Fork at the Road

Congratulations to Matt Mullenweg for the a (job/contract?) with C/Net and the Houston Press article. Looks like C/Net wants to tie itself into the weblogging golden goose, and has grabbed a talented member of the community as a start.

Matt has an agreement with the company that 15% of his time can be spent on WordPress. In a normal 40 hour week, that less than 8 hours, so I imagine that Matt will still be spending lots of his off-time on the weblogging tool, too. And I imagine the WordPress development team will also start growing with new members.

It wasn’t long after Matt made his announcement that the questions started coming about the independent state of WordPress. However, WordPress is GPL, and though commercial variations could spring up right now, he’s correct when he assures people that C/Net can’t swoop down and gobble WordPress up.

Dorothea raised a good question on Matt’s continued freedom as regards IP, and Matt said he’s satisfied with the contract on this regard. I am curious myself about what other ‘open source’ projects C/Net is getting into, per his aside on this. As he says, C/Net is news and media, not software.

WordPress will most likely continue it’s development as it is, so folks shouldn’t be worried about this. For myself, though, after the release of 1.3, I’ll be forking off from WordPress and maintaining my own codebase from that point. This isn’t because I’m pissed at the WordPress community or Matt (jealous, heck yes); or am picking up my cookies and leaving in a huff. No, I’ve reached a point in my customization of of WordPress that after I incorporate what I want, and it’s a lot, in 1.3, I’m going to be diverging too much from the direction the weblogging tool is taking. In addition, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to merge my code and the team’s, and it has reached a point where it’s just easier for me to maintain my own code.

I’ll provide links to my version of the code, and updates and fixes, but I’m not going to try to establish an empire as competitor to WordPress. It will also be open source, and I might throw it up on SourceForge, but I’m not promoting the product, or starting a support forum. I imagine I’ll be the only person using the code.

(And truthfully I think most weblogging tool vendors would rather I not be a customer. Heck, I wouldn’t want me as a customer.)

It will be disappointing to not provide tidbits of help to people using a common tool, but I’ve become less interested in this over time. And I have different things I want from my weblogging tool than what the WP developers want, and that’s a goodness. Thanks to the GPL, I can be happy, they can be happy.

Congratulations again to Matt. I hope C/Net works out nicely.


End of a too-long road

We’re finally heading into the last few days before the election, and at this point, I wouldn’t give a plug nickel for either the Democrats or the Republicans. I can’t turn on the TV or radio without some negative piece of crap (worst I’ve ever seen) being played. I’ve just brushed up against the one millionth vicious, barely coherent political brawl in weblog comment threads.

My postwoman, who has become a friend over the last few years, probably will have take a deskjob after this year because her wrists are so bad from delivering the mail. Now, I watch her weighed down by useless political flyers in combination with even more useless Christmas catalogs, and I wince at the pain I see on her face.

We can’t answer our phone anymore, but that’s okay – the political group who is calling has an automated response that talks to our automated response.

Everyone acts as if Wednesday is going to become a political The Day After Tomorrow, and the fate of the world will rest on this election–we’re all going to die if we don’t pick right. Worse, we’re going to go to hell.

Now with all the people hovering over the ballot places (pretending that they know what to do and they’re objective when every damn one has an agenda), what was once a friendly experience is going to turn into the re-creation of the gladiator fights at Rome. Not to mention all the doomsayers saying that no matter what happens Tuesday, the election will be so hotly contested with fouls cried on either side, that we could be deciding this for months.

We’ll have a chance to listen to Ralph Nader whine about how he didn’t get on the polls or get invited to the debates and what’s wrong with the country is the two-party system. You mean, Ralph, you want more parties involved with this? Have you ever seen the Australian political scene with its many parties? Seems to me, they don’t have it easier or more open because there’s more people greedily grabbing at power.

I’m watching the race for governer in this state and I’m seeing a young man who is going to be Bush in about four to eight years, if he wins. I’m sure he’ll give Ashcroft a place at the White House.

All of this is magnified and amplified here until when I read a poem posted in another weblog, it seems less a work of art than an act of defiance.

I woke up with a sour taste in my mouth, and realized it wasn’t something I had eaten, it was what I was reading. Am I a sad, lonely puppy for feeling that whatever this environment was, once upon a time, fresh and new and interesting, has now become the dominion of the professional Neocons and Progressives, the target of corporations, and the gleam in the eyes of the people always on the lookout for the main chance?

Of course, if it has, what’s the harm? After all, if this environment generates opportunities, opportunity is good not bad. We couldn’t stay buried in the amber of obscurity forever; we know this. I think it is just my melancholy mood that makes me see the shadows in the piles of gold, rather than the sparkle of the medal.

We’ve shared so much. The death of a beloved friend to terrorism. Battles with alcoholism and crime and despair–not all winning battles, either. Then there’s the brighter side, with new jobs and rekindled romance with old lovers, and new romance with souls chance met over the wireless void. And the code and silly memes and cat photos; soft, sad reminisces, the loss of family, but the joy of new babies; poetry and art, and silly jokes and gleeful moments; linguistics and irony, and raucus parties all night; our favorite walks, trips, books, and people. And opinion–we are not a shy group when it comes to giving our opinions.

All of what we love is still here, including the friends we’ve made and the writing and photos and technology others have shared, and that we cherish. But there’s a fine film of gray over it now, a faint smell of burnt birth in the distance, and that tinned, shiny hollywood tinsel taste in our mouths.

But next week the US election will be over and all things will be better once that’s past. Right?


Driving in St. Louis

Any car parked longer than 4 hours in the city is considered a parts store.

From Visitor’s Guide to Driving in St. Louis.

Diversity Standards

Accessibility and Geegaws

A good rule of thumb for web design is that indulge your interests in nifty tools–DHTML*, Flash, whatever–but your navigation should never be made up of anything other than a hypertext link, and you should never make your critical content accessible primarily (or only) through a mouse.

Lately, I’m seeing more and more sites use technologies, Flash in particular that violate these rules. As nice as they look, I always wince when I see a dependency on a specific product, focused at a specific audience: internet hip, sighted, and attracted to bright, shiny things.

Learning from DHTML

I didn’t always resist the shiny geegaws myself. When we were studying DHTML after it first came out, we all started using it to create our navigation buttons, and felt pretty cool and very web savvy. Mouse over a top-level button and a small little box would slide out underneath with all your options to click. After static content, this was heady stuff.

Of course, mouseover wasn’t always reliable. Sometimes you’d have to move quickly from the top-level to the sub-topics because leaving the top-level would close the sub-topic box; it then became a game of who could move faster–you or the browser.

This was all until we started running into cross-browser differences and the nightmare that followed for a good 2 or 3 years until Mozilla came along and routed Internet Explorer.

(What do you mean someone is still using IE?)

Then someone came along and said, well, what about blind people or people who can’t use a mouse? After all, it’s pretty difficult to try and tab through a lot of nonsense that doesn’t do anything in order to get to a working link. And if the work is DHTML, well that just mucks with the page reader’s electronic mind, and it doesn’t know what it’s dealing with.

After Google made web search fashionable and especially after it added a thing called pagerank, we found that not using hypertext links to manage our site navigation was actually working counter to seeing our pages show up in the search results, and as highly placed as possible. Pretty geegaw lost its attraction really quick on this one.

Especially when you add in the costs. In the dot-com job I had before it became dot-gone, I was brought in to lead a re-design of an application after another firm had spent close to two million dollars and basically had very little to show for it; all except for a really cool DHTML navigation system. No backend development. Half the pages needed unfinished. No database. No database design. But there were some really cool DHTML and pretty graphics.

Well, we kept what we could and yanked the DHTML and put a system out on the street in about five weeks. With plain old hypertext links.

But still, designers say when showing their latest frufrah, look how cool this all is?

(When I as at that dot-com, I shared an office with the lead web page designer — an art school grad. He was a nice guy and did the Burning Man thing and was all that was hip among designers, and very talented, too. But I still felt like I was sharing the office with someone from another galaxy, especially when it came to priorities. I know he must have felt the same way. Companies should do that more often–house the backend developers with the front-end designers. If both survive the experience, they might learn something from it.)

Let’s see: on the one hand we have cool. On the other hand we have cross-browser compatible, easier to build and maintain, search engine friendly, and accessible.

Bottom line, we came to understand that using DHTML to manage navigation, or to display critical content, was very uncool.

Next Big Thing

Of course, now we have the Next Big Thing in website design, which is Flash and its various incarnations. And it’s true, Flash can help you do some nifty stuff — but it still brings in the same burdens and problems on a page. You have to install the plugin; you have to have special readers for the content; you have to provide an alternative link structure for webbots if you want your pages search engine friendly; and it costs a lot more to design and maintain a Flash navigation system then it does plain old hypertext links.

To work around the accessibility issues one can use page readers that can read Flash, and one can install the plugins to access the navigation buttons; still each of these methods require that the web page reader go through extra effort to access your webpage content; content that supposedly you really want them to access. Site purpose and accessibility, in this case, is sacrificed to site design.

But isn’t design meant to enhance a site, not obscure it? In other words, if Flash and JavaScript hinder access, never use Flash, or JavaScript, or any moving part other than a hypertext link for site navigation–in fact any content that is critical for the site. If you must, have a separate Flash site, but make sure it’s secondary.

The Payoffs in Accessibility and avoiding the Geegaws

I’m not a web designer and I don’t pretend to make the prettiest pages and or use the best CSS and hippest styles; but one thing I have learned over the years is, if you design for those with accessibility challenges in mind, you’ll find that you’ve also created the easiest to build, easiest to maintain, cleanest, most valid, less fragile, and more forward compatible site design. In other words — designing for accessibility ends up being the best approach to designing for style, validity, durability, and economy.

*DHTML is Dynamic HTML, or using scripting language, usually JavaScript to manipulate a page’s contents after it’s been downloaded to the browser.


Our Traveling data

Okay, at this point we have city data through OpenGuides (and thanks to Danny for pointing out the article on the front page.) We have London Tube data through . Jo Walsh gives us the poetic (I like it) oranges and lemons, with descriptions of London churches and their location based on the nursery rhyme:

Oranges and Lemons sing the bells of St Clemens
You owe me five farthings sing the bells of St Martins
When will you pay me sing the bells of Old Bailey
When we are rich sing the bells of Sure Ditch

See? I said that poetry and RDF and the semantic web go together.

(Jo was also the first to point to OpenGuides, but I had focused on the oranges and lemons page that Danny pointed out– sorry Jo. Boy, I’m missing important bits and links that are right in front of me, all over the place. However, I’m turning 50 in a couple of weeks, which makes me old and feeble. I have a good excuse now.)

Jo is also working on a project to map the free Wireless network in London. Now that’s going to be essential to the modern day traveler. And blogger.

So now with this existing data, I can travel the Underground, visit a pub, go to church, and blog all about it. That’s a tasty start.