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Results of The Web Design Survey, 2010

Now available: the results from the A List Apart Survey for People Who Make Web Sites, 2010.  This is the fourth industry snapshot we’ve compiled, and the story that’s emerged over that time is proving to be pretty consistent.  You can get a high-level view from the Introduction, and then dive deeper into the results in the following chapters.  And, as is traditional, the Addendum contains links to the full (anonymized) data set in three formats for your own analytical investigations.  We’d love to see what you come up with!

Something that surprised me quite a bit was that in 2010 we got about half the number of respondents we’ve gotten in past years—not quite seventeen thousand participated in 2010 instead of just over thirty thousand as we saw in previous years.  I’m not quite sure what to make of that.  Is the industry shrinking?  Did we not get the word out as effectively?  Was it a bad time of year to run a survey?  Are people getting tired of taking the survey?  There’s no real way to know.

At least there weren’t any wild swings in the results, which might have indicated we’d lost some subgroups in disproportionate numbers.  Whatever caused the drop in participation, it appears to have done so in an evenly-distributed fashion.

Regardless, I’d like to see higher participation next year, so if anyone has good suggestions regarding how to make that happen, please do let me know in the comments.

We plan to run the 2011 survey in the next couple of months (and I’ll post a bit more about that soon) but for now, I hope you find the 2010 results an interesting and useful look at who we are.

Spinning the Web

Can CSS create art?  That’s a question I set out to explore recently, and I like to think that the answer is yes.  You can judge for yourself: Spinning the Web, a gallery on Flickr.

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To be clear, when I say “Can CSS create art?” I don’t mean that in the sense of wondering if art, or artful designs, can be accomplished with CSS.  I think we all know the answer there, and have known at least since the Zen Garden got rolling.  What I’m doing here is using some basic CSS to generate art, using web sites as the medium.  For the series I linked, I spun all of the elements on a page using transform: rotate() to see what resulted.  Any time I saw something I liked, I took a screenshot.  After I was done, I winnowed the shots down to the best ones.

As some of you old-schoolers will probably have recognized, I’m absolutely following in the footsteps of Joshua Davis here, and in fact my working title for this effort was “Once Upon a Browser”.  I saw Josh speak years ago, and clearly remember his description of how he generated a lot of his art.  My process is almost identical, albeit with a bit less automation and computational complexity.

Because this is me, I built a little commentary joke into the first images in the series.  It’s not terribly subtle, but with luck one or two of you will get the same chuckle I did.

I’m already thinking about variants on this theme, so there may be more series to come.  In the meantime, as I surf around I’ll stop every now and again to spin what I see.  I’ll definitely mention any new additions via Twitter, and new series both there and here.  And of course if you follow me on Flickr, you’ll see new pieces as they go up.

I hope you enjoy them half as much as I enjoyed creating them.  And if anyone wants to use the originals as desktop wallpapers, as Tim proposed, feel free!

Degree of Influence

A brief followup to “A Question of Degree“:  I received the following message from the person who first asked the question:

I just spent the last hour or so reading through the comments and, let me tell you, I can’t express how much they helped me! It is now clearly obvious to me that finishing my CS degree is the way to go. A CS degree can make me a better web developer by teaching me about algorithm design and analysis, performance issues, and just how to think like an engineer. Also, since the web changes constantly, a degree will help me embrace those changes. It will always be there for me to fall back on if the web industry doesn’t work out for me.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion, either in the comments here or elsewhere on the net.  You made a positive difference in this world.  Take pride in that, for it is the most important thing any of us can do.

A Question of Degree

I recently found myself asked for advice, which feels odd even at the best of times, and this was (it seemed to me) of a particularly serious nature.  I’m curious to know what you think is the proper answer.

A few days back, I got e-mail with the following questions:

…in your opinion, how useful is a computer science degree for a career in web development? I’m a second year CS major, and considering dropping out because I don’t see the value in it anymore. It’s just taking away my time from learning and doing what I love most–developing web apps. Will dropping out hurt me later on?

I chewed on it for a day or so and then ended up writing the following in response:

I wish I could give you a definitive answer, but the honest truth is that I’m conflicted.  I’m not the only one, either: a recent survey of 26,000+ web professionals indicated that just over half felt their education had some relevance to what they do (http://aneventapart.com/alasurvey2009/#roe).

To use myself as an example, I got my degree (in History, as it happens), but that was before there was such a thing as a career in web development.  The same is true for a lot of the people I think of as contemporary to me; that is, people about my age.  Almost none of them have CS degrees, and many don’t have degrees at all.  I got my job as webmaster of a respected research school because I worked there already and nobody else had ever heard of the web.  I doubt very much that, were I just now exiting school and entering the market, I could do anything like that.

On the other hand, I will say that in the computer field in general, and web in particular, very few people seem to care what degree you do or don’t have.  But here’s the rub: these days, it might be that having a CS degree is what gets you that first job or two.

On the other other hand, if you build some killer web apps, nobody will care about your schooling.  They’ll care about your portfolio.  I don’t know if that lies in front of you, of course.  Maybe it does.  Or maybe it’s a good idea to finish schooling so that you’ll be paper qualified for jobs that say “Requires CS degree or equivalent” if you need to seek them out.

So, to get back to your original question, “It is unless it isn’t” is about the best I can do.  As someone who values education very highly and knows a degree can be an asset in job-seeking, my instinct is to tell you to finish your degree.  As someone who has a lot of contact with successful people who didn’t do that, my intellect requires me to say it’s not critical.

A day past when I sent it, I still don’t feel any less torn.  (And in re-reading what I wrote, I can see my indecision in the writing: scattered, whipping from one side to the other.  Man, did that one ever need an editor!)  I don’t really need to know what people think of what I said, but I’m really curious to know what you would advise this young person.  Leave your thoughts in the comments, if you please, and I’ll make sure word of your input gets passed along to the student who wrote me.  Thanks!

Addendum 12 Nov 10: please see “Degree of Influence” to see how things turned out.

Memetic Epidemiology

I had planned to spend yesterday goofing off, as is my tradition for the day after I return from a conference and don’t have anything immediately pressing on my plate.  Instead I watched and documented, as best I could, a case of memetic epidemiology happen in realtime.

The meme was the Cooks Source story, which I stumbled across relatively early in the day.  I won’t recap the story here, as the original LiveJournal post by Monica Gaudio and Edward Champion’s very well-researched article do a much better job of that.  The latter piece is particularly commendable if you’re new to the story, as it not only explains the genesis of the incident but also lays bare a number of other things that were discovered as the story went ballistic.

I’m not sure exactly where I first came across the story—probably a retweet of Adam Banks by a friend of mine—but at the time the meme was really just getting started.  At that point there were quite a few people posting on the Cooks Source Facebook Wall to chastise the editor, and the rate of posting was accelerating.  I threw in my own tweet on the topic and kept watching the Wall to see if there would be a response, if the Facebook page would be deleted, or something else.  At the same time, I was seeing more and more tweets and retweets of the story, and based on just what I could see, it seemed primed to go crazy.  I was rewteeted by swissmiss, who has four times as many followers as me (and way more influential followers than me), and it was hitting the feeds of more and more people I follow.

When it showed up on John Scalzi’s tweet stream, I actually got a little dizzy.  This was the moment where I felt like the scientist at the beginning of a viral-apocalypse movie, staring at a monitor showing the sites of reported infection in red.  Then, in a burst of tense, ominous music, the dots show up in New York City and around JFK.  Game over.

I got that feeling because I knew that not only is Mr. Scalzi followed by both Neil Gaiman (1.5 million followers) and Wil Wheaton (1.7 million followers), but he is respected and therefore paid attention to by both.  Furthermore, both, as net-savvy content creators like Mr. Scalzi, are exquisitely sensitive to such stories.  It was only a matter of time before one of them passed the story on to their followers.  And sure enough, within minutes, Neil Gaiman did so.

At that point, it seemed only a matter of time before traditional media channels took interest, and though it took a little while, many did.  It literally became an international news story.

Throughout the day, I tracked the situation and tweeted about it as new developments happened.  I almost couldn’t help myself; I was completely captivated by watching a meme unfold and spread in realtime.  Eventually I hit on a crude measurement of the story’s reach, which I dubbed the Speed of Chastisement (SoC).  This was measured by loading the Cooks Source Wall and then scrolling to the bottom of the page, down to the “Older posts” button.  The time elapsed since the last of the Wall posts was the SoC.  When I started looking at it, it was measurable in minutes, but as the day went on the interval dropped.  At one point, it was as low as 34 seconds, and may well have dropped lower when I wasn’t looking.

I wish I could’ve automatically captured that number, say, every minute, because the timeline graph I could make with that data would be fascinating—especially if mapped against various developments, like Neil Gaiman’s retweet of John Scalzi or the time of various article publications.

One of the things I found most fascinating was how the outraged mob used Cooks Source’s own digital presence against it.  I don’t actually mean all the Wall posts, which served as an emotional outlet but otherwise only indicated the story’s memetic velocity (the SoC I mentioned earlier).  What people did was start new threads in the Discussions tab of Cooks Source’s own Facebook page to document the original sources of Cooks Source articles and to compile the contact information for all of the advertisers in Cooks Source.  The speed at which the crowd operated was awesome in the older sense of that word as inspiring of awe, which is itself defined as power to inspire fear or reverence.  As I told a friend, I was fascinated in the same way I’d be fascinated watching, from a distance, a predator hunting down its prey.  Awe-struck.  It was almost frightening to watch how fast people tracked down the various text and image sources, uncovering more and more evidence of bad behavior at full-bore, redlined Internet speed.

On a related point, I was very impressed by the quality of reporting in Edward Champion’s article about the story.  Alone of all the articles I’ve seen (beyond the first couple of LJ posts), his laid out specific examples of repurposed content, and furthermore he had talked to people involved and gotten their perspective and to people at some of the sites and companies whose material had been re-used.  Read the article, if you didn’t already follow one of the links.  It is investigative journalism done far better than any reporter has yet done for any traditional, or even “new media”, news outlet.

I could write about all this for much longer, but I’m going to hold off.  My day wasn’t all just observation and tweets, though.  A few questions kept hovering in the back of my mind.

  • What if the mob had been wrong?

    Imagine with me for a moment that a small crocheting magazine is accused of copyright violation by an author.  The editor, knowing this to be false, sends a dismissive or even sarcastic letter (we’ve all done it).  The author posts their side of the story and excerpts of the letter to their blog, people notice, and suddenly the Flash Mob of Righteousness is back in business.

    What then?  Is it possible, once the rope is out and being tied into a noose, to put it away again?

  • Did Cooks Source actually win?

    As I write this, about 24 hours after the story really blew up, the Cooks Source Facebook page has gone from 110 people who “Like This” to almost 3,400.  Most of those are because in order to comment on the Wall, you have to Like the page, and a whole lot of people hit “Like”, commented, and then hit “Unlike”.  Some of them are still listed because they’re still posting.  Still, assume that by the time it’s all over, between people who want to keep harassing Cooks Source and people who just forgot to hit “Unlike”, they’ll have well over a thousand people listed.  That’s a full order of magnitude jump in claimed like.

    Is that a measure of success?  Will it, in fact, end up a net positive for Cooks Source as it tries to entice advertisers for future issues?  Of course, that assumes the magazine survives the attention of lawyers from Disney, Paula Deen Enterprises, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the Food Network, Sunset, National Public Radio, and so on and so on.

  • What about Gene Simmons?

    A few weeks back, Gene Simmons (of KISS fame) said that anyone who illegally shares files should be “sued off the face of the earth” and that bands should be litigious about people copying their music.  In response, his web site was cracked and a good deal of derision was directed his way.

    Interesting.  In one case, a content creator who calls for vigorous defense of copyright is attacked for it.  In another, a violator of copyright is attacked.  How many of the people who Wall-bombed Cooks Source’s Facebook page were also cheering the anonymous crackers who harassed Gene Simmons?  Why the disconnect?

    There are many reasons we could cite, and I think the most likely factor is that in both cases, the targets of attack were publicly arrogant and uncompromising about their positions.  That, however, is absolutely no excuse.  If you were outraged by Cooks Source, shouldn’t you cheer Gene Simmons’ stance?  If you rolled your eyes Gene Simmons, shouldn’t you be on the side of Cooks Source?

    I imagine there are people who did one or the other of those things.  But not many.  The contrast says something about how we collectively view intellectual property, and it may not be something we want to face.

This isn’t the first time someone will set off an outrage swarm, and it won’t be the last.  There is much to think about here, about both ourselves and the medium we inhabit.

The Survey, 2010

I TOOK IT! And so should you—THe Survey For People Who Make Websites, 2010

It’s that time again: the 2010 edition of The Survey For People Who Make Websites is open and taking your input.  If you’re someone who creates web sites,  whether all the time or some of the time or even just occasionally, please take just a little bit of your day (as I write this, the average time-to-completion is just over 10 minutes) to let us know about you.  Furthermore, please spread the word to any groups to which you belong—local SIGs, mailing lists, newsgroups, forums, message boards, and so on.  I truly believe it’s important to the profession as a whole to have as many web folks as possible participate.

I was asked a little while back why we do the survey, and my answer surprised me not just for its content but also for how much passion I felt.  I said:

I think it’s a vital investigation, a look into our profession that nobody else is even attempting and is… essential if we’re going to be taken at all seriously by anyone other than ourselves.

And even more vital than that, it tells us who we are, collectively speaking. We’re scattered. Many of us are solo. We don’t even know what kind of community we’ve joined. The Survey, though limited and imperfect, tells us something profound and essential about us.

That’s why I’ve wholeheartedly supported this effort from its very outset, putting in hours upon hours of thought and effort into its operation and approving the use of [funds] to pay for professional analysis. This matters.

Other professions have it easy: they require certification or degrees or membership in a professional organization before you can take part.  Because of that, they can often estimate to a reasonable degree, or even count directly, how many of them there are.  They can go to their membership rolls and survey a few thousand randomly picked members to find out their age, location, experience, salary, and anything else that seems interesting to know.

We who build the web don’t have that luxury.  Our profession, just like the medium it serves, has no gatekeepers, no central organization, no clear boundaries.  The Survey is our attempt to disambiguate ourselves.

So please, if you’re someone who makes web sites, take ten minutes to tell us about yourself.  If you know people who make web sites, please point them to the survey and ask them the same.  Thank you.

Vendor Prefix Lists

At the prompting of an inquiry from a respected software vendor, I asked The Twitters for pointers to “canonical” lists of vendor-prefixed properties, values, and selectors.  Here’s what the crowd sourced at me:

Lists more than just prefixed properties, values, and so on.

While there’s no guarantee of completeness or accuracy, these are at least what the vendors themselves provide and so we can cling to some hope of both.  I was also pointed to the following third-party lists:

If you know of great vendor-prefix lists that aren’t listed here, particularly anything from the vendors themselves, please let us know in the comments!

Somewhat if not obviously related: does anyone know of a way to add full Textile support to BBEdit 9.x?  Having it be a Unix filter is fine.  I know BBEdit already supports Markdown, but since Basecamp uses Textile and lots of people I work with use Basecamp, I’d like stick to one syntax rather than confuse myself trying to switch between two similar syntaxes.

In Defense of Vendor Prefixes

…that having been the original working title for “Prefix or Posthack“, my latest article for A List Apart.  (Sort of like Return of the Jedi had a working title of Blue Harvest.)  In a fairly quick read, I make the case that vendor prefixes are not only good, they have the potential to be great and to deliver greater interoperability and advancement of CSS.

So far the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, which frankly came as a bit of a surprise.  The annoyance factor of prefixes is undeniable, and it’s been my experience that annoyance dramatically hardens opposition regardless of whether or not there are good reasons to oppose.  I could flatter myself that the agreement is due to the Obvious Rightness of my argument, but I suspect it’s actually that I merely articulated what most people had already instinctively decided for themselves.  Which isn’t a bad place to be.

Anyway, if you haven’t already, feel free to decide for yourself by reading the article—which, I feel like mentioning for no clear reason, is only the fourth piece I’ve ever written for ALA.

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