Posts from Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Contrived Conflicts

Published 11 years, 3 months ago

CSS Sculptor got a very nice write-up from King Z over at The Daily Report, for which I thank him profusely.  I think he’s pegged the tool pretty well in terms of its intent and target audience(s).

What mystified me was the turn the comments took: suddenly they went from giggling over the splashimation and exhortations to port Sculptor to other environments (Coda got several mentions) to an multi-party argument over which was better, Sculptor or Project VII‘s CSS Layout Magic.

Um, why?

As Al Sparber, creator of Magic, stated quite accurately, “They are two very different tools conceived in very different ways”—nothing to add to that, really.  But even if we were to imagine a world where they were very similar tools that operated in very similar ways, I still don’t see why it would have to be a “battle” situation.  It’s not like our world is so small that there’s only room for one of any given thing.

I mean, take a step back and look at the wider development landscape.  There are a whole bunch of web development environments out there (Dreamweaver, Expression, Coda, Firefox with extensions, etc.).  All of them serve the community, each in its own way.  Each is used by a community of people, many of whom gather to help each other improve their skills.  Why try to create conflict between those communities?  What useful purpose could that possibly serve?  We’d be as well served to start a Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux debate.  Which is to say, not at all.

And so it is with the artificial conflict that so mystifies me, that of Sculptor vs. Magic.  Project VII has very loyal customers, and rightly so: they put out great stuff.  I hope that we’ll also have loyal customers, because that will mean we also created something great.  (Obviously, I already think we did, but then I would, wouldn’t I?)  It seems kind of obvious to me that these two communities have way more in common than they do differences.  My usual reaction on encountering someone who’s a huge fan of a web site or a piece of software is to smile and nod knowingly, like we’re part of a secret club or something.  Because in a sense, we are.  We get fired up by the same kinds of things.  We’re our kind of people.

I admit this is veering dangerously close to plaintive “can’t we all just get along?” territory, but c’mon, folks.  There’s already more than enough tension and conflict in the world.  Let’s try not to add to it, yeah?  Now everybody throw the hörns!  Seriously, throw ’em, and put in a little “ROCK!” just for me.  You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.

CSS Sculptor Released

Published 11 years, 3 months ago

I alluded yesterday to “backstage work”.  One of the things going on back there was my work with the folks at WebAssist to create a tool that allows both novice and experienced web developers to create and alter CSS-driven layouts.

The end result is Eric Meyer’s CSS Sculptor (v1.0.0), a Dreamweaver extension that gives the user tons of options and outputs pretty darned clean markup and CSS.  (Even if you’ve no interest at all in Dreamweaver tools, you should still follow that link.  How many chances are you going to have to see me throw the mëtäl hörns?)

Well you might wonder how much code I contributed to this software.  Well, okay, none.  What I did contribute was guidance on the interface and its organization; on what options to present, and how; on ways to handle things like print styles and the print CSS options; and on the CSS and markup that results, including the optional explanatory comments in the CSS.

One of the primary goals with this project was to create a tool that would expose as much CSS as possible to users without overwhelming them, and that would actually teach by dint of showing all the options.  One of the things we heard a lot in the beta test was users saying things like, “Oh, so that’s what that CSS thingy does! I’d always wondered.”  Which was exactly what we’d hoped to hear, along with “Hey, I’ve never heard of this CSS property before!”.  (We heard that one too.)

There are some things I expect will be improved in future releases, like shorthand value minimization—the simplest example of that being a condensation of 0 0 0 0 down to just plain 0.  We discussed including that feature but decided to postpone it for a variety of reasons, not least of which was working out the logic required to figure out when to minimize, which isn’t as simple a problem as you might first think.  There were a few other things we didn’t get in the initial release; such is the way of software.  We’ve got a list of potential features, of course, and are looking forward to hearing what users suggest.

As for what features did make it in, there’s a fairly large list, so it’s probably best to check out the Features page or take the product tour—with video commentary starring, you guessed it, yours truly.  So if you’ve ever wanted to see me greenscreened over screenshots and being intermittently goofy, then at long last your prayers have been answered!  (Or will be, once we get the load problems resolved.)

What makes this whole thing an especially interesting experience for me is that, for the first time in my life, I’m participating in an affiliate program.  Basically, what I earn from sales of CSS Sculptor depends on affiliate fees earned by referral links like this one here (and also earlier in the post).  That might sound like a rip-off, but it has the potential to be quite the opposite.  The affiliate cut is literally an order of magnitude greater than any reasonable per-unit royalty would be.

This compensation scheme (as they say in the UK) is actually an experiment on both sides: WebAssist has never really worked with an outside individual on a product like this, and so they honestly don’t know if the affiliate approach will pay better than a per-unit royalty, or worse.  So we’re going to try it out and see what happens.  Fortunately, I’m in a position that I feel I can afford to experiment like this, allowing both myself and WebAssist to find out what works best in the long run.

Thus, if you’re planning to buy CSS Sculptor or know someone who is, I’d be grateful if you either clicked through one of the links hereabouts or linked to the product using my affiliate URL.  I’ll have a link in the sidebar in the near future as well.  The sidebar’s due for an overhaul anyhow.

So that’s one of the things that’s claimed my time over the last few months, and I’m pretty excited that it’s seeing the light of release.  I’m even more excited about finding out what people think could be better about it so that we can improve what’s already a pretty darned nifty tool.  If I do say so myself.