This is the celebrated journal of Mr. Simon Collison A.K.A Colly

So where does @media leave us?

11th June 2005

I expect @media has given all attendees much food for thought. Two days of intensive web standards and accessibility waffle has left me both excited and concerned about the future of our industry.

To attempt to sum up, I’ll say a big “Hello” to all of those lovely people I met for the first time, do the obligatory “well done” to all involved, and then think about where it leaves me as a web developer/designer constantly battling to stay ahead in an ever-changing landscape of poor browsers, confused methodologies, misconceptions about accessibility and a barrage of new technologies, where even the industry leaders aren’t sure what the rules are.

The event was a tremendous success, with talks by Clarkey (thanks for bigging up our work on the The Libs site, matey) and Jeremy being the real hits for me. Sold out, free stuff, lots of booze - all good. A huge “Well done” to Patrick and the team.

A few hellos

Now, the link-ups. It was a pleasure to finally meet the likes of Doug (nice man, likes my blog - crikey!), Molly (nice lady - doing great work and open to ideas), the outspoken Joe (now there’s a man who missed his vocation as a stand-up comedian), and Jeffrey of course (albeit a very brief “hello”).

Then there are all the people you know from their great blogs. Too many to mention, but especially nice to meet those that travelled a long way to be there, such as Veerle, Roger (what a cool guy!), Derek (bought me a pint - very nice guy!), Mark, Ian (looks like he’s still traveling).

Who else? I should mention Derek Denis Radenkovic (great little chap), Pixelsurgeon’s Jason, Patrick L, Ben, Kate, Matthew and Ryan C.

Lest I forget, a joy to hang around once again with all the usual BritPack suspects. Next stop Nottingham, right chaps?

Where does @media leave us

Well, it leaves many of us with a contradiction of clarity and confusion when it comes to accessibility. This is not a criticism of the event, but a criticism of the state of our industry at present. Throughout the speeches, focus kept returning to browser support, inconsistency of Jaws, the pig-headedness of the WCAG working group, the mess of supposed legislation and law regarding web design, and numerous other factors that suggest we have a long way to go as a community before anyone can deliver a clear set of guidelines for best practice.

I personally want to take a serious look at how I implement accessibility in the websites I help to produce. I can see where our approach falls short, and I can see that as a company it would benefit us to have an internal review of our understanding of accessibility. I believe we are the agency who take such issues most seriously in our region, but am aware that in an ever-changing landscape, we need to remain flexible, open to change, and abreast of current thinking, research and methodology to avoid complacency. This seems like a positive thing, and not something to shy away from.

On the flipside of that, I came away wondering how any of us ever find the time to develop new approaches. How can we make time to learn these new approaches? The wealth of knowledge a good designer needs to carry is overwhelming, and I don’t think a single person at @media could say that they are on top of their game when so much is changing at such a frantic pace.

Both excited and worried

In the end, I feel both excited and worried. Excited to see the work that WASP are doing, and that they are conquering new ground almost daily. Worried because I can see that without allotting time to learn, develop and explore new methodologies, it will be too easy to lose ground to other designers who have the advantage of learning this stuff from scratch, and have time to develop. It is far too easy to rest on one’s laurels and be smug about what one is doing right now, but give it two or three years, and we could all be enveloped by those who are readily embracing new techniques - those who can look at all the cul-de-sacs we have gone down and will use their time to take the industry in a new direction.

My point? I suppose I’m saying this: The industry is exciting, but every day we realise we don’t know enough/anything about “x”. That builds as a pressure that makes us desire time to learn and develop. Without that, we stay stagnant, and as a result we can no longer innovate. The young pups will rise and show us up as old dogs who can’t learn new tricks.

So, I personally know that I MUST make time to learn more about AJAX, the forthcoming and mighty CSS3, the true point of accessibility. We all need to think of how these things will affect what we do, and should build in progression schedules that help us know when to use certain technologies, and when they are inapropriate. A good example is CSS3. This will give us a wealth of new tools to work with, but at what stage should we embrace it? When do we factor in the need to retro-fit all our existing sites. Will we still be worrying about outdated browsers, and when will we finally be able to work to a set of rules that can genuinely guide us.

What do we do next?

I chatted briefly with Clarkey and Molly about instigating a central resource on the web that acts as a barometer of current best practice. Currently, the guidelines, suggested methods and agreed principles are scattered across hundreds of resources around the web. What we need is a regularly updated list of “what to do"s, which will give us a clear point of reference for our decisions, and help tie up all the loose ends, as well as taking the pressure off those striving for standards who can rarely clarify something as a “rule”.

Imagine this: a site which tells you which browsers we all generally agree to support. What the current preferred method of image replacement is. Whether we should use access keys currently or not. Simple information for the developer that allows those not tied to other external (government or workplace) guidelines to make informed choices based on current industry suggestion. Now that would be helpful.

Anyway, once again, a massive well done to all involved in @media. Here’s to next year!

Responses

# Andy Hume responded on 11th June 2005 with...

clarity and confusion—-you are right there. I think what the conference showed to me was that there is a hell of a lot more to web access than checking for alt attributes on images and label elements on forms, etc…

To really understand what you are doing you have to have a thorough knowledge of the issues, so you can make the best decision for each project or job independently. There are no rules—-except the WCAG, but the less said about them the better, in terms of real world practice.

So how would a central resource on best practices really work? There are so many grey areas when it comes to these thing. The topic of supporting legacy adaptive technology, was one which came up time and time again at the conference.

I think more than a few people disagreed with Joe Clark’s testimony that “time has marched on”, and the only thing we can do is support the latest and greatest versions of software like JAWS. I think I probably do agree with him on this, because the whole concern with Standards is that people don’t adhere to them. We as developers should adhere in every way we can, even if that means breaking legacy kit. Hmmm… easy to say, isn’t it?

It would have been interesting to hear Robin Christopherson’s thoughts on that particular subject.

I imagine “browsers we all generally agree to support. “ might be a sticking point too!

Anyway, nice to meet you Simon (although extraordinarily briefly on Thursday morning!)

# Faruk Ateş responded on 11th June 2005 with...

I think it’s not really necessary to worry about the uprise of talented young, new developers and designers.

For one thing, they will still lack work and life experience, mature insight and credibility. A vast majority of businesses alike will be extremely hesitant about having some 20-year old kid with talent do a redesign of their corporate website. S?he may be talented and visibly so, but there’s still a certain ...trust… in those who have been around for longer.

Experience is everything for a lot of companies, and while we are all learning how to change from old-school thinking to new-school Design/CSS workflow, we’re gaining a lot of insight as well. Insights that people just starting out with the new-school techniques will lack.

Don’t underestimate the value of making mistakes and learning from them. :)

# Ben Ward responded on 11th June 2005 with...

I was only present on the second day, but it was nice to have met you. What a lovely bunch you all are.

The whole legal enforcement side of accessibility is rather scarey. It’s a really difficult call between needing to persade companies to care (which means ‘the threat of being sued’) and living with the eternal fact that accessibility is a very flexible and unstable factor in design.

One of the big problems I think we all have is that we implement accessibility ‘in theory’. We use the principals of standards to create meaningful documents and rely on assistive technology to interpret it properly. Ultimately, that’s probably a rash assumption. It assumes perfect interpretation of the HTML standard by the assistive tech, but we know for a fact that no desktop browser has managed that, so why should they? They’ve also been designed to deal with existing crap markup, which could cause headaches when using elements properly (one screen reader I played with had the option to guess which tables were ‘layout tables’, for example).

Thinking about it like that, it’s like adding another 3 or 4 user agents into our testing pile.

As for CSS3 (and, for that matter, large parts of CSS2.1): Major browser support will be slow (by which I mean Internet Explorer), but the new stuff going in is going to be immensely cool.

Mozilla have a lot of good, early implementation stuff going on. ‘outline’ (a non-layout-destructive version of ‘border’) is good, other CSS3 stuff is in development. ‘outline’ is in Opera as well.
The CSS2.1 ‘counters’ which are going into Firefox 1.1 are neat (think of automatic numbering of headings using generated content) as is CSS3’s support for the ‘content’ property to be used on any element (not just ::before and ::after pseudo-elements) - it will make image replacement a doddle, for when that’s necessary. Also fixing a problem with excess markup and nested <div>s are the multiple background image syntax and the ::outside pseudo-element (which effectively generates a virtual element around the one which is selected)

Ok, that’s a long, long, long comment. Sorry. I should put as much effort into writing on my own Blog, really. Oh, the ‘best practice’ site sounds like an excellent idea, you’ll be a hero if that gets off the ground.

# Phil Sherry responded on 11th June 2005 with...

I think you can take the link off the sidebar now ;)

I couldn’t go, so I’m crying “Humbug!” and acting like Withnail.  Hope it was good for you. 

Now, crack on with that book chapter, sonny!  ;)

# paul haine responded on 11th June 2005 with...

I was actually stood right next to you last night at the wind-down, Simon, but didn’t realise until you’d left who you were, otherwise I’d have said hello. So many people to meet, so little mingling-time…

# John Oxton responded on 11th June 2005 with...

Sounds like I missed a good gig [sigh]. I have one thing to say to your article Colly and that is Microsoft. Until they start playing nicely I don’t hold out much hope for any real progress. I am in a mad dash so haven’t read the comments, sorry! If someone already said that, sorry about that too!

# Simon Collison responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Paul: You didn’t realise who I was even though Malarkey had made me stand up in front of 400 people during his talk? That’s cool, I’m all for anonymity.

Oxton: You were missed.

Phil: Still awaiting revision notes. Take your time though…

# Roger Johansson responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Really great meeting you, Simon. Took you a while to figure out who I was though ;-)

I wouldn’t worry too much about them youngsters just yet. But yeah, if you stop keeping up with new techniques and advances in technology there will be trouble. Just like there will be for old-skool tag soup-monkeys who don’t want to learn about web standards and accessibility.

But yeah, it does take a lot of time to keep up. Probably more than what is actually reasonable. Andy Budd touched upon that during the panel (I think) - there just isn’t enough time for any one person to know everything about everything. You need to specialise in something. Or maybe several closely related things.

Interesting idea about some kind of best practices resource!

# paul haine responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Simon: In my defence, I did only see the back of your head during Andy’s presentation.

# Karl responded on 12th June 2005 with...

A one-stop shop for best practice would certainly reduce the amount of bookmarks I have, well, that and blogging to go out of fashion ;-)
I must really get some ageing cream too cos at 36 this year and a year into supporting my present company’s creations they’re still not listening to what I say about standards and getting me onboard before the maintenance phase :(

Still, it’s these very challenges that makes the whole industry so exciting and impossible to get bored with. Can’t say that about insurance.

# Veerle Pieters responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Nice meeting you Simon, too bad we couldn’t talk a bit longer. Maybe next time ;-)

# Simon Collison responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Paul: Fair enough. I was a bit stunned to have Malarkey call me out like that.

Karl: had lots of emails about the “best practice” site. Think I’ll make it happen soon.

Veerle: There has to be a “next time”. Our chats were brief, but great none the less. Sorry if I ran off to smoke cigarettes a bit too often :]

# Derek Featherstone responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Colly - great to have met you. Wish we’d been able to get more time together just to chat, but we’ll be sure to talk more next time.

Interesting write-up as well. I’m really curious to hear more about this statement:

I personally want to take a serious look at how I implement accessibility in the websites I help to produce. I can see where our approach falls short

Where are you feeling that you are falling short? is it just because of the way you do things, or do you think its inconsistency, or something else?

# Simon Collison responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Derek: Yeah, finally. Like all meetings it was too brief. The part of my article you quote is a recurring thought in my head now. I think what I’ll do is let my thoughts settle, then I’ll email you with some ideas and further explanation. For everyone else, I’m sure it’ll boil down into a future blog post.

I’m sure you’ll understand that the two days have exploded my head and made me question the way I approach things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the way Agenzia work, but I’m now so aware of how much more there is to implement that it scares me!

# Molly E. Holzschlag responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Simon, it was excellent to meet you and I’m only sorry our conversation was so short due to all the excitement going on. I hope to continue talking with you and Clarkey and anyone else interested in creating that central best practices list, forum, wiki or whatever it ends up being.  It’s a great idea and between us all it’s not like we don’t have all the tools and technologies and resources to make it so. 

So let’s do!  Thanks for the great write-up.

Always,
Molly

# patrick h. lauke responded on 12th June 2005 with...

great to meet you, colly (after the initial “your name looks familiar, so who the heck are you?”). we’ll have to do it again soon.

# marrije responded on 12th June 2005 with...

A central best practices place! Now that’s a great idea. If you guys decide to go ahead and need any help on the project management side, let me know - I’m crap at CSS, but pretty good at Excel-sheets & stuff. And I have biscuits!

# marrije responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Also: Molly-Colly-Clarkey - ‘twas destined to be.

# Simon Collison responded on 12th June 2005 with...

Marrije: So good to meet you - and thanks so much for the biscuits! Especially the chocolatey ones…

# Denis Radenkovic responded on 13th June 2005 with...

Colly, it was great to meet you too!

Derek :-)

# Paul Watson responded on 13th June 2005 with...

Simon - sorry I didn’t get round to saying hi (despite being only a couple of rows behind you both days!).

I’m resisting leaving my thoughts about @media because it would take all day, but all-in-all a fantastic conference.  Like you it’s left me with many thoughts whirling round my head and, now that Jeremy Keith has ‘decriminalised’ JavaScript by outlining a standards compliant accessible approach, I’m dusting off my old JavaScript books and investigating AJAX.

# veerle Pieters responded on 13th June 2005 with...

Hi Colly,

Don’t worry about the cigarettes thing ;-) I really hope there will be a next time since we didn’t even begin to talk about Expression Engine ;-)

# Rob Waring responded on 13th June 2005 with...

Unforunately we missed you while we were trying to collect ‘the set’ at the bar on day 2.

I like the idea of a central resource for the tips, tricks and techniques as well as the very handy miscellaneous resources. I think that CSS3 can probably wait until at least 50% of the new stuf is supported by the other 3 browsers i.e. Moz/FF, Opera and Safari. This will igve it time for most of the bugs and ambiguities to be ironed out hopefully before we all start diving in and banging our heads on the bottom.

As for the newbies, don’t worry we’re right behind you waiting to bite you on the bum :)

# Andy Saxton responded on 14th June 2005 with...

Colly,

Was great to meet you after months reading your blog, thanks for the advice with the little project. 

I did what you said and dropped you an email about it so you don’t forget.  Assuming your mail form works on the site!

In short I though @Media was great but I doubt anyone will read what I think about it as no one ever reads my blog :) ho hum..

# Steve P. Sharpe responded on 14th June 2005 with...

It looks like I missed out on a good thing!

I would have loved to have meet all of you there, but hey I guess there is next time. Until then…

# Ben Ward responded on 14th June 2005 with...

@Andy Saxton: I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss your own blog. Away from the content of the presentations, the most impressive (or terrifying) thing I learned from @media was that blogs are a more powerful communication tool than I had previously comprehended.

Like many, I hunted out some more ‘famous’ (for want of a better word) individuals to say “Hi”. What stunned me was that when Jon Hicks introduced me to Denis Radenkovic, Denis knew of me. Turned out I had blogged about his @media logo designs and he’d read it (Jeremy Keith also thought he knew my name, but we never established why).

Before @media I would probably have said the same as you: “no-one reads my Blog”. Afterwards, I’m taken in awe of it (I also have a compelling urge to get on with completing my own design).

I think my point is that if you write something worth reading, people will read it.

# Richard Kendall responded on 14th June 2005 with...

Missed out an @media due to funding issues, but it sounds like it was as good and enlightening as I’d imagined. All the big names were there, sharing their wisdom and expertise.

A compilation of all the collected knowledge of all those present into a best practices outlet would be invaluable to keen Web Standards followers like myself.

There are not enough hours in the day to keep up with all the new tips and techniques, alter your own practices, be something of an expert in one or more areas, and then hold down the day job in between!

# Kate responded on 14th June 2005 with...

It was great finally meeting you — we definitely have to push for a geekend up here in Notts.  (You know, up past London but before Sheffield?  Yeah…there.)

And I’m glad to see that someone else is going “There should really be a big place with lots of information about standards and all that.”  That’s part of this big think I’m having about web hobbyists (the people who don’t identify as web designers/developers/whatever but do spend a lot of time making websites) and how to encourage them into the standardista community.  Can’t wait to see what comes from it!

# Simon Collison responded on 14th June 2005 with...

Denis: Just realised I called you Derek in the post. I’m leaving it as it is, cuz it’s funny.

Andy S: Got your email, I’ll be in touch.

Kate: Likewise. Good news is the standards site will launch within next two weeks.

Everyone else: Seems we all kept missing each other. Maybe next year eh? I’m afraid when I’m near the bar, alcohol clouds my vision.

# Alex Armstrong responded on 15th June 2005 with...

I’m here by way you being ousted by Andy Clarke. I’m still finding blogs that I’ve not read before - that everyone at @media seemed to have been reading since year dot. :)

I can relate to what you are saying about feeling the need to be constantly learning. My ongoing issue so far has been why learn the stuff that IE can’t support when the majority of users still use that browser - however I feel that this narrow minded ness is cutting me off from some of the cooler aspects of CSS.

I guess it’s time for a new leaf to be turned.

# Simon Collison responded on 15th June 2005 with...

Alex: A warm welcome…

# Richard Rutter responded on 15th June 2005 with...

I’ve got half a draft of a blog post with exactly the same sentiments as you regarding the state of real world accessibility in Web sites. I came away from @media a tad confused and disillusioned. I was aware some of the issues (technical and otherwise) were sketchy but I assumed that other people knew the answers. It seems not. My knowledge isn’t really any less than anyone else I’ve come across, which makes me think what the fuck are ‘accessibility consultancies’ telling people? I know people like Derek Featherstone will be informing his clients with the most up-to-date info he can get his hands on, but then he really knows his shit.

Even those on the cutting edge of web accessibility have a long way to go. Here’s two big issues for a start: javascript support in screen readers (otherwise screen readers are relatively easy to get right). And the big one - sites that can work for low vision users - those people who can actually see and use normal browsers with text set to huge. Maybe Joe Clark’s zoom layouts are the solution - they will certainly help some people - but are they enough or even the right approach. No-one knows, and that’s my point. WCAG 1 is too old to provide an answer, and WCAG 2 is looking too abstract and generic to help.

Time for a group with their arses in the real world to forge a path, methinks.

# Brian responded on 16th June 2005 with...

Sounds like it was a great event - hope we can make it next year!

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