5 December, 2015 -
The Long Walk
By Jason M. Knight (aka Deathshadow)
There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.
Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha
Getting this site launched as indeed been a long hard road. It all started way back in 2004 when two friends and I were discussing web standards. More specifically how few people were doing anything more than giving lip-service to them. Simple fact was HTML 4 Strict (and by extension XHTML 1.0) alongside methodologies like "progressive enhancement" and "separation of presentation from content" offered such vast improvements in both development time and result, it was hard to fathom why most people were still sleazing out HTML 3.2 and the proprietary garbage that followed, and slapping 4 tranny on the document.
The idea of a site to directly challenge the mainstream methodology in no uncertain terms seemed like a good idea, and we hashed out a good number of content outlines over the years. I ended up grabbing this domain name when it looked like we were getting close to having enough meaningful content to launch...
... and then Dan Schulz, the driving force behind this project passed away. Our other partner in crime Aaron Swartz generally had bigger fish to fry, but was a good sounding board for my ideas. His departure from this world two years ago only further put off the chances of this site ever seeing the light of day.
Let's just say I have the worst luck in regards to friends half my age with last names beginning in S and ending in Z!
My own health over the past decade has been dubious at best, with keeping food on the table and a roof over my head taking precedence over this pet project. I had thought retiring from full time development work would free up the time to finish this project, but the rapid changes in web technologies left much of the already completed work badly outdated and in need of complete rewrites from scratch. Worse, I have spent so much time in hospital beds and doctors offices that projects like this site became a very low priority.
Only in the past couple months have I shown any sort of recovery much less time and inclination to resurrect any of this. Having found our notes and logs of our IM conversations on ideas further fueled me into getting off my duff and dragging this site into existence. I was cleaning out the hard drives in my media center when I came across a backup file I had long thought lost, containing pretty much a complete record of our notes and discussions ranging from 2003 right up to Aaron's death in 2013.
In a lot of cases it's just a matter of people asking "What can we do?" without taking the time to ponder "Should we do it?"
Worse, many in he industry continue to basically blow smoke up site owners backsides using card stacking, glittering generalities, transfer, and a host of other propaganda techniques to bold faced lie about what should be done. Just ask your average fool out there calling themselves a "designer" their opinion of things like the WCAG or NNGroup ...and well, first off you'll be lucky if they even know what they are; and most of those who have heard of them will outright attack them as being "too complicated", "too restrictive" or simply "incomprehensible". It's part of why most of the people who call themselves "web designers" right now don't know enough about HTML, CSS, emissive colourspace, accessibility or even user experience to be designing a blasted thing. They are graphic artists, nothing more, nothing less - which is why the end result of their work is most always a painfully slow loading and agonizing to use laundry list of how NOT to build a website! Laughably many then slap a price tag on these very pretty but ultimately useless steaming piles, toss them onto development whorehouses like ThemeForest or TemplateMonster, in order to find someone who doesn't know any better to fork over some cash... most of the time the "artist" then pulling a Billy Joe and Bobby Sue. ... and they're still running today.
Overall the industry has become a hive of scum and villainy, filled with scam artists, hoodoo-voodoo snake oil peddlers, and hucksters most of whom talk a good talk, but cannot walk the walk. Again to be brutally frank, most of the people out there with the unmitigated gall to call themselves "Web Professionals" are little more than dirtbag predators preying upon the ignorance of - what I've heard many in the industry call - "Suits with checkbooks, will give money for vague promises". Just see how SEO has gone from a small but important part of sitebuilding and promotion, to become a cottage industry filled with dishonest, disingenuous, and outright scum who play games with statistics to bold faced lie to people about the relevance of their alleged skills.
Mostly they get away with it because the business owners don't know any better, and the result is "pretty". Sadly people who know nothing of a topic are most often easily swayed by the "ooh, shiny" aspect instead of actual substance. Long term if you look at the history of the Web, it's failures and successes it becomes apparent that the artsy "design" based sites rarely last long unless they are exclusively to stroke the artists... ego. Yeah, let's say ego. I mean something else.
The BIG success stories of the Internet remain some of the simplest and content driven designs you will find. Google has milked normal blue and black text on white for over a decade, and NOBODY is going to call that bad design. Amazon and eBay even when they have presentation it's more about driving you towards the content (products) than they are about stroking some artists ego. Facebook and Twitter may be coding disasters of inaccessible scripttardery, but they remain content driven with simplistic design. Even websites FOR artists remain sparse (DeviantArt for example) so as not to distract from the content, and to make it simpler to find the content you want! That one is a real hoot since many of the graphic artists who claim to be designers put their stuff on a site that quite clearly has different ideas about what "design" actually is.
Hell, you want to make one of these artsy fartsy designers -- to borrow from Larry the Cable Guy -- "wee-wee shrink in so far it shoots out their pooper" point them at one of the biggest success stories of the Internet: CraigsList! The average "designers" opinion of CraigsList is more than enough proof of how utterly and completely full of shit these art faygelahs really are.
It's OK for me to say art faygelah, technically I am one.
These major successful sites are not a visual tour-de-force. They are content oriented, content-driven and their design reflects this. You could do far, FAR worse than to follow their example!
In some ways, I'm glad Dan and Aaron are not here to see the current state of web development. The outrage and disgust they showed over the state of affairs just five or six years ago was harsh enough; at times making me sound like the reasonable one! Something that if you told folks on various development forums they wouldn't believe it!. I may now be the lone madman tilting at windmills, but that's better than sitting back doing nothing.
So I dedicate this site to the memory of Dan Schulz and Aaron Swartz; two of the most decent, caring and helpful people I have ever known.
When I started working with Dan he knew nothing of classical programming or HTML, but was one of the fastest studies I have ever known. I taught him the basics of development, he came back in a year as the master teaching me ideas and concepts I had never been exposed to despite having been programming since before he was a twinkle in his father's eye. Dan was level headed, generous to a fault, and became something of a legend for his free aid to others on web development sites like DigitalPoint and SitePoint.
Aaron was even more of a prodigy. His maturity, knowledge, and passion made it hard for me to believe he was born when I was in High School. I often wish I had shown his level of activism and sense of justice as a twenty-something, instead of the Boston area "128 belt" white-collar criminal example I had been raised to idealize. He constantly strove to improve the liberty, freedom and knowledge of others, typically for no personal gain. His ideas, ideals and ideology reached out and impacted those across all technical fields, as well as championing the concepts of social liberty. The loss of his presence has diminished us all.
Much of the content of this site is based on concepts the three of us discussed in instant messages and on various forums, so I must admit this is more of a posthumous collaboration than an original work. I have simply updated the concepts and ideas of those conversations to match the capabilities, ideals and methodologies of today.
I can only hope to live up to the standards they set, and to do their legacy justice.