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Archive: August 2004

Public Rabidity

Oh, joy.  I’ve once again been accused of an anti-Explorer bias.  This would amuse me if it weren’t for the fact that it means I’m being misrepresented, despite my long-term efforts to be clear about where I stand.  It might annoy me if I could be bothered to expend the energy.  I suppose I should view this as karmic justice for my original SEO post, where I contributed to the misrepresentation of others.

For the record, I am indeed sometimes critical of IE for being non-compliant.  I’m also critical of other browsers, although of late there has been less to criticize because IE has been standing still while others advance.  That’s just the nature of things right now.  I was critical of Netscape Navigator back when the most recent version was 4.whatever and everyone else (including IE) had advanced.  It’s often easier to see the flaws in something when you have a point of comparison.

The same post implies that I’m also a CSS zealot.  True, I think CSS is a very powerful and useful technology.  However, the day I start saying things like “you can never ever use tables for layout and screw IE if it can’t handle your design”, that’s when you can accurately call me a zealot.  Until then, it’s just name-calling, and not very effective name-calling at that.

I will admit that the phrase “‘holier-than-thou’ sages on the mount” was an amusing choice of words.  Think he’s seen Episode II of the UI9 comic?

Of Site Styles and CSS Columns

Thanks to a post over at Simon’s weblog, I discovered that the Mozilla 1.8a3 readme file tells us of some interesting CSS-related developments:

  • Users can now disable CSS via Use Style > None or a global preference (bug 32372.)
  • Mozilla now supports a at-rule for matching on site/document URL. Among other things, this makes site-specific user style rules possible (bug 238099.)
  • Preliminary support for CSS columns has been checked in to Mozilla bug 251162.)

The middle of the three is what Simon wrote about, and it’s indeed very cool.  CSS signatures would never have been necessary if browsers had always supported per-site styles.  I’m not entirely thrilled about the syntax, but it’s a good start.  And for those who are wondering how I could support a non-standard extension, I’ve never been against them as long as they were clearly marked as such.  Microsoft’s extensions (behavior, filter, the scrollbar stuff) weren’t, which inevitably led to confusion.  The Mozilla stuff is marked in such a way that you can tell it’s an extension, and in a way that won’t conflict with future CSS.

I’m happy to see that Mozilla will finally let users easily disable CSS.  For those who need the text view, say because they have poor vision, it will be a welcome feature.  For those who want to quickly check the document’s unstyled rendering, it will be similarly useful.

But I’m most intrigued by the addition of “preliminary” support for CSS columns.  This would allow you to declare that a given element’s content should be flowed into columns, complete with auto-balanced heights and everything.  For example, if you wanted a list flowed into two columns, you could declare:

ul {-moz-column-count: 2;}

That would split the contents of every undordered list into two halves, filling the first column with the first half of the list and the second column with the second half.  Thoroughly awesome.  See the CSS multi-column layout module for more details, although I don’t know how much Mozilla actually supports at this juncture.

Update: it turns out that column support isn’t present in Mozilla 1.8a3, contrary to the release notes.  I’ve been told that it will be present in 1.8a4.

SES San Jose Corrections

A few days ago, I posted the entry Silly Expert Opinions, in which I made some snide comments and rebutted some points related in a post at  In so doing, I fell victim to one of the classic blunders:

Never take someone to task for saying something you weren’t there to hear.

…because it may turn out they didn’t actually say it, or didn’t mean it in the way it was reported.

In the comments on the post, the SES conference organizer Danny Sullivan (founder and editor of Search Engine Watch) and two of the panelists have calmly and professionally explained the other side of the story—the one where some of the points attributed to them were never made, some were seriously spun, and others were taken out of context.  The comments are well worth reading from about #12 on, that being Danny’s first post.  See also the thread “SES slammed by designers” at the Cre8asite forums.  (Although I should note once more that I’m not a designer.)

Unfortunately, my post triggered other posts, such as one at Molly’s crib and a  WaSP Buzz post this morning (thankfully there’s a more detailed followup).  We all fell victim to the blunder, but I fully take the blame for kicking things into high gear.  I sometimes forget that the entries I post are read and taken seriously by a whole lot of people; that my words have, at least in some circles, a certain weight.  And sometimes I let my penchant for smart-assed commentary get ahead of my more sober desire to speak with intelligence and accuracy.  My post of last Friday is such an example, and I’m sorry it’s caused confusion.  I apologize not only to the panelists and to Danny, but to anyone I inadvertently misled.

In my post, I did posit the idea that I might get into the SEO conference circuit, and now I have that ability, thanks to Danny’s deep professionalism—he could have easily, and with good reason, flamed me in e-mail and left it at that.  He didn’t.  He treated me with respect (probably more than I deserved) and opened the door I’d tried to slam.

In the afternoon WaSP post, Chris Kaminski said:

Here’s an idea: perhaps we standards folks and the SEO crowd should do a bit of knowledge sharing?  In the comments, Danny Sullivan said he’s already asked Eric Meyer to do just that, with an eye towards a possible speaking slot at an upcoming SES no less. That’s a great start. But I think we can do more. I think there’s gold to be found at the intersection of SEO and standards, or at least some good web development.

Let’s keep the beginning of dialogue in the comments to the post, throw out the flames and ignorance, and use it to build a better set of best practices for web development. One that accounts for standards, accessibility, usability and search engines.

I agree wholly with Chris: let’s keep the dialogue going.  We’re lucky that the opportunity arose and wasn’t soured by me shooting off my mouth.  It’s time to see what can be done to harmonize the two fields, and where things can be improved.  I’m going to see what I can do about taking Danny up on his offer to attend an SES conference in the future.

I’m particularly interested because it seems, reading between the lines, that standards-oriented design isn’t as search-engine friendly as I’d thought (although it’s certainly much better than most alternatives).  Peter Janes created a test of Google’s treatment of heading levels, and the results weren’t exactly encouraging.  It bothers me that standards-oriented design and search engine optimization might be at odds, whether partially or fully.  This is definitely something that needs to be cleared up.  The results could affect the future evolution of search engines, which is a goal worth pursuing.

If you have ideas about how to get there faster, or have search engine tests of your own to share, let us know.

Me, Me, Me, Me, and… Me

As part of the XFN 1.1 update, we created an XFN and… page to cover the ways in which XFN compares to, contrasts with, and intersects with other things.  For example, that’s where we moved the XFN and FOAF document, which I really need to get around to updating.  We also debuted what Tantek loves to call “the sand-dollar diagram”.  Lacking any other vector drawing tool on my laptop, I used OmniGraffle to create it.  One of these days I really should get around to acquiring a more appropriate tool for that kind of thing.

With the spread of networking sites, people have effectively created identity islands.  My profile on LinkedIn, for example, describes a little bit of my identity.  A Ryze profile would be another part, and an Orkut profile a third.  There would no doubt be some overlap in information, but at the same time each profile will likely have some unique information about me.  The me value can be used to create bridges between these identity islands, providing—possibly for the first time—a way to tie all these disparate bits together in an easily discoverable way.  An XFN search engine (like Rubhub) could use this value to compile a unified identity profile for a person.  Similarly, it should be possible to create a tool that follows me links to pull identity information into one place.  As more profiles are created, new me links can be added and aggregated.

The only real roadblock at the moment is the inability to add XFN links from site profiles back to a central location.  Thus, in the sand dollar diagram, the links out to various services are green (XFN Friendly) while the links back from those services are blue or gray, depending on whether or not there’s an ability to add any kind of link at all.  If every service allowed users to supply a URL for a me link, then the connection would be bi-directional and thus more credible.  We don’t have to wait for that to happen, though.  If I link from to various profiles with me links, that’s a good start toward consolidating my identity islands.

XFN 1.1 Released

The gang at GMPG (which includes me) has published the XFN 1.1 profile.  This is the profile we presented at Hypertext 2004, where we got a positive response to both the overall concept and the new values.  They are contact, kin, and me.  All three are the result of feedback we received after XFN 1.0 was released.  Of the three, I find contact the most interesting, mostly because I would never have thought of it.  To me, it seems like a value that is more about professional status than personal relationship, but a lot of people saw things otherwise.  So in it went.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term kin, it refers to any member of your family, either a blood relative or someone closely related through marriage.  As an example, all of my aunts and uncles are kin, even though half of them aren’t blood relations, having married into the family.  It was the most compact ungendered term we could find besides “family”, which didn’t feel right.

As for me, that was a value we debated for inclusion in 1.0 almost literally up to the hour we released it.  In the end, we cut it because we were resolved to include only those values we felt sure would be useful, thus keeping things as simple and lightweight as possible.  We figured that if people wanted the value, they’d tell us—and they did.  Tantek and I batted around some thoughts concerning uses of me while we were at the conference and I think we may be on to some interesting ideas.  Hopefully they’ll hold up after further discussion.

If you have a comment on XFN 1.1 or an idea for a value we could add to a future version of XFN, let us know.

Silly Expert Opinions

Live, from San Jose, it’s the craptastic adventures of SES San Jose 2004!  Apparently a trio of SEO experts decided to share their views on “Advanced Design Issues”, which included the use of Javascript and CSS.  Because, obviously, expertise in one area automatically confers expertise in another, by which logic I will now declare myself an expert in cellular biology.  Photo Matt, from whom I got this URL, drily observed “write HTML like it’s 1997″.  Funny, but not quite accurate.  Nobody ever wrote Web pages like these people advocate.  The idea that some people might do so is a troubling thought.  Note to the SES conference organizers: in the future, you might want to think about having people stick to what they know, so as to avoid diluting your conference’s value.

I’m not going to go through and rebut every point, because it would be pointless to do so.  Most readers of this site will be able to formulate their own rebuttals, assuming of course that they aren’t incapacitated by laughter, astonishment, or some combination of the two.  I will draw attention to the one point they might have gotten partly right.  It’s:

Image replacement makes your site inaccessible.

Much has been written about various image replacement techniques and the accessibility problems they present, so that sounds like our trippy triumvirate could have been on the money there.  However, were they talking about replacing text with images, as with the FIR and so on, or replacing images with text?  Because if it’s the latter, then we have a case of fully consistent unreality.  And where do they get off worry about accessibility, given the rest of their advice?

In light of recent commentary from Jeffrey and Molly, among others, I was particularly interested to read the following:

Do not put the entire contents of your page in an <h1>, rather put only half inside an <h1> and stick the other half in an <h2> or other header tag.

It would seem that, at least for some segments of the industry, we are indeed wasting our energy talking about the proper use of heading levels.  That’s way, way too far ahead of where they are right now.  We need to be telling them about the fundamentals of how document ought to be structured, in the optimistic hope that they’ll one day  After all:

Don’t validate your code under any circumstances because hierarchically correct and valid markup is of no use to a search engine.

On which note, can anyone confirm that engines like Google actually make use of heading elements in determining page rank?  I’m looking for a link to actual results demonstrating the effect of headings on Google’s ranking of a page; if you have one handy, kindly drop it to me via e-mail.  I’d just like to know one way or the other.  Google employees are particularly encouraged to write me about this.

I suddenly have the urge to do a round of the SEO conference circuit to set the record straight.  I wonder how one might go about that?  After all, I’m more of an SEO expert than at least two of these SEO “experts”: Googling for “Eric Meyer” gets you my home page as the #1 result, but searching for one name returns his site at #3, just behind an Assistant Professor of Engineering Management at University of Missouri-Rolla and a blog written by a fan of Howard Dean.  The other one didn’t even show up in the first ten Google results, so far as I could tell, and I was searching for his name.

So perhaps it’s time I looked into what it takes to be a presenter at SES/SEO conferences.

Update: please see SES San Jose Corrections for more information, and a much different story than was originally posted here.

Hypertext 2004

So here I am in Santa Cruz, California, at the Hypertext 2004 conference. Tantek Çelik and Eric Meyer flank a conference poster presenting XFN. Our XFN poster presentation, in its full A0 glory, is up for everyone to see.  We’re really looking forward to hearing the conference attendees’ feedback.

Yesterday I presented a full-day tutorial on standards-oriented design which seems to have been well received by those who attended.  In the afternoon portion I presented a standards-oriented makeover of, which has some of the worst markup I’ve ever seen.  Go ahead, take a look at the HTML source for the links in the right-hand sidebar.  You’ll be astonished.

Then again, yesterday I went to download the conference program and discovered it was a link to a PDF file with PHP session ID information appended to the URL.

(A short pause while I contemplate some choice words.)

What they pretty obviously did was take the PDF that was used to create the printed program and throw it online, which I suppose I can understand.  It’s easy to take an existing file and just publish it.  In addition, the Thursday keynote is a case study of the creation of the PDF format.  But c’mon, guys—how about some hypertext, maybe?  Just a little?  Even links in the PDF?  The content lends itself beautifully to structural HTML, actually.

Oh well.  The cobbler’s children and all that, I suppose.

August 2004
July September