Share what you know

Those of us who work on and love the web all have Jeffrey Zeldman to thank. He certainly didn’t do it all (and he didn’t invent it) but he did make it possible for many of us to build things and to more productively tinker.

Remember tables? Nested tables? Yeah. Back in the day, before they were a bad thing, they were a good thing. Web standards made everything better for everybody. Not perfect, but better.

This documentary about Zeldman brings it all back, and more:

Sharing what you know was at the heart of the web, particularly the independent web. Zeldman took “share what you know” and built A List Apart, first as a email list then as a website. He brings people together and amplifies the right signals for learning through An Event Apart. There is so much, now there’s A Book Apart.

In the video he talks about failure, about how he tried things that didn’t work. He didn’t come out of computer science. He struggled as a writer, in advertising, as a cartoonist, as a musician. He got sooner than most that web was a communications medium. He understood that to make it even more effective, people had to share what they know.

The technology is the underpinning, but it isn’t the end goal: “Web design is for people.” I think it is important to recognize that not all web pioneers have been programmers. Engineering is invaluable and on its own incomplete.

For a web video it’s long, but I’ve listened to it twice now. One of the things I loved about it was being reminded of the ethos of early days of web design/development/publishing: “If you don’t see what you like, you make your own.” You share what you make.

You keep it by giving it away.

Zeldman isn’t really practicing anymore — he’s not working with HTML and CSS these days. He’s passed that baton to the next generation, and I was surprised to feel a sense of relief and possibility in this. I mean, the expert in web design isn’t really doing web design anymore. He’s not solving problems at that level now.

I used to roll my websites with text editors. My HTML and CSS validated. I created my own blog themes, I ran my own installs on my rented server space. This week I setup WordPress on my local machine, set up bootstrap, and got them talking together so that I could use bootstrap to do theme development.

Then I realized, this isn’t how I want to spend my time.

I’m happy about being technical enough to get those things done. I also know that just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. So I decided to do something I never thought I would and for the first time in over a decade of blogging, I bought premium themes. Why not start with something I liked, and spend a little happy time tinkering so it does things in ways I like a little bit better?

Then I can spend more time doing other things. Like writing posts. Solving problems different problems. I hear maybe a long overdue re-flowering of blogs and independent websites is imminent.

We can dream. And we can do the parts that make sense for us to do to help.