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I Am Jack’s Own Special and Unique Snowflake

There’s an interesting discussion brewing in the commentary on Khoi Vinh’s announcement of A Brief Message, the too-lovely site he and Liz Danzico created. There seems to be some sort of debate as to whether or not a RSS feed works with the gestalt of the site, with some arguing that it could be a liability: namely, readers should be forced to view the intricately designed essays in-browser, as God and Khoi intended.

I snark, but not at ABM. There’s a larger point for discussion here.

I was sitting in a coffeeshop over the weekend, and two women behind me started talking about RSS feeds. This doesn’t exactly happen too often (read: “ever”), so I decided to eavesdrop. After talking for awhile about some favorite sites, one woman said that she’d stopped subscribing to feeds that weren’t full posts: “I just don’t want to deal with opening my browser,” she said.

Now, I’m not about to hop into the “design doesn’t matter” camp, but I think we need to be careful about saying with certainty what’s critical to a given site’s success. At the very least, we need to ask ourselves to whom it’s critical. To our users, “design” isn’t some sort of impenetrable absolute—and to some, it might even be a liability. I’ve got a family member who can’t read type online that’s smaller than sixteen pixels or so—and while I personally applaud the way that ABM handles font resizing, asking “Who cares?” feels too absolutist to me. She might care quite a bit.

Anyway. This isn’t a criticism of A Brief Message, which I think is lovely. But generally speaking, we need a bit more equanimity when deciding what matters to the success of a site.

This is a blog entry posted on day 11046 in the Journal.

5 comments posted.

5 Comments

  1. Jeff Croft says:

    I would agree that asking “Who cares,” was too absolutist, and I should have been more thoughtful.

    That having been said: one of my real pet peeves in the Web Standards world is the way people jump all over someone for things like the way type resizes, or a few unencoded ampersands, or the fact that a site uses Flash, or…

    Khoi and Liz invested a lot of time in AMB (I presume, anyway). They had an idea and they executed it, and it’s purely a labor of love. The site has some “big ideas,” particularly that short-form design writing can be useful and that we can have art directed content online, even in a world of CMSes and templates. It irritates me to no end that someone’s sole response to these ideas and the time invested is, “yeah, but the type resizing sucks.” I would say my “Who cares?” was every bit as thoughtful and respectful as the initla response to ABM.

    It just pisses me off that people can be so insensitive. Imagine, if after your big redesign, someone had just come by and said, “It doesn’t validate. You suck.” Or, “I hate the way the type resizes.” Or, “Why in the hell did you center the labels over the form fields?” And that was all they had to say about your hard work. Wouldn’t you find that irritating? I would.

    As to RSS feeds (since I was involved in that discussion, too): I would assert that getting people the content is not always the number one priority. It may be in this case (Khoi says it is, so I would tend to agree). But there are cases when other things are more important (and I wondered aloud if this could be one of them). Sometimes, the visual design is the message. In that case, I would suggest an RSS feed, or a summaries-only RSS feed is appropriate. These cases are few and far between, though, and I definitely generally favor a full-posts feed.

  2. Christopher Schmitt says:

    Jeff, for the record, I never mentioned that the site design looked bad. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

    In fact, in my blog post about the site, I say the opposite. I’m very impressed with the design of the work and looking forward to reading more editorials as they come out.

  3. Jeff Croft says:

    Woah woah — I never said you said the site design looked bad, either. Don’t put words into my mouth. :)

    It’s not personal, man. I had no idea you posted on your blog about it. I only saw the Flickr post. I know you’re a nice guy, Chris, and I’m not by any means trying to call you insensitive. I’m just saying that the tendency to jump all over someone for petty things whilst ignoring the big picture of a new concept is irritating to me. You probably didn’t mean to do that, and maybe you didn’t do it at all. I jumped to conclusions, and I apologie. That’s why I said my “who cares?” comment wasn’t very thoughtful.

    But even if this is not a case of someone responding to a new venture with a pedantic Web Standards eye without also including the a Big Picture eye, that mentality is still everpresent in this community, and it still irritates me.

    Chris, definitely sorry to have implied that you were being insensitive. I know you weren’t.

  4. The Robot says:

    Good points all, Jeff. Thanks for weighing in.

    I don’t know as I’d blame a particular community as I would the medium, though. A textarea at the end of a comment thread isn’t the place for a well-constructed critique honestly, most of us wouldn’t have the formal training to know how to construct one. Instead, the things we hear—the unencoded ampersands, the shite way that text resizes, the fact that robots don’t actually blink—aren’t often inaccurate remarks so much as poorly phrased ones. I do like hearing about something I’ve messed up, but online that feedback’s often couched as attacks. Because naturally, if I’ve left an unencoded ampersand in my source code, I must be calling your sister a whore. Or something.

    I don’t think this is a problem unique to the “Web Standards community,” though we do got our fair share of asshats. I just think it’s the problem with giving everyone an opportunity to self-publish: given a chance, we’ll speak first, and filter later.

  5. Joshua Lane says:

    I also think there’s the fact that people’s expectations are high when it comes to these sorts of things. In other words, Khoi and Liz are highly respected professionals. And people expect their work to be perfect. And when it’s not, someone jumps on it and says “HA, look, the text doesn’t resize very well!”.

    Is that critique valid? To some, no. To others, yes. Personally, I don’t care about text-resizing OR rss feeds, but those items don’t really affect my overall experience with a website. For others, however, they do.

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