Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

Comic Update: Opera’s Rough Edges

Monday, November 16th, 2009

When all else fails, I resort to poking a little at Opera in good jest. I take these sort of risks because Oslo is very far away and the last invasion of North America via the Scandinavian peoples was over a thousand years ago. If anything, it’s far safer than my cheap shots at Microsoft, when my town is less than two hours away from Redmond by car.

Today’s comic is one of those little jabs at everyone’s favorite European browser maker. I’ve got issues with Opera that this comic makes light of (while wishing squirrel snogger and Opera employee Bruce Lawson a belated happy birthday). Yes, Opera is a far smoother experience for modern web features than Internet Explorer. That’s not in question. But I’m getting a bit exhausted by the relatively slow adoption speed of CSS3 features by the browser in comparison to the increasingly popular Firefox and Webkit-based browsers.

Rounded corners are, admittedly, largely a non-issue. If visitors using Opera get square corners in a design, I’ve taken steps to ensure it’s at least a good looking square design. It’s an example, though, of a slew of features that Opera’s failing to keep pace with. Due to this lack of universal browser support (in the modern browsers, at least), It is hard for me to sell adoption of these designs to clients when roughly 1% of a customer’s visitors are getting a bad experience as a result.

Take for example, Jonathan Snook’s text-rotation tutorial. It provides a way (via filters) to get even IE to come to the ballgame with producing vertically-oriented text. Everyone, except Opera, can play with this toy. Even if IE couldn’t, thanks to conditional comments, I could provide a fallback solution for that browser. But as Opera lacks such (and I’m not recommending they adopt conditional comments), there’s no way with just CSS to provide an acceptable fallback that makes the browser not create something hideous with the text out of place. (I’ve concocted a JS-based solution, but I don’t want to have to rely on that to get CSS to work).

Opera’s not alone in the modern browser category in being the last to adopt a given feature (I’m looking at you, Firefox), but there’s definitely a lot of seemingly basic CSS3 techniques that the browser’s fallen behind on. Just because you can wait on adoption, gents, doesn’t mean you need to do so. The future isn’t coming any more slowly, and designers will have to jury rig solutions that would be solved much more cleanly with CSS if you’d keep pace.

Or, even worse, there could be more situations such as when I’ve suggested to some people who’s sites don’t have any notable Opera traffic that they just not sweat Opera support at all. With as small a market base as you have, it’d serve you better to keep pace (rather than not sweat the details, as Microsoft can afford due to its market share).

Curious about a browser’s support for various features? Check out When Can I Use.

Comic Update: The W3C/WHATWG Community Theater Group

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I can’t help but be shocked at times at the drama and ugliness that builds up around the HTML5 effort. Good men and women, thinking that they can make a difference, time and again enter the dangerous mailing lists of the W3C and WHAT WG only to be ignored at best or belittled and chewed to pieces. These are zones (allegedly) of collaboration, but instead seem more at times like zones of war.

Go ahead and take a look for yourselves.

I’d think that this was just me overreacting, but when I tweeted on Sunday about my thoughts on the drama in the lists, I got a number of responses that illustrate that I’m not alone in my perception.

Jin Yang indicated that popcorn was a good snack while watching the drama unfold. After I made a bar brawl analogy, David Peterson suggested that whiskey might help them calm down, and that his two year old has progressed farther in the manners department. John Foliot provided some perspective sharing that this “us & them” mentality is a relatively new thing. And Manu Sporny joked that the W3C and WHAT WG originated as community theater groups.

Naturally, his joke was comedy, not fact. But I couldn’t help but think, what if…? So today’s comic portrays Manu Sporny and the Squirrel attending a fateful showing of Our American Cousin.

I want to say that I do see a lot of polite dialogue in the lists. I’m just amazed at how much bad behavior (sometimes well dressed, mind you) makes it into the discussions. Here’s hoping the good outweighs the bad by the time Last Call rolls around.

(As a closing note, I like the term Dundrearyisms.)

Comic Update: Who Really Is the Wizard of HTML5?

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Today’s comic portrays my misgivings about HTML5 through the lens of L. Frank Baum, imagining a world where Chris Wilson, Manu Sporny and John Foliot were my companions through a standards-creating journey roadblocked by a guy in a purple coat with a big curtain.

Let’s review the facts.

Ian Hickson, editor of the HTML5 spec and top dog of the WHAT WG, is an employee of Google. He also adheres to a policy when dealing with people that can be summed up as: Deny, Delay, Too Late.

It can be argued that HTML5 is an important upgrade to one of the most vital technologies of the 21st century. Billions of people are using the Internet to facilitate communication and business, share their culture, access otherwise censored information when living under harsh regimes, and so forth. Most of the sites they use for these purposes are built in some fashion upon HTML.

At the currently accelerating rate of content creation, it’s safe to say that billions of pages will be built with HTML5. How these pages are designed, and how they’ll meet the needs of people both in the present and in the future rest upon how this standard is outlined. Everything from preserving the portability of microdata, ensuring the accessibility of web users with special needs, and finding ways to share media without the hassle of brand-specific plugin wars (anyone seen a flash site on an iPhone yet?) are determined by this effort.

So why is it that the person who is the center of this process is allowed to be a man who rejects consensus, actively denies issues (based on his own admitted policy) and substitutes expert advice in important areas like accessibility with analyzing data from the Google Index and parsing numbers? Numbers that we cannot have a third party confirm because every request to do just this is ignored?

There is no doubt in my mind that Ian is brilliant. However no man, no matter how brilliant, should be allowed to be so influential on a spec when he is bringing all this baggage to the table with him.

The biggest problem for me is as follows: Google. Ian’s work is highly influenced by data harvested by Google. I am positive Google has some spectacular views of the web, resulting in some highly accurate views of the current state of the Internet. I’m also sure that this doesn’t matter one bit if we have to take their word for it, because we can’t view it ourselves.

Most people search the web through Google. I get mail through Google, site analytics through Google, news through Google, and sometimes even browse with a browser used by Google. It’s impossible to throw a rock at the Internet and not somehow hit Google. It’s to the point where even the US government is getting a bit itchy and considering taking antitrust actions against them.

I don’t want to sound paranoid, but perhaps we shouldn’t craft HTML5 solely on Google’s say-so. If the data-harvesting Ian performs can’t be independently verified, then perhaps we shouldn’t accept it as fact. It’s just not prudent. We definitely shouldn’t use it as a substitute for actual experts in discussions like accessibility (which I spoke about last week). If Ian can’t accept that limitation or provide access to the raw data, then we need to consider whether a conflict of interests exists and whether he should remain as the editor. With him doing such a poor job of playing well with others (whether they be individuals, experts, or other WC3 working groups) while relying on private information from his employer, how can he be expected to create a HTML5 that meets not just his needs, or Google’s needs, but everyone’s needs?

I’m not convinced he can.

Comic Update: Jakob’s Hyperlink Test

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Last week I spent a good deal of my time at Mindfly trying not to die from the heat wave that hit Bellingham. Tucked along the coast in northwest Washington, Bellingham is usually a rainy, temperate place. When the sun came out for a week straight and cooked the town into the 80′s, our studio’s air conditioner was hard pressed to compensate.

(For those of you from hotter climes, I’m aware how weak this must seem. My town of origin, Redding, CA, easily tops 110 during the height of summer. However, it’s really hot compared to the local average.)

So perhaps I was suffering from heat stroke when I thought I heard a co-worker championing in conversation the use of blue, underlined text for all hyperlinks on all web sites. Anything else, they assured, was difficult, if not impossible, for your average Internet user to see or use. Without the vibrant blue (always backed up by purple for visited links) and the noble underline, these commoners of the web would be lost, incapable of navigating from page to page.

Balderdash. Poppy cock. Bullcrap. Etc.

Somewhere near the dawn of time, when the World Wide Web was a mewling infant homunculus suckling at the breast of Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, I’m sure all twelve people capable of browsing the twenty pages available on the web were barely able to comprehend the idea of a hyperlink. Blue, underlined text on a stark white background was likely the only thing saving their minds from imploding in horror at the thought of some elder gods prowling the phone lines and dragging their souls through the 14.4k modems they’d spent hundreds of dollars to purchase.

I’m positive, however, that in the years since then that the average netizen has come to expect a richer media experience. They may have even “tweeted” (and giggled when it first happened) about a funny thing they saw, and uploaded a picture from their phone of this very event. They’ve watched cats play on pianos via YouTube and wept in silent awe as they realized that they lived in the best of possible worlds.

If a hyperlink had the audacity to be a shade of orange, I think they might just be able to pick it out of the surrounding text enough to click on it. If, instead, the bright blue links were bold instead of underlined (on a page where only links received such treatment) users of the web just might posses the ability to tell that clicking on aforementioned text would result in them navigating to a new page instead of providing them with a can of tuna.

I choose to believe this because I have the honesty to admit that most people are in fact not total idiots. Yes, we wail and gnash our teeth at trying to help clients understand what a paragraph tag is. Sure, we’re hard-pressed to not swallow our own tongues when explaining for the fifth time to our grandparents how to send email. But to claim that there is only one way to mark a hyperlink in a way that a peer of the web is capable of recognizing is exactly like saying that every non-developer is a complete moron who is incapable of telling that a peach is a fruit because it doesn’t look exactly like an apple.

Today’s comic places Jakob Nielsen in a hypothetical scenario that illustrates my disdain of the position that he’s advocated in the past on this issue: If you want it to be usable, it needs to be blue (or purple if visited) and underlined. Period.

There’s a special kind of hubris associated with this sort of statement. I’ll accept that blue, underlined hyperlinks are easy to spot. I’m also going to say that green, underlined hyperlinks (on a page that lacks green, underlined text elsewhere) would also work as effectively. Or perhaps blue, bold text. I’m guessing that underlines generally help, but I think ultimately any combination of highly visible traits that exist only on the link text and stand out from the non-link text is going to do the job.

Why does this issue rile me up so badly? Because I’m tired of old wives tales of Internet wisdom on how a page must be made. Especially when these limit our ability to explore the cornucopia of designs or features that we can make on the modern web. Such wives tales that annoy me include:

“Your site’s content? Well, it’d better be short, because people won’t read long texts on a screen.” Tell that Amazon as they laugh like madmen while they sell Kindles like hotcakes.

“Text needs to be near-black on a white background.” Right, except when the opposite is easier on the eyes for certain applications (like Mozilla’s online editor Bespin.)

Someone’s going to be a wit and jump on the fact that this site’s links are blue and underlined. I chose the color because it matches the sky in the header, and I liked the feel I got from tying that color into the rest of the site. But take a look at Twitter or YouTube and tell me that you can’t find the links even though they lack underlines. Go to Apple’s site and tell me the menu isn’t clearly a menu even though it’s not blue. A well conceived design can communicate to the “average” person without having to assume it’s being used by idiots.

The web has grown up. Its users are growing with it. Let’s put aside the juice boxes and start treating them like adults.

Comic Update: HTML5 Manners

Monday, May 4th, 2009

I’m going to lay out a chronology of prior events for you all so that today’s comic has a context other than the poor movie experience that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine (I really wanted to love that movie.)

Chris Wilson (W3C HTML WG co-chair and Microsoft employee) posted an e-mail to a HTML5 discussion that made reference to the “W3C HTML5 Spec”.

Mark Pilgrim (Google employee and WHATWG Blog author) in the WHATWG IRC channel then implies that HTML WG co-chair Sam Ruby would have been attempting to be divisive had he written that e-mail, but since it came from the other chair, Chris, he was in fact being stupid.

Shelley Powers (computer book author, software developer and technology architect) expresses utter frustration in a blog post about the future of HTML5 by pointing out this incident and many others that indicates a “Hatfield-McCoy feud” (in her words) between the W3C and WhatWG that is miring the whole process down. Gems in her post include an IRC discussion (starts here, ends here) between HTML5 editor Ian Hickson and Microformats champion Tantek Celik where Ian shows his bias in the microdata issue (read that: whether to include RDFa in HTML5) by asking Tantek to vet the use-case submissions. The “vetting” quickly devolves to the pair saying “Use microformats for everything” or if such a situation isn’t possible, to simply create a custom microformat for your own use.

Yes, that’s it, let’s make dozens of one-shot formats to solve the many microdata issues we’ll doubtlessly be facing in the next several years. That can’t possibly create any sort of data-harvesting compatibility issues. If I can see the shortsightedness of this issue (and I fail to wear coats on cloudy days because “it’s not raining yet”) then you can bet this isn’t a tenable, long-term solution.

They take some time to attack Creative Commons while they’re at it.

These aren’t the only times these sort of offensive public conversations have occurred, where WhatWG members have publicly derided, insulted or challenged the intelligence of the individuals they’re politely talking to in other conversations about topics they’re mutually involved in (such as HTML5). Mr. Last Week in HTML5 is a great (albeit foul-mouthed and somewhat spiteful) source of links to these conversations occurring all the time.

Ian responded to Shelley’s post, taking umbrage (as Shelley put it) at her “insulting accusation”. Shelley’s response cut to the core of the matter, exposing the main issue at hand here, and one that needs some serious addressing. In her words: “Don’t you get it? Don’t you see what Last Week in HTML5 is trying to demonstrate? You talk respect in my comments, or Sam’s comments, and elsewhere, but you show disrespect to me, to Sam, to others, in the IRC, and it completely undermines everything that you do.

I can’t state it better. These people aren’t average developers trading insults about trivial code snippets on small-scale projects. These are industry movers-and-shakers who are supposed to be working together to help create the standards that will define how we use HTML and other web technologies for years to come. I expect professional disagreement to occur (I’d be worried and concerned if that didn’t happen). But to start insulting one another personally in a public discussion (or frankly, privately) is shameful to the entire process and the entire community that is depending on them to do a good job.

Shame on you, sirs.

I’ll leave you with the following quotes from this IRC discussion including Doug Schepers, Ian Hickson, and a person named ‘roc’ (I don’t know his real name) [edit: As I've been informed in the comments, roc is Mozilla's Robert O'Callahan]:

shepazutoo (Doug): wow, Hixie, “contradicting other specs has never stopped the SVGWG before” (q.v. xlink, css, etc)… first, those were almost certainly mistakes rather than purposeful contradictions, and second, you’re acting like the current SVG WG is the same set of companies and individuals that wrote the SVG 1.1 spec, which you know to be false… can you please drop the political histrionics? we’re acting in good faith to correct some past errors, and to work with other WGs and with browser vendors to make all the specs align usefully

Hixie (Ian): i think you may have missed the smiley

roc (Robert): a smiley is not a “get out of jail free card” to be annoying