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.

I am not immune to the year in review meme

books

Of the thirty-odd books I read in 2009, well over half were short story collections. So it isn’t surprising most of my favorite books turned out to be story collections: Demons in the Spring and Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir by Joe Meno, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson, and Elephants in our Bedroom by Michael Czyzniejewski. The Great Paper Caper (“…mystery, crime, alibis, paper planes, a forest, and a bear who wanted to win”) rounds out my list of favorite books.

photography

My standard walk around lens is the Canon 50mm, but I got to know the lensbaby better, as I took it to some of my favorite photo spots in Salem and Rockport. I also decided on my next lens (the Canon 10-20mm wide angle) because I had so much fun when I rented one during my summer vacation.

I also experimented with creating new types of images. I spent some time taking abstract photos, which I’ve enjoyed. I created more diptychs, and played around with composites. (My contribution to Utata’s last big project was a series of composites.)

geeky

Things I started using this year that I really like:

  • MindNode is the first mind-mapping software I’ve ever liked — so I actually use it
  • Superfast and easy to use mockup creation tool Balsamiq
  • MAMP, which lets me run WordPress locally
  • I never thought I’d find a use for email-to-blog hosted platform like posterous, but it turns out I love it — I’m using it for a visual bookmarking blog.
  • Gruml is a Google Reader app for Mac users, and how I’m reading feeds these days. NetNewsWire started syncing with Google, which made me start using it, which led to me using this client instead. The sync really is good, and the sharing features are built in, though I confess I don’t use them very often. I’m still a save it on delicious person at heart, I guess.
  • Ommwriter showed me I have room for more than one minimalist, distraction-blocking text editor in my life (WriteRoom is the other, and TextMate is my workhorse.)

blogging ideas

Some folks like to say blogging is dead, now that everyone is on twitter (everyone being people who aren’t geeks — but still not my wife) or using facebook (everyone bitches about it, but never leaves) instead. I don’t think so. Plenty of folks have much to contribute on blogs, here’s just a slice of what has stayed with me this year:

Sasha Dichter writes about nonprofits, storytelling, what’s wrong with focusing on overhead ratios and other thought-provoking ideas about changing the world.

Tim O’Reilly’s ideas about working on stuff that matters is something I keep coming back to. It is and isn’t about nonprofits, too.

Bud Caddell’s how to be happy in business venn diagram made the rounds, deservedly so. I know I want to figure out how to spend even more energy in the overlap of what I do well, what I want to do, and what I can be paid to do — don’t you?

what about you?

What did you do? What did you pay attention to?

The Power of Unplugging

First, I went away for a week and didn’t bring my computer. Then I decided to turn off my phone — no constantly checking voicemail, no sending text messages. No responsibility to check in, no pull to respond to other people (except my sweetie, and she was there in person with me), no hurrying.

Being out of touch felt awesome.

I was surprised I didn’t grab for the computer the second I got back from Rockport, but I didn’t. I was enjoying my sense of peace and quiet a little too much to jump back into the online fray. I checked very few things online before heading out without the computer again for a few days, this time to NYC.

I didn’t have withdrawal fits, I didn’t get all twitchy needing to look up things, I didn’t feel left out that I wasn’t twittering events. Yes, there were folks that I missed — but I knew you all would be here when I got back. And isn’t part of the fun in going away catching up with folks when you return?

As much as I love the web, I think completely unplugging is a great sanity check. Working with a computer every day, with a fabulous bunch of geeks, is something I’m lucky to do — yet I didn’t think about software even one time when I was on vacation. Which is probably how most people go about their day, every day: not thinking about software, not using the web the vast majority of their waking hours. So what did I do?

I took photographs. (Some are even on film, so I have to be patient and get them developed before I know how the new and new to me cameras are working.) I went to bed when I was tired, and got up without an alarm clock — still pretty early — just about every day. I went beachcombing and gallery crawling, finding unexpected treasures. I listened to waves, floated in the ocean, and let my head empty of the everyday noise noise noise.

Now I’m back, and rested (and pretty damn tan), and convinced I can carry some of this quiet back with me to the web and to work. I’ve got a lot to do — and I’m saying this even before I see how many messages are sitting in my work inbox — but I think I’ll feel better about getting it done if I don’t give in to the noise and the hurry. I want believe those things are optional for the other fifty weeks in the year and I can still accomplish good work. Call it the jedi vacation mind trick, but I’m going to try.