Category Archives: general

Standardistas Unite!

Carrying on from my theme about using the online world to support rather than supplant the physical world, I thought I’d tell you about these monthly meetings I have been holding since late 2007, in London.

Called the Web Standards Meetup London, they aim to allow practitioners to discuss problems and successes with implementing web standards. There are a few other groups in London that do this but none as casually as this one, in a loose, network style.

What’s the big deal, then with web standards, anyway?

Quite a bit actually, and it has to do with how people and computers “read” websites, what we want from websites, both as users and creators/commissioners, and how to create structure around meaningful content so everyone wins. I’ll be discussing aspects of web standards over the next few months in here and on other sites on occasion but in the short-term, the elevator-pitch, as it were, is simply:

Semantically structured, standards-compliant, gracefully accessible web content, created with all visitors in mind, makes a website better for everyone and everything that visits it, from web-crawling search-spiders to web-savvy cyber-surfers.

The big problem has always been that people think it costs extra to code in this way or that the site will be less functional or attractive than it could be, but the opposite is true, actually. Once you set compliance, usability and findability as your target, the rest of the issues fall into place and it becomes easier to build, if you know how to.

So several of us (the group numbers 90 at present, but about 10 – 15 of us meet monthly) gather round and discuss what we can do to progress these practices into the wider web community. We would never have been able to organise something like this so easily without a site like Meetup or Upcoming to help one manage people and meeting dates.

So even though you may spend a few hours a week catching up with friends and colleagues on the internet, don’t forget to meet them in the flesh, in “meat-space” to make sure you can really connect! There4 really is no point to social networking sites unless you use them to occasionally meet and network physically.

If you are interesetd in the topic by the way, join up and I may even buy you a beer! *

*first few actual meat-space attendees and to be taken with a grain of salt!

The world doesn’t need another Facebook App

OK so it’s been written about by voices more dextrous than mine but I felt I had to have a go. I just wrote my paltry list of “friends” that I would prefer it if they did not send me any more invites to bite their Zombie’s Friends character, or tend their Lil’ Green Patch of Who’s Sexier than who’s friends’ Zombie, or invite me to the Zombie bloody Karma Astrology Chart!


I love the SuperWall, very much enjoy getting pictures of recent exploits and journeys they’ve taken, and the new chat feature is great! They never got twitter to work properly, that’s a different story, but really, c’mon, do we really need these little apps that add nothing to our online relationships? If the point of Facebook is to keep in touch, however tenuously, with people we love, like or know, then why put barriers between our communications rather than lubricants? (I’m sure someone has created a “My Favourite Sexual Lubricant” FB App, but that’s another story!). It’s not their fault, open up an API (that’s Application Programming Interface to you humans out there) to the general public and every geek with two digits to spare will start to get interested, and want to write something mere mortals will like. Worse, som people will write something rather similar to what others have created, in order to nab some of their kudos.

But I started to find some real annoyances with these FB Apps. They sucked time out of my life for little gain. I found myself one day spending 20 minutes of my life raking my Lil’ Green Patch (allegedly to plant a real tree somewhere – yeah, right!), and buying a hose and rake, and trowel, and sending other friends cutesy anthropomorphic plants for their gardens…, when what I was truly interested in was how were these people feeling today, what do they think about the upcoming elections or latest political gaffe or recommending music or films…..

So my FB friends have now been notified! No more pictures of drinks or spanks with virtual leather gloved mistresses or invitations to vote on who looks most like XXX from the TV show YYY (haven’t got a telly anyway!!). But pictures from your real life trip or a message that you are feeling the pinch of the banking debacle or read a great book, saw a great film or ate a great meal and want us all to know about it, brill!

More of that please!

The invisible mayor

For those of you not in London, there is a very heated mayoral election campaign on at the moment, of comparable intensity to the current US Democratic party campaign. For the first time, there are presentable options to the incumbent and it no longer feels like a one horse race, as it was the previous two elections.

So what has the London mayoral election got to do with the WWW?

Quite a lot if you want to talk about user-centred design, accessibility, and public transport (they don’t call it the Information Superhighway for nothing).

Y’see, the incumbent, Ken Livingstone, is someone who elicits passionate opinions like no other candidate has. Pretty much everyone in London knows him and what he looks like and either thinks he is great and has done a great deal for London, or he is a megalomaniac who is eroding our individual rights. Those who know me know what I think. He is a keen supporter of public services across the capital, and has implemented imaginative and controversial schemes, like charging cars £8 GBP per day to drive a car in the capital.

I get the opportunity to see mayor Ken quite a bit as he lives in my neighbourhood and uses the same tube station as me, and I often ask myself how many major world cities has a powerful, well-paid mayor taking the tube/subway to work, sharing the experience of the public transport system with the rest of us? I am certain no other equally public figure shares this activity in London. Particularly interesting in light of the fact that several people over the years have placed bombs on public transport, from the IRA in the 70’s to their more eastern bretheren in the noughties.

So how does he cope? Easy – no one bugs him because he never catches anyone’s eye and focuses on himself. It is amazing how invisible he can make himself. It is an amazing example of someone both accessible and invisible, perfectly open to be approached, but never, at least in my presence, actually approached.

So as a user, he knows the transport system personally, as a mayor he is accessible, yet as an individual he is invisible and remote.

Quite a trick!