As John announced yesterday, I have taken over Bite Size Standards. We relaunched yesterday with a new format for article submissions and a streamlined editing process that will hopefully allow us to keep this resource running smoothly.

Why I wanted to Bite Size Standards to continue

I firmly believe that web standards are the foundation of successful web design and development. There is a whole new generation of folks entering into this field that need to learn best practices, to say nothing of the scores of sites you can find on the web that do not use standards. There is still a market and a need for web standards education.

I am also seeing less and less written about standards, as the leaders in this field get too busy to write, or move on to exploring other topics. This is a natural evolution, and it may be time for the next generation of standardistas to step up and contribute. I feel that’s where I am in my career now— I know enough to give back to the community that gave so much to me.

The new format

It was import to me to put together a project to which anyone can contribute. So, as of now, anyone with a good idea can contribute an article to Bite Size Standards. If your article is deemed appropriate for BSS and passes the technical review for accuracy and quality, we will publish your article. Details can be found in the Contribute section of BSS.

I hope that this gives a platform for everyone to share their knowledge and ideas, and I hope to see some articles coming in from my readers here at Interllectual.

I so want to implement the Big Red Angry Text technique in to the university-wide templates that I developed. Every time I see my beautiful little code violated by WYSIWYG markup— font tags and align attributes and break tags, oh my— a little part of me dies…

One of the projects I have been working long and hard on launched today: Introducing Bite Size Standards.

The braindchild of John Oxton, Bite Size Standards aims to offer concise web development tutorials, tips and tricks. I was in charge of the Textpattern inplementation, and had the pleasure of working with an awesome international team, including Prabhath Sirisena, James Akaxaka, Ann McMeekin, and Andrew Disley. It was a great experience to work with such a diverse and talented team. Many a debate was had along the way (Ann and James are master debaters, hee hee), and that was half the fun.

My first contribution is Take time to tune your titles. Hopefully this will be the first of many. This was also not your average Textpattern install, and I’m sure there will be an article or two about it showing up here about that, as well.

I hope you enjoy the site, and take away some helpful web standards nuggets.

In the tradition of Good Riddance 2003, I’d like to take some time to point out the things I would like to just end already with the end of 2005. Here we go:

  1. Stupid little icons. I’m sick of web sites that rely on icons. Just do it with the typography already.
  2. Bright plasticy looking design elements. It’s been taken far enough.
  3. Giant headers. If you can’t fill up the space, just don’t post.
  4. University sites designed using the school colors. I know this will never go away, but come on— there’s no way to make that look good.
  5. Wicked worn— it’s worn out.
  6. The XHTML / HTML debate. I’m bored to tears thinking about it long enough to write this list item.

Yes, you can tell how much I love the holiday hullaballoo, can’t you? Well, at least I got a gnome, which is guarenteed to keep my spirits up this season.

My newest work project has just gone live: the Humboldt State University Web Office site.

The most interesting part for anyone not at HSU is that the site has an “Articles” section where I will be posting information targeted toward beginning web developers. Articles will be focusing on accessibility, web standards, CSS, SEO, tools to help you make good sites, techniques, etc.

There will be some link blogging— pointing out good articles by others that are useful for beginners with a short post— which is something I don’t really like to do here. There will also be original stuff by me. I think of it as a kind of a knowledge dump— passing on that information that now resides only in my head and my personal bookmarks in hopes of seeing a light-bulb or two go off at HSU.

I am just starting to populate that section of the site now— if you have any favorite articles that may fit in, please let me know.

A second goal of the site was to develop a standards-based template that will be offered up for download by folks within the university for use on HSU sites. We have not had any previously, and they are much needed. So the design you see was meant to be simple and work under many circumstances, and also look official. It also needs no hacks for IE, which was a very pleasant surprise when I tested it!

Anyway, enjoy, and point me to your favorite resources.

This week, I found myself in a situation that I still can’t quite believe.

I was given the project of putting together the user interface for taking online donations to the university. The vendor was already chosen and the software paid for by the time I was called in, so I had to figure out a way to make our main web site interface with this vendor software.

(I’m going to be responsible here and not refer to the vendor by name. However, if you find yourself evaluating fundraising software and would like to know the gory details, drop me a line.)

After spending some time looking at the software I realized that this was another situation where I was going to have to consider a user experience that doesn’t completely suck as a major victory.

To begin with, the mark-up lacked a doctype and character encoding, which I guess really doesn’t matter because it’s invalid no matter how you slice it. It is also loaded with tags and inline CSS, random parts of which I could change to “customize” the site for our university.

But the worst part was that the software nowhere allowed for custom text to explain the process to the user, global navigation, or even a custom link to a help page. We were expected to send the users, who are trying to give us money, off into a confusing abyss on the vendor’s server where they have no idea what to expect. They are then presented with a series of forms with no clear explanation and no feedback as to where they are in the process of completing the donation.

We were also expected to send the users, who again are trying to give us money, into an graphically amateur site with no institutional branding, that violates our own graphic standards, not to mention every other web standards out there.

I figured I must be missing something, so I called the product rep, who informed me that there was no way for me to change any of the html, add links, customize text or add styles.

After weighing all the various tag and inline CSS customization options, I determined that the best solution was to set up the donation pages as…. frames. At least then I could include some branding, help, and navigation for the users. I had to accept the fact that the site wasn’t going to be valid or accessible— as Derek said, “Garbage in, garbage out”. The best I could do was build some less crappy stuff around the really crappy stuff.

It has been so long since I’ve used a frameset, that I couldn’t remember how to do it. Then I figured…. hell, if I’m going to regress, I may as well do it in style. So I fired up Dreamweaver and let it build the suckers for me.

I swear, sometimes I think all I do is triage. I get tired of making sites less bad. Maybe someday I’ll be able to set my sights higher than “at least is doesn’t completely suck…”

The project launches on Friday, and you will be able to see my frames in all their glory. This one is going right in the portfolio— filed under 1999.

In addition to the Education Task Force that I mentioned earlier, the WaSP has set up an Accessibility Task Force. Members of the WaSP are asking for suggestions for the task force here and here. There have been some great suggestions, and a few university people have piped up.

In an attempt to not have the voice of higher ed (which I feel has some additional/different concerns to those of the rest of the web world) lost in the shuffle, I thought I’d post my suggestions here, and open up the comments for other higher ed folks to add their insight. If you’re like me, you could use all the help you can get with these issues— the WaSP is asking for input, so let’s give it to them! 🙂 I will post this url back to the other sites, so the WaSP can hear our thoughts.

My top 3 suggestions for the Accessibility Task Force

  1. Work with vendors to make their products more accessible and produce better code. There is much talk of working with CMS vendors about this, which is a great start, but in higher ed we are also dependent on vendors for many other services, such as student information management (Banner, Peoplesoft, etc), courseware (Blackboard, WebCT, etc), fundraising (Blackbaud, etc), and institution-wide calendaring and scheduling, to name a few. The quality of the web output portions of these products in my experience, in terms of both accessibility and web standards, is poor. Please feel free to add to this list of services and vendors— these are the ones I have experience with, and I know there are many more.
  2. Encourage development of affordable server-side accessibility checkers. Higher ed sites are perhaps the largest sites on the web, and they are decentralized. It is difficult for the web team to assess the accessibility of the site as a whole without an automated process to at least alert them to potential problems. Automated checkers can’t assess everything, but they are at least a start. Unfortunately, their price is out of reach for many web teams.
  3. Encourage development of affordable and efficient video captioning systems. For better or worse, online video is being used more and more in education. To meet accessibility requirements, this video needs to have realtime synchronized captioning. We have been stymied many times by how to make this happen with the staff and resources we have available.

My top 3 suggestions for the Education Task Force

This one is a bit tougher. I have no knowledge of or influence over curriculum issues, and one of the main goals of the Education Task Force is to get web standards worked into the web design and development curriculum. Maybe those of you who are also faculty members will have more insight into this.

  1. Help us educate the administrators that web professionals are indeed professionals with a lot of expertise to offer. I think that many administrators don’t understand what it is the web team does, and don’t seek their input on important web-related decisions. Folks are often surprised when I explain that the web world is a huge discipline with many subfields, areas of expertise, and standards. In my experience, administrators don’t realize that when they are choosing tools such as web-based fundraising systems, they could benefit from getting my advise on which of these systems will work best with the university web site. In other words, if the tool is web based, it needs to be evaluated both in terms of how it fulfills the specific business need, and in terms of the quality of its web implementation.
  2. Develop a repository of resources for us to draw from when dealing with non-web professionials who maintain institutional sites. Higher ed web sites are by nature decentralized, and often folks with no web training are tasked with maintaining departmental sites. It would be great to have some good resources to give them to help them out with this— some basic web education materials aimed at the layperson who has no desire to know more than they have to. In my situation, I have little time to train decentralized web maintainers; I need a way to tell them what they need to know in a clear, short, useful way.
  3. A repeat of number 1 above. We really need our vendors to make their products output standards-based code if we want to move university web sites toward full standards-compliance.

And of course: education, education, education. There are still a lot of folks within the university setting (not the web teams, but the others involved in putting up web sites) that don’t know about the benefits of using web standards or what it takes to really make a site accessible.

What are your thoughts?

Some Shameless Self-Promotion

The Web Standards Project’s Education Task Force has listed Humboldt State University’s web site as an excellent example of a standards-based edu site. I have since fixed the minor validation errors they mention, which were caused by my inexpert use of Textile in a couple of pages.

This is an honor for which I can take full credit— I often let my student assistants code out the projects and write the CSS to develop their skills, but this project was pulled off before I even had the luxury of a student assistant. So every line of it is mine, all mine! I talked about the redesign of HSU’s site on if you’re interested in more details.

It’s nice to have my work up there next to some sites that have the benefit of large web teams or the budget to hire well-known designers, even if it is buried in the bowels of the WaSP site.

How Can the WaSP Help Us?

In the email they sent telling me they were linking to HSU, the Education Task Force asked me to let them know if I had any ideas about how they could further assist higher ed to incorporate web standards into its public sites and curriculum. So I want to pass this question on to all of you— they want to help us, let’s let them know how!

Here is the mission of the Education Task Force. They are a relatively new group, and they are exploring ways to further their cause. What advice can you give them? How can they help us?

Also, which other university higher ed sites should be added to the list? I know there are more standards-based university sites out there than these.

I am a little late to this conversation, but there has been some discussion lately about browser elitism, and how CSS may be dipping its toes into waters best reserved for DOM-based scripting.

I can agree with some of these arguments, and I have been trying to find a good way to go about learning DOM-based scripting for several months now. I have to say that it’s very hard to figure out where to start. There are a wealth of great CSS books out there for folks at every level of expertise, as well as more articles and demonstrations than you can shake a stick at, but there is comparatively little good information to be found about scripting. Just look at ALA— there are 62 CSS articles, as opposed to 26 DOM | Scripting articles. I’m sure this is reflective of a current bias in the web design industry, resulting from the “javascript is evil” days of yore.

On Amazon, I can find only a couple of books that mention the DOM, and they are from several years ago, except for one by Jeremy Keith that is not yet released. I can find some great tools and snippets of code that use it, but it’s unclear how to get started in the right direction. There is a lot of bad information about javascript out there, just like there is a lot of non-standards-based web design information. But there is not as much guidance as to how to use DOM scripting responsibly, best practices, common pitfalls, etc.

So my question to the DOM-scripting gurus is: can you point us newbies to a good way to learn the basics so that we don’t have to learn responsible DOM-scripting by trial and error?

There is a lively discussion over at StopDesign on the lack of female voices in the web standards community. I can’t wait to dive in to all the new sites that are showing up there.

I have been thinking about this for a while, I think ever since it became pretty obvious through the CSS Zen Garden that men were in a large majority. As to why this is the case, I really think that women are probably less vocal than men on this topic in their blogs, etc, not that there aren’t many women designing with standards.

There are other issues in my life that are important for me to express through my blog, some of which are at least partially a result of being female. These are the things I want to say and be an activist about— web standards are just the tool I use to achieve it.

Not to say that I don’t have anything interesting to add to the web standards discussion, and maybe I should be more vocal. Maybe this is just the push I need to start getting out there and contributing.

If I get this new job I will have a lot to say about converting a University’s site to web standards, which would be an important part of my agenda as webmaster at HSU. That, and getting rid of that hideous design…

This site is powered by WordPress and styled with ZenPress