Day 12: SXSW, continued

Sunday, March 9, 2003

Inclusive Web Design For the Future

Steve Champeon and Nick Haskell

Steve is introducing the topic. They will be presenting a broad overview of strategies for cross-browser development. This is for sites that are delivering information to lots of people, not “eye candy” sites.

The decision for ID comes down to one of economics. He asked how many people are using table-based vs. CSS-based design. Most were using CSS.

Ice, Jello, Liquid” designs. Pixel-perfect designs are a myth. Users with cell phone browsers, WebTV, etc. will not see the same site the same way. Keep style separated from content.

Typography is the most conservative science. They want people to not notice the book is readable. The other extreme is edgy design, “eye candy.”

Some things you can’t do with this approach: Flash, DHTML.

Once you start using tables, images as information, it’s hard to go back. It can be very expensive to generate a separate site that works for alternate browsers.

An alternative to graceful degradation is progressive enhancement. Start with something simple that works everywhere, then add to it to make it look better for better browsers.

On a side note, I have one of only 2 or 3 PC notebooks in a sea of Macs. Interesting.

In summary: Start with a baseline and use semantic markup. Use CSS classes to differentiate between different types of the same tag. When you add features, make sure they are accessible. Add baseline CSS presentation — fonts, colors, etc. Divide that CSS into sections based on what browser will support the CSS. Use CSS hacks to hide CSS from browsers that cannot handle it. Start testing in browsers. Then add interaction: javascript, DHTML, etc.

Someone from the audience questions using parsing hacks to hide CSS. Steve justifies it by saying we’re writing according to the browsers capabilities.

Journalism: Old vs. New

Joshua Benton (Dallas Morning News), Dan Gillmor (San Jose Mercury News), Matthew Haughey (, JD Lasica (Online Journalism Review), Evan Smith, moderator (Texas Monthly)

Josh Benton: Thinks he is the least optimistic about what blogging can do. It’s not all that different from old journalism.

Dan Gillmor: There’s a lot in common between blogs and talk radio. The ability to spread the ideas from the edges out to a broader base. Transformation from lecturing people to something between a seminar and a discussion.

J.D. Lasica: Just took a picture of someone in the audience. The barrier between panalists and audience is artificial. Dan just asked how many people are bloggers, most of the audience raised their hands. Then he asked how many were live blogging, there were a hand full. J.D. calls it a random act of journalism. Not all blogs are journalism, not everything in the newspaper is journalism either.

Matth Haughey: Blogging turns readers into writers, while old journalism tends to be broadcasting.

Evan Smith: Is old journalism getting more like new journalism, or vice versa?

J.D. says both. Newsrooms are becoming more of a discussion. And bloggers are taking on more of the values of old journalism: research, integrity, etc. Matt says he’s seen bloggers start picking up the phone and doing outside research about their stories.

JB: The Internet has revolutionized journalism by making it easier to do research.

ES: Asked about the conflict between their day job as a journalist and what they post on their blogs.

JB: He is always careful not to post things that could get him in trouble with his employer.

DG: Journalism does a lousy job of writing about journalism. He has a lot more freedom because he’s a columnist. There are things he won’t write about his company if he knows other people will write about it or if he doesn’t feel like it is appropriate.

JDL: The real issue is credibility. Bloggers are establishing brands that are recognized for their integrity.

JB: People tend towards sites that agree with their own point of view. This limits the discussion. I agree. I’ve found myself not reading certain sites because I realize that I agree with them, so hearing things I already agree with don’t help me any.

Questions from the audience:

Q: What should bloggers without journalistic training to do be more journalistic?

JB: He’d rather not see blogs trying to be newspapers.

Building a Layer of Sanity Into the World of IP

Lawrence Lessig

I really admire Lessig and the work he does. I hope I have enough battery power for this.

Larry just put a “Free the Mouse” bumper sticker on the podium. :-)

Larry is talking about how much copyrighted work should have gone into the public domain in 1998. Interesting numbers: Only 2% of works since 1923 were being commercially exploited in 1998. If all those works had gone in the public domain, others could use them for derivative works. This is what Disney has done over the years — building on what has come before. These works didn’t go into the public domain because of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension act. The promise is broken — the public agreed to give copyright holders a temporary monopoly on the promise that work would eventually fall into the public domain.

The copyright extensions do not help the authors, but the publishers. The majority of media comes from a small group of distributors.

People are not free to build on, parody, or make political statements based on commercial works.

Lessig is an amazing speaker. There’s lots I should be writing, but it’s just too good to miss. Besides, I can’t do him justice.

Larry is talking about the Creative Commons — for people who only want partial and limited control of their works. Creative Commons is about to release some new versions of their license:

  • sampling — Allows people to use parts of musical works to incorporate into their own works.
  • education — Allows for use in education.
  • developing nations — Allows works to be used freely in developing nations.

There was much, much more. Once Lessig has posted this speech on his own site, I’ll link to it here.

Web Publishing For the Hell of It

Todd Dominey (, Adam Greenfield (V-2), Jeffrey Zeldman (

Reasons for publishing non-commercial sites. Todd: He does it as a creative expression. Todd does both HTML & Flash. Adam: Has been in publishing since he was 12. He just wanted a place to write.

Todd: He created it solely for himself. He’s amazed by the level of intelligent comments people put on his site.

Adam: Got together with some friends and told them the type of site he wanted: Flash + XML. When it was done, it was all wrong, because it was appropriate for his audience.

Discussion about the responses they get from readers. They get very nit-picky comments, which causes them to reconsider what they link to, for fear of having a bad URL on their site that people will complain about.

Z: What have you gotten out of independent publishing?

Todd: Clearing of mental cobwebs. It has also attracted clients. They find out there is an expressive person behind the design company. Because of this, he has censored his own writing. He justified it by saying he wasn’t adding anything new to the conversation, so he linked to other writers rather than publish his own rant.

Adam: Everything good in his life has come about from his website, including his fiancee.

Zeldman: Would somebody be hurt. Also, if he were going to do work for a company, he would be more diplomatic when criticizing that company’s products.

They talk about how to prioritize when you have an independent site. Zeldman says he trys to cut back, rather than stop writing at all, when work ties up his time. Todd makes the point that family always takes first priority.

Adam: Having an audience makes him a better writer: he does more research and fact-checking.

Q: How do you balance your work between users (usability) and readers (content)?

Zeldman: He always thinks in terms of readers.

This panel is an interesting contrast to the one on journalism. The members of that panel were doing basically the same thing, but they had a definite purpose: reporting. These people just want to express themselves.