Sunday 30 January 2005
FILLED WITH OUTDATED guides for HTML and CSS, is the web-at-large more hazardous than helpful to the masses trying to learn how to design web pages?
This morning a regular reader wrote in with two HTML tutorial sites he found that he referred to as “evil.” One is the neopets HTML guide, and the other is the infamous Joe Burns HTML Goodies site. While I’m not sure they’re evil in the truest sense of the word, they certainly are terribly outdated. Yet, there they are, available for folks who might not know better to learn how to do everything old-skool.
That might work for grandpa if he just wants to post some photos of his worldwide adventures for the grandkids at home, but for anyone looking to learn professional, contemporary web design techniques, these sites are definitely bad news. Heck, I can add at least a third of my own books to that pile. We live, we learn, right?
But books, at least, get pulled off the shelf after a while (even if they do appear on eBay later – that’s not something I have any control over). Web sites, however, tend to stay up a lot longer.
There are some good guides out there, one of my faves is Dave Shea’s collected “Standards Resources for Beginners.” Maybe another way to be helpful is to find the outdated guides and weed those out into a “which sites to avoid” list.
So let’s get started!
Hat tip: Jason
GOING BACK AND forth about paid-to-blog, advertisements and how to get some revenue from my site has surprisingly paid off into a quick decision.
That decision? I’m not going to accept ads at this time, and while I will honor the remainder of my contract with the good folks at Marqui for the rest of its term (one month remaining) and do it well, I’m not going to continue to accept any paid-to blog opportunities after that time either.
The reason? I’ve found myself spending too much time thinking about marketing now than ever before, and I don’t like the way it feels or influences the topics I write about on my blog. Especially when I’m traveling, I have precious little time to write, and I don’t want to force a post rather than feel a post.
It’s that simple.
If I were a marketing person, perhaps it would be more appropriate to continue with this discussion. It’s been a good experience asking myself and you, dear readers, some tough questions about ethics and appropriate revenue generation, and your feedback has been invaluable.
It’s also been a fascinating journey watching Marqui in particular break through a lot of boundaries and shake up conventions (I’m all over shaking up conventions!). I think their model can work over time and remain ethical. I’ll have more thoughts on that in the coming month.
I will continue to review other revenue options (sponsorships, membership, direct book and tutorial sales via the site, t-shirts and other fun stuff, and maybe even a donation option) but for the time being, no ads. And after next month, as much as I’ve enjoyed working with the Marqui folks, whom I respect a great deal, I think the fact that this site remains only semi-professional is because it is ultimately and truly a personality site and therefore must be comfortable for me as much as anyone. Otherwise, why do it?
If people enjoy my blog, that is great reward in and of itself. If readers go on to be supportive by buying my books and coming to conferences where I speak, that’s even more helpful. But I don’t want to become something I’m not. Ever seen me in a T-shirt that advertises some brand? Unlikely. You won’t even see me carrying name-brand handbags or wearing designer this or that. I suppose maybe I just prefer to be a maverick. Of course, this doesn’t mean I won’t at some point change my mind, but if that happens, you’ll hear about it from me first.
So thank you all for the insightful discussions on this issue, and especially to Marqui for the ongoing opportunity to explore the possibilities. Next month I intend to write more about the product itself rather than the product about the product. But after that, and for the forseeable future, Molly.Com will remain advertisement and advertorial-free.
Friday 28 January 2005
FIREFOXIE IS A customization for Firefox that makes it look just like IE. I wrote about it a bit ago, and just got the heads up that there’s a sneak-preview of the new version available.
The new version looks like it’ll be even more impressive than the first.
You might be asking: “Why do I want Firefox to look like IE when I don’t even like IE?” Well, while I personally do not want my Firefox to look like IE, I do know that setting it up for my 70+ year old Mom that way makes switching over a heck of a lot easier.
So check out FirefoxIE and if it doesn’t interest you for your own needs, think about the folks that need the extra help transitioning to a standards-rich, secure browser seamlessly.
Much of the discussion surrounding Marqui’s approach to paying bloggers as a means for marketing a product have been profoundly controversial. A major argument against Marqui’s approach has been the concern that despite their desire to be “transparent” doesn’t necessarily represent other companies that might try to do the same thing. That, along with the fact that some bloggers might not fully disclose what they are doing and why.
Certainly, we should always question new approaches. I question the entire approach myself, for numerous reasons which I’ll go into over time. But tonight I want to point out that sometimes there is no better way to measure the integrity of how a company works than by its people. This week, I had the good fortune to meet some Marqui folks face to face. And I have to tell the naysayers out there: If you haven’t met this group, you need to.
Most people have good bullshit detectors. I like to think mine is, at this point in my life, pretty well refined. Every interaction I had with Marqui during the Blog Business Summit was honest, fun, genuine. These folks aren’t out to take anything away, if anything, they’ve been putting their own product out there in a way that challenges our beliefs about what marketing on the web is, and what is should be.
Interestingly, when I returned home, there was a call from Google (a company I also respect greatly) wanting to talk to me about adding Google ad options to molly.com. It’s getting difficult in light of the popularity of this blog to not begin thinking in terms of how to support the hours I spend on maintaining it. I have extremely mixed feelings about this, and yet contrary to popular opinion, writing books does not typically make one rich. Or even able to make the mortgage payment.
So, advertising has a place. Whether its place is here on my site, I’m not entirely convinced. But I also can’t help but be interested in improving my own financial circumstances. I want to do it with integrity, and with companies that have integrity, such as Marqui or Google. If I do it at all over the long term.
Let me ask you, dear readers, which you would prefer:
- Clearly marked advertorials from Marqui no more than four times a month
- Google ad options
- Conventional web advertising
- All of the above
- None of the above
Have a different opinion, or a concern or question? Sound it out here.
Thursday 27 January 2005
I’M BACK FROM the Blog Business Summit, which was a very interesting event for numerous reasons. I’m going to be blogging more about the event over the next week or so, as many great topics were discussed and debated. Today’s topic is about the challenge of articulating trackback technologies.
During one of my sessions, a person asked me to describe the way trackback works. I answered the best I could, but it was clear that many people have a difficult time understanding what is really a simple process. Standing in the lunch line talking about this challenge, Anil Dash piped up that it took him nearly three years to effectively articulate the way trackback actually works. Of course, this gave me some comfort, but I’m still looking for better ways to quickly and effectively describe trackback. So have at it, folks – let’s hear how you feel trackback is best described.
Tuesday 25 January 2005
Yes, it’s my birthday, I’m 42 years old today.
Friday 21 January 2005
I LOVE EVENTS. This year, there’s plenty of action going on. I’ve updated my events page to let you know where and when I’ll be speaking.
The list is somewhat incomplete, so expect some additions and modifications, but the basics are all there.
Planning on attending any of these events? Have questions? Let me know, and hope to meet you somewhere along the road!
Thursday 20 January 2005
So the big question is: Why does being paid to blog seem so offensive to some? Quite a few critics of the Marqui program sport Google Adwords or big ol’ Flash ads or affiliate programs on their blogs. I want to understand the difference. Maybe if we were taking money on the QT and then writing cheerleading posts about the product on our own blogs without informing you there’d be room for questioning the ethical nature of the program.
But the Marqui program is definitely unique in that it clearly states we, as paid bloggers, can write about anything we want so long as we mention the product, link to the site, and place a graphic somewhere on our blog. Marqui cannot influence us as writers, and I’ve actually been one of the least enthusiastic bloggers on the team – mostly because I’m just not that wow’d by the product. And I’m still getting my check. So maybe the ethical question is with me, not Marqui.
If you’re watching TV in real-time, you might hit mute during the commercials, or go take a pee break, or grab a fresh one from the fridge. If you’re surfing web sites – I mean c’mon kids – how many of us even take notice of ads anymore? We’ve gotten so used to them being there we only object to them when they are particuarly obtrusive, such as in interstitial ads, pop-up ads, or ads that result from adware.
Some of you might remember the wonderful Web Techniques Magazine, available in print for nearly five years of the web’s early life. Some of you might even remember that I wrote a regular column there and eventually became the Executive Editor of sister publication WebReview. In that role, I had to face a fact that years of a very liberal, very high-priced M.A. in Media Studies couldn’t deny: Money drives the market, and money for publications very often derives from advertising. It didn’t matter how many times I yelled about journalistic integrity – the fact was that our sales team made deals with advertisers that definitely bordered on the questionable, at least in my then less-cynical experience.
So what happened to our beloved Web Techniques? Where’s WebReview? How about the related WEB shows that were at one time the most exciting events in the web design world? They are all gone now, casualties based on a primary truth: They couldn’t sell enough advertising and trade opportunities to sustain themselves.
Follow the logic: A blog is a publication. Therefore, many blogs will require some means of support, and advertising is a perfectly reasonable approach – especially when it’s on the up and up. When you open a computing magazine and see an ad for Microsoft in one spread, and ad for Sun in another, an ad for AOL in another and so on, what part of “these guys are paying for this space” isn’t understood? Marqui is even bolder – they let us tell you: “This is an ad.” They even let me tell you not to read this post. Or criticize their take on things. Or blabber on about whatever I want, so long as I follow the basic agreement.
As with a commercial, you can change the channel. And like a commercial, you never have to read anything on this site that is keyworded with Marqui, under the category of blog slut, with a link to the site and an image that is no larger and certainly far less offensive than the myriad ad images we ignore every single day.
Ethical problem? I don’t see it. Bothersome? That I can see – I don’t like ads either. But if that’s what it takes to keep something else that’s valuable alive, I’m willing to make that compromise. If I can make a few dollars by experimenting with an initiative and opportunity that a company such as Marqui can provide and still maintain my own sense of integrity of what is written on this blog, why would anyone want to get in the way of that?
These are honest questions, born of my own experience and logic behind why I said “yes” to Marqui in the first place. Part experiment, part economics, all with full disclosure and you with the complete right to skip a post at any time. Surely that’s not so hard, and surely most readers don’t read all posts on a blog anyway.
And for the record, when my first Marqui payment arrives, a generous portion of that will be going to Asian relief efforts as I pledged via BlogAid.
I just can’t see the bad in that.
Wednesday 19 January 2005
I LOVE GOOGLE for many reasons, and here’s one more. Google has implemented a simple and lovely means of ensuring that comment spam has no influence on ranking.
The method is easy-breezy. Any hyperlink that has an attribute of
rel="nofollow" won’t get credit in the ranking algorithm. It doesn’t impact the blog’s rank, and Google has some recommendations about how this approach can be best used to not impact your blog but definitely muck up a spammer’s whole day.
Props to all the good people who instantly got on the bandwagon with quick adoption for the feature. Among those cited include WordPress, Live Journal, Six Apart (Movable Type and TypePad), Blogger, and even MSN Spaces! Because of its very simple approach, the technique will be quickly implemented and we won’t have to do much, if anything, to take advantage of this brilliant move.
Google, thank you for making me very happy today.
Saturday 15 January 2005
THE ACCIDENTAL BLOGGER is what I’m going to call what happens when a blogger writes a post that accidentally becomes far more important to their site than ever intended.
I certainly never intended that racing frogs and the death test would be among popular threads frequented by readers that have nothing to do with me or my primary interests, but there you have it: I’m an accidental blogger.
Has this happened to you?
Thursday 13 January 2005
AN INBOX IS nowhere to be. Filled with backlog despite excellent spam management and topic filtering, email is the cockroach of technology – it will outlive us all.
Yes, email does serve its purpose. I use it more than anything else – it’s almost my favorite form of communication altogether.
Cockroaches, on the other hand, don’t serve much purpose other than to remind us of our inability to withstand exposure to the same environmental extremes.
Email will outlast me, I just know it. Long after my death, emails will be sent to me as if I, like the cockroach, survived the seemingly impossible.
As part of my ongoing Integrated Web Design series for InformIT, Untold Mysteries of CSS [offsite] will be helpful for those folks unfamiliar or only slightly familiar with the universal selector,
!important keywords, and multi-classes in CSS.
The article shows you how these under-described aspects of CSS can be put to use to assist with diagnostics during development, savvy global styling, out-and-out hacks, better design flexibility, and accessibility.
Enjoy the article and I look forward to your thoughts.
Wednesday 12 January 2005
Your iPod could well turn out to be an unexpected extension of the Web. Using the iPod notes feature, standards advocates John Allsop and Russ Weakley have developed a way to bring mini-sites along for the ride.
Coined “podSites” the concept taps into the iPod’s ability to handle text files and linking. While this might seem a very limited way of doing things, it does inspire all sorts of possibilities. One example already served up is the free CSS podGuide reference, which you simply load up into your iPod and use as needed, wherever needed.
Saturday 8 January 2005
CLOSE YOUR EYES and imagine you can have anything you want to make your interest in web design really take off in 2005. What would it be?
- A different job?
- More education?
- Better networking and conferences?
- New web browsers from old companies?
One of my personal wishes: Solving comment spam. My email spam problems of last year are now so well managed that I’ve begun to think of blog comment system spam as The New Evil.
So sound off here in comments – and don’t hold back!
THINK YOU KNOW what a CMS is? According to Marqui, you don’t. Because Marqui thinks it’s a “communication” management system rather than a “content” management system. I think trying to change the alphabet is a big PR mistake.
I spent some time this week digging into the Marqui system and trying to figure out exactly why the generous folks at Marqui prefer to promote their product as “communications management” rather than “content management.”
Sure, Marqui allows you to do some communicating. You can create workflow groups and send out direct email notifications to those groups. You can keep an interactive calendar of events. And, perhaps the real reason Marqui is touting itself as communications management is because it has a release system that you can set up to automatically release press information, articles or email updates. Nice!
As helpful as the communications tools in Marqui might be for its users, I don’t find the tools robust enough to place such an emphasis on communication. Especially so much so as to toy with a hot topic acronym like CMS. It is, in this reviewer’s opinion, a very dangerous thing to mess with popular terminology. Marqui will always have to explain their rationale, and there’s nothing so exciting – at least at this time – within the software service to make me believe it’s really a communications system.
To get right down to it, content is communication, and effective content management must include effective communications management.
So serve me up some alphabet soup, piping hot for this chilly winter day, and don’t try to convince me that CMS means anything other than “Content Management System” in today’s Web technology jargon.