Tech

Round-up: Accessibility References for Non-Tech People

Elizabeth Galle tweeted a request today for accessibility references that a team of not-necessarily tech savvy people would get some use out of. Twitter responded with some great links almost immediately, and I wanted to collect those replies here in one place to serve as a starting point for any others with similar needs.

The tweet that started it off:

@Tawreh makes an excellent point that web accessibility can be likened to a book, and that you should give your readers a sense of “I know where things are” immediately rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and inevitably confusing them (or frustrating them to the point that they just give up).

Others presented links to basic guidelines from the W3C and WebAIM groups, the authoritative sources for web usability and accessibility. Continue reading “Round-up: Accessibility References for Non-Tech People”

Personal, Tech

Losing the Signal to the Noise

Bruce of Milwaukee’s own Roll Mobile posted an article on the tendency of social media users to produce content the way porn stars produce movies: quantity over quality.

Social media is no longer a fad; it’s a trend. Which means it’s here to stay, even if its form morphs and evolves over time.

But like any trend, there are those elements that hinder its growth and opportunities.

For social media, I see that hindrance being the widespread acceptance of quantity over quality. Twitter, Facebook, and blogging platforms such as WordPress and Tumblr make it easy for us to publish our every thought. Couple the ease of use with the fact that mobile devices allow us to do this from anywhere and at anytime, and suddenly people are communicating their thoughts louder and more often than ever.

This is both good and bad.

Because the chatter is so loud, and being expunged so fast and furiously, many of us feel the need to match that in order to have our own messages not get lost in the masses. It becomes sensory overload after a while.

Social Media: The Porn Stars of the Communication Medium from Roll Mobile

Amen, Bruce, amen. I know the feeling well. Late last year I posted on my own sense of oversharing – not in the sense of sharing too much detail about myself, but sharing too often; creating too much noise and not enough signal. Since then, my frenzied output on Twitter has decreased steadily, though I still feel occasionally like it’s still too much.

It’s so very true that in the world of social media, especially on Twitter, you feel a need to be posting that often. Depending on who you’re following and when you check in, your tweet stream can move very quickly. You toss something of your own in, and it’s already been washed downstream in the blink of an eye. But you’re so damn clever/inspiring/knowledgeable/informed! People want to read your every joke/quote/link! However can I make sure they don’t miss out? Obviously the solution is to just post more often. Fight the flood with a flood of your own, right?

But that’s exhausting. No one can really keep up with that kind of deluge regularly. So my renewed goal is to unplug more often. Tweet less. Check Twitter less. If there’s something important, it’ll find me eventually. William Powers, aka @hamletsbb, wrote a book titled Hamlet’s Blackberry on “staying human in a digital world” in which he explains how it’s a human necessity to get away from the flood once in a while (I had the pleasure of sitting in on his SXSW presentation).

So that’s what I intend to do.

Less noise, more signal.

Tech

Own Your Data

A partial reconstruction of a discussion between Jeffrey Zeldman, Tantek Çelik, and a few others on the merits of self-hosting social content and publishing to various sites rather than aggregating locally from external sources.

I’ve been following discussions like this with some interest lately. Jeremy Keith posted a piece on his decision to self-host his bookmarks and cross-post to Delicious, rather than enter them in Delicious first and rely on their API to get his data out. Stephen Hay wrote a similar post on a shift in the way we post and consume content given the plethora of social content-sharing sites in existence today:

For a while we’ve posted our data all over the internet on all types of services. These services provide APIs so we can access the data we put into them, so that we can do things with that data. Read that again.

The prime example of all this lately is the social bookmarking site Delicious. In December 2010, a slide leaked from a Yahoo meeting indicated that Delicious was to be shut down. People on Twitter and elsewhere on the web collectively freaked out. Some people had thousands of bookmarks that would seemingly be gone, lost forever at the whim of Yahoo. People started to wonder if someone should instead build an open-source version of Delicious, and others pointed out how extraordinarily hard that would be. The end result being, people are starting to realize just how frail our data is. We post photos, articles, tweets, and whatever else we want, to lots of different sites, but we don’t actually have control over that data once we hit “post.”

So is it better to self-host your content and push that data out to separate services, or post directly to those services and pull your content into local backups after the fact? I don’t have that answer. But I did find this exchange on Twitter to be quite fascinating, and wanted to have some sort of linear record of it for posterity.

Update (Jan 10): Jeffrey Zeldman expounded on his thoughts from yesterday in a post on his own site:

We can’t preserve social relationships connected to our data. I can save my photos but not nice things you said about them.

Own Your Data on zeldman.com

Update 2 (Jan 10): Tantek has posted his own follow-up as well:

I’d rather host my data and live with such awkwardness in the open than be a sharecropper on so many beautiful social content farms.

On Owning Your Data on tantek.com


Tech

Up and Gone; Or, The Ease of Relocating in the Digital Age

I recently had the pleasure of dogsitting for my parents while they were out of town, and in the process of temporarily relocating myself to their house, I realized something.

It’s extremely easy to pick up and relocate ourselves in an age where everything has gone digital.

This isn’t really a surprise. There are lots of books and blogs extolling the virtues of a location-independent lifestyle. Even for those of us who aren’t globe-trotting, it’s become remarkably easy to just… leave. For the two weeks I was living at my parents’ house taking care of their dog, I packed a single bag with a few changes of clothes and basic toiletries, a couple books, and my laptop. (Plus my phone, but that’s always on me and thus not really counted as packing.) That’s it.

All my other possessions were unimportant.

Granted, I wasn’t packing for a survival trek. I knew there would be food on hand and a kitchen to prepare it, a bed to sleep in, and functioning utilities. But it was interesting to see just how few of my own things I needed in order to be away from home for two weeks.

  • Mail was not a concern – all my bills are handled online, and personal letters have long been replaced by email, texts, and the social web. The sum total of my physical mail for two weeks was a pair of Netflix envelopes and a handful of unwanted marketing flyers and catalogs (which go straight to the trash).
  • Netflix and Hulu were at the ready for movies and TV. iTunes holds my music library. A couple books, which could just as easily have been library loans, and a very active dog sufficed for most of my entertainment.
  • Two weeks’ worth of clothing really doesn’t take up much space and can be packed fairly quickly. A few pairs of jeans, several t-shirts and overshirts for work, and some sweatshirts, plus a coat and gloves, all of which fits well in a moderately-sized duffle bag.

My laptop and my phone are undoubtedly my two most important possessions. Those two devices have replaced (or at least could replace) my mailbox, my media center, a bookshelf, paper notebooks, my alarm clock, and a phonebook, among other things. Digital storage is cheaper than ever, so I could easily back up all my DVDs to a portable harddrive.

Obviously there are some things I can’t digitize. My couch, for one. And as easy as it might be to order a pizza online, I like cooking, so my kitchen is here to stay. But the rest of my stuff? That’s just it – it’s just stuff. I’m planning to overhaul my belongings, going by the rule of “If I had to move right now and could only take one car, would this go with me?” My guess is that the answer will consistently tend toward “no.”

What else in my life can I digitize to reduce my clutter? Moving to a monastery and renouncing all worldly things is out of the question, but I’m open to suggestions.

Tech

Learn When to Say No.

The one skill that’s been most helpful to me professionally, more than any tech knowledge, is knowing when and how to say “No.”

Obviously any profession has certain skillsets that are required for basic completion of the relevant tasks. Architects need to be able to sketch designs and understand building stress points. Firefighters need to know how to hook up hoses and where to aim the water for best coverage. I’m a front-end developer; I need to know how to write proper XHTML and CSS, use Photoshop, and manage project timelines.

Even so, none of the various technical abilities I’ve acquired over the years are as important as simply knowing when it’s necessary to say “no” to people. It’s a “soft skill” but it’s just as vital as any knowledge of coding languages, operating systems, or tech support tips. I’ve learned that saying “yes” all the time leads to nothing but stress and ultimately sub-par work. You end up trying to please all the people all the time, and it’s just not doable.

I think too many people have this idea that it’s unacceptable to say no (or worse, to hear it from others). There’s a fear that saying “no” will somehow make them look incapable of handling the work, make them look like they can’t be trusted to get stuff done. They’re half right, technically. There’s a point at which workload outweighs available time, and when that happens the work will suffer, the person will suffer, and the client will suffer.

No one wants that.

I’ve learned — the hard way — that my health (mental and physical) and my output are directly affected by my ability to regulate my workload effectively. Knowing when and more importantly how to tell people that you can’t currently oblige their request is absolutely critical to keeping yourself in balance.

I just wish more people understood that.