on one level you can take it a step back and say, we’re designing an entire service and it manifests in different ways and different contexts.
It’s almost like there’s a layer behind the specific rendering on the device where you have to have a coherent idea of what are you doing for your customers, your users, your readers, or whoever they are. Then in the end it always comes down to build versus buy, or kind of resource — do you want to interpret on the fly? Or do you want to do things manually?
But there’s no universal right answer to those questions. It has a lot to do with the specifics of the case.
Jeremy: It depends.
Christian: I will never say it depends but yes.
Simon: I’d like to plug. I talked about this site Wildlife Near You in my crowdsourcing talk earlier. We do actually have a mobile optimised alternative called owlsnearyou.com. If you go there in your geo-location enabled device, your iPhone for example. You go to owlsnearyou.com, it will say, can I use your GPS? You say yes, and it will tell you where your nearest owl is. That, I think is a killer app for mobile web.
Jeremy: Thank God. Finally. Finally.
John: We actually run events. The Australian government late last year called Gov Hack. Because our government is all about, the Australian government at least, and the UK government to some extent, kind of wanting to get people to take government out, and do cool stuff with it.
So they ran some competitions, and we ran this event. And one of the really successful apps took all the public toilet data that the government owns and basically built a web interface to that so that you could find the nearest public toilet.
But what I really liked about the way the person built this was — and this is where I would definitely make the mobile version the one on your phone by default — is it didn’t even have to ask you where you are.
Because as with yours, it knows where you are, and it’s just, here’s the nearest toilet. So it’s magical. You literally [inaudible], and suddenly you’ve got the nearest toilet.
Let’s face it, if you’re going through the trouble of looking it up on your phone you probably really need that toilet. So the little as possible you have to interact with the phone — because, your hands are probably shaking.
So you basically go, bang, there it is, right, I’m off.
Jeremy: Apart from owls and toilets…
Simon: We’ve got education.
Jeremy: Media queries. They’re really coming of age.
John: Oh I love them.
Jeremy: I was going to say…
John: I have a whole chapter in my book on media queries which is geeky.
Jeremy: I mentioned your article on A Dao of Web Design, it’s 10 years old. But you’ve been talking for years about the importance of understanding the medium and delivering the experience. Media queries.
John: More like the embodiment of that philosophy. So for all of you who probably weren’t even born when I wrote that article in the late ’90s, there was a thing called — David Siegel had a book called Creating Killer Websites.
Who remembers Creating Killer Websites? Oh, so there are a few old people in the house. So the irony was, he came up with this revolutionary technique — you had tables and spacer gifs — the irony is that if you have to look at the site because you can still look at… they’re horrible looking things. This was this revolution. And this is where table based layouts really came from.
I guess there were a few of us at the time who were aghast at this and we sort of fought this decade long battle against…
Simon: To be fair on that chap, he did then get involved…
John: Oh yeah, he wrote a famous article called, The Web is Dead, and I Killed it. A little bit self-serving.
So my philosophy was this — at the time it was, how do I control… like you’d be on the newsgroups — remember those things? — for CSS things. How do I control the typeface? How can I control it? And this word control, control, it just came back time and again.
Jeremy: It was print design thinking.
John: Yeah. Exactly. Because in print design the medium is fixed. You don’t have to control it. It is a fixed medium.
So my argument was, and this is very old hat, now, but it is not a bug of the medium that the user can resize text or resize it. It’s actually a feature and I have to work with that feature. But at the time it was a challenge. Because mostly what you had to do was basically design your stylesheet based site in such a ways that whatever the user did, it kind of still worked.
Media queries changed all that. And if you haven’t played around with them… so if you’ve got a two screen set up, which most of you will do, and you have a media query set up, so when the monitor or the device is this width, do this, and when it’s that width, do that.
That’s just ridiculous. Whereas this is an event-driven model, effectively. But you don’t even have to worry. You don’t have to do anything with the DOM, you just literally write a little subset in your style sheet that says, if these characteristics of the medium are such, then use these properties of CSS. It’s magical.
Jeremy: CSS media queries is an amazing tool but I think there is an issue here which is a lot of the people who are supposed to be designing for the web aren’t using tools such as media queries, they’re using desktop tools such as Fireworks, Photoshop, that have a very rigid sort of frame.
I mean, do you see this as a problem that you’re designing in one medium, something like Photoshop, and then eventually it gets sort of converted? How do you possibly show things like resizing text, changing the browser window, interaction flows within the medium? How quickly do you get out of Photoshop?
Hannah: It totally depends on the job. I sometimes don’t even use Photoshop. If it’s something that’s highly visual and has a lot of layout and lots of fixed images and stuff like that, like our anonymous home page, then yeah, you have to use Photoshop for that.
But actually most of the things that we work on are really modular, and a lot of the time I’ll just sketch something, and then work with the developer, and we’ll move some stuff around with Firebug, and decide how it’s going to work. I mean, it depends. Sometimes at that point I might run back to my machine and be like, yeah, I need to sort some colours out or do some fine detailed typography or something like that, and then I do open Photoshop and use it.
But it totally depends on how big the job and how much of the visual end of the stick it is versus just like the interaction design end of the stick. We are putting these things in boxes again.
I don’t know. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about designing in the browser. I personally find it still too much of a… I think that, to design well you need to be using something where the tool isn’t obstructing your ability to get it done.
A pen and paper is obviously the easiest way because it’s such an easy tool to use. But I can use Photoshop in my sleep whereas I can’t design in the browser in my sleep. And I think that it just kind of depends on what you’re most comfortable with, and whatever you can get the job done with, really, as long as you can think that way.
Jeremy: As long as the tool doesn’t constrain you.
Hannah: Yeah. As long as the tool doesn’t constrain you. Yeah.
Christian: But if you were telling somebody who was just starting off to learn to design in Photoshop and then convert it. Or to learn to design in the browser, what would you tell them?
Hannah: I’d tell them to use pen and paper. I tell people to do that all the time. I cannot tell you how many younger designers I’ve seen open up Photoshop or open up a browser, and just start right in there. It just drives me absolutely nuts. It’s like, put all of your tools away and just take out your sketch book, and decide what you want to communicate first. And then go talk to some people about it, and usually you can get the job done a lot faster that way I think.
Jeremy: I mean, I think that’s pretty great that we are even talking about having the choice. Right? Like, oh, what will I do? Will I open Photoshop, like open up a browser and start using these amazing tools we now have at our disposal?
But, even with these amazing tools like media queries and other things coming out of CSS3, even now in 2010, we have this shadow still looming over us.
And somebody has asked a question, “If customers insist on IE6 support especially corporate apps, is it practical to charge a little bit extra?”
Again, that’s a very specific question but the point is, it’s 2010, and people are still concerned about IE6 because they claim customers, corporate situations.
Simon: When can we be rid of it?
Jeremy: Simon, any strategies for…
Simon: Yeah, Google Chrome Frame is looking pretty good these days.
Jeremy: You like that?
Simon: I’m fascinated by it. I’m sure everyone here has seen Google Chrome Frame. It’s a plugin for IE that basically embeds the whole of Chrome into Internet Explorer. And your web page can have a special meta tag at the top that says, hey, if you’ve got Google Chrome Frame installed, switch into Chrome Mode.
And the idea is that companies that can’t switch browsers because all of their Internet apps rely on Internet Explorer can install Chrome Frame and all their crappy old apps will still run with IE. And cool new apps they they’re deploying, again even if they’re just deploying them internally, can use new features from Chrome.
And it’s really fascinating. One of the reasons I think it’s got legs is that the principal engineer behind it is Alex Russell who I am pretty sure has spoken at @media in years past.
Prior to Chrome Frame, he was working on things like the Dojo toolkit. He always ends up being right but he’s right two or three years before everyone else. So it may take two or three years for the rest of us to catch up and realise…
Jeremy: That’s why he’s so angry.
Simon: That’s why he’s so frustrated with the world, yeah, because he’s constantly living just two or three years ahead.
Jeremy: He is from the future.
Christian, you worked at small start-ups: Yahoo!, AOL. So even a small percentage of people on an older browser like IE6 equates to a lot of users. Does that equate to a lot of money in terms of catering for those people?
Christian: Well I think it does. At AOL, where I’m just getting my legs there because I’ve only be there a month so far. AOL has a large legacy install base of users who are old generally speaking, I mean, not always but, demographically, they tend to be older. So unless the grandkid comes home from the holidays and upgrades their browser and changes their start page. Right, exactly. They frequently are still using what we would consider legacy interfaces, or tools at a higher percentage rate than sort of the web at large.
And also, their remaining paying customers are the ones who are paying consistently a monthly fee. So while, in some ways, AOL is learning to ween itself from dependency on the revenue stream, not just yet. It’s like St. Augustine. Like make me pure, but not just yet.
And so there is a certain amount of effort that has to go into catering or making sure that things at least degrade or progressively enhance in such a way that there’s a decent acceptable experience even in the bowels of old versions of IE. But not at the expense of giving modern customers something useful to look at.
I think everybody would like to be shut of that, and not have to do it anymore. I mean, somebody was today saying, I forget. Maybe it was John?
Jeremy: Brendan Eich talked about Windows.
Christian: Somebody was saying that there was probably expected… oh yes, that’s right. There would be kind of sharp cutoff point where suddenly IE6 died and I would dance a jig if that happened.
Jeremy: Of course, John, we’ve been here before, right? I mean, Netscape 4, that’s gone on for quite a while.
John: Oh it did. That was probably the last one that really got us like that.
It’s interesting, I think one of the net apps or one of those stats from last month, IE6 was under five percent for the first month. I mean that really is… even to a year ago, it was much higher than that. We are talking about five percent. I mean, yes, it’s a large number of people, probably most of whom live in Korea. Apparently in order to use the Korean banking system you have to use IE 6.
Christian: At some point those old PCs will stop working I suppose.
John: Well that’s it. Yeah. Exactly, right.
Simon: I would be interested to know what experiencing the web with IE 6 is like today. Like how many sites acutely work?
John: That’s a very good question.
Jeremy: Do you know your demographic of IE 6 users? Do you think about them?
Hannah: Yeah. I should know this. I have written this down at some point. Yeah, we do think about them. I know that we do. Make sure that things work. But it’s in our second tier browser category which means that it doesn’t need to have a perfect experience. I can have a passable… things need to work. You need to be able to do stuff. It basically can’t break.
Jeremy: Yeah. And we haven’t actually answered the specific question, which is it practical to charge a little bit extra for client work.
John: No, charge them a lot more extra.
Jeremy: A lot extra.
John: Can I just tell you a funny story about Netscape 4?
So Netscape 4 was released in about ‘98? Maybe. In 2007 we did a conference in a big convention centre in Australia. And they have the system where they kind of rotate the slides and so on for all the screens like you see here. I wouldn’t be surprised if this system isn’t similar. It had a browser. It was Netscape 4. And this was not a legacy system, it was still being sold. This company was shipping this kind of a spoke system, still wanting Netscape 4 as its browser. I think with Flash 3 on it. They said, yeah, we can do Flash stuff. Can you give us a Flash 3 file?
So these systems, they kind of last forever. They really do last forever. They’re like zombies. The undead.
Christian: I think charging more is the exact right thing. You don’t want to hide the cost of doing that. You want to put it into the system so that it’s painful and there’s an incentive to move away from…
Simon: You’re doing a favour to your client by giving them the option of having it cheaper, quite frankly.
Jeremy: That’s true. Actually, whoever asked that question talk to Andy Clarke. I believe he has quite a few strategies about that very thing.
The whole thing of dealing with clients has come up in a few of these questions. Here’s one: “How do you deal with a client that barely understands the web medium, and their solution and what they expect is so far from what you believe they should have. Contents, structure, presentation level. How do you deal with that?”
They shouldn’t even be talking about the technology level. That’s that answer.
Just build a website. You don’t need permission to use this stuff.
Simon: He or she is actually talking about their boss at some big bank. That’s the thing. That level of ignorance.
Jeremy: Tell them to go play golf.
John: Well, true. Good point.
Jeremy: Here’s another. It’s phrased in terms of how to talk to clients, but raises a question. You knew this was going to be coming. “To sell HTML5, CSS3 to clients, we need a new buzz word.”
John: We’ve got one.
Jeremy: Not HTML5.
John: It’s HTML5.
Jeremy: Not HTML5.
John: That a lost cause.
Man: It is now.
John: That one’s, that’s happened, it’s dominated. We’ve got to get over it. HTML5 is the word. That’s what I…
Simon: It’s annoying. Now HTML5 doesn’t mean anything particularly useful anymore, because people are bundling every technology under the sun.
John: Is that really a bad thing? Why is it a bad thing?
Simon: It’s frustrating, as someone who always knows what these things mean.
John: Imagine once upon a time it was DHTML.
Simon: I saw DHTML5 being bandied around recently.
Christian: I want to know what happens to the next version of HTML5. Is it going to be HTML5 version two?
John: X. Yeah, we tried that one, didn’t we? This sort of thing comes up every time. People keep saying geolocation is not in HTML. Who cares?
Jeremy: We’ve been here before.
[laughter and applause]
Jeremy: And we were here before Ajax.
Christian: At lunch at the workshop yesterday, somebody mentioned that one of their clients has now essential done a search and replace to put HTML5 in place of Web 2.0.
Christian: Was that you?
Jeremy: Yeah. A client was on the phone and where you would normally say Web 2.0 they just say HTML5 now. They said — I shit you not — “We want to have an HTML5 tag cloud.”
John: The front page of the major newspaper in Australia had the word HTML5 on it a few weeks ago. That’s for the win. We’re taking over the world one word at a time.
Christian: When it appears on page six that will be the real deal.
Jeremy: What do you do when you actually want to talk about HTML5? How do you specify, I want to talk about HTML5: the specification called HTML5.
Christian: Call it HTML5 proper.
Jeremy: HTML5 proper.
Simon: To whom to you really need to have that conversation with?
Jeremy: We were doing the workshops the other day, and one of the workshops was about HTML5. Then you have to clarify what you mean when you say HTML5.
Christian: That blurs the line, but there’s a distinction between insider cant and the way you talk to professionals who are in the guild. Who need to have precise communication about what we’re actually doing.
Talking to clients, and talking to the business world and talking to the market, those are two different things. I think they can be divergent. I think that’s OK.
Jeremy: The problem is not so much talking to the clients about HTML5. It’s when the clients come to you, or when the boss comes to you and starts throwing this word HTML5 around and they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Simon: What do they really mean? Because when you give them what they…
John: It means doesn’t run in IE 6. There you go.
John: Yeah, there you go.
Jeremy: There you go.
Jeremy: IE6 doesn’t support HTML5. Therefore…
John: Problem solved. Yeah, we’ve done it. That’s the way..
Jeremy: Sure. Let’s say the definition of HTML5 is “doesn’t work in IE6”. That way, when the boss comes and says it has to be in HTML5, we say…
John: “You do know it doesn’t work in IE 6, boss?”
Jeremy: We have something…
John: HTML5 versus IE 6. The cage match.
Jeremy: You people probably have some ideas on this, because I do see this topic coming up a lot. I would like to open it up to the floor, to the seating area. Raise you hand and Natalie has a microphone and Anna has a microphone. They will bring the microphones to you. Oh no.
Simon: Here’s trouble. He knows all about HTML5.
Doug Scheppers: Speaking as somebody from W3C, we also use HTML5 to mean this open web platform. Whatever flavor of the day. It doesn’t really matter. We know people mean.
Only people in standards care about what’s the specification, and what is in what specification. Nobody cares about that. And I’m in standards. Nobody cares about that. HTML5 is just Ajax.
Jeremy: So it’s like being pedantic about whether it’s web or Internet, right? Only a pedant cares.
Simon: That matters!
Remy Sharp: I had a client phone me last week and said “We want to make this application HTML5 instead of Flash.” I wanted to get into the semantics of the word HTML5 with him, but I was like, “Yeah, fine. Whatever you want. You don’t really know what HTML5 is, so yeah, I can do that.”
I don’t do Flash, so that’s fine. HTML5 can be whatever the client wants it to be, as long as between us techies and us geeks, we know what’s inside the HTML5 spec. If someone says have a look at the spec, you know which one to look at.
But otherwise, for the rest of the world, it doesn’t matter what they call it. If we can give it to them, then we can give it to them.
[applause from Doug Scheppers]
Jeremy: The sound of one W3C member clapping.
John: That’s the Dao of the Web right there!
Jeremy: You use a different language when you’re talking to your fellow geeks, your colleagues, than you do when you’re talking to…
Christian: It’s called code shifting. and…
Jeremy: Right, the same word can mean different things.
John: When you or I refer to the interwebs, it’s very different from when my mother refers to the interwebs…
Jeremy: We all know it’s a series of tubes.
Jeremy: Was there another question? Did somebody have a…
Audience Member 3: It’s not actually a question, but rather a comment on a topic you had earlier about front ends and which strategy to use when having different target platforms. I think there is one other architectural approach you didn’t mention, which could be provocatively expressed as don’t build any front end at all.
For example, Twitter has its own front end, but who really is using the Twitter web front end. From time to time we do it, but there are thousands of other front ends we use on different devices.
I think one other modern approach is just to provide the right APIs and then let other people do the work. Maybe have some default web front end, and then whoever wants the iPhone front end can build the iPhone front end. He can’t even do a native app or whatever he wants.
Jeremy: I think that’s a very good point. This is something that Tom Coates has been talking a lot about. Your website is not your product. Designing a website is actually quite narrow, but designing the data that you have can open up untold possibilities.
Twitter is a really good example of that. Talking about the kind of design you do is also in that vein of opening it up to other people. I want to mention another aspect to that, which is the topic of accessibility.
Generally in the past when we’ve come across something that’s inaccessible our attitude has been let’s bitch and moan about it until they fix it. However, people are designing systems of data like that, where you have APIs, or some way of getting in there.
Instead of bitching and moaning about it, and wasting our breath doing that, we can fix it ourselves by building our own tools. This does go back to Greasemonkey and other ways of extending the web.
You see something that you want, and you build it yourself rather than having to rally against the owners of the website. It does require a change of mindset, right, to realise your website is not even going to be the primary way that people are going to interact with your data. The Last.fm API is a classic example of that.
Simon: Plus, anyone who hasn’t seen the Guardian’s new content API, though, there was an interesting thing the other day where a chap called Phil Gyfford produced something called Today’s Guardian, a completely alternative interface for reading the Guardian website. It’s actually all on one page. You see an article, you click next, you see another article. Very, very fast and smooth, and designed completely differently from the Guardian’s main website. But that’s that same kind of —
Jeremy: I love stuff like that. I love anything that makes it clear, it’s your web. It’s your data. You read it how you want to. Instapaper. The Readability bookmarklet. And now in Safari, you get the option to get rid of all the clutter and read it the way you want to.
I think that’s great. I think it really enforces that what design is, is not designing this frame on a screen that you’re going to look at something. It’s designing the content, the data that people have come to see. Do you know how many people use API versus using the site on Last.fm?
Hannah: No, I am not sure exactly, but I do know that it is a lot. Especially with the scrobbling requests. A lot of them are coming in from other places.
Hannah: It’s great. I mean, it keeps us on our toes. I think it is the best way to make sure that you are constantly being challenged, is by just letting other people do it.
And also, talking about design and taking yourself out of it and not controlling it, and letting it be totally responsive. I think how you design the system, and also visually for people, so that developers have the right assets and the right tools to be able to do it. Like, knock something together, and grab this and that, is an increasingly important part of a designer’s role. I think Twitter has done a pretty good job of it. It is definitely a new thing.
It is like, how do you give them a sort of pick-and-mix plate of stuff that they can use and make something for you with.
Jeremy: Yeah, So let’s put the tools out there and wait for somebody to build cool stuff with it.
John: So, there actually was one of the most extraordinary experiments related to that. In the last two or three weeks, the Guardian said here is our platform. Here is APIs, you get all the data, correct me if I am wrong, and charge for it.
Simon: The idea is that we serve ads up with the API. So you can take our content elsewhere, but you have to take our ads with it.
John: But then I am allowed to go and kind of build something with a charge for it. Yeah. So that’s happened, I think it launched two or three weeks ago.
Simon: The publicly available one. It’s been in beta for about a year.
John: At the same time, the Times have gone behind a paywall, almost simultaneously. So interestingly, we have an experiment to see which approach is ultimately the future of content.
Christian: It has been very heartening to see newspapers have developer networks, code API pages and things like that. The New York Times is doing that as well. But you guys seem to be leading the way there. I think that shows awareness that the core value is not the face of the thing, but the substance inside it.
Jeremy: And, of course, this does go back to what we were talking about earlier about the idea of information literacy. You know, they are more programming savvy currently, but some way of manipulating data will become more and more valuable as the data itself is the product rather than the data within some frame.
Exciting times. Do we have some more questions? Yes, Aral has something to say.
Aral Balkan: Just on the flip side of that, I know we love to talk about open data and Web 2.0 and it’s like a hippy love fest sometimes. Here’s our data do whatever you want, but there’s also sometimes a darker side to it where it’s just pop up around. How are you gonna use our data?
Like recently the pulse app on the iPad, for example, was in the Apple Keynote and then it got pulled from the app store because the New York Times said “Oh, you used our RSS feed in a commercial application. That’s a no-no. We want that app off of there.”
And for APIs as well, like what rights you have as developers. I think is very important and a topic that we’re going to have to discuss more prominently as APIs become central because even if they’re free, developers spend and invest in API building apps and invest in platforms building apps for them so… Just wanted to raise that subject.
Jeremy: Well it sounds like you’re speaking from experience, possibly?
Aral: Quite possibly.
Jeremy: Has an API bitten you on the ass recently?
Aral: Quite possibly. Definitely not Facebook.
Jeremy: OK. Good point. It will be messy for a while people figure this stuff out. We have a question down here. A comment?
Hannah: That’s you.
Audience member: More of a comment, really. Most of the APIs that we’ve come into contact with tend to be re-purposing existing content from a site like Guardian or maybe Last.fm. Do we have any good examples of where there’s quite a heavy transactional website that offers that kind of flexibility with an API?
Jeremy: Well, actually Last.fm’s an interesting case because it’s not just about getting the data out. As I was saying, Last.fm is in some senses most useful when you’re not at the computer. And Dopplr is kind of a similar thing, when Matt talked a bit about a website you never have to visit because people want to get the data in there any other way.
Audience member: I’m thinking quite specific…
Jeremy: You mean in terms of money?
Audience member: Yes, I’m thinking about sort of an e-commerce transaction.
Jeremy: You were talking about filthy lucre. You want to get…
Audience member: Absolutely.
Simon: I don’t know the stats but eBay makes an absolute killing against their APIs. I don’t know if it’s more money made through the API that not through the API. But certainly things like the eBay iPhone apps, the iPhone apps that have been built against the eBay APIs have all done very well for themselves.
Christian: Well I mean, the required embedding of ads is a monetization engine for the API.
Simon: That’s the idea.
Jeremy: I think money is a fad. It’s not going to last.
Christian: But it’s a gift economy now, right?
Jeremy: Indeed. A reputation economy.
Audience member: So the whole discussion about APIs, to me, brings up the question about why are we using APIs and rather why not use XML and a standard templating language? We talked about web standards, but there’s a W3 standard called XSLT, which does an amazing job at parsing XML data.
Jeremy: Right, you are talking about the Tower of Babel problem.
Audience member: Yeah, if not everyone is using XML data, it falls apart.
Jeremy: Well, it’s not necessarily the best data format for everything.
Simon: Well it’s more… XSLT requires you to think in sort of 90 degrees to how regular programming goes in my experience. I know, it’s interesting. It fits some people’s brains, but it doesn’t necessarily fit other people’s brains. So, I’m not an XSLT convert and I have tried.
Audience member: I’m a designer and I work with CSS a lot and I actually think CSS is just sort of a starting point for thinking about XSLT because it’s about using selectors in a different way and actually being able to have a lot of control over your data.
Jeremy: So shouldn’t the developer be able to use whatever selectors they want? If they want to use XPath, they use XPath. If they want to use CSS selectors, they use CSS selectors. The point is they can get at your data. I mean, how they choose to do it… I take the point of the Tower of Babel, I think that’s more about the vocabularies.
Audience member: Yeah.
Jeremy: Your music sharing site, there’s another music sharing site and you don’t collaborate on a vocabulary that is a problem.
Audience member: It more comes from a frustration as a designer but also a developer where I’m working with a team of developers, they have their own little pet scripting languages and none of them are actually working together in the same way. So you actually have to have different ways of working.
Jeremy: But be careful what you wish for because you’re asking for one unified language, it might not be XSLT, right? It might be something else.
Christian: Well, there’s things like YQL, too, which is sort of trying to normalise, I think, in a sense. Whether you want to run everything through Yahoo or not is a different question, but…
Jeremy: A distant problem we’re trying to solve.
Christian: Yeah. But it’s an interesting model, I think, because it has some traction with the open tables.
Simon: And on the flip side, I have noticed that many of the APIs I work with now are launching in JSON only. The XML option is… it used to be that all API’s would provide an XML option, and I don’t think that is necessarily the case for everything, these guys.
Jeremy: I think there is time for maybe one more question. We have got five more minutes, so who has…?
John:Women? Women asking questions? A single lady?
Audience member: Hi. We were just doing an application recently where we were trying to pull together lots of different API’s. And we were sort of having an internal discussion about what would be the best way to do this sort of geolocation thing.
And we looked at Fusion Tables, which is something Google has just released, and we looked at the MapData API. And we kind of went through Geoplanet, was it Yahoo, or another one?
We went through various different ones, and there were so many, I thought, God, it is kind of getting a flood of APIs, you know? And it sort of feels like in one sense, Google is constantly releasing them, and is doing really good things there, and so is Yahoo.
Will we get to point, perhaps in a few years’ time, where we sort of have a mirroring of the operating system APIs. Where eventually, you have these really big players that have a single platform that everybody starts to use? And a splintering of these different web services gets merged into two or three big competing platforms, basically.
Jeremy: Yeah. It is essentially a very Darwinian situation. You put a lot of players out there, and the best ones float to the top. Splintering is a danger, but convergence is also something that will happen.
Simon: I also think, this is the web. The thing about the web is, you can have APIs from 30 different providers, and they have all got URLs, and it is all decentralised and so actually, it works. Whereas with operating systems, you have got one that your computer is running on, barring virtual machines and those sort of things. And you are kind of stuck in that one ecosystem.
And that is why I love working with the web as a developer. I love the fact that it is this sort of equal playing field, where sure, some of the APIs will flourish: Amazon EC2, with the sort of economies and scale of things.
But everything, at the end of the day, is a URL, and if you can talk to it, you can glue it together with other things. That is what makes this platform different from Windows or Mac, or any of the other platforms we have seen before.