Happy Birthday, World Wide Web

It’s the 15th birthday of the release of the source code for the World Wide Web, according to the BBC.

Just 15 years. And it’s already almost impossible to remember how we lived before tinterweb.

The first ever web site was http://info.cern.ch. It’s still there (the site not the same web page…) It is pretty rubbish, which is oddly comforting. (No reasonable menu, you can only find the other pages by going to the sitemap, elements don’t fit exactly, in IE6, and they use style attributes in tags instead of the class definition 🙂 ) There’s some screenshots of Tim Berners-Lee’s first browsers, which could give present-day browsers some serious competition.

It links to CERN’s proper site which is brilliant, although most of it is so far over my head that i might as well be reading an umbrella.

The web itself has become indispensable. Especially for finding out anything you want to know – instantly. It’s true that much of what you get is spurious, but the more of us that develop a built-in bullshit detector the better.

And mostly, it’s great that the web has grown so fast precisely because it was designed to be free and open and collaborative The BBC reported Robert Cailliau:

“We had toyed with the idea of asking for some sort of royalty. But Tim wasn’t very much in favour of that.” ………
“If we had put a price on it like the University of Minnesota had done with Gopher then it would not have expanded into what it is now.

(Maybe someone should tell the DRM fanatics.)

DotNetty Ramblings

Well, it has been a while since I have ranted or raved about technological topics so this is a bit overdue. Fortunately this months .net magazine has managed to provide something of interest (although I think this was actually unintentional on their behalf).

Towards the end of the magazine they have a tendency to waste two – three pages on a normally pointless section called “Big Question.” In this, .net asks a selection of .net figureheads (such as people from Adobe, Actinic, ISPs, Nielsen//NetRatings etc., as well as people like Oxblood Ruffin) a question which gives them a lot of latitude to wax lyrical about all things internety.

This month, the question is “If you could remove one thing from the internet, what would it be?” Surprisingly there are several well thought out answers and most stay away from the pointlessly obvious ones like child porn and crime. For example, Chris Barling (Actinic) earns several WhyDontYou Karma Points for his response:

It would have to be any trace of Michael Winner. He gets over 74,000 hits on Google, so there’s lots to remove. he appears to have no redeeming qualities. A quick Google search for his image is even worse, particularly the Daily Mail photo of a swimming trunk clad Winner. There should be a law against it.

Seriously, what else needs to be said? The only way this could be improved is to remove all traces of Winner from everywhere in the universe. Well done Chris Barling of Actinic fame.

Anyway, this wouldn’t be a WhyDontYou rant if there weren’t some annoyingly odd comments to complain about. Let us take a look at this snippet from Steve Burnard (Adobe):

I would remove blogs, for the following reasons: They’re personal opinions, usually by people who are unqualified to have an objective opinion. They can be out of date, yet will still be referenced as valid.

Blimey. Now as this is a blog obviously I am going to strongly disagree with the nonsense Burnard is spouting here.

Sadly, he is echoing comments which I have heard over the last few weeks from a variety of media sources and, with a lot of caveats, I agree with part of the gist myself.

There is, in recent times, a strange public approach towards blogs and internet information (at least there is in the UK). Some people work on the principle that everything on a blog is 100% scientifically proven fact, while others fall in the exact opposite camp. Obviously both are off the mark by a long way. There are lazy journalists, there are lazy researchers and there are lazy commenters – all of whom will do a quick web search, find a blog which agrees with what ever point they are trying to make and then pass the blog off as if it is peer reviewed research resulting from a double blind study.

However, as Burnard points out, these blogs are actually personal opinion. The problem is not their existence but lazy and stupid people expecting more from them. I am somewhat intrigued as to how a person can not be qualified to have an “objective opinion” when they are writing a “personal opinion” blog. It strikes me that Burnard simply dislikes blogs and has tried to throw two arguments together in his dismissal of their value.

If I read a blog which talks about Stanislaw Lem (for example), this tells me more about how the author of the blog understands the person, what he has done and so on, rather than going to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica and hoping he has an entry. I do not expect every single detail to be 100% factually accurate (although I am disappointed if I find mistakes – not that I have found any in the Black Sun Journal post I mention) and I do not for one second expect editorial commentary to be impartial. I have yet to find any editorial content which is actually impartial.

As to this mysterious “objective opinion” – where does Burnard suggest we go for this? (He doesn’t make any suggestions in the article) None of the “traditional” media sources could ever hope to be considered “objective” in their coverage, especially when it comes to technology. Nearly ever piece I have ever seen on TV or in the print media turns out to be little more than a regurgitated press release, manufacturers / designers websites are no better. I have yet to see anything even hinting at being objective on the Adobe website.

With blogs you can often work out where their bias lies (if you see a penguin logo, you know MS products will get short shrift for example… 🙂 ), and the more you read the blog, the easier this becomes. While there is a risk of getting press-releases in blog forms, this too can be spotted by visiting the blog frequently. Other than the occasional high profile blogger who gets paid to comment on products, you can normally be reasonably sure that when a blog writes about a product, the manufacturer isn’t calling the shots.

What, I wonder, is the source of the mystical “objective opinion?”

One last odd comment on the “Big Question” is from Ian Pearson (slightly insane, high profile Futurologist with BT). Now, dismissing the frankly off the wall predictions he makes, this is what he thinks should be removed from the internet:

I’d remove holiday cottage agencies. The net doesn’t need them, I don’t need them, the cottage owners don’t need them and the tourist industry as a whole suffers greatly because of them. I and many other potential customers now go overseas instead, They’ve overstayed their welcome.

I get the feeling I am missing something here because this makes no sense to me at all. First off, this is a big bout of hubris by Mr Pearson. Just because “he” doesn’t need them doesn’t mean no one else needs them. I have used one to book a fantastic holiday to Hadrians Wall a few months ago and the cottage owners I have spoken to about them (admittedly only three) have had good things to say about them.

More importantly though, is the idea that the tourist industry is suffering because of online holiday cottage agencies. What madness. The idea that because of the existence of holiday cottage agencies people now decide to travel overseas instead is just too weird for words. Is Ian Pearson (and these mysterious “others”) incapable of booking a UK holiday without going through a cottage agency? Surely the final decider is the reality of economics. If these agencies really add no value, and do nothing but discourage tourists, they will go out of business and the weird happy state he seems to look for will return.

Personally, I just think all this “futureguessing” has sent him insane. (But this is just my non-objective, personal opinion…)

[tags]Technology, Blogs, Blogging, Steve Burnard, Chris Barling, Ian Pearson, BT, Adobe, Actinic, DotNet, .net, Magazine, Web Design, Web Design Magazine, Nonsense, Drivel, Rambling[/tags]

Disability Discrimination – hypocrisy in action

Normally, I would be quicker off the mark with some choice criticisms of the latest .net magazine, but now that I live on the cultural equivalent of Pluto, it takes a while for the magazine to get to me. That said, by page 10 (ironically first full page of content) there is enough to make me want to choke the lives out of the editorial team.

For background, .net is a webdesign magazine and regularly has articles about how important it is to make sure your web sites are accessible – and meet the requirements of the DDA – as well as a monthly “agony aunt” style column which gives out best practice advice. In the last two years, I don’t think a single issue has had less than two pages worth of accessibility advice. Quite rightly this advice emphasises how people should aim for broad audiences and go out of their way to not exclude one category or another.

Now, keeping that in mind, this months “Mail of the Month” is from “Ann Thulin” who describes herselve as “a woman and old” and feels that .net discriminates against her. She points out that in previous months there have been complaints about the insane choice of tiny fonts and colours which are so un-contrasting as to be almost invisible. Ms Thulin puts forward a well written rant, basically saying that as an older person, her eyes are not strong enough to read the text properly and that despite the previous excuses used by .net team (“not our fault – technical problems”, the accessibility issues are actually the result of a human making the (ill)informed choice that 6pt pale grey goes well against off-white paper. I am not old, and I am not disabled and I find it hard to read the articles sometimes – especially as the magazine team seem obsessed with geometric shapes which draw the eye away from already badly contrasted text. The layout is, from an accessibility point of view, almost criminally bad.

You would think, given the monthly obsession about accessibility, that .net would take this seriously. If this was about a website (as previous months “Access all areas” will attest), then the ranting about ensuring the content was accessible and available to all would be almost non-stop. If the .net team were reviewing a corporate website with such bad accessibility issues it would be crucified.

In reality, this is the response (in full):

Wow, that’s some indictment. It’s a little unfair to call us lazy, as we’re still looking at improving areas of low contrast n the magazine. Buy you’re right about one thing: we don’t plan to increase our font size. Our average reader is 31 years old, and it’s with this age group in mind that we design the magazine. Lastly, we’re not sure what Bill Gates has to do with the price of fish, but definitely wouldn’t change our font size for him.

Strikes me as that is a long winded way of telling Ms Thulin to “f**k off, we don’t care about you old farts.” I am amazed that any editorial staff allowed such a blatant dismissal of their readership be printed. Before I go on, the Gates reference is because Ms Thulin said that if she was Uncle Bill, she thought .net would change – I assume implying that if she was rich and male, she would have more impact on their policies. It strikes me, that despite the “witty” response, she is right here.

.net editorial team are lazy. They have had months to pick up on this accessibility issue but still haven’t bothered their arses. The think which infuriated me was the dismissive “we cater for 31 year olds” remark.  If I was Ms Thulin, I would seriously consider getting legal advice on this – it strikes me as being both discriminatory towards people for age and disability. Everything about the response is wrong. Annoyingly wrong.

For example, it implies that 31 year olds have perfect eyesight and colour perception. This is not the case by any stretch of the imagination. I very much doubt that what ever research .net carried out looked into eyesight of their readers. It is not dissimilar to saying “our average reader wears size 8 shoes so we don’t care about your problems reading the text.” They have committed the cardinal discrimination sin and made assumptions about eyesight based solely on age.

Saying the average reader is 31 is pretty meaningless as well. Is the circulation of .net amongst 31 year olds so prevalent that no other age group is important? What about all the 14 and 15 year olds who read the magazine – based against that there will be dozens of people in their 40s, 50s, and sixties or beyond. When you factor in the increased incidence of eyesight problems amongst people who work day in, day out on IT, you see that if anything, .net should be obsessive about accommodating for visual disabilities. If there were any doubt, 20% of the regular contributors and 40% of the “Ask the Experts” panel are shown wearing glasses. Do these people not count? Obviously not.

Given that there is a legal and moral obligation to accommodate people with disabilities (and not discriminate against people on the grounds of age) it is breathtaking that .net magazine feel the integrity of their layout is so important that they can ignore genuine complaints. Does the DDA not apply to web design magazines?

With this blinding disregard for their readership (disabilities or otherwise), it will amuse me no end to read their continued articles going on about how important “accessibility” is…

[tags].net, hypocrites, Accessibility, DDA, Disability, Discrimination, Disability Discrimination Act, Web Design, Magazines, Technolog[/tags]

Uninspiring .Net

I have tried to hold off commenting on this month’s issue of .Net magazine. In recent months, the magazine has been showing signs of greatness and some of the recent articles have been inspirational and educational.

Not this time.

Generally speaking, the May 2007 issue (number 162) is completely dull. The cover articles range from potentially interesting “The Power Of Type” to ones you know will be dull, namely “Can the Web save the world?” Forgive me, I never realised I’d bought the Economist by mistake….

The saving the world article is about the OLPC project. This is a project to get children in the third world laptops. I am going to steer clear of any potentially dangerous topics, but I can’t help but think that giving them food, water, shelter and the like would be a lot better. Giving them laptops (and I assume net access) is not going to feed them. I hope they are English speakers as well…

For a while I thought there was some webdesign links to the OLPC, but as the site appears to be unavailable, I can’t confirm. Suffice it to say, it struck me as three pages of filler content.

The filler content thing seems prevalent this month. Reading the magazine I got the definite impression that, although a magazine had to be published, they had nothing to say. Every one of the articles is excessively wordy, and the use of pages of graphics has reached new highs. The “advice” section is pretty poor, for example the graphics teach you how to design a type face. This basically consists of write the text you want, scan it in and use it… Seriously (4 pages though). In the “Expert Advice” there is a box out titled Understanding ID and Classes. I defy any one who doesn’t already understand them to understand them after reading this…

All in all, this is certainly not an issue of the magazine which you read and then run to the computer, fire up Dreamweaver (or Bluefish) and get coding. Even the reviews section is sparse. If I wasn’t a subscriber, I wouldn’t have bought this in the shop.