Friday 31 December 2004
IN RESPONSE TO the immediate, growing need for funds to assist with the Asia relief effort, web-standards designer and blogger Andy Budd has created BlogAid, a place for bloggers to pledge blog earnings to a charitable organization providing assistance.
I’m sending you this email to let you know about a small project I’ve launched to help the victims of the Asian Tsunami and Earthquake. The idea is to encourage bloggers to donate the earnings from their site for the month of January to a relief agency of their choice. For most people, the money they make from site advertising such as Google AdWords is a nice little extra, but something they could quite happily do without for a month. By pledging this money, it gives bloggers an easy way to support the relief efforts. While I obviously can’t guarantee that people will donate their earnings, I’m hoping that a public commitment will encourage the majority of people to honour their pledge.
Some notable bloggers contributing money from January’s earnings include:
- Nikita Kashner from kitta.net
- Derek Featherstone from box of chocolates
- Rachel Andrew from rachelandrew.co.uk
- Drew McLellan from all in the <head>
So, if you’ve got a blog that’s pulling in some dollars from advertising, affiliate programs, and paid-to-blog programs, sign up at BlogAid and commit your pledge today. It’s a socially conscious, good-karma way to start off the New Year.
Speaking of that, HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! Here’s to a peaceful, prosperous, healthy and happy 2005.
Thursday 30 December 2004
CMS PROBLEMS AREN’T just related to non-standard markup. According to a white paper provided by Marquis: The Marketer’s Guide to Optimizing Your Web Content for Search Engines CMSs can be doing a lot more to help with your search engine optimization. The advice is mostly good, with a few head-scratchers along the way.
I can recommend the white paper as an easy read with mostly solid information. It’s a practical guide as to what should be included in a CMS to assist with better search engine optimization (SEO) practices. Here’s a sample of some of the advice provided, along with my thoughts on that advice:
- Link quality is more important than quantity. This is in reference to inbound links specifically – the more highly trafficked sites that are linking to you, the better.
metaelements. While not as weighted as they once were (and in some cases not part of a search algorithm at all), it’s still important to use meta descriptions and keywords.
- Dynamic pages have difficulty with certain URL strings, particularly those that contain a “?”. Well here’s one I didn’t know! Cool, and according to the white paper, a good CMS is one that will create friendlier URLs, which can’t be anything but positive.
- alt text. Okay, Marquis bothers me here. First they used the term “Alt Tag.” Gack! One more time for the masses: There’s no such thing as an “Alt Tag.” It is an attribute. Moving on from that, the advice Marquis provides is to add alternative text to all images other than those that are purely visual. Well, you can’t leave the
altattribute out of any inline image and pass muster validation-wise, much less accessibility-wise. The alternative is obvious to me: Design with CSS so your design-centric images are in backgrounds anyway. Otherwise, you must have the
altattribute in your
imgelements, even if you choose not to include any descriptive text.
- Use large font sizing or headers for important text, and emphasis important keywords with bold and italics. How about we adjust that to simply this: Use headers semantically, and you can’t go wrong. Ditch the inline font sizing – there’s just no excuse to be using inline
fontelements anymore. Emphasize only those items that really are emphatic, otherwise it begins to affect readability.
- A good CMS will allow the use of CSS without restriction on design or layout. Well of course.
- Avoid negative values to shift text off the visible page or hidden text of any kind. I didn’t know about the negative values concern, but apparently these techniques can cause a spam alert to many search engines. The problem here in terms of progressive design has to do with image replacement – a complex issue in and of itself and sadly, the accessibility and SEO concerns do conflict with what is, at least conceptually, a very useful CSS technique.
This line regarding tables just jumped out and gave me a heart attack:
“Find a CMS that allows you to pull your tables directly in from Microsoft Word”
So while my faith might be undergoing some challenges, I can say I recognize evil when I see it! Fortunately, the rest of the paper is mostly lucid and will serve anyone looking to evaluate a CMS for SEO support.
Tuesday 28 December 2004
EACH DAY I count my blessings because it helps me remember how many blessings I have. But watching the death toll rise so dramatically due to the earthquake and tsunami waves in Asia has left me bereft enough that I can’t even come up with something pithy to say about any topic other than this: Treasure what you have, tomorrow it may be gone.
In the meantime, I question God and shake my fist to a perfect Arizona sky. I look inside and ask myself the tough questions:
- Is loss of this magnitude just proof that any order in the chaos is truly mere speculation?
- Are we supposed to be humbled and turn to whatever faith we might possess to carry us through times like these?
- Why am I so selfish to think that my need for food, drink, sex and intellectual stimulation means anything important?
- How can I find and give comfort at a time when nothing I am, nothing I do, nothing I have seems enough to staunch the blood of so many sorrows?
Is it selfish or reasonable for me to wonder about the existence of God and the true meaning of faith at a time like this?
Monday 27 December 2004
THERE ARE TIMES when we have to share our blessings without counting. No doubt many of us around the world have been watching with growing horror as the death count from the devastating earthquake and tsunami waves in Asia climbs toward 20,000.
Even if it feels inadequate in the light of such devastation here are a few (mostly U.S. based) organizations through which you can help:
- Oxfam America
- Care USA
- American Red Cross
- Catholic Relief Services
- Direct Relief International
- Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres
- International Medical Corps
- International Orthodox Christian Charities
- Mercy Corps
- Operation USA
Robert Scoble is keeping a linklist of news and related blog postings from around the world, and despite a lack of blog activity due to the Christmas holiday, many bloggers are responding now with post entries covering helpful resources, information, photos, assistance, and heartfelt thoughts.
If you’ve got any additional helpful resources (especially of assistance would be international agencies) please feel free to leave a comment or trackback here.
Thursday 23 December 2004
OH YOU’RE INCREDIBLE, and I’m getting lost in movies and TV shows.
God bless torrents.
For the first half I was blown away into sublime happiness. I lost it toward the end in which I think the “Disney” administration displayed its ugly influence.
I watched it again only because I wanted to revisit the career of Melissa Leo who is hot in this film, not to mention brilliant in her years on Homicide, Life on the Streets (see next) and for whom I profess an unrequited love.
Homicide: Life on the Street
Homicide broke all the rules: Hand-held cameras, real characters with complex lives. The show went on to influence and inspire a host of contemporary cop and suspense shows: Law and Order, Oz, you name it – nothing was like the first two years of this show in terms of gritty commercial US TV.
Memorable, get it, watch it.
Wednesday 22 December 2004
THE MEDUSA LOOK could easily describe the new molly.com design-in-progress. As you’ll see, it’s just the home page for now, and I’m still fiddling with styles. Special thanks to Patrick Lauke who worked with me to design this – and probably would have been happier had I left some of the cooler enhancements in.
Some of the things I’ve been playing with are:
- Fiddling with fonts (but don’t we always)
- He had developed a great look for the poll, which is disabled until I swing a fix for a script some fine human was hacking into
- Similarly, a more manageable approach to the blogroll was in place, but I’m leaving it as is
- I made the bullets smaller and orange instead of blue
- I changed the color of the date header
Otherwise, Patrick did an awesome job coming up with the sideways logo, which I love (although some folks have balked at it, what do you think?); and the photo treatment in the top right, which I also love.
Are those snakes coming out of my hair? Ya think it’s a subliminal Medusa thing going on? Consider:
Medusa means “sovereign female wisdom” . . . Medusa was originally an aspect of the goddess Athene from Libya where she was the Serpent-Goddess of the Libyan Amazons. In her images, her hair sometimes resembles dread locks, showing her origins in Africa. There she had a hidden, dangerous face. It was inscribed that no one could possibly lift her veil, and that to look upon her face was to glimpse ones own death as she saw your future . . . Medusa has historically been seen as the archetype of the nasty mother, however she is far more complex.
Yeah, definitely Medusa, and not much subliminal going on when I think about it!
Saturday 18 December 2004
THINKING OVER MY experiences at Web Design World 2004 in Boston last week, I’m compelled to write about some of the hot issues and areas of concern I see for the contemporary web designer.
First, it’s important to note that there was something different in the air at this event. The turnout was very good, which means companies and organizations are paying for education and training again – something we’ve not seen much of in the past few years as belts have tightened – if a company has kept its pants at all!
As a regular speaker at conferences, I could sense the shift in mood. People seemed more happy with their jobs, more secure in them, and genuinely interested in improving not just the bottom line but their knowledge and process, too. Add to that a small but very select group of speakers, and the show really was the best example of a general (rather than a specialty niche) web design conference I’ve seen in years.
That said, I did notice some issues that surprised me. While people were overall quite well aware of the idea of web standards and are concerned with best practices, many folks seem overwhelmed with misinformation or confusion about details. There are also concepts I suspect that web standards evangelists, in our zeal to spread the good word, have inaccurately introduced into the mainstream without clear enough follow-through.
Concerns with Terminology
Most of my colleagues will agree that I’m a nomenclature freak. If I don’t know the correct term for something, I usually dig until I find it. A natural interest for a writer, I suppose. But I’ve found an ongoing problem with terminology: People do not refer to syntax in proper terms, or they mix up corollary terms. This gets in the way of effective communication, which is always an essential part of good project management. Here are some of the common problems I ran into:
- structure versus semantics. In our efforts to promote “clean” HTML and XHTML, we often refer to structure, using it as a broad stroke to define logical markup. But structure relates specifically to structural elements in a document, whereas semantic markup refers to the meaning of an element in relation to its content. A
DOCTYPEdeclaration is structural, whereas using an
h1element to mark up the most important header on the page is semantic.
- elements and tags. This is one that continues to drive me batty because it seems we should know this already. An element refers to the whole potato: Tag(s) plus any contained content. A tag refers to the literal tags within the element. An important distinction! A tag is part of an element, but an element is not part of a tag.
- attributes and properties. This confusion certainly stems out of the fact that attributes, which are used to modify elements in HTML and XHTML, are a conceptual corollary to properties, which are used to modify selectors in CSS. They both serve a similar purpose, but the terminology is distinct. Just remember that in markup it’s attribute, in CSS it’s property.
- Dammit, it’s not an “alt tag”. I still can’t get over the fact we continue to say this! Talk about a pet peeve of mine. There is no such thing as an
altelement, no such thing as an
alttag. What we’ve got is an
altattribute. If you’ve just spent too many years saying “alt tag” and can’t seem to break the rhythm, try saying “alt text” instead. It’s simply more accurate.
Another area some messages are apparently unclear is within concepts. Here are a few that keep rearing their ugly heads:
- Tables are evil. The message we’ve been working to express isn’t that tables are out and out bad, yet this is the message that some people are walking away with. The message we want to send is that table-based layouts are problematic – the biggest hack in HTML history – and we want to get away from them as a layout tool. But tables themselves are extremely useful for marking up tabular data appropriately, and the two issues are quite separate. Yet, the idea that tables are just plain wrong seems to be a common thought among many designers who, in most cases, feel like bad web designers when they use them for any reason at all.
- Separation rather than integration. The idea is to keep presentation and structural components on separate layers, with CSS handling presentation, and HTML or XHTML providing the structure and semantically marked up content. We needed to talk in terms of separation in order to get the idea across, but now that we’re actually building sites from the ground-up with CSS, it becomes quite clear that the two aren’t separated at all, rather, they are integrated. Of course, I’m taking a line from Ethan here and pimpin’ my own Kool-Aid, because this was the thesis of our “The Marriage of Presentation and Structure” session. Check it out (with audio or just the slides) to get a better idea of what we’re really pimpin’ in this case.
- CSS: Still not ready for prime time. This is the scariest concern of all! I continue to meet people who, after attending presentation upon presentation about using CSS effectively even in transitional design situations, still believe that CSS is not a currently viable technology. Where is this misinformation coming from, and how can we effectively address it? I’m really unsure, but it might have something to do with the next misconception . . .
- IE is all bad. While I’d like everyone to be using a contemporary browser with rich support for CSS, I’d also like the world to sing in perfect harmony. I actually had someone ask me if the reason CSS was so difficult to work with was because it was unsupported in IE 6.0! And, I hear time and again that people think web standards evangelists at large hate IE. While that might be somewhat true, it’s not that we’re saying you can’t use CSS because of problems in IE. Rather, we’re pointing out real facts: IE 6.0 is an outdated browser with incomplete support in areas that matter when you’re trying to author truly sophisticated, contemporary CSS. I have to stick up for IE here and say that while today’s design needs would be greatly enhanced if the browser supported what we’d like it to support, the fact is a well-informed web designer will understand HTML, XHTML, CSS and browser support issues well enough to work in a way that taps into the power of CSS even if the enhancements aren’t possible in IE.
If my last passage sounded a bit harsh, that’s because the reality is that a working web designer in today’s market needs that much information. Professional web design and development is not easy! We all know this, and we also know the learning curve is not only steep, but constant. Here are some areas with approach that are challenging folks:
- People still think in tables. Unless you’re among the fortunate (and growing) group of web designers that have never had to build a web site using tables, it seems that it’s been very difficult for all of us to begin thinking outside of them. Having worked with tables for layout for the majority of my web career, it’s proving to be quite difficult to get past thinking in such restrictive terms. I’m wondering what ideas other folks might have in terms of breaking out of the tabular approach from a mental standpoint. There’s no doubt that when we get past this barrier, and are armed with a fair amount of CSS knowledge, that we can do much more progressive work. I got a real insider’s look at this working on Dave Shea’s and my upcoming book The Zen of CSS Design, because digging through some of the CSS Zen Garden’s most compelling designs really challenged me to look at things in new ways. Maybe this is the sort of exercise we all need – if not to actually create designs for submission – to at least try and reconstruct seemingly complex designs. It really does help. Other ideas, cough ’em up. I’m sure we can all be enriched by them.
- Continued over-reliance on visual editors. That Dreamweaver and other visual editors can make web design a far easier task on many, many levels is undeniable. However, I’m gonna kick it old school here and maintain a thought I’ve had for years: Without an understanding of the languages with which you work – HTML, XHTML and CSS in this context – you are at a disadvantage and probably missing very important nuances by relying on your software to spit out the code for you. You will do much better having a strong understanding of both the languages and the software with which you work. This way, you are doing the thinking, the decision-making, and not the tool. Don’t let your software think for you – trust me on this one. No software product is strong enough yet to replace solid education in the languages themselves.
- Everyone must have a CMS. The hottest topic these days is about content management and choosing a CMS. What astonished me (but probably shouldn’t have) was how many people think they need a CMS when what they really need is better information architecture, improved editorial workflow, and savvy document management. This is not to say that a good CMS isn’t critical for certain operations, but I am going Jeff Veen’s way when it comes to content management, and that’s that a CMS will likely fail if a good overall strategy is not yet in place. What’s more, with a defined strategy, it either becomes clear that a full-strength CMS might not be necessary at all, or only aspects of a CMS are necessary (such as good source control). Or, you make life easier and less expensive by selecting a CMS that truly meets your strategic requirements. The message here? Don’t believe the hype! Examine your situation because it’s unique, and make decisions carefully before thinking that a CMS will magically solve your problems. Chances are it will quite un-magically add more problems to the mix.
Blogs are Big
One thing that was very encouraging was how many people are interested in blogs and blog software for both personal and professional applications. This is good news for the rising industry of blogs in business (and good news for related conferences, too, such as the upcoming Blog Business Summit). But people have concerns, and very realistic ones at that. Some of the issues touched on included copyright and potential misuse of regularly published content; privacy and safety concerns for those publishing personal blogs; and the growing scourge of comment spam. But overall, blogs are happening, and that’s awesome to this long-time blogger’s way of thinking.
I just want to be sure my message here is not coming across as a critical one. I’m mostly reflecting on issues that seem to be problematic or challenging in our field, and looking for your insights into how to achieve a better understanding of the terms and concepts we use to discuss and define our work.
There are flaws here, most of them have nothing to do with us as people – after all very few folks have learned how to be web designers because they received formal training in the science and art of the profession. Our jobs and the technologies that define them are complex, and their application is becoming increasingly so. We are challenged to learn constantly, to stretch our abilities and our imaginations in unique ways. In order to be effective, it becomes more and more important for us to find common language, clear up misconceptions, hone in on the nuances that matter, and help each other toward a better, brighter future.
Friday 17 December 2004
SOMETHING MARQUIS DOES well and hosted software services can learn from is the choose-your-own-host concept.
Essentially, Marquis will publish your web content to the hosting service of your choice. It’s simple – you publish to the Marquis app, and then the app pushes content via FTP to your server.
I like this approach a lot, because while it provides the user with the CMS, it’s really like a layer of software. You always have access to your own server and files, so you can bypass Marquis at any time if you want to, and if you decide Marquis is not for you, you’ve got all your content, totally ready for any other tool you might choose to use.
For a bit more background on this feature in Marquis, please see their Speeds and Feeds article.
Readers, please be aware that this is a paid-to-blog post. All of the opinions herein are my own, all I am required to do is post some thought on the product each week. I recently asked molly.com readers about the paid-to-blog concept, and if you’d like to learn about the Marquis paid-to-blog approach to web marketing, check out their Blogosphere program.
Wednesday 15 December 2004
80,000 Internet Explorer users at Penn State University have been told to ditch IE and get a better browser.
The edict was announced last week on the Penn State web site. While the announcement prominently promotes Firefox first, it also recommends Mozilla, Netscape, Opera and Safari.
While you’re talking about this ’round the water coolor, or after work at the local pub, you can also show off your CSS knowledge while pretending to cruise through songlists on your iPod. Westciv has done it again – innovative CSS help via their Complete CSS podGuide and it’s available for the sweetest price of all: Free.
Tuesday 14 December 2004
MY BROTHER’S BLOG is far more interesting than I am today. He’s got a great post about the perils of Christmas marketing. So I’m sending you there for a laugh since I’m balancing lots of work with one nasty back injury, which is the result of ongoing trauma to my back due to dragging heavy stuff all over the planet and sitting in airplane seats made for little humans and not even average sized ones. Ouchies.
Thursday 9 December 2004
WONDERS NEVER CEASE! I’ve somehow been nominated for a best tech blog award in the 2004 weblog awards. I didn’t even know until someone pointed it out to me.
Of course, I really am not sure if I’m a tech blog per se, only sometimes. But I’m still honored to have been nominated. Check out the 2004 weblog awards, and cast a vote for your favorites.
Speaking of tech news, I’m still in Boston having taken an extra day after Web Design World to visit with my brother Morris. The event was great! I met some excellent people, enjoyed seeing many of my pals, and I’ve got some interesting thoughts to gather and write about in terms of what I experienced regarding the state of standards and blogging. But, I’m going to need some time to sort out my thoughts, in the meantime, check out Ethan’s blog about his experience, which talks about the session we co-presented together.
Did you attend? If so, what were your thoughts about the event?
Wednesday 8 December 2004
Thursday 2 December 2004
PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTIONS TODAY. What is the significance of “intention?” World belief systems hold it in contrary terms.
We’ve heard the proverb – attributed to Samuel Johnson but apparently having deeper historical roots – that “The road to hell is paved with good intention.” To the Western mind, this is also interpreted quite often in a related proverb “actions speak louder than words.”
However, many Buddhists believe that intention (especially when pure and focused) is as great as action or word – perhaps even more great. In fact, intention is at the heart of Buddhist practice and the seeker’s path to Nirvana.
If our hearts are filled with good intention, and we struggle sometimes to carry those intentions through effectively, does that mean we are paving our path to hell, or merely stumbling a bit along our path to enlightenment? Are our intentions meaningless? Finally, which is more important: Intent, deed, or word?
Wednesday 1 December 2004
BLOGGING FOR DOLLARS? Indeed, I’m about to embark on a little experiment along with Marc Canter and a team of familiar bloggers. The concept? Blog about a product and see if that product can be sold more effectively.
The product in this case is Marquis, which is a CMS. Except that it refers to itself as a Communication Management System. I’m in the process of getting to know the product better so I can write more effectively about it.
Why blog for dollars? Well, first, I can use the dollars! Second, it seems like an interesting experience. And third, I’d never have done it if I had to evangelize or even pretend I like the product. You see, I don’t have to do that. I can write my critique of the product as I see fit. So expect a once a week post on Marquis. I’ve created a “blog slut” category for it ‘specially because.
What do you think about this? Is it cool? Is it a form of blog spam? Is blogging for dollars something you’d do?