Top 10 Lists vs. Web Craftsmanship

Are you the type of person who loves to read Top 10 lists, and then link them up on Twitter ad nauseam? Do you love Smashing Magazine and the tuts+ network (psdtuts, nettuts, …)? If so, this post is for you.

My latest pet peeve involves people who post and share links to web design and development tricks and “quick hit” tutorials. What are the odds that the list or tutorial is going to help you with your current work? Also, did you actually go read the list and follow the links and do the tutorial and launch a site based on it and can you show that product to me? What did you actually learn?

The tendency toward listmania is misleading at best and damaging to the web design and development community at worst. It promotes superficial knowledge, quick fix schemes, and small-minded solutions.

If you want to do quality work and be proud of your craft, avoid these sites and lists. The quick trick can’t make you a better web craftsman or -woman. There isn’t a shortcut or quick fix to learning web design and development fundamentals.

Instead spend time actually making awesome sites yourself. Build something and launch it to the public. Go to An Event Apart. Learn by doing: your experience will teach you more than any top 10 list ever will. The critical thinking and solid skills will come from your hard work, not from the latest, hottest tut.1

More fuel for the fire:

Here is the thing. While it’s fun to learn the latest way to vertically center a div on a page using jQuery, HTML5 and your mom, you’re wasting your time. You may use that what, 1-2% of the time in your projects. Your fundamentals are what is important. Positioning, layouts, typography, spacing, etc. Master those things. Tricks are just tricks. Fundamentals win the game. —Noah Stokes

One can only really learn by doing, by making mistakes, and not by following someone else’s abridged instructions. The tips might get you a quick ‘n’ dirty result, but after that, you’re none the wiser and will need more hints to get you through the next problem. To anyone with genuine aspirations to be great and to really improve themselves, drop the ridiculous lists of quick fixes and shortcuts and start learning for yourself by doing and by making mistakes. —Contrast blog

There is a “quick hit” culture amongst net junkies, where they read the bare minimum and foolishly believe they’re getting value or insight. These are the same people who bookmark links “to read later” but never do, and order piles of amazon books to sit on shelves forever. Someone thinking they’re getting value of 10 sentences along the lines of “Launch early, launch often” or “Your brand is beyond your control” is in need of far more than a top 10 list in my opinion. —commenter on the same Contrast post

1 And, this is silly, but I hate the word “tut” so much. Argh!

Google's Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

I recently came across a wonderfully rich resource on search engine optimization (SEO) called Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. Originally written by Google for their internal teams, they decided to generalize the recommendations so that it would be useful to any website author or owner.

Access the guide from Google’s SEO page, or download the PDF directly [552 KB].

While the recommendations might already be known to you, they are still worth reviewing. Among Google’s tips for good organic SEO:

  • Create unique, accurate page titles
  • Make use of the “description” meta tag
  • Use appropriate URL structure
  • Make your site easier to navigate
  • Offer quality content and services

One notable omission is the recommendation to use the “keywords” meta tag. That’s because Google does not use the “keywords” meta tag in web ranking, and has in fact ignored it for years due to abuse.

Our web search (the well-known search at Google.com that hundreds of millions of people use each day) disregards keyword metatags completely. They simply don’t have any effect in our search ranking at present.

For more on the “keywords” meta tag see Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking from the Google Webmaster Central blog (posted Monday, September 21, 2009).

If you are a web designer or web developer with clients who look to you for SEO-related advice, consider giving them a copy of the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide—it’s a great summary of how to optimize websites for search engines, and it’s available for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Tucson's Web Design and Development Scene Is on Fire

There is a lot of excitement right now in the Tucson web design and development scene. Tucson Digital Arts Community is rocking the house with monthly workshops, local companies like Bookmans are innovating with their agile web development and engaging user-centric website, and there is a buzz of energy around getting together, sharing ideas and best practices, learning, networking, and improving our community.

Local web ninja Jared McFarland summed it up nicely in Capitalizing on the Tucson Tech Community.

We, as a community, can work together to educate and inspire one another. We can enjoy the same benefits as the people in major tech centers simply by knowing each other and inventing ways to work together. It isn’t about vast numbers of people, but small passionate groups. The web brings like minds together globally, but we can now use the web to find each other and act locally. We can turn Tucson into something intentional, and beautiful, for ourselves and the city.

The larger Tucson community is also bubbling with social events like Ignite Tucson and the myriad of Twitter meetups (“Tweetups”). Just search Twitter for #tweetup #tucson to be amazed. These events cover a much broader range of topics than web design and development but they all share a common goal: to mingle, network, and share with others.

This is how I think it breaks down: socially, the larger community wants to meet itself and technologically, web designers and developers are joining together to improve the tech community. All of this energy and enthusiasm is contagious!

In contrast, I want to share the story of the Tucson Geek Meet1, a group I was personally involved with for four years. Started as the Tucson Web Standards Group in 2003 by Molly Holzschlag, the Geek Meet slowly lost momentum over time. Instead of growing and expanding, it stayed a small core of five or six people.

Don’t get me wrong, because of those meetups the five or six of us are now steadfast friends, and several of us have had the opportunity to work together. Now that we are friends we can socialize anytime—we don’t need to call it anything. The idea of the Geek Meet isn’t going away, it’s just being replaced by ad hoc Tweetups and other social happenings around town.

What I want to encourage, and I think Jared hit on this, is not just the social aspects of meeting together but the educational and inspirational benefits of sharing code, experiences, and real-life examples of our work. TDAC is spearheading the effort by organizing workshops and collaborative coding days to get people together to educate, inspire, network, and improve. I’ve been a part of TDAC for six months now, and the tech community in Tucson isn’t just soaking it up, it’s clamoring for more.

We’re hoping soon to have a Refresh Tucson—our neighbors in The Valley have had a strong Refresh presence for three years—we can do the same here in the Old Pueblo. So please participate: join up, tweet up, meet up, share, and pass the word to your colleagues and friends.

Let’s do it, Tucson.

How to get involved

Tucson networks to join and participate in

Are you on Meetup.com? Tell your Meetup.com cronies to join the fine sites listed above, especially if you are on the Meetup.com Web Standards “waiting list”. Wait no more!

Notes

1 The Tucson Geek Meet is no more, it’s pushing up the daisies, it’s kicked the bucket. This meetup is not pining for the fjords, it’s gone to meet it’s maker. It’s… OK, enough of the Monty Python!

For posterity, here is a brief history of the Tucson Geek Meet:

2003(?): Started by Molly Holzschlag.

2005: Tucson Web Standards Meetup moved to Upcoming by Lance (from Meetup.com). We met at B-Line and Famous Sam’s. See Molly’s 2005 post and my 2005 post as well as the Upcoming group page.

2006: Met monthly at the Old Chicago patio. A few Flickr photos from 2006 events: Great Discussion at Tucson Web Standards Meeting, Geoff in Action.

2007: Changed the name to Geek Meet.

2008: The infamous Hooter’s incident. D’oh! (Yes, Molly gave us a good lashing for that, and it was deserved.)

2009: Called it quits in favor of other local groups and Twitter meetups.

This post was originally titled “Rest in Peace, Tucson Geek Meet” but I decided that it was just a small part of the burgeoning Tucson web design and development scene.