WCAG 2 Versus Samurai Joe

May 26th, 2006

“Most sites use font tags - hey let’s bring them back?!”

Following from my previous article on this - Bring On The WCAG Samurai.

Joe Clark has posted another couple of interesting articles today Abandon All Hope which links to an interview with Tim Berners-Lee on OUT-LAW and Matt May’s idea of fanscription. Also he calls on the Web Standards Project (WaSP) to respond.

What direction should accessibility go in? Well my view is in the direction of becoming more universally accessible - and valid code is a must. My biggest concern isn’t the document itself but the overall message it sends to new and less forward looking developers out there. Why should they bother with web standards and accessibility? While I don’t ever expect miracles from any specification it makes me scratch my head and wonder what the ultimate aim is. If its to say to organisations that haven’t come into line - yes we’ll move the bar back towards you - then WTF

No I mean really… WTF

Why don’t we just move the best practice bar back and not expect anyone to use Unobtrusive JavaScript just because most company’s just use the old ways anyway. Most sites use font tags - hey let’s bring them back?! DOCTYPES are another one they don’t seem to use - let’s ditch those too. Oh and I did some work on a government site which on this version was ditching skip links entirely - let’s just pull the bar back again. See my concern? A little melodramatic but there’s a message in there for a team pushing deadlines and budgets.

The other concern is obfuscating the meaning of the content by inserting those new phrases. Why? So less people will understand the guidelines? Isn’t the point to have a more coherent and therefore practical set of guidelines to follow. Guidelines in themselves should theoretically provide some guidance.

So I’m concerned. I’m concerned as a small business - often in hiatus - who has invested time, support and evangalism into the area of web standards and accessibility. I’m concerned, not for the first time, that the other businesses who don’t even “get the program” are being green lighted to continue as always because the bar is receding. Its too hard.

OK I’m a little melodramatic today but its my 42nd birthday and my desk is covered in cards and small gifts for which I am truely thankful (only I’m 42!). How did this happen to me getting to 42? I mean how? When is a certainty - now. And what will I be when I grow up? I haven’t decided yet. Maybe I won’t be a web developer at all. Any ideas? Testing, testing, 1… 2… 3…

[drift into Pulling On The Boots from the Romper Stomper soundtrack - apologies if that offends anyone but I associate any 1, 2, 3 with that song.

Happy my birthday all]

Update: 26/5/06
That to hell is an officially banned swearing phrase on the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) mailing list is also interesting for comment. Is this true? How many normal phrases can have to hell in it?

Internationalisation And Localisation

May 24th, 2006

“Like it or not the world we’re living in is shrinking”

The week is going to be a good one with a second must read coming out of the A List Apart fold today in the form of Molly Holzschlag’s World Grows Small: Open Standards for the Global Web. I’ve had the “gunna do” on internationalisation for a long time and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) site for Internationalisation has a lot of information. But I’d like to see more conversation on blogs and even specialised blogs dedicated to this information. Maybe there are and I just haven’t come across them.

Which brings me to the point - every business needs to consider the world rather than their own backyard and I’ve been suggesting for quite some time developers will be required to offer this level of capability sooner rather than later. And if I were a business looking to address my web strategy it would be in the top few questions I’d field to the prospective development firm - can I internationalise my content to reach a far wider audience? Do you know how or should I go somewhere else?

David Sifry earlier in the month pointed to the fact in March 2006 only 31% of blogs indexed by Technorati were in English.

Like it or not the world we’re living in is shrinking and nobody in their right minds can sit - no not even in Tasmania - looking inward…

So if you’re developing and you want the jump on getting a competitive advantage over the firm up the road or across the ocean somewhere - provide internationalisation. Now run over and read Molly’s article while its hot off the press. Great stuff.

Bring On The WCAG Samurai

May 23rd, 2006

“My pages WILL validate and life will go on regardless”

The must read article of the day for developers of course is Joe Clark’s To Hell With WCAG 2 over on A List Apart. If you haven’t read it then run over and give it a burl and come on back I guess. I’ve not been happy with the happenings myself but having been in a heated discussion way back when with one of these people I’ve kept away from the process.

Bring on the WCAG Samurai

Personally as far as WCAG 2 goes I’m not going to bust a nut worrying about it. I do my best and will always try to offer that little more functionality for wider demographics. My pages WILL validate and life will go on regardless of what they write in their specification.

So as the WCAG Samurai put forward best practice I guess that’s where I’ll be looking to as a developer - not to the World Wide Web Consortium. I’m a big fan of Tim but I think we should be looking at a progression in the Guidelines rather than what’s put forward at the moment.

Yes we’ve all had our month to have our say… no hate mail on that one please.

Anyway, just a suggestion, but an accessible design competition for the WCAG Samurai site would be a good way to grab some attention. And a tee shirt, mouse pads and other promotional trinkets. Promotion is always a good thing. Bring it on - hell yeah.

If You Do Not Want To Be Linked To…

May 23rd, 2006

“The primary function of Pig Work is to ’share’ information”

Slashdot linked to an article this morning over on Plagiarism Today - The New Plagiarism - which refers to the practice on some blogs of using large quotes on a frequent basis in articles. The crux really being those blogs who have more blockquotes in there than original content.

First I should get my personal chip off my shoulder and air it - much of the plagiarism push is from probloggers who are more concerned about getting your click-through revenue rather than from miss malloy of the local council who likes to share her book club recipes. That’s a personal opinion by the way but one founded on watching a few Internet witch hunts over the last few years.

But there’s a level on which this does deserve discussion and I can see why it got Slashdotted. There is a problem, one of which is the identification of the fat cow businesses making splogs and these grey area blogs for revenue [as opposed to normal people conversing freely]. I’d guess like my politician who sends me spam he calls “information” these businesses are calling it marketing. No harm no foul I think is the term.

How do we even consider sorting this one out? I mean how many blogs are in the world - heck even if we jumped on MySpace (regular poachers of my partner’s photography) we’re talking major numbers of users. And what about prosecution and punishments? I’m not sure the international nature of the problem can be solved with head on efforts. We can’t even solve the kiddy porn problem! Not through lack of motivation but because its so vast.

There has to be an acceptance out there that much of the blogging community isn’t business. A lot of it might be your grandmother or a local biker or the parish preacher. I urge the push for restrictions to recognise what are probably the vast majority of bloggers.

Personally Pig Work is and always will be foremost about spreading the Web Standards and accessibility word to other developers and interested parties on a global front. Only madmen write manifestos but don’t tempt me. I quote and paraphrase and try to do so in the best intention of promoting the original authors… but if you don’t want to be linked to or spoken about on this blog then feel free to email me and I’ll ensure it becomes so.

The primary function of Pig Work is to “share” information. When this site gets splogged I kind of die inside a bit but the main thing is the word does move further out. Someone reads it somewhere. I don’t feel that way about my work though I do confess.

So I reiterate what I said earlier - email for me to not link to your site if anyone out there feels like they don’t need the juice. I’m fine with that. As a blogger who has never - so far - earned a cent in advertising revenue I understand you have every right to own your content. The trouble is that hyperlinking is the essence of the Web and when we’re too afraid to link, quote or discuss we’ll pretty well have killed its goodness for greed wot.

The Blog Market - ROI?

May 20th, 2006

“I’m not being evil by questioning this one - I’m being a businessman”

Can anyone explain to me the ROI of buying a blog? No that’s not a fair question, what I mean is from a business perspective if I were to outlay what I consider a large amount of cash - not that I would - to buy an established blog with advertising, how would I recoup that large amount? Stylegala, for example, earns US$2500 per month but at $30,000 its quite a leap of faith before I’d make my money back. I’m only using Stylegala as a generic example and its price is considerably lower than some purchases in this area so this is in no way an attack on its institution. Standardistas and probloggers stand back behind the line and be civil.

Because I’m not being evil by questioning this one - I’m being a businessman. Math tells me if all things being equal and it continued at the current earnings it would take a year to recoup my $30,000 but that’s not necessarily going to be the case. Different management, a slight shift in taste of selection, not being a part of the seller’s relationships, overheads of hosting and providing ongoing content - in short you could find a substantial loss. After all these are only websites. Do you buy credibility? More similar blogs come into the arena every day so you have to be sure you can retain that differentiating X factor that keeps people visiting - and convert it to cash or kind. By kind I mean other tangible and non-tangible business benefits.

Lets use another example - Duncan Riley’s Blog Herald. I’m not sure of the going price his Weblog Empire went for but one stitch that made Blog Herald was Duncan. Today is my first visit back there in a while. So my point is you not only have to buy the product but you have to continue “as if” the original owners were there. And users aren’t necessarily going to pretend you’re Duncan either (insert one of Duncan’s abusive tantrums, rinse and repeat). Being on top is one thing, any business - or boxer for that matter - will tell you staying on top is another thing entirely.

Imagine if Steve Rubel sold Micro Persuasion?!

Could we reproduce his knowledge, credibility and persona? I doubt it. Many of these blogs are the personalities that shaped them and not “just” a website.

I thought ‘The Bubble’ taught us one thing above all others - bricks and mortar need to be behind these business moves. I’m seeing more and more Web 2.0 Companies getting multi-million dollar backing as well, which is kind of worrying.

So, out of interest, if anyone can explain to me from a business perspective why exactly it would be good to invest large sums in someone else’s blog then I’d be eager to listen. Not to blind evangalistic rhetoric but to the real business reasons why “someone else’s” blog is the way to go.

[Now feel free to shoot me, electrocute me or pulverise me senseless with a pillowcase of D sized batteries for daring to ask the sacred cow questions of blogging - where do I stop and my blog begin? What is a blog worth to someone else - really?]

Accidental Deletion Of Comments

May 19th, 2006

“I’m so used to mass deleting spam that I hit spam by accident”

With the number of spam hitting my domains I could be excused for missing a valuable ‘real person’ comment over on Pig Pen or having it chewed in the spam filter. But something happened this morning which worries me a bit - I read a comment about the Maxthon browser from Kevin and then lost it.

Or should I say I’m so used to mass deleting spam that I hit spam by accident. And OK I was only 10 minutes out of bed and getting dressed at the time but I’d specifically asked if anyone had feedback. So that’s what spam has reduced me to, just a semi-autonomous machine fixed in a mental rut of click and delete. Spammers suck bigtime. Normally I’d have a backup notification I could retrieve the comment from in my email but I was getting about 1000 notifications of moderation comments per day last week so that’s turned off.

So Kevin I apologise whole-heartedly for the deletion of your comment. I realise you invested time and effort which I inadvertantly deleted and that’s not good. Advice then to other bloggers - probably have a coffee before you read your comments. Nobody likes their comments disappearing or not appearing especially when they’re giving feedback you asked for. Yes I’m a friggin’ doofus sometimes. And human.

Update: 19/5/06
OK the comments marked spam still live in the database - something I’ll fix. Kevin’s comment was easily retrievable and this all happened way too early for me. Now I need another coffee and life moves on. The lesson is still the same though - respect your comments [not that I get a hell of a lot of course]. Have a fun day.

Our Peter Hermann Acrylic Illustration

May 18th, 2006

“And how appropriate is See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil?”

Sometimes when you’re blogging good things happen and today in the mail I received an original acrylic illustration from Peter Hermann in Denmark. It was one he did for the American magazine The Progressive (and an accompanying postcard). The story is short but interesting.

Over on Pig Pen its probably apparent we’re heavily into art in a variety of forms and the art category is really quite impressive nowdays. Not a bad place to wander for your design inspiration. About a month ago I linked to a painter called Martin Madsen whose brother is none other than Peter Hermann, a talented and respected illustrator in Denmark. Martin had mentioned Pig Pen to Peter and I got an email from Denmark to ask if I’d look at Plines, Peter’s blog (now incorporated into his main web site).

Peter Hermann has some interesting work and that led me to his site for the 8861 Miles project. What a great story! Having a partner who is a printmaker has taught me to appreciate process. 8861 Miles is

A collaboration between 2 danish artists, one living in Denmark (Peter), the other living in Australia (Lene). 8861 miles apart their work takes form in sketchbooks, travelling back and forth between the continents.

In the hope of not chewing anyone’s ear off I linked to Peter’s sites and he sent me an illustration - one we’ll be getting a good quality frame for which I’ll keep on my office wall with the other original artwork. And how appropriate is See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil? Ha. So we’d just like to say thanks Peter and we’re stoked to receive your illustration - we’re very into art here. Its come to a good home at Norty Pig somewhere over 8861 miles away.

Original illustration by Peter Hermann

TechCrunch, WSA and Stylegala

May 18th, 2006

“That’s a famous line from the yellow pages advertisements”

The new design on Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch has a flavoursome story with him posting a screenshot of a fan’s design and his paid designer walking out. Valleywag has a rundown of how it unfolded but I really don’t see the issue. If I were in Michael’s position and found someone liked me enough they spent a lot of time and thought into their own redesign I’d have probably given them credit too. Perhaps it was tactless but for a paid designer with a high profile gig like TechCrunch to drop the ball and go home there must be something deeper driving at the core of the issue. Perhaps we’ll never know but obviously the relationship was near an end for other reasons.

That being said of course I’ve walked away from work myself after having a business client make mistakes on their server and believing the blame was my markup. So on their blog they put an article highly praising me as a specialist - the site was broken - and put in the comments

Not happy Jan

If you don’t know that’s a famous line from the yellow pages advertisements… and they signed it with their name. Now I might be sensitive but as a developer I felt rather undermined by that one and the business relationship fell apart from that pivotal point in short order. To be honest I’d never work for the guy again simply because he showed an arrogant stupidity that I must be incompetant. So I guess if you’re working for someone who doesn’t listen to your advice maybe you walk. Who knows? Any server with CHMOD 777 on all files is a disaster waiting to happen too. That’s not a bad time to say something’s amiss.

Another bit of news out there today is the Web Standards Awards have shut up shop at the number 99 - it’ll be left as an archive but no new work will be put up there. Which is probably a shame. Although I agree web standards have come a long way I still think there is great value in having high quality design showcases. No their work isn’t done. In fact way more non-web standards sites are out there than good ones - maybe they’ll come back for another hundred.

Which brings us to the sale of Stylegala with the details over on Sitepoint. They’re asking US$30,000 which on the one hand I hope they receive but on the other I feel its rare anyone would buy a blog and do it justice. On a business level I’d wonder if the profit is there on these blogs with US$2500 per month income and assuming there are no overheads and yada yada well it won’t be turning a profit for some time. Some blogs we’ve seen go for way more than that small price in the last 12 months and one has to wonder if the bubble has substance. That being said I wish them all the luck in the world.

So a long but interesting post. Today I’ve got a heap of reading to do and some catch up audio from missed lectures for Artificial Intelligence. Its an interesting field of study - what geek doesn’t get off on robots? Its Frank Zappa’s fault (Joe’s Garage).

KXA252 Assignment 2 Submitted

May 16th, 2006

“A useful tool to aid in giving context specific advice”

The weekend was full-on and on my tutor’s advice I got the second assignment and redid it from the ground up - submitted this afternoon in much better shape thankyou. The assignment I produced is a prototype for an expert system for evaluating web pages against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 - mind you in a very basic way. Perhaps down the track it could be the groundwork for a useful tool to aid in giving context specific advice in an educational environment… its just a basic undergraduate assignment at the monment though so no I’m not sending it to anyone. More out of embarrassment at its holes than anything else. Anyway its a start.

I was kind of lucky there was an anomoly in the submission dates on the assignment specifications and they had to give us an extra week - I used mine well, started with developing everything directly in inference nets and only put hand to keyboard when the total was worked out and only required appropriate production rules. So bring on this exam in June I say - hell yeah.

I honestly think the hardest part of university study is the constant battering of 2 or 3 assignments per unit. Of course as KXA252 is my only one this semester I’ve spent a LOT of time relaxing. Once again hell yeah. This week I get some alcohol as a reward for sure.

So that’s why its been quiet here… my head is mush now so goodnight.

On The Subject Of Misdirection… ONOFF.se

May 13th, 2006

“Don’t be shy to hire consultants to come in on the ground floor of bidding”

One of the peeves which button down my bonnet would have to be companies claiming without any real essence of truth that they’re providing a certain product but DO NOT do so. A situation I saw first hand a couple of years ago was a national company taking bids for an internet / intranet Content Management System where the bidders varied greatly in skill. Basically a very qualified web standards developer was pipped at the post (AUD$16,000) by a higher bid from a corporate entity with the hard sell high promises sales team offering the world at only AUD$27,500… which included a claim of XHTML 1.0 Strict pages. They basically stated they were web standards developers.

Today that site still has some issues including JavaScript dependant main navigation, some anomolies in the rendering cross browser, and a whopping 300+ validator errors which show they hadn’t even read the XHTML specification. So it irks me to see these companies catch buzzwords that don’t fly and sell them to the gullible.

Enter this morning’s post by Roger Johansson and co-authored by Robert Nyman - ONOFF: another failed redesign. The company ONOFF took out a full page advertisement in a newspaper to claim its new redesign was accessible when it was nothing in the ballpark of accessible. Which makes me wonder - did ONOFF management, not being developers themselves, get sucked down the same road of misinformation? Could they have even asked for and believed they’d received a product which met a specification, one they were to proudly announce - only the find it was shite? It happens.

Enter a plug here for why you should be hiring people to come into your business to discuss whether or not your product is what its supposed to be… don’t be shy to hire external consultants to come in on the ground floor of bidding specifically so the right questions are asked. Perhaps hire consultants mid-way through before crucial sign-offs to assertain whether the developers are really doing what they promised. The trick of course is to hire THE RIGHT consultants and not just another shyster - that’s the hard bit.

Negative Public Relations (NPR) sucks especially when you have a new business website that you want to boast up among the industry. If ONOFF was aware enough to know accessibility mattered why would they NOT at least try. This is one of those failed redesigns I’d argue which goes straight back to the company that put the beast on the street. Roger and Robert are right - ONOFF really sucks for accessibility bigtime.

So what do we learn from this article? I mean businesses - what did you learn?

You hopefully learned the outlay of a few extra dollars to an external consultant at various stages might save you a lot of embarrassment AND money in the long run. Why? Because there are a lot of shysters out there just willing to tell you anything to get your money. Unfortunately that’s true. A consultant will hold your hand through the process and offer both the developer and the client advice on achieving the necessary objectives.

[In fact going to ONOFF without JavaScript on in the first place, for me at least, simply returned a blank white page - not very good chop]

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