14 May

April recap – TXJS & Front-Trends

April was pretty decent. I got to attend two very good conferences and I got to speak at them.

TXJS, Austin, USA

Austin! One of my favourite cities (mostly because I love tacos). Was very pleased to be asked to return to this conference after I spoke there last year. The day was remarkable, if only because it’s one of the first conferences in a very long time where I actually watched all of the talks (although Rebecca, being on before me, may have only had half of my attention). Really a very well curated day, and I felt very lucky to be in the line-up.

Alex was not overly prescriptive in what I should talk about, but suggested he liked the content of last year and would like a little more on that. So, I decided to pick an aspect about that that I felt was important to us at GDS and fundamental to the success of our Design Principles.

For me, it’s been our honesty and simple language. The words that we’ve used to talk about user needs, technical aspects of the site and the ethos have been plain and no-nonsense. I think this is hugely down to the strength of a team that has the confidence to cut through bullshit and say what it really means – Russell and Sarah are particularly brilliant at this, and have had huge parts to play in getting this cult of simple down in writing.

The tech scene is sort of rife with nonsense words. Buzzwords and clichés and the new name for the next big thing, which is actually the new name for the same old sensible thing – but with better marketing and a twitter hashtag. Ugh. I want a lot less of that in our world.

So, I picked on a few of these and showed a few examples from how we’re dealing with them at GDS. I believe the video for that talk is out now, but the slides are here.

Front-Trends, Warsaw, Poland

I attended this conference last year – definitely a favourite for its surprisingly sunny weather and for being one of the most friendly events I had been to in 2012. So, I was really glad to get to come back and share our Design Principles with the crowd.

It was very similar to the talk I gave at TXJS last year, except we’ve done a whole lot more at GDS since June of last year – we released v1.0 of gov.uk, and a bunch of other stuff like the performance platform, Inside Government (and the 24 departments) and foreign travel advice, to name a few. I showcased some of these things, and then went through the design principles with the lovely, receptive, Polish audience and it seemed to go over rather well. The slides for this version of the talk are here.

Three days are a lot for a conference, but it was really high quality through-out and the breadth of subjects was really great. I wouldn’t recommend putting the party on the second night again, however – that last morning was something of a challenge. :)

14 Jan

Back the Pastry Box Book

As I mentioned, I wrote for the Pastry Box Project for all of 2012.

Now, it’s hopefully going to be printed in dead tree form with the royalties going to the Red Cross. That’s kind of nice, as are many of the fancier offerings at the higher tiers (hand press? illustrations? all sorts!).

So, if you’re a fan of paper and of the folks that wrote last year, the details are all available here.

It’s being crowd sourced, so it’ll only be as successful as your interest allows. That’s how the internet works now, or something.

08 Jan

A follow-up to “Conferences aren’t the problem”

Writing a follow-up seems necessary at this point, because my last post garnered more attention than I had anticipated, and the comments on it were much more, well, ridiculous than I think I can give justice to (thanks, hacker news!).

I thought I’d take the time to clarify a few points and respond generally.

The first thing I’d like to say is how shocked I was at two things:

  1. Respondents simply didn’t appear to have read the post before commenting – infuriating, many are programmers being dicks (as if we needed more evidence of sexism and racism etc.).
  2. Respondents appear to still believe we live in a meritocracy, free from discrimination with complete equal opportunity.

Unfortunately, point two is bogus. Discrimination is a problem. I, personally, don’t give a monkey’s how many women or whoever are in our industry, as long as everyone who wanted to be here could and had free opportunity to do so, but sadly that is not the case and as such our community is not representative of all those that could be here if discrimination, from stereotyping roles to outright sexism/racism/agism/*ism, was not present. As such, we have a duty to address the problems that disable people’s opportunities.

Comments from people who aren’t living under rocks mostly took issue with the idea that I was letting conferences off the hook. That was my own poor writing skills, and I added a note to the end of the last post to clarify slightly. In short: Conferences can make changes that have the potential to improve diversity in our circles, but it’s not the only place we can and should be putting pressure. And, in fact, if we can work on other ways to improve diversity we can help conferences achieve a more diverse voice.

Finally, .NET magazine asked my opinion on a couple of questions, and I responded. The article in it’s completeness, unfortunately, created a platform for a ridiculous parody site that I believe not only denies the issues at hand but conflates and confuses matters even more. I apologise for that fact, as I was not aware of it before publish. Update: .NET have removed the link to the parody site I refer to, due to it’s offensive nature.

My full responses for .NET are below, as I think they explain some more detail on my overall thoughts on diversity, but before that – if you can just take one thing away from this know that I believe: Equal opportunity matters more than anything else and we don’t have it, which has resulted in a lack of diversity. We can fix that.

Q&A with Craig Grannell of .NET

Craig: Why did you feel the need to write the piece?

As I intimated at the start of the article, there have been various outbreaks of finger pointing at conferences over the last few months about lack of diversity, and I guess I was just getting bored of it.

I felt that conferences were being blamed somehow for creating a lack of diversity within our industry, which appeared to me as unfair considering that there simply are, relatively speaking, very few women within our industry (particularly in development circles) who are also at the level to be able to provide a relevant, expert opinion and then also have the relevant speaking experience (or even the desire to speak at all).

I simply wanted to add a differing view to the discussion that perhaps we should see the lack of diversity in conference line-ups as symptoms of much deeper issues, and as well as demanding the conferences fairly represent our interests and experts, we should also start looking at other ways to create and encourage diversity and develop a better representation of the world at large. That maybe it’s time to start treating the lung cancer, instead of just the cough?

Craig: Do you think positive discrimination would in the long run do more harm than good to non-white men. If conferences started doing quotas, would that negatively impact on women in the industry, say?

It’s difficult to say – I think if it was widely believed that positive discrimination was happening everywhere, as a given, it would cause us to eventually ask a lot of questions like “is that person on stage because they are the very best person to explain this to me, or are they fulfilling a quota?” (particularly if a talk goes badly, which can happen from time to time for a variety of reasons). No body wants to be the token member of a line-up (I certainly don’t, and would turn down any opportunity that I thought that was the case). After everything is said and done, the only people we want to see on stage, regardless of what group they may represent, should be there on merit, and have the ability to give a good talk, inspire and educate, even if that comes at the cost of not fulfilling a desired quota sometimes.

As it stands, I don’t think we’re seeing positive discrimination in that obviously negative guise, rather it’s something more akin to “I have two well placed, equally viable, experts, but one of these would help me to better represent a group of people I feel is underrepresented – so lets go with that one!”, which seems quite reasonable to me. I think it’s also really helpful when conferences make it very clear how they selected their speakers. Was it blind proposals? Did you hand select? How many submissions did you get? The more we understand about the process of finding speakers, the more we can make our own mind up about how well curated a set of talks is as audience members.

Long term, I think we should be aiming to not have to even consider whether one person should be chosen over another to help fulfil quotas or present more people of one type of group. Ideally, we’d like to be selecting from a pool of people that are *already* better representing the wealth and diversity of opinion in the world as a whole, so that it simply becomes a discussion of “which of these talks will have the most value?”.

Craig: Should more developers rather than sharing with peers get involved with local schools, to encourage more girls to become designers and developers in the industry?

I don’t think it’s an either/or scenario. More developers from more walks of life should be speaking and sharing their views, opinions and experiences. Yes, please, more of that. It would also be great if more developers wanted to go back to school, as one example, and encourage the next generation of potential web creators. We have a lot of resources, expertise and generally really nice people in our community and we could put our collective abilities together to make some really lasting changes. We’re already seeing such efforts popping up, such as various coding for kids movements.

Craig: Is there also a need to encourage more women in the industry to share their experiences and insight more often?

Again, more experiences shared is better no matter who you are or where you came from. If a group of people currently feel that they have no way or voice in the industry, then yes, we should be positively encouraging their participation, and perhaps that means creating new platforms for more people to find those opportunities to share their expertise

06 Jan

Conferences aren’t the problem

We’ve barely started the new year, and already there’s been a spat about a conference and their lack of diversity. Rather unfortunately, they picked 22 white, young, men and only one woman (so far) to be on their invited experts panels at a developer conference. Hey, it happens, and pretty much no one would do that out of malice, and I really don’t think boycotts are helping anyone, nor is hoping the event implodes due to twitter bullies.

Conferences are not the problem, they are just showing the symptoms of a severe lack of diversity, generally, throughout the industry. We can cover up the warts all we like with bolstered numbers of minority groups on stage, but we should probably be working out how to tackle the actual issue of why so few of them enter the industry, as novices/newbies/entry-levels/graduates etc., in the first place who would later become the experts we seek out to speak.

I turned up some stats from A List Apart’s 2011 web survey and was unsurprised to find that of the respondents that identify as developers (the largest group of respondents by a significant amount), only 9.1% of them were women. For me, seeing a fair and representative distribution of the community at large is actually acceptable (YMMV), so I don’t intend to give conferences a hard time if they don’t wish to positively discriminate (such as this note I was happy to read from the PHP conf organisers, and I am also a fan of JSConf’s blind submission process) and get more than that 1 in 10 for dev conferences (and, overall, nearer 1/5 for topics beyond pure development, going by the same survey results).

The argument that having role-models is important is often cited, and that having larger-than-representative numbers as speakers could help that, and I see the point at a certain level – but no kid at school, before selecting their academic interest (should they have one), is watching web dev conference videos for fun and dreaming about becoming a badass specification author. Don’t kid yourselves, there are no actual rockstars or ninjas in our industry.

Role-models are helpful to those already starting out, or who have made the decision to be interested in tech and the web, giving the extra push to want to explore more and speak later, but they’re already in at that point, we just have to keep them sold, but there aren’t very many of them. Sure, have role-models, but remember that if it’s speaking about performance issues in Ruby, or some such fun, you’re already preaching to the converted.

We need to get more in, in the first place. Start ’em early, reap the rewards in the future. I don’t expect to see the numbers of speakers of minority groups to go up suddenly overnight – this will take time, as most good things do.

Conferences are simply showing up the diversity problem in a particularly acute way – we will never fix it by pretending the industry is more evenly distributed than it actually is, and later blaming organisers for it. They’re working with unfair numbers. Hell, if any conference these days thinks they’ll slide by without some twitter fallout for “under representing”, they’re either brave or stupid. We’re developing a very sensitive (or egg-shell-treading) conference circle, I imagine, that is more than aware that it has a quota to meet and events that allow proposals are in particular trying very hard to accurately represent the state of affairs, and often attempting to go beyond that by reaching out to those they’d like to see speak or better represented. Good work, our industry. It doesn’t always work out, but the overall trend is what’s important.

I think at this point we should start asking questions as to why we feel the need to poke hard at conferences, why are we positively discriminating, and what should we really be fixing for lasting change. Why are our starting numbers so low?

You want to increase numbers? Go back to your universities and high schools and ask why they’re not encouraging more women into their classes and onwards to our profession. What are they doing to excite children to take maths, computer science, design, IT, etc. for long enough that they make it into the industry? How are they challenging stereotypes of what is an acceptable profession for any group of people, often defined by teachers and parents at the very earliest years?

If we’re talking about women at an age and experience level to be able to be an invited expert on a panel – we’re already too late to improve the numbers (this is not to say there are none, but there are going to be statistically fewer by some margin as it stands).

My mathematics lonely heart post: Seeking jovial, talented statistician to teach the ability to crunch grizzly numbers about diversity in the web industry to curmudgeonly developer. Apply within.

Some disclosures/clarifications

  1. One of the panelists at Edge conf is my other half, Alex. He has had no say in this minor rant, and his participation has no affect on my opinion.
  2. I am talking pretty much solely of diversity of people in web tech, where most of us work. E.g. excluding science and eng: they’ve got their own history, issues and role models (however, where’s our version of the dreamy Prof. Brian Cox on TV, eh? Now there’s a keyboard-playing, rockstar, role-model).
  3. This is not a discussion about sexism amongst professional peers, which, sadly, is still a part of every day live throughout most industries for many people. This is about the fair representation of our community today and why those distributions are as they are, although we may wish to suggest that sexism/stereotyping at early age is a root cause of our industry’s lack of diverse numbers later. If you think diversity is not an issue, you need to crawl out from under your rock.
  4. For those that still don’t understand: I am NOT pro-positive discrimination. I appreciate why it happens and how it has helped and why it continues to be necessary in some scenarios, but I am asking the question: Would we rather not have it ever, and can we not find a way to fix the underlying diversity issues that perpetuate it’s need?
  5. I apologise for unfairly suggesting that conferences shouldn’t do their part – they absolutely should, and I think we’re doing better than ever before (see previous link to JSConf for a nice example). They have an excellent opportunity to show the best and most diverse representatives from our industry. They should always strive for that, and they do often achieve this and we should be confident in letting them know, pro-actively and with good manners, when they’re not representing our interests and experts.
  6. I am not anti-diversity. Seriously? Did you read this post?

There is now a follow-up to this article, available here

28 Dec

Baked posts

For the last year, I’ve been writing monthly for the Pastry Box Project, along with 30 other folks of the web. We’re rather cutely referred to as “bakers”.

I’m all done now, and you can see all the posts I’ve written here.

My favourite one that seemed to strike the most chords with people (that later became a talk) was:

“UX” as a single person’s role strikes me as a red herring. User experience is everyone’s job to get right — from making sure servers respond quickly to having buttons that seem tangible and copy that’s understandable. “Good UX” should be a core competency within every team member.

I contributed a small thought along the same lines for the She Said It advent calendar – a set of uplifting and optimistic pieces of advice from a selection of web people without a Y chromosome to newer designers and developers. You can see mine here.

20 Jul

Accidental designer

Despite my advertising myself as a front-end developer, writing a lot of HTML and JS, I find my most productive days taken up considering and designing digital products and services, ideally with data and evidence.

I enjoy it a lot, but it as left me with a bit of a “am I a developer or designer?” identity crisis.

Colleagues suggest I’m in denial about being a designer – mostly because I’m not a visual designer; I don’t do pictures and graphics and I don’t wield photoshop as my tool of choice – I work in-browser. They also suggest that if I don’t start labelling myself better, I won’t be able to continue finding work doing the sorts of things I enjoy, which it turns out are mostly around supporting and, sadly, defending the user.

If I’m honest, I think I have actually just always had a bit of a problem with designers.

I unfairly (despite being very much into, and doing, art throughout my life) considered “design” to be a soft subject – engineering being the one with the greater level of difficulty. Wrong assumption, I realise, but easily encouraged during my time with computer scientists during my degree years where the concept of service design for the human-being end of software was treated as a “nice extra” and usually quite glossed over.

Along with the engineering bias, the industry as I entered it wasn’t exactly doing much for changing those wrong assumptions. When I started out, I had, as many people did in the early 00s until relatively recently, a lot of up-hill conversations and experiences with designers who were traditionally working in print and had somehow found themselves on the web, and they were doing a pretty crappy job of it.

They didn’t get it.

Those of us building websites then, early adopters of proper web-standards and sites that worked for lots of different kinds of users, tried desperately to make them understand that this isn’t print and it is a flexible, changing, growing, responsive, versatile, medium. They didn’t get it. We fell out. I had some fairly horrible run-ins with the then design director in my first job as a junior developer… Every day I am glad my current one can take me calling him an idiot and see it as a positive (not snark, genuine <3).

So, all that had left me with a fairly bitter taste. I very much knew that in my career, I not only wanted to distance myself from people who didn’t get it, but also myself from being anywhere near them in terms of the work I did, which is pretty much why I have always very clearly said “I do the code, I don’t do the design”. I’m not one of them. As if there should ever really have been a them and us.

It has meant I have had to push back into the “design” aspects of organisations I work for, because I hadn’t aligned myself from the start as part of the design team, where most of the user-orientated decisions tend to get made (which, I do think, is a mistake on most organisations part… designing for your users should be a concern from everybody on your team, no matter their role).

I think all developers should be more engaged with the overall site experience, but I realise that specialisms exist and some of us want to be nearer to that area than others. I’m one of those people who wants to make design decisions as well as code them up where I can. I want to have my cake and eat it too.

In hindsight, the problem was never really the art director when I was a junior. It wasn’t the designers that didn’t want to include me in decisions because I was a developer. It was the organisation, like many others at the time, as a whole not getting it. It’s part of the reason why it’s been great to work with other people over the years that have got it, allowing me to do the things I like and change early biases, and most recently at the Government Digital Service where I honestly believe they get it better than anyone I’ve ever worked for before. And that’s not just down to the amazing people they’ve hired – they get it at a basic level in the ethos of the department. My current contract may say “software engineer” but I am in the design team and like it very much.

I don’t really want a label. I hate labels. I loathe the term “user experience designer”, because I still believe that “user experience” is just a fundamental to what you’re doing, and shouldn’t need stating. There is nothing but user experience design if you’re building products for people.

I have a sneaking suspicion that’s what I am though and probably have always been, in the wide world of jobs people are already doing. User experience service product developer maker dogsbody thing. I am a designer who writes code, who will defend better user experiences and probably be able to tell you how to get them. But I still won’t do the pictures. Deal?

14 Jun

Designing better user experiences – TXJS 2012

As promised, here’s a list of the resources and links and other stuff I mentioned today at TXJS in my talk

If I mentioned anything else you’d like more background on, leave a comment and I’ll find you further resources or explanation.

And my slides are available here on slideshare, although obviously my notes on the slides may be a bit too scrappy for you to re-follow along, so I’ll post a link to the video when that’s available.

01 Dec

Schema-org, microformats and more science please

A normal conversation in the GovUK (or any office I frequent) today went*: “Can we get some microformats on that page?”, I suggest as I spot a section of our site outputting a boat-load of addresses. “No problem – but what’s this about schema-org?”. “Yeah, yeah.. we can hedge our bets and throw their mark-up in there too, it’s just some extra itemprops. *flippant scoff* I’ll send you a complete snippet example, because I’m just nice like that.”

And that’s what I did. And it looked like this:


<div class="vcard" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Organization">
  <p class="org" itemprop="name">Department for Transport</p>
  <p class="adr" itemprop="address" itemscope 

itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress"> <span itemprop="streetAddress"> <span class="extended-address">Great Minster House</span> <span class="street-address">76 Marsham Street</span> </span> <span class="locality" itemprop="addressLocality">London</span> <span class="postcode" itemprop="postalCode">SW1P 4DR</span> </p> <p>Telephone: <span class="tel"
itemprop="telephone">0300 330 3000</span></p> <p>Website: <a href="http://www.dft.gov.uk" class="url"
itemprop="url">www.dft.gov.uk</a></p> <p>Email: <a
href="mailto:firstname.surname@dft.gsi.gov.uk"
class="email" itemprop="email">firstname.surname@dft.gsi.gov.uk</a></p> </div>

Holy massive-code-snippet batman. I was surprised by the size. I know, I can feel people digging up links already on attack and defence of “bloat” when using microformats alone, but seriously guys, IT’S HUGE. I felt guilty saying “this is what you’ve gotta add to get this mark-up to mean something“. Here’s a more broken down comparison:

Here’s the address, raw, at just over a tweet’s worth (167 chars):


Department for Transport
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
SW1P 4DR
Telephone: 0300 330 3000
Website: http://www.dft.gov.uk
Email: firstname.surname@dft.gsi.gov.uk

Here’s the address with the elements on it to get at the separate pieces of the address, bringing us up to 356:


<p>Department for Transport</p>
<p>
  <span>Great Minster House</span>
  <span>76 Marsham Street</span>
  <span>London</span>
  <span>SW1P 4DR</span>
</p>

<p>Telephone: 0300 330 3000</p>
<p>Website: <a href="http://www.dft.gov.uk">www.dft.gov.uk</a></p>
<p>Email: <a href="mailto:firstname.surname@dft.gsi.gov.uk" 
>firstname.surname@dft.gsi.gov.uk</a></p>

Now let’s throw some classes on to those and get a bit of meaning in there (I mean, you may want to style them up, get things on new lines etc etc. so using the microformat classes are handy for that alone.**). We’ve got a vCard, people! (565):


<div class="vcard">
  <p class="org">Department for Transport</p>
  <p class="adr">
    <span class="extended-address">Great Minster House</span>
    <span class="street-address">76 Marsham Street</span>

    <span class="locality">London</span>
    <span class="postcode">SW1P 4DR</span>
  </p>

    <p>Telephone: <span 

class="tel">0300 330 3000</span></p> <p>Website: <a href="http://www.dft.gov.uk"
class="url">www.dft.gov.uk</a></p> <p>Email: <a
href="mailto:firstname.surname@dft.gsi.gov.uk"
class="email>firstname.surname@dft.gsi.gov.uk</a></p> </div>

And now let’s make it schema-org friendly using microdata (863):


<div class="vcard" itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Organization">
  <p class="org" itemprop="name">Department for Transport</p>
  <p class="adr" itemprop="address" itemscope 

itemtype="http://schema.org/PostalAddress"> <span itemprop="streetAddress"> <span class="extended-address">Great Minster House</span> <span class="street-address">76 Marsham Street</span> </span> <span class="locality" itemprop="addressLocality">London</span> <span class="postcode" itemprop="postalCode">SW1P 4DR</span> </p> <p>Telephone: <span class="tel"
itemprop="telephone">0300 330 3000</span></p> <p>Website: <a href="http://www.dft.gov.uk" class="url"
itemprop="url">www.dft.gov.uk</a></p> <p>Email: <a
href="mailto:firstname.surname@dft.gsi.gov.uk"
class="email" itemprop="email">firstname.surname@dft.gsi.gov.uk</a></p> </div>

And we’re done. All I wanted to do was say “this, dear Computer, is an address”. Just getting some frankly useless out-of-the-box HTML elements on the raw data more than doubles it’s size (167 to 356), then we double it again to actually make it useful.

Now, I know size isn’t everything, and this is a pedantic, slightly silly, and probably less than accurate example. We’re not crazy obsessed with keeping our pages below a certain size anymore (Ah… I remember back when the BBC S&Gs insisted that every page had to be less than 200k down the wire including script and CSS AND images. Those were the days.), but it’s not something to be sniffed at either. Particularly with mark-up. Increased size probably suggests increased complexity – more work for everyone, more chance of someone bungling the order or nesting, more simply “I can’t be bothered”. Colour me dubious. I just want to highlight how much we add on to HTML to make it actually do what we need.

Itemscope and itemtype, a brief diversion

I had one of those Am I crazy, but why are there two properties on these things? moments. When would you ever use one without the other? The spec says you can use itemscope alone, but without itemtype, it’s a bit meaningless. I think I’d do away with itemscope and have itemtype only but with a value, either a URI or something meaningful to the internal vocabulary. itemscope seems to exist solely to say “the things in side me are related”, but by the very nature of it being the parent of those items, that’s already implied, and with a class name of something meaningful (say, hcard), or just the itemtype (with a useful value), explicit to data consumers.

This isn’t sarcasm: I would gratefully receive an explanation as to why there are two attributes instead of one.

Back in the room: Is this seriously what we expect authors to do?

I think I’m still struggling to understand why microdata is a separate specification (or even exists if it’s not being used as a mechanism to get stuff into HTML long-term). You can achieve exactly this richness with the current attributes supplied in HTML, and I don’t even mean just the microformats class way. The data- attribute is pretty handy, though, and seems ripe for stuffing with machine data (why shouldn’t it take a URI if you really need it?).

But I digress.

Microdata with schema-org is solving a problem we’ve already solved in microformats, but in an equally not-quite-there way (having to specify itemtype with a URI more than once in a page for items that are the same, but not within the same parent, feels filthy, for example). They are just as bad as each other, in slightly varying ways. Useful for proving a point, allowing growth and putting out examples (not that all of these bonuses are currently being made the best of), but crappy if this is all we can muster for the long-term, high-volume, regularly published, data representation patterns in HTML. We’re asking authors to jump through hoops still for things they shouldn’t have to.

Microformats, schema-org, whatever… is this really our game plan now? Just keep throwing ever more bloat into already creaking elements when you just want to do something really common? What’s the strategy for getting this stuff out of this mess and into the language?

You might be asking why bother aiming to get those stronger patterns into HTML, if this mechanism basically works for getting a machine to figure out what the hell you’re trying to say, but you may as well be asking why you have any semantically meaningful elements in HTML at all if that’s the case. HTML version 5 is redefining some elements to have better semantic meaning because HTML is the language of authors, and to authors and consumers meaning matters.

Without a plan for gathering evidence for popularly used patterns directly from microformats or microdata (and using them as formal methods of research, testing and development), or what people (actual, real developers – not just the big search engines) are doing in general, we’ll end up with no progress or the wrong progress in HTML, and I believe that a formal process for how and when this happens should be made (i.e. definitions of what constitutes critical mass of common patterns, how the information should be gathered, how they will be proposed formally in the WG and promoted into the language proper, etc.).

I want evidence-based HTML that will evolve using clearly defined mechanisms.

*Conversation shortened and re-written with an artistic license and possibly some (many; “nice” may be a stretch) inaccuracies.

**Yes, I’m casually suggesting that microformats are “free” if all you want to do is get your stuff out there with the minimum you’ll need to be machine-friendly and human-eyes-pretty.

31 Oct

Gold-plating the cow paths

I was quoted a couple of weeks ago as saying, albeit in private, the following:

“HTML fails to be simple if it can’t provide what authors regularly need and end up turning to other encodings” — @phae

@slightlylate

For context, that was in response to a remark made by a friend that HTML fails if authors can’t use it because it has become too complex and attempts to describe too much. My response was that it fails not because it’s complicated, but when an author cannot express their content accurately with the toolkit they’re supplied and have to go to another encoding to find what they’re looking for. That’s the language passing the buck, in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting HTML should cover every niche semantic everyone is ever going to want to express ever. That would be crazy and confusing. HTML should express what is most commonly used, and at the moment it doesn’t – which is why we still see microformats, microdata, component model, schema.org etc. trying to fill the gaps. And not just trying to fill the gaps, but trying to provide data on which decisions can be made about what should be in HTML.

HTML, and a platform that provides, should be the end goal. Microformats, et al., are the research grounds that should be directly contributing with the evidence and data they are able to garner. In fact, the most popular microformats, shown through demand and usage, should just be in HTML as a standard, by being provided for with semantically appropriate new elements.

We’ve seen this work. Microformats started doing things with dates, most specifically, hCalendar. It had a slightly cludgy way of marking up time, using abbr. The accessibility lot were rightfully less than impressed, and other patterns were tried – title and spans and all kinds of things. But in short, it was shown that time gets talked about a lot, and we needed something better. We got <time> in HTML. Hooray! The system works! Well, except when it doesn’t. Go read Bruce Lawson’s take, as the powers that be removed time and replaced it with data. Gee, thanks.

We shouldn’t expect authors to go in search of richer mark-up from other sources when what they’re trying to do is really common, when a need has been shown, and a pattern has been proven.

21 Aug

Working for the government

My soon-to-be-colleague, Gareth, reminded me via props that I haven’t mentioned that I’m switching jobs. From Monday, I’m going to work for the government!

Having been impressed with alphagov earlier this year, I was more than happy to get onboard when the offer came up to work on the next phase of the project with a bunch of people I’ve known for years (and still apparently want to work with me), and a few new ones. We’re being housed within a new department, to be known as the Government Digital Service.

Colour me excited (but maybe not orange?).