13th January, 2005

A rant about the state of blogging

A few loud voices in the web community are bemoaning the lack of fresh ideas, new techniques, and a drought of constant exploration and innovation from A-list, up-and-coming or guru-like bloggers and writers.

A few excellent writers have looked objectively at trends in blog subject matter, and they know who they are, but several loud voices have drowned out their commentary with swipes (be this through posts or comments) that demand more of the community.

Oh, not that again…

I read that web standards as a subject matter is “dead”, even “boring”. I read that all such discussions have been “pounded to death”, that there is “nothing more to say”. I note that some see no quality, just quantity.

So, CSS is no longer exciting. They say that collectively, we’ve covered every pixel of it. I note with surprise that the period of transition from table-based layout to CSS presentation and semantic markup is now over. According to some commentators, we are all (that’s all, apparently) as at ease with our cleared floats and box-model hacks as we are breathing air. It has been noted that we don’t really need to help young or inexperienced designers to enhance their web development. I read that those with L-plates are no longer coming to our blogs to brush up on CSS usage, nor are they searching for help with general approaches to usability, accessibility or design.  “Don’t go over old ground”, they quip. For the sake of our precious community, be responsible with your subject matter. Think of the children!

Call the blog police!

Imagine. A very talented, up-and-coming (i.e getting more hits than some gurus - how dare he?) young designer in Spitzburgen or wherever has just written an in-depth, well-researched tutorial about CSS floats. The bastard! Tut-tut. Doesn’t he know that a guru wrote about it in 1999? So what if his article will reach an audience who may not be aware of the trickiness of said CSS element? So what if he has, through the course of his article tweaked the approach to make it a bit leaner, less dependent on hacks, and made it render on Opera? Who cares if he’s so pleased to have mastered a persistent problem he’s been having? He should be reinventing the wheel, but no - he had to discuss something that’s been discussed before. Call the blog police!

What’s that? Your favourite writer hasn’t posted a mind-boggling new I.E bug fix this week? He or she’s taking a well-earned holiday? Spending time with the children? They’re ... no? Busy? Really? You mean they don’t blog for a living? Wow. Well, they should still take time to blog something amazing. How selfish to put the children first.

Sorry. I’ll stop with the facetious paraphrasing.

What do I think?

Well, firstly I won’t link to any specific moans here, and let it be noted that I’m not one for telling people what they should write on their own blogs.

Having your own personal space on the web should be a pleasure. It certainly should not be a chore. When this site launched in May 2004, I knew I’d be writing a fair bit about web development, and I knew I’d be linking to great resources and useful findings about the subject. What I also knew was that I’d be writing an equal amount - if not more - about the real world. This is my site, and if I want to write a gig or album review, wish to post my holiday photos, or swear because some scallies burgled my parents’ house, I will. And anyway, if talk of web standards is old hat, why have I just paid 400 quid to attend a web standards conference in June?

With visitors comes responsibility

Now, shortly after launch, and especially after I wrote a tutorial about using background images with pseudo link styles, my readership grew to something like 10,000 hits a day. With this does come a certain responsibility, and I’m not throwing that out of hand here. Through June and July I felt pressurized to write more and more about CSS, web standards and what our agency was up to that week. Sure, I managed to write a good few more articles that covered new ground, but I learned that these only need documenting when they arrive.

Having a large readership for your personal blog should not mean sleepless nights scratching your head, praying that you’ll find a new way to approach an existing problem. It is not about impressing A-listers so that they’ll link to you or ask you out for a drink. Certainly, it isn’t right to expend so much time devoted to your blog that client work suffers. Many bloggers I know are absolutely stacked out with work right now, and I am not expecting anything ground-breaking from any of them at any time. If they do come across something interesting, sure they’ll find time to write about it, but it’ll be in their own time.

A sense of optimism

When I think of the web community, and when I do, I’m talking about everyone, not just the Jedi councillors, I see a ground swell of learning, knowledge and increased understanding about the issues that affect our industry. This is something that comes not just from the elite, but from everyone who has written a responsible article about a web subject. Primarily, this sense of optimism is a result of a great number of designers and developers embracing web standards and all the other important issues that will strengthen the industry, and help the whole thing remain interesting, stay relevant, and be more useful to web users.

I’ll end on another positive note. Well done to every single writer, designer or casual blogger who has contributed anything positive - however big or small - to current practice. Whether you invented scalable Flash-based image replacement, left a great resource in a comment somewhere, or simply started building using standards, you have helped contribute. If I visit your blog regularly, I also thank you for whatever you have written. Keep it up, but do it at your own pace.

There ends my rant. I’m sorry, but I feel better for that. Oh, and remember, stay positive. Think of the children!

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# Eric responded on 13th January 2005 with...

Nicely put, as a newcomer I whole heartedly agree with you.  My blog is a hobby that i’m quite proud of even if others aren’t that impressed, and the important thing is that i’m learning.  I’m also about to fully convert to css and in the process of getting ready i’ve learned tons. I’m quite happy with the totally new design i’ve envisioned for the re-design, and the community has really helped me with inspiration.  As for writing, i’ve always written at my own pace, which is fairly often, but that’s what keeps me enjoying it.

BTW Well done!

# James responded on 13th January 2005 with...

I agree wholeheartedly. I think I read one of the posts you referring to earlier this month, and it got my back up a bit. I still haven’t even launched my site because I’m so busy, but whenm I do I’ll be sure to remember this article.

# Andrew Hume responded on 13th January 2005 with...

I think I read one of the posts your referring to earlier today infact, and I thought it was a little short sighted actually.

There’s not less quality or quantity blogging going on today, it’s just different to how it was a year or so ago. Zeldman, Shea, Bowman (sorry… I mentioned ‘em) have become quieter recently, so that automatically translates to ‘less quality blogging’.

Not true. There’s just a shift in the focus. A new breed of quality is emerging with the likes of Malarkey, (who is posting absolute quality at the moment… and guess what - it’s about design), Roger, and I am particularly enjoying Johuaink at the moment.

Okay… the standards flood is beginning to subside, but it won’t be long before the next big thing hits the blogosphere. My vote is for ECMA Script and the DOM - there’s plenty to get stuck into there. The blogosphere’s barely scratched the surface.

Oh, and Molly‘s still going strong. She get’s my vote for blog of the year.

# Simon Collison responded on 13th January 2005 with...

The big problem is that, as Andrew says, if the barometer (Zeld, Bowman, Shea, Cederholm) drops, then people forget about the other great writers who are indeed producing absolute quality.

And, let’s not forget about the work being done “off-blog”. Conferences, books, forums, collaborative sites, lectures, even (gasp!) face-to-face conversations that are all offering new possibilities. I think a different kind of progress is already happening, but it’s a little less obvious for now.

Good for mass, long debate in 2005: Lots of XMLHttpRequest-type stuff, blanket adopting of certain principles (such as “lets ALL define this as that right now - enough talk”), collaborative projects, grids, layout,  print-style for screen and oh so much more…

# Andrew Hume responded on 13th January 2005 with...

Oh yes… that’s got my fruity juices going Simon: it’s gonna be an exciting year. And we’ve got @media2005 too… we can meet the ‘Zelshewman’ on our own turf.

# Guy responded on 13th January 2005 with...

I guess too many people get stuck in a rut with their blog. When their articles on web standards, CSS and the like start to gain large hit figures they incorrectly see themselves as one of the major players in the community.

Incoming links and constant positive feedback in the comments on their sites only serve to inflate their own egos and self-worth. They consider themselves to be providing a constant source of useful info and will post anything so that their readers have something new to read for each day.

Of course a lot of what they write ends up with very little substance. Eventually they see this for themselves and assume that because they no longer have anything to say, nor will anybody else.  But maybe if they took a pause between articles on these popular topics they might be able to sit back and offer something truly useful as sites like http://www.guuui.com do on a quarterly basis.

I guess it’s up to the authors of these blogs to decide if they’re writing a personal blog or a daily publication (or both). If you’ve got nothing to say about standards and CSS, write about something else or don’t write at all. When you’ve got something interesting to say, however far down the line it is, people will find you.

I’m sure Mark Pilgrim is only too aware of this.

# Mark responded on 13th January 2005 with...

Nicely put Simon. I find a lot of bloggers, including myself, tend to be rampant consumers when it comes to information.

I get in the office in the morning, fire up NetNewsWire and trawl through the links. Up until very recently it was all standards, standards, standards, but since the likes of Bowman, Shea, Cederholm and the like haven’t been posting so much, the blinkers have been taken off. It’s in fact quite liberating to see the wealth of other stuff out there.

# Peter da Silva responded on 13th January 2005 with...

I’d be more interested in blogs if I didn’t keep getting notifications that online-poker had responded to my comments.

# Simon Collison responded on 13th January 2005 with...

Guy: Good sum up of that “Oh God, am I popular?” thing. I agree that that is where most old ground is covered - desperation to imfluence the blogeratti. Still, they have the right to write whatever they desire, and often it’s good. I think some are guilty of going “Oh, it’s a bout floats - won’t read that”, which gives a false impression of content across the board.

Mark: Agreed. It is quite liberating, and with the turn of the year we can all think of fresh approaches. Not just redesigns, but we probably all need to think about how we manage content, what we cover, and whether it is relevant to us or our audience. If it’s neither, we’re in trouble.

Peter: Not getting any easier to stop the spammers. I guess you’ll have to deselect the notification option. I ban IPs on a daily basis, but still new ones come back.

# Peter da Silva responded on 13th January 2005 with...

Some people have reported success from changing the names of the forms and fields.

There’s always moderation.

# daniel responded on 13th January 2005 with...

Well said old chap. I myself am just a noobe to the web design and development community but have thoughly enjoyed reading many of the blogs mentioned above. I was introduced to CSS via a magazine, went to the “GARDEN” and then it was all over. As time increased and I practised more and more with examples, I read in these articals, my abilities and intrest in CSS just increased. It got to the point where I was giving a senior developer at work tips on how to design with CSS and standards. (chuffed with that)
So this is like a big thanks to all those useful tips from all those great bloggers out there, keep it coming, cause I’m going to keep on reading.
Maybe these guys and girls that are writing these negitive things are just a little scared with the huge shift that has occured in the industry.
My 2 cents.

# Roger Johansson responded on 14th January 2005 with...

Well put, Simon. I, for one, am not going to quit writing about the things that I find interesting.

# Cameron Adams responded on 14th January 2005 with...

I still think people aren’t used to blogs.

They’re used to using blogs, they’re used to reading blogs, but they aren’t used to how different they are from normal publications.

The cycle with blogs is so much faster than magazines, newspapers—any other media out there—and people devour them so fast that it’s impossible to satisfy one reader’s tastes consistently, or to revolutionise all the time. I don’t think I know any writer who can write different articles that I’d wish to read every day, yet that’s what some people seem to be demanding.

Perhaps blogs aren’t meant to be the reliable, regular reads that magazines are meant to be. Maybe after you scavenge the information from one area, you’re meant to move onto others instead of stagnating, reading the same list of bookmarks over and over.

Subscribing to an RSS feed doesn’t mean you to have pay for it, so why not get as many as you can, broaden your horizons?

# Dustin Diaz responded on 14th January 2005 with...

I�ll end on another positive note. Well done to every single writer, designer or casual blogger who has contributed anything positive

Why thank you. *blushes*

My guess is that we’re going to hear a lot more rants about this very subject. I’ve noticed this small trend just coming around the bend of the new year. I mean really though, these big bloggers have lives.

Zeldman has a baby, Dunstan gets a new job, and Jogin falls off the place of the planet. Andrei has been remiss while anxious contestants who entered his DxF redesign contest are waiting for him to announce a winner…David Shea is now back logged with entries for the garden, and ALA only seems to come out with one article every 6 weeks. I don’t know if any of this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Power to the big folks who take vacations! Like you said, they deserve them.

Plus, after all, isn’t blogging and having your website supposed to be fun anyway? That is, why most of us do it, right?

I mean you make an excellent point! Why are people blogging about how bored they are? Like, go buy a book and learn about some new subject already. Add some more entries to your “Life outside of web design” category. Live a little.

Very good post. So good It got me riled up to say the things I said in this comment :)

# Tommy Olsson responded on 14th January 2005 with...

There is one big reason why it may still be necessary to go over old ground again and again: freshness. When a beginner encounters a problem, she will search for help. If the only article she finds about floats is five years old, she may not trust it. Even if it was written by Eric Meyer. It’s old. If the last modified date is recent, she’ll have more confidence that it’s reliable.

I often get ideas for topics to blog about from discussion forums. If a particular question pops up several times in a short time, I may try to do a write-up explaining the issue in a language that is easier to understand than the HTML or CSS specification from W3C.

In fact, I recently wrote about CSS floats and the response has been overwhelming. If no one is interested in those old topics, why has that article been downloaded more than 13,000 times in the last month?

The guys and gals on the A-list may have moved on to other things: raising a child, writing a book, redesigning a major commercial site, or whatever. Those who moan about us who dust off old topics don’t have to read our blogs, and I challenge them to come up with something more interesting. :)

# Veerle Pieters responded on 14th January 2005 with...

There are still a gazillion people out there that need to see the light. In my opinion when you’re saying that the topic has been beaten to dead that would actually mean that almost everybody is using web standards in some form. A quick look on what is out there proves that there is still a lot of work to do. My CSS tutorial has over 20.000 views and I am still planning on bringing stuff back on what I already wrote about. New people arrive everyday on my blog and are eager to learn. So as long as this happens writing about CSS stuff is needed. I still have fun by doing it and that’s what counts actually. Couldn’t care less what others think.

# Scrivs responded on 14th January 2005 with...

Man I rather people just link to my entry instead of mentioning me in third person, but anyways let’s go over what I was talking about.

Think of web design in its current form being the same as when everyone thought the world was flat. It’s easy to continue talking how the world is flat and you will fall off if you go to the edge. Not everyone is aware that the world is flat so you tell yourself and others that you must continue to preach that the world is flat because new people are always around. Does this justify talking about the same stuff over and over again? To some it does.

People can write about anything they want, but as a community we cannot progress if we harp about the same issues constantly.

Sites that do talk about the same things are not boring though. For example, the site of the year in my opinion is Rogers (456bereastreet) and that talks about stuff that I am already 99% aware about.

From reading this post and the comments I can see the majority of my post was taken the wrong way. Oh well, at least I gave you something to write about eh Simon? :-)

# Roger Johansson responded on 15th January 2005 with...

Wow Scrivs, thanks for that :-)
Anyway, as I’ve stated in the comments to your original post and at my own site, I do believe that many of these issues need to be restated. That doesn’t mean there can’t be fresh ideas as well.

But you (and others) sure gave us something to think (and write) about! ;-)

# Scrivs responded on 15th January 2005 with...

I think you worded 10x better than I did and I used about 700 more words Roger. Continue talking about current issues but don’t stray from finding fresh new ideas. My point was that I don’t think many people write because there is nothing fresh to talk about.

# Colly responded on 15th January 2005 with...

This will be brief as I’m in London’s Apple Store - it’s very busy and very hot.

Scrivs: Yes, your post yesterday did spur me to write (trust me, I’ve always got plenty to write about), but it was many others, and particularly a lot of comments across the web that made me speak up.

I think this debate is healthy. I think what you wrote the other day was healthy. You may think it made me angry, but if anything it just made me contemplate current trends a bit more than I had.

If I didn’t like your articles, I wouldn’t visit. I do because you often speak your mind - and I wish everyone would. That said, I felt like writing something positive in response to ALL the (negative is the wrong word) thought-provoking commentary I’ve read of late. I agreed with a lot of what you wrote - but I draw the line at some of the comments in response - “boring” the community is not. Anyway, Scrivs - I do not want you to think I was having a go at you here. I just wanted to discuss things in my own web space. I didn’t link to you incase others thought it was an angry response. Oh, I don’t know, I’m tired…

Wish I could write more, but there are lots of angry shoppers wanting to check their Hotmail. I’ll pop back later.

# Colly responded on 15th January 2005 with...

Scrivs: I Just read your “Drama Queening” post. Ah, I’m upset now, and comments are off on that post. Wanted to make it clear that I was responding to more than just your thoughts here. Wasn’t meant to be a personal attack.

Still, nothing wrong with healthy debate - but I ain’t no drama queen.

# Veerle Pieters responded on 15th January 2005 with...

Hi Scrivs, guess you have a point if you have been around that long and you keep on seeing returning subjects.  But maybe a lot of bloggers have a different style or approach I don’t know… Some blogs have interesting articles but I don’t understand a thing of what they are talking about… so in that case I don’t mind when somebody else writes about it in a way that I ‘get’ it. And I agree with you, Roger does an amazing job, I learn a lot from his site. Thanks Roger ;-)

I always try to keep in mind to find something more original to write about. For me, it is trying to make it as less boring as possible and try not to use heavy difficult words, keep it fun and simple is my motto.

# Andrew Hume responded on 15th January 2005 with...

I agree Simon. I don’t think your entry was ‘drama queening’ in any sense; and neither are the comments. They’re just observations, similar to Scrivs’ original post, but with more explanation.

Relax Scriv’s: no one’s having a go at you (this time!)

# Scrivs responded on 15th January 2005 with...

Haha, the drama queening was spurred by this post, but like you Simon it was built up from a lot of previous stuff before (I didn’t even know people read that site…*blush*). I had a good time last night and it’s Friday so that was more me having fun than anything. Healthy discussions like this that avoid flamewars are the way to go. I think we all see eye to eye on the subject of stale/fresh content.

Heh, I haven’t been this active in months :-)

# Andrew Hume responded on 15th January 2005 with...

Scrivs:You write: people read. It’s the way of the world.

With great power…

# Colly responded on 15th January 2005 with...

Nice one, Scrivs. I love the fact you always make sense of something that others might think of as bad feeling. Yep, just healthy discussion.

From the comments here, I’m feeling good still about what we’re all doing with our little web homes. So many different approaches, so many reasons to maintain a blog, so easy to speak out of turn or be taken out of turn, so many people wondering what they’re next post will be about.

I really hope nobody feels that certain content is wrong for their blog - unless they maintain a specific site concerned entirely with the web industry.

As some of you say above, we gotta enjoy doing this - otherwise it’s just a burden.

# Mike P. responded on 15th January 2005 with...

How things snowball on the web and the web-dev blogospere.

Just for perspective, I oringinally e-mailed Scrivs, after his post saying that he was “not dead, more posts coming” and said:
Looking forward to the new stuff - someone has to write something, it’s quiet out here….

Funny how the snowball gets momentum…

# Peter da Silva responded on 16th January 2005 with...

CSS is not “the light” it’s a useful layout tool, but it’s far too primitive at this point to replace tables for layout, unfortunately. Look at people’s blogs. There must be thousands of articles explaining how to do a three column layout using CSS! And they still get things wrong. This is far too hard for normal mortals.

Handling layout by gluing boxes together is a great technique, yes, virtually all typesetting languages use some variant of it… but CSS provides such a limited toolkit. It needs a grid layout engine, for one thing, and until it gets that people will continue to use tables to replace that engine. It also needs to separate content from containers… you should be able to “flow” content through multiple <div>s or <span>s, and specify the packing or arrangement of

within each other. For a three column layout you shouldn’t need to do more than this (pseudocode):

[div pack=left]left content[/div]
[div pack=left]center content[/div]
[div pack=left]right content[/div]

The people designing the next generation of HTML really need to look at how other layout managers, going back to “runoff” and “TeX” and “Lout” in typesetting’ or the three Tcl layout managers (placer, packer, and grid), deal with the problem.

Until then, all the preaching in the world won’t help… you can’t sell CSS layout to the masses while it’s so hard to do basic things like this.

PS: how do I turn off the damn “Live Preview”???

# Andrew Hume responded on 17th January 2005 with...

I must have missed the point this turned into a debate about the pros and cons of CSS layouts!