SxSW Sneaks Up On Me Again

SxSW Interactive is upon us again, and there’s a lot going on (as usual). I’m trying to keep the “gotstas” to a minimum this year, but there are a few things I know I’m doing:

  • Career Transitions: From DIY to Working For the Man – I’m moderating a panel that Cindy and Jason came up with over Dim Sum last year. We’re on the panel with Thomas Vander Wal and Leslie Jensen-Inman. We’ll be talking about the pros and cons of working at different-sized companies, the academic field and government contracting. We’ll be throwing out a lot of coping mechanisms and horror stories. I’m, of course, representing “The Man”. It’s Sunday at 5, so come on by.
  • SxSW Web AwardsFiclets is up in two categories. I’m showing up in the off chance we beat Al Gore. I even have my speech ready.
  • The International Day of Awesomeness – I was traveling way too much (and then sick) to organize anything big for IDoA, but I am performing my own feat of awesomeness on Monday. I’ll be sure to take pictures.
  • 20×2 – Gotsta. Love it. Remember, Max and I made a movie for last year’s event, and I can’t wait to see what people come up with this year.
  • Break Bread With Brad – The only way to start off SxSW.
  • Fray – Love it. Great storytelling, and a great event to get the creative juices flowing. Plus, we usually go to Magnolia Cafe afterwards for milkshakes.\
    I’m sure I’m leaving something out. Well, this year, I’m trying not to stress out or overthink it (no more repeats of this photo from last year). I’m going to go with the flow, try to be as friendly as possible, and adopt as many newbies as I can. If you’re going, and it’s your first time, find yourself a vet and get some tips or just hang out. SxSW can be an intimidating thing, but pretty much everyone’s friendly and more than willing to help, even if they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Vote Until It Hurts

Like I said the other day, ficlets is up for two SxSW Web Awards this year. Now, part of being a finalist, is that it’s also eligible for the People’s Choice Award. One of the finalists will win the award based on voting by the public.\
Now, it’s a long shot for ficlets to win. It’s up against some very well-funded and popular sites. But, there’s a chance. I’ve already posted about it on the ficlets blog and now I’m posting it here. So… please please please go vote! You can vote once a day, every day until March 3rd. Please?

Categorized as ficlets

The Fics Keep on Coming

(remind me to use that title again somewhere… probably on ficlets)\
Speaking of ficlets, I just posted the news over on the ficlets blog that the site is a finalist in not one but two categories in this year’s SxSW Web Awards!\
I’m geeked. I entered ficlets on a whim when I registered for SxSW Interactive last year, and didn’t really think anything would come of it. But, here we are and, well, if it wins, I’ll accept and cry my fool head off just like Sally Field.\
I think I’ll probably write the acceptance speech as a ficlet and let people finish it for me. Yeah, that’d be appropriate.

Categorized as ficlets, sxsw

Ficlets on the Radio!

Last week, I got an e-mail from someone from the CBC show Spark asking about ficlets and wondering if I’d be willing to do an interview for the show. After freaking out in the airport for a couple minutes, I replied saying (very coolly, I’m sure) that you betcha, I’d love to. So, sitting in my hotel room in Miami last Thursday, I talked to the show’s host about ficlets and read one of my stories (the first one ever published on the site, called The End).\
Please, go check out the interview (ficlets is the first segment)and let me know what you think. It was my first real interview other than a job interview, and I was nervous as hell. Hopefully it doesn’t show too badly. The folks from the CBC were delightful to talk to, and it was a lot of fun to do the interview, nervous or not.\
In other ficlets-y news, since John Scalzi left us as ficlets’ blogger-in-residence, I’ve been filling in and doing my best to keep the seat warm. So, if I’m quiet here, I’m probably over there, talking about inspiration, writing and “stuff”.

Categorized as ficlets

When Silly Becomes a Series

I wrote this silly ficlet about how the lolcats take over the world, and it’s turned into a series! There are nine parts total. A lovely ficleteer in Australia and I have been trading parts. He took the original bit of silliness and basically turned it into The League of Extraordinary Librarians. There’s adventure, romance, violence and silliness (lots and lots of it, bordering on absurdity). A couple of the characters are (very) loosely based on real people. See if you can spot yourself (Howard, don’t freak out, the Howard in the story isn’t based on you).\
I’d love to see some more branches off the original to see where people take it. It could be Kittehpendence Day where the last dregs of literate humanity fight back, or Dawn of the Kitteh, you know, kitteh zombies. The possibilities are endless.\
(Oh, and there are more than 20,000 ficlets now. Yeah, I’m pretty amazed too.)

Categorized as ficlets

Social Networking Mashups

I’m speaking today at The Social Networking Conference about social networking mashups. I decided to turn it on its head a little bit and do an introduction on portable social networking instead, because what is it but a big ol’ mashup of identity, relationships and content?\
If you’re at the conference, I’ll see you at 1:30, and I’ve updated the slides a bit since I had to turn them in for the CD, so the presentation is a wee bit bigger and more complete than the one you got in your packet. I’ve uploaded the “final” version here, and you’re welcome to download it.\
Feedback is welcome. I certainly couldn’t cover everything, because I only have about 35 minutes to cover everything (and 36 slides). I don’t touch on the Data Portability working group, or several other relevant things, because there just isn’t time. It’s very much an introduction into why it makes sense for social networks to support “good things” like OpenID, Creative Commons, microformats, providing feeds for everything, etc. Hopefully, it will lead to more technical discussions and some good questions.\
Feedback is, of course, welcome!

Taking Surveys

I know you all use the internet at least a little (because you’re here). I’m working on something new and threw together this little survey to see what folks use most often on the web. It won’t take you too long (only six questions), and would help me out a lot. So, if you’ve got five minutes to spare, please go take my survey.\
There’s no agenda here, I just want to validate (or disprove, either way) some of my assumptions about what people use most often. There are no wrong answers.\
The survey closes Friday night, and really, it only takes a couple minutes.

Categorized as AOL

Adapting to Web Standards: Going to Press!!

the cover of Adapting to Web Standards - buy two or three copies!

I just saw the e-mail today that the book I helped write is going to press on Monday!! It’s called Adapting to Web Standards: CSS and Ajax for Big Sites, and I wrote a chapter about It’s available for pre-order now, of course, and would make a great Christmas gift for your favorite web nerd – they might even like two or three copies (really, they might).\
Writing the book (well, my chapter) was… difficult. I don’t think I’ll write another one any time soon, at least while I have a full-time job. It was a great experience, don’t get me wrong, and Christopher and Victor, our editor, handled all the hard bits. I’d always wanted to write a book, and am grateful that they gave me the opportunity to write a chapter for this one.\
I can’t wait to hold a copy in my grubby mitts and hear from folks what they think of it (good or bad).

Web Standards’ Three Buckets of Pain

I spent this week at the W3C’s annual technical plenary, which is a week of “discussing” the future of the foundations and future of the web. I spent the first part of the week in the CSS Working Group discussing CSS3 features and CSS2.1 issues. Tuesday evening and Wednesday were spent in the AC meeting and Technical Plenary day (everyone gets together in a big room for panel discussions and lightning talks about standards-related issues – my favorite day of the week). The latter part of the week I spent in the new HTML Working Group talking about a lot of issues I’m not up to speed on because I just joined the working group (but, of course, that didn’t stop me from jumping in).\
Molly led a panel during Plenary Day called From the Outside, In: Real World Perspectives on the W3C with a handful of designers and developers who aren’t currently involved in the W3C (Aaron, Matthew, Patrick and Stephanie). The panel helped solidify a few things for me and I want to try to explore them in this post. The panel wasn’t bad by any stretch. I think it was brave for them to come into the “lion’s den” and give the W3C their perspectives. But, I felt that the way the panel was presented left people in the audience confused about the overall message, and exposes a huge gap between the W3C’s understanding of “web standards” and the web development world’s definition.\
Before I get any further, I need to explain where I stand here. I have a foot planted firmly in both worlds. I’ve been building web applications for almost a decade and have been a fan of standards-based development since late 2001 when my blog validated as XHTML 1.0 Transitional. I’ve been a member of the CSS Working Group for about four years as well.\
The complaints about web standards are varied and many, and the panel made it feel like they all fell squarely at the feet of the W3C. But, that’s just not the case. I think a lot of the problem comes from our (being the web development world) definition of “web standards” being almost completely different from the definition understood inside the W3C. To web developers the world over, “web standards” means: “What I have to do to get my page to look right in all the modern browsers.” The W3C’s definition is “the underlying specifications that implementors (in our case, web browsers) use”. See, the standards aren’t written for, or by, web developers. In the case of HTML and CSS, they’re written for and by the people who create web browsers – which is why they’re so hard for the rest of us to understand. The vocabulary is different. The requirements are different. There is a whole world of pain in store for the brave soul who wants to write a web browser – and it’s a uniquely different world of pain from someone (you and me) who wants to apply those standards to build a web page that will render in one of those web browsers.\
For the rest of this blog post, anyone building a web browser is implementing the standards, and anyone trying to build a web application is applying the standards. People building web browsers have to implement parsers, renderers, conformance checks, error handling and all sorts of other nasty things to get a browser to function. People building web applications have to take the standards and apply them through an implementation (in our case, a browser). We’re not writing the parser, we’re writing the thing that gets parsed.\
And there are our three buckets of pain:

  1. The Specifications
  2. The Implementations
  3. The Applications\
    h4. The Problems With The Specifications\
    The major problems I hear about the W3C and its processes are:
  4. It takes too long.
  5. I don’t know what’s going on or when we’re going to see the standards come out.
  6. Spec X is missing this, this and this!
  7. Developers and designers have no voice in the standards at all!\
    One, two and four are, or were, true. Number three is only half true most of the time. Every time I ask developers or designers I know about what’s missing from CSS, I always hear “I want multiple backgrounds and a real layout model. Oh, and border images!” Two of those are already implemented in Safari, and I’ll bet you Firefox will have them done shortly. They’re all in CSS3 somewhere.\
    Web developers and designers have more of a voice on the CSS Working Group than ever. There are currently three designers in the working group (two from AOL and one invited expert). The group is also working with the new CSS11 group, and is actively gathering feedback. The new HTML Working Group has several members who are web developers and over four hundred invited experts (who can’t all be building browsers).\
    The W3C is working very hard at opening up. It’s not there, and they’ll stumble, but the attempt is being made.\
    h4. The Problems With Implementations
  8. Microsoft took a vacation. IE6 has been out (and broken) for a very long time. We got complacent in our hacks and nonsense to work around its “quirks” and now those bad habits and hacks are getting stale.
  9. They don’t move fast enough! See number one. We’re tired of waiting, but laying the blame on the CSS Working Group instead of Microsoft. If Microsoft had been actively engaged in the Working Group this whole time, we’d be a lot farther along. It’s very hard to get to interoperability when the market leader is working on other things.
  10. They have bugs. Every piece of software ever written has bugs. Thankfully, bugs get fixed in the other browsers fairly quickly. Unfortunately, IE is now on a 15-20 month release cycle, which means we have a while to wait until we see things we need like display: table and probably 30-45 months until we can hope to see advanced layout or the grid implemented.\
    h4. The Problems With Applications\
    (this is going to be painful… just hold on – it’ll be over soon)\
    Our biggest problem as web developers and designers is the misunderstanding I pointed out at the beginning. We need to understand the three buckets of pain and what we can expect out of each one. There’s no reason to rush standards out if no one’s going to implement them. There’s no reason for us to try to use them until they’ve been implemented.\
    We have to admit that we made a fundamental mistake in how we advocated building things with “web standards”. As someone who’s done training for the last five years, this is as much my fault as anyone’s. We taught to the implementations. We never taught the distinctions between the specification and the implementation. We never taught that we were teaching an application of the standard and not the standard itself.\
    The hacks became the standard and not the exception. We taught without understanding the long term implications of teaching hack management instead of teaching the specification and the application of it separately.\
    h4. How do we move forward?\
    We need more developers and designers plugged into both worlds. To work on the specifications themselves, or even read and give feedback on them, you have to abandon any hope that this will be useful to you in your development world for three to five years. Once you do that (it took me two years to get that through my head), you’ll be much less frustrated, and might actually be helpful. To a degree, you also have to abandon your notions of how you do things today. When thinking about layout, you have to give up thinking that “float” is the best way to do it (because, please, it’s just not).\
    We need to reboot our perceptions of web development and start thinking towards the future. It’s a new world, and getting newer every day. Our best practices have to evolve – our disciplines have to evolve. We need to think about a world without IE6. It’s going to happen. We need to come up with better ways of building web applications. We need to come up with better ways of teaching the value of web standards. We need to do a better job of educating designers and developers about the consequences of building web applications. We told them all the good things that would happen when they did it our way, but did we tell them that hacks go away? Did we tell them that browsers evolve and that hack they spent all that time on to get things to line up in IE6 will go away some day?\
    I don’t think I covered everything I wanted to say. There are a lot of things swirling around in my head right now. I had my mind blown last week by this realization and it will probably take more thinking about it before it really crystalizes and I can really explain what I’m feeling. But, right now, this is it, and that’s as good as I’ve got: It feels like I’ve spent the last 7 years living a lie, but the truth is so much more interesting and complex than the lie ever was. It feels like a stronger foundation, but wider and darker in the corners, than the one I’ve been standing on.