“Caveats: I have two iPods, a Mini and a Shuffle. I have no current relationship with Apple, except I was once VP of Apple’s Advanced Technology Group.”
Don Norman, in a response to a post on the 10 most-hated iPod flaws, 30 November 2005
I finished my 5k in 26:45. Which is reasonably good — a sub-9-minute mile, in fact — though not nearly good enough to challenge the winner, at 15:07.
The hosting move is near completion. I made one more change which is less noticeable: let’s see who’s the first to notice.
Update (22 June 2004): I came in 49th out of 65. Oh well. At least I jump up an age bracket next year.
He knows I’m blogging this.
On Sunday, I was the accessibility guy talking to bloggers about accessibility. Today, Kynn Bartlett (Maccessibility, Shock and Awe) is the accessibility guy talking to the accessibility community about blogging. Or maybe he’s the blogger talking to the… or maybe I’m… okay. Now I’m confused. Anyway.
(I showed up late. Sorry. It was Microsoft’s fault. I didn’t even get a t-shirt. The end is always the best part, anyway.)
He smirked at the “crotchety old curmudgeons” who code their sites by hand. The point, he says, is to get their message out there, not how hardcore you are. From which, we get Movable Type. He gave a quick demo. The idea of blogs is easy content.
Someone asked about whether blogging makes for publishing, since many people would think of it as grafitti. Kynn said, essentially, that grafitti is still a form of expression (and the Los Angeles River its greatest content aggregator), and it’s good to have the ability to host that expression.
The benefits of blogging to accessibility: Content can be separated from presentation. You can have alternate interfaces: for example, the blind people group on LiveJournal. And RSS: despite the contention over the standard, it passes the just-works test for end users. Stuff like BlogLines for aggregation. (Aww. He featured my blog. Thanks, Kynn!) He actually distracted himself with someone else’s feed during his own preso. NADD much?
Anyone can publish. That includes users with disabilities. “Anything that makes it easier for anyone to publish makes it easier for people with disabilities to publish, because they’re just anyone.” And it doesn’t matter if you’re blind if all you want to do is hate Bush (like Kynn and me). But it’s personal enough that details tend to escape.
Accessibility challenges: “Do we really want people to create all this crap?” Now that the bar is lowered, newer bloggers aren’t learning things that are obvious to Web designers, like alt text. There are things like photoblogs and audioblogs (q.v.: my advice to audio and video bloggers) that aren’t accessibility. And the tools themselves have no guarantee of accessibility.
How do you promote accessibility? Reach out to receptive bloggers. Look at and point to blogs on accessibility. “The Zeldman Effect,” as Kynn puts it, is that whatever Jeffrey thinks is cool is what others will think is cool. The cool part is that the people at the top of the design food chain actually think accessibility is cool. “And that’s starting to trickle down now.” And ensure that all voices are heard, including users with disabilities. The more you make that visible, the more it spreads.
He closed with Mark Siegel of the 19th Floor. (He likes Mark. We all like Mark.) No Pity is a LiveJournal community just to chat without looking for sympathy, etc. (My old-school friend Rachel created that. Rachel’s cool, and her fonts are really big.)
That’s it, he says, get to bloggin’. And go see Kynn’s blogging class.
Joel Greenberg, the moderator, set the scene. There are 1,060,000 bloggers. 61k news analysts, reporters, and correspondents. 106k editors. 42k writers and authors. 136k public relations specialists. Two things he points out: more bloggers than all others combined, and more PR people than reporters and writers combined.
Sean-Paul Kelly of the Agonist: Showed today’s Austin American-Statesman, and how few stories on the front page are really of importance. Bloggers are “leading journalistic indicators” driving stories into the mainstream press.
Cameron Barret: The media spent all this time on Janet Jackson and not enough on actual issues.
Castellano, a radio host from KOBJ: Big mistake is that the people believe everything they read. Blogging serves a purpose, but there are so many alternative media that they can get online. Alex Jones, for example, is a nutcase (my word) in Austin who has a large audience. She was really down on blogging in general, and didn’t believe that it had any effect on traditional media (an observation that runs counter to evidence). Really came off sounding like someone trying to preserve their career path, rather than engage with the outsiders.
How soon will blogging be associated with other senses? (Me, to a neighbor: “this blog tastes terrible!) Barret: Audio and video bloggers are already out there. Other senses aren’t defined yet. Greenberg: Cheap stuff allows people to do this more easily.
How did Wesley Clark pay attention to the blogs? He was very aware of it, and why they were doing it. He sent in blog postings via his BlackBerry. Castellano talks about Dean’s blog, and how its failing was that it was preaching to the choir, so not a good approach to gathering new voters.
Kelly: Wolf Blitzer said that blogs are the left’s equivalent of talk radio. (Yeah, but it’s also the right’s equivalent of talk radio.)
Kelly commented in relation to a question that the editing process helps to take emotional reactions to, say, freebies, out of mainstream media, and bloggers don’t have that. Ergo, objective reporting is less likely. Barret adds that blogs need to be edited. “People want good writing. People want good opinions. The more you edit it, the better it gets.”
Someone asked how to get the people online to act offline. (Which is something I brought up to Zach Exley of MoveOn the other day.) Cameron Barret mentioned he’s been hired by the Kerry campaign to work on software to facilitate offline discussion and action. He said they were going to have materials available to people who lived in rural areas, were less educated, etc. (I really hope he doesn’t end up selling people short just because they’re not reading a blog. It’s more than just dumb hicks that they have to reach out to.)
Kelly says the primary interest in papers should be to inform people. Profit motive should be secondary.
Pat Pound talked about how her blog got surprisingly popular among her colleagues, who learned a lot about things like life with a guide dog.
Jason Shellen of Blogger pointed out the social factors Salam Pax in Iraq, and now bloggers in Iran are picking it up. Also the Dean and now the Kerry campaigns. He pointed out Atom and AtomEnabled as a method of increasing access. Adam Weinroth added that Atom as a standard technology would have a “phenomenal” impact on the creation of accessible content.
Next was Weinroth, from Easyjournal: Access is about getting to the content. Accessibility is the ability to consume the information you have access to. It’s all a digital divide issue: gaps in access based on culture, income, etc. Companies want access to markets. “Blogging represents something very important with respect to accessibility.” Google produces results from blogs. Tool vendors have a responsibility to make their tools accessible. (I’m gonna hold him to that, folks. And all the others, too.) Adam likes the curb-cut analogy (that is, not everybody who has used curb cuts is in a wheelchair).
Ana Sisnett, the moderator, is “totally in awe” of the panel. She’s new to blogging, having fallen in love with it as another tool for enabling access and communication. It allows for a lot of formats that help people find the most effective way for them to communicate. Sisnett asked how to work on accessibility for deafness. Sharron Rush pointed out the MAGpie captioning software, which I had just demoed in the last session.
Pound said the trend of using cell phones to create Web content “makes blind people really uptight.” For new technologies like digital TV and DVD, practical accessibility has to start after the technology has been created.
Weinroth says that accessible development “can really be a source of innovation.” TTY, for example, was created in the 60′s, and was “the first instant messaging client.”
Shellen says Blogger and Globo had a deal to bring blogging to Brazil natively. They translated Blogger into Portuguese, and it was very successful. They access technology differently than we do here. They have a huge digital divide. The first experience with computers in Brazil was really around 1995-96 when Windows 95 came around. So their first experience was better than with middle-class America, with 286 and 386 machines. They got to leapfrog a little. They were able to grab on to things like blogging more readily.
Pound said that there’s so much more choice out there that users with disabilities can pick what works for them. She says she considers it a responsibility of users with disabilities to keep up to date with technology (new versions of screen readers, etc.) Sisnett asked if there are resources to help people with that, and Pound responded that, well, it depends, and in many cases, it’s a matter of paying the $100 or $150 to update screen readers every year and a half.
Then CAPTCHA came up, and I had to jump in. Shellen mentioned that Orkut had implemented CAPTCHA, and immediately got nailed by accessibility advocates, and said they planned to put up MP3 files. I mentioned the W3C paper on CAPTCHA, and the fact that this is just a cat-and-mouse game, and the solution is to get out of that cycle of people defeating systems that are fundamentally broken in terms of what they’re trying to do. We need to move past that and to a genuine solution. CAPTCHA ain’t it.
Adam closed with the story of the blogger from the 19th Floor, who had a passionate plea to the companies supporting blogging to make sure everyone gets to participate.
MIT’s weblog site is closing. The result: anyone who created a blog there will presumably have to relocate, resulting in broken links all over the place, and lots of frustration in converting existing content, if the owners do it at all.
That’s why I designed my blogging app the way I did: so you don’t need to have control of a server, and you don’t have to trust someone else with your original content. Just set up your own domain, or someplace that makes you feel secure in its longevity. If they go away, or you change providers, no problem: you change your domain and copy your old directory, or regenerate your original content, and move on from there. The lesson to be learned here is that bloggers should always take care to keep their original stuff safe, so that when things like this happen, the Web hasn’t lost its value.
Filed in: blogging, Mon, Feb 16 2004 06:03 PT
Kynn Bartlett, of Maccessibility and Shock and Awe, interviewed me for a class he’s doing on blogging. I kind of went overboard with my answers. And it’s in that spirit that I share my overboardness with you.
- What’s your blog about? Do you have one blog, or several? How did you choose the topic(s) for your blog(s)? Who is audience?
- Mine is pretty general-purpose. My most popular topics are, in no particular order, politics, the Web, media, technology (i.e., geek toys), design and accessibility. I never really bothered with an audience because I was mostly interested in finding out what I think is most interesting. From the first blog I did in 2000 to the one I started at the end of 2002, the spread of the topics has shifted pretty substantially.
- What’s your background, career-wise? How did you get into blogging? Why?
- I worked as a news intern for a local TV station and for the college newspaper when I was 16-18. That was where I acquired most of my writing skills. (The rest of it was learned picking fights online.) I really got into technology and online communities around 1992, and so I merged my writing and geeking into a freelance career writing articles and columns on tech. It was around 2000 that I threw together my first blog, mostly to figure out why someone would do it. I’m still working on that, and when I’m done, well, you’ll probably see me keynoting, writing books, or just making big hand-waving gestures in hotel lobbies.
- What software do you use to create your blog?
- I wrote my own, called Entropy. (More on this later.)
- What software do you use to read blogs? (Browser, RSS aggregator, etc.)
- I use NetNewsWire, an aggregator for Mac OS X. It has a smooth UI, uses the Mac’s built-in HTML rendering, allows me to open up multiple tabs in Safari in the background, has beta support for Atom, and has never misbehaved.
- What are your favorite blogs to read, and why? Which small, overlooked blogs are deserving of greater attention?
Tim Bray, Ongoing
One of the original developers of XML.
I can’t recommend this one highly enough, despite it not having an RSS feed. He’s a liberal blogger who quite often takes complex stories and diagrams them, creating some really incredible visuals. The thing I always preach, even when I infrequently practice it, is that it’s not just about words. People who can create interesting or meaningful visuals (or sounds!) can be outstanding bloggers.
Jay McCarthy, makeoutcity
This guy, I don’t know how he does it, but he’s subscribed to 1100 RSS feeds, and quotes large numbers of them daily. His RSS feed is regularly around 200k, and generally captures a wide span of topics, from libertarianism to library science to my first trip to the gym.
- How much time per day (week, month) do you spend blogging? Why is it worth it?
I do about 1 hour a day, when I can help it. That consists of maybe a 5-minute pass through the aggregator, and the balance of the time reading and/or blogging about what I’ve selected.
I get a lot out of that hour, from news to technology to personal connections. I know what’s going on around the world — especially in the UK and France, where I read a number of news feeds that aren’t exactly what I see on CNN during the day. It’s not good enough for me to find the stuff I’m looking for: I want a better idea of the things that I’m even tangentially interested in, and I can do that simply by subscribing to, say, a feed on making music on the computer.
- Where are blogs going in the future? Is it just a fad, or a normal outgrowth of the Web’s evolution, or is it a revolution in how we share information?
- I think that when we look back with the 20-year lens, blogging will be more or less forgotten, having been assimilated as a common model for writing content. The term “blogger” will be understood as the prototype for a (commonly overtly biased) individual journalist (or, alternately, the first authoring tool for millions). People will still have journals and so forth, but I have this feeling that what we see in this space 5 years from now will be as different from the current state of the art as 2004 is to 1994. That is, it wasn’t a revolution: it was merely the knee of the curve.
- What’s so cool about being a blogger? What’s the coolest thing that’s happened in connection to your blog?
I have to say, a lot of people think they’re cool because they’re bloggers. I don’t get that. I think it’s a personal statement that you spend too much time staring at your navel. I do it because I think I have a point of view that a lot of others aren’t going to have, and I like knowing that a few dozen people a day come just to see what I have to say.
As for cool things, I’ve had someone quote myself back to me more than once. That’s good stuff. It shows that my name doesn’t have to stick with people for my ideas to.
- Why is accessibility important in blogs, blogging tools, and blog tools?
- Because it’s cheap and easy. Most accessibility efforts are a big pain because you’ve got thousands or millions of pages that need to be fixed, and they’re all scattered between sites and authors and whatnot. But with a blog, you have two major reasons to do it right: because you usually only have two or three templates to fix, and because your stuff is going to be around for a long time. Blogs are designed for long-term archivability (permalinks, date-based archives, etc.), so if you can make your stuff accessible as it’s published, you’ll end up with years’ worth of good, sturdy content that everyone will be able to search and make good use of. And if you’re not writing something that someone will find a use for, then you really have to wonder why you’re bothering in the first place.
- Do you know any bloggers with disabilities? How do they blog?
Well, I know lots of bloggers with personality disorders. Does that count?
Personally, I think there are more blogs about accessibility then there are blogs actually written by people with disabilities. There are three possible explanations for this:
- The tools aren’t accessible to them. While there are a handful of tools that are close to accessible, and any number of them are working at it, there isn’t a single one that can claim with a straight face that people with a broad range of disabilities can use theirs without a lot of problems. And the fact that I even have to say that after W3C/WAI has been prodding them for six years absolutely sucks.
- Bloggers with disabilities are marginalized or ghettoized. While not quite as abhorrent as 1), if correct, that’s still a drag, especially since they’re not alone. Many other groups, such as LGBT bloggers, various ethnic groups, and other minority populations, do not get as much attention by bloggers outside their social or cultural circles. Where it’s reasonable that affinity groups are formed by the linking between bloggers, there’s really got to be more to it than every liberal pointing to Calpundit and Daily Kos, every conservative pointing to Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan, and everyone else being on the short end of the power-law stick. Look around! Point to the stuff you like! The stuff that’s different! Get people to tiptoe out of their own comfort zones! That’s what you get to do when you blog.
- There are actually thousands of PWDs with blogs, and I just don’t know it because I can’t tell a difference. Where this is true, this is a testament to the equalizing power of the Internet. But until access for all is reached, and participation by all is valued, we haven’t reached the net’s full power.
- I’ve seen some debates that moved from your blog to others, back and forth across blogs. How hard is it to keep up on a cross-blog dynamic like that?
- It’s hard. Hard enough that the previously mentioned Jay and I have been bouncing ideas back and forth on how to create a commons for the discussion of a given thread. Something that will be a permanent holding area for cross-blog arguments, or collaborative discussion, without becoming the center of attention. There’s a disconnect between the sort of essay communication that happens on blogs, and the live-action arguments you see on TV. You can reach a deep understanding of each participant’s views online, provided they’re lucid enough to give you one, but it’s hard to arrive at synthesis. With real-time communication, it’s easy to synthesize, but also entirely too easy to oversimplify or omit relevant information. There’s got to be a middle way.
- You’re working on writing your own blogging software called Entropy. What’s cool about it? Why create your own tool instead of using one off the shelf?
Actually, when I did my first blog in 2000, I wrote my own app called publish.pl to do the management. At the time, Blogger had just started up, and having seen what I could do with that, or with the big systems I could waste lots of time installing with little discernible benefit, I decided to build my own. There’s a part of me that’s more interested with the sociology of blogging than in the content, and having a system that I know inside and out lets me experiment a lot more than I can with another package.
Right now, I have to say nothing is cool about it, because the latest version isn’t working. Theoretically, Entropy works entirely on the author’s machine, and functions with an API like Blogger, Metaweblog, or Movable Type. So you can (again, theoretically) set it up locally, and then run your blogging app like you’ve set it up on some server. The big deal about this approach is that the apps out there either need to be installed on a server (e.g., Movable Type) or are out of the author’s control as far as content retention (Blogger, Typepad). So if you don’t know how to mess with a server, or don’t have the privileges to, or you really value having the stuff you write 100% under your control, Entropy will rock your world.
In practice, however, I get to figure out how to write a threaded XML-RPC server, because while it successfully does each API call atomically, the apps that call them tend to pipeline them, and Entropy throws a rod.
- How important it is to use CSS and XHTML? Do Web standards matter for bloggers? If so, why?
- If you as an author care about people referencing your work five years from now (and, realistically, even if what you write is only potentially useful to someone else, you should think about this), valid code is a must. Browsers have been cleaning up after poor code forever, and relying on what IE 4 fixed to remain usable when IE 7 or 8 or 9 comes out, or when a new browser like Safari arrives, sooner or later you’re bound to be really disappointed, and your life will take an unexpected unpleasant turn. And, of course, valid and semantically-correct code (e.g., using lists when you mean to do lists, instead of just line breaks and bullet GIFs) helps things like screen readers interpret and represent content properly for users with disabilities.
- Do you use blogs at work? Does the W3C have any interest in the whole blogging phenomenon? Will there we a set of accessibility guidelines just for blogs?
There are a lot of us at W3C who blog ourselves, and we have an interest in the phenomenon because the W3C — and its director, Tim Berners-Lee — has always envisioned a two-way Web. Until blogging apps appeared, even with such apps as Dreamweaver and FrontPage, it wasn’t easy to put it all together, and have a real individual presence online. The fact that there are celebrity bloggers (and blogging celebrities) indicates that people get this whole idea, and when they look harder at it, they say, “hey, I can do that,” where they were reluctant to do so previously. So it’s obviously a good thing for the Web, and we like things that are good for the Web.
Now, for accessibility. If you write a blog, you need to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. If you write a blogging app, you need to follow the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines. ATAG target applications include content management systems, and blogging apps are really only simple CMSes. Of course, as a co-editor of ATAG, I get to be a guinea pig with Entropy. (See: hoist at one’s own petard.)
- Is it true you have a posse?
I’m beginning to suspect my choice of name is coming back to haunt me.
I’ve been having problems finding and implementing the existing XML-RPC stacks in Python. The result is a system that does everything except respond reliably to the very tools that make it useful. Ain’t that a kick in the teeth.
The easiest one, SimpleXMLRPCServer, isn’t threaded, nor is it fast enough to answer more than one request every few seconds. The fastest one doesn’t appear to support code introspection, which I just rewrote my code to do. Others, in addition to not working, aren’t compatible with the license I’ve selected.
So I’m giving up on Entropy until I return from my vacation in a week and a half. When I come back, unless something dramatic happens, I will attempt to implement my own XML-RPC stack to get around the problems I’m having. If that goes well, I can turn around and fix all of the other broken stuff, and get Entropy back on track.
Filed in: blogging, Sat, Jan 17 2004 00:27 PT
It’s 4:30 on Friday.
I haven’t opened my RSS aggregator since Wednesday.
And yet, the world hasn’t fallen in on itself like I expected it to. Damn.
Fear not, gentle reader, I’m just about to open up NetNewsWire, and will probably be lost to the world for some period of time, but it’s only because I need to do some Entropy testing. Really. That’s the truth. I totally swear.
Anyone who has read me in the last year or so knows that I’m working on a blogging application named Logme. (Which is likely be renamed to Entropy. Anybody got a problem with that?) I hope to have Entropy working by May, when I hope to return to Boston and demonstrate it for the Harvard blogger crowd.
In a recent blog entry, I cited Don Box in pointing out why I wrote all my own stuff instead of using one of the numerous existing blogging apps. What I’m looking to do in Entropy is to create a testbed for some theories I have about the propagation of blogging throughout the Internet. Namely:
- It’s too hard to set up your own blog.
- Bloggers deserve ultimate control over their raw content and how it is presented.
- The content of blogs is affected by the facilities and limitations of users’ blogging apps and servers.
- The power laws cited by Clay Shirky, in combination with the distributed nature of blogs, creates a “might makes right” scenario in which high-traffic bloggers direct attention to and deflect attention from sources.
- The distributed nature of blogs tends to stifle one-to-one interactions between bloggers, creating complex and hard-to-follow threads of discussion.
- If given a project I don’t hate, I’m not the worst programmer ever.
It should be noted that the current implementation merely proves that it’s too hard to set up one’s own blog, largely because of its dependence on Python, a language most have never heard of. So I’ll be tackling that in a later version or implementation.
The bit on one-to-one interaction triggered a chat between me and Jay McCarthy. Jay and I have been going back and forth, first on decorum, then blogging, then politics. We’ve created a thread of discussion between our blogs which is reasonably hard to track even for the participants, and tedious to the extent of frustration for anyone who has been following.
We have mechanisms which approximate a solution: namely, Trackback and Pingback. However, to date, these technologies are used only for a one-way reference. There is no way to follow extended threads as they hop from blog to blog or subject to subject, except manually. This is not a monstrous problem at this point because 99% of Trackbacks are one-way. But must that always be the case?
Why not use these inter-blog transactions for something that’s a little more persistent? What if we created a system where discussions can happen in common space, and see both (or all) of the relevant blogs benefit from the traffic?
A Trackback spidering app might work. That’s just an idea I’ll float without comment. But I think there’s got to be a way that can be fleshed out which involves applying a URI to the thread, and gathers complete messages to create a permanent archive of the discussion at hand. And one that keeps the feel of things familiar to both bloggers and the audience. My stuff is still my stuff, and I want to feel some degree of control, if not ownership, of what I’ve written. Ideally, though, I want to float my idea, in my chosen style and format, into a common discussion, in the structure of a typical message board. I still want to keep my message intact, and to use the features blogging affords me: a blank slate, not limited by political or technical barriers, to make my pitch; and a permanently archivable reference to my work. The more we can do in this space, and the more open we can make this to the average blogger, the more we have to share with readers and each other.
I think this is worth being solved, so we as bloggers and readers aren’t limited to a short-term history when long-term archives could help us gather and understand our thoughts. I think this would help bloggers in a number of areas where collaborations and disputes aren’t necessarily helped by two blogs talking to (or past) one another.