TELL YOUR PUP YOU LOVE HIM

Cripes, can I ever not stand the Mormon-style sunny glibness of the Mesh Conference organizers. They’re so embedded in the mediocrity of the Toronto Web business, where the ghost of Scoutie and his pooch continues to haunt us all, that even when it’s right before their eyes they can’t figure out why their entire project is a problem, not a solution.

Consider their site. Really, don’t you think that a Web site for a Web conference has to be bulletproof in every respect? Let’s start with 33 validation errors, including newbie embarrassments like unencoded ampersands, duplicated ids, and h3s inside ps. Seriously, this is the kind of code they’re giving us:

<div class="main">
 <div class="leftCol">
  <div style="height: 320px;">
   <div class="col3">			
    <p><h3>connect</h3>

It’s slightly better than last week, in which this XHTML 1.0 Transitional site was seen to use HTML tags in upper case. But it’s a hair’s breadth away from a full-on Failed Redesign.

And if you can’t read their type, it already is a Failed Redesign. Has nobody checked what the site looks like when you bump up the font size even a single increment?

Next, the entire philosophy. Let me just give you a rundown of Toronto’s Web history. Contrary to the world-class image that was hysterically declared back in the ’90s, Toronto discovered the Web late, and did so largely through the prism of marketing. (I’m allowed to say that. I’ve been online since 1991, before the Web was invented.) Ad-agency arseholes with low-end BMWs and starter marriages showed up and decided the Web was a great way to sell shit, and assumed that print production methods (think Michael and Elliot on Thirtysomething) would do just fine online. We endured one site after another with tiny type embedded in sliced Photoshop graphics, which we only got to see after we endured an unskippable Flash intro.

I have met teenagers who know more about real Web development – that is, standards-compliant and accessible Web development – than entire megafirms like Cyberplex ever knew. To this day I am friends and acquaintances with local Web shops that are simply unable to put out a standards-compliant site, or page, or div. Not only do they not know how, they do not know what I’m talking about. They cannot even define the terms, let alone define what a span can legally contain. In fact, even after handing one of them the Shea/Holzschlag book and after visiting another of them several times, nothing has changed: They’re still coding like it’s 1999.

Maybe this explains why there are only 40-odd people on the Webstandards.TO mailing list, scarcely any standards-based freelance work, and scarcely any compliant work being done inside various firms. Toronto goes for the bronze yet again.

How could this get worse? Toronto developers managed to miss the memo about Web standards, producing sites that break all over the place and don’t follow any spec whatsoever, let alone the specs that underly the medium for which they are created, the Web. Now we’ve got this Web 2.0 concept, which is merely a way of describing Web sites that partially update through scripting rather than invoking a full-page refresh, and this too is another case where somebody missed a memo. The problem is it’s the same memo.

And even though Web 2.0 applications require more-semantic markup merely to function, the consequences of noncompliant markup are worse in this case. A lousy static layout can at least be muddled through by a browser that a developer has never heard of before or by a screen reader. A layout using a set of behaviours that nobody has tried before and that have been tested in three browsers max has no fallbacks. Screwing up here has more severe consequences than screwing up a year and a half ago.

And really, the Pied Piper of Ajax, Jason Fried, is principally responsible for this mess. I’m getting a bit tired of having to remind the leader of the pack and his Opera-style fanboys that accessibility isn’t an option (add “anymore” if you wish). Is Basecamp used in Italy, the United Kingdom, or Germany or within the U.S. federal government? Then I hope your expert witnesses are better than I am, because you’re going to be facing a human-rights tribunal or a lawsuit. You can’t say you weren’t warned (I’ve been warning you, and the documentation, much of it free, has been available for years). You just decided that accessibility was a “feature” that, in this foolish Manichean argument the Friedsters have developed, could be added only if another feature were taken away.

So, with the Mesh Conference, we’ve got these five middle-aged Toronto guys who, I presume, recently converted from IE6 to Firefox, which makes them totally up to the minute. They got the brainwave to start a conference about Web 2.0. A conference, in other words, celebrating a rampantly mediocre development trend that stands squarely at odds with everything real Web developers like me and my friends have been trying to do for the last six years.

Do you think these people even understand what I’m talking about? Nope. They are apparently incapable. Here is an E-mail exchange I had over the weekend with one of the organizers.

First off, thanks for joining the conversation. Secondly, can I ask why you seem angry that we are doing this event?

Did you read the post?

guys who have spent a fair bit of time in or covering the tech world, in Toronto and elsewhere – it seemed like there was virtually no conversation in these parts

What there is is a complete acceptance that Web 2.0, whatever that may be, is a great thing, possibly the greatest thing since Jason Fried sliced bread. What there is no conversation about is the thing I wrote my post about. Can you tell me what that was?

You wondered why Andrew Coyne was speaking. We invited him because, for Canada, he is one of our most visited political bloggers,

Oh, bullshit, and besides, you’re running a Web 2.0 conference, not a conference on blogging. At the very least you need to avoid offering invitations to sinecurists who already have an audience in old media.

Your passion around accessibility and usability for the disabled is known to me […] and I respect it.

Not enough, of course, to include it in your event, which will perpetuate the notion that we can bolt it on later, presumably after we listen to a libertarian/conservative newspaper columnist tell us what our blogging future is.

Actually, the organizers have quite a thing for newspaper columnists, since two of them write for newspapers and they are actually inviting just as many columnists – Coyne and Michael Geist. Don’t all of them get enough media exposure already? Technology writers at old media inviting other writers at old media to a technology conference is no way to run a railroad, even a railroad embedded between a <p><h3> and an </h3>.

What I would like to see is a conference with half a clue. This is a mesh that screens out actually qualified developers and people with disabilities. Mesh Conference is a bug, not a feature. I call bullshit.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.03.27 12:10. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
http://blog.fawny.org/2006/03/27/mesh2/

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