Web Directions @media 2011 Hot Topics Panel
A panel I moderated at Web Directions @media in London in May 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.
I’m sure you’ve all seen Chuck Norris facts, right? Have you seen Crockford facts? It exists. I’m not kidding. He has his own facts site all about him.
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.