I remember when I was trying to make my first website. I was living in Germany and playing in a band. We decided the band should have its own little corner of the World Wide Web. I said I’d give it a go.
I remember finding everything I needed. It was all on the web. Designers, developers, webmasters …whatever you want to call them, they were selflessly sharing everything that they had learned. I lapped it up. I learned the lovely little language of HTML. I learned about using tables for layout and using 1 pixel by 1 pixel blank .gifs for fine-grained control. I even learned some Perl just so that people could fill in a form to contact us. Before long, our band had its own website.
I remember showing the web to the singer in my band. I showed him fan sites dedicated to his favourite musicians, sites filled with discographies and lyrics. I remember how impressed he was, but I also remember him asking “Why? Why are these people sharing all of this?”
I suppose it was a good question but it was one I had never stopped to ask. I had just accepted the open flow of ideas and information as being part and parcel of the World Wide Web. When I decided to make a personal website for myself, I knew that it would be a place for sharing. I use my website to share things that I’ve learned myself, but I also use it to point to wonderful things that other people are sharing. It feels like the hyperlink was invented for just that purpose.
One section of my site is simply called “links”. I add to it every day. The web is a constant source of bounty. There seems to be no end to the people who want to share what they’ve learned. “Here”, they say, “I made something. You can use it if you like.” I try to remember just how remarkable that is.
This spirit of generosity has even spilled over into the world beyond the web. I remember when Web Essentials was the first conference outside the US dedicated to sharing the knowledge and skills of the web’s practitioners. Later it became Web Directions. It served as a template and an inspiration for people all over the world.
It’s hard to imagine now in this age of wall-to-wall conferences, but there was a time when the idea of a web conference was untested. Without the pioneering—and risky—work of the Web Directions crew, who knows where we would be today?
A good event reflects the best qualities of the web itself. Designers, developers, UXers …whatever you want to call them, they conquer their fears to get up in front of their peers and share what they’ve learned. “Here”, they say, “you can use this if you like.” I remember how intimidating that can be.
I remember how honoured I was to be asked to speak at Web Directions in 2006. A decade can feel like a century on the web, but my memories of that event are still fresh in my mind. Not only was it my first trip to the Southern hemisphere, it was the furthest from home I had ever travelled in my life. I remember how warmly I was welcomed. I remember the wonderful spirit of sharing that infused my time in Australia. It reminded me of the web.
And now that same spirit of the web is spilling over into these pages. Designers, developers, baristas …whatever you want to call them, they’ve written down words for you. “Here”, they say, “you can read this if you like.”
I try to remember—but sometimes I forget—to say “thank you.”
I try to remember to say “thank you” to those early pioneers on the web who shared their experience with me: Steve Champeon, Jeffrey Zeldman, Molly Holzschlag, Jeff Veen, Eric Meyer, and of course, John Allsopp. I try to remember to say “thank you” to anyone who has ever put on an event—it’s hard work (just ask John). I try to remember to say “thank you” to the people who are making the web a better place for all of us through their incredible work: Ethan Marcotte, Sara Soueidan, Karen McGrane, and so many more.
And when I’m filling up the “links” section of my website on a daily basis, I try to remember to say “thank you” to everyone who has ever shared anything on the web.
I never did come up with an answer to that question my bandmate asked. “Why? Why are these people sharing all of this?” After all these years, I don’t think the answer matters. What matters is that I don’t forget how remarkable this spirit of the web is.