Oh blog, why are you so neglected?
I’ve been thinking a great deal about Steve Jobs.
Like many people, I find myself surprised by the depth of my feelings upon learning of his death, and I’ve been wondering where these feelings come from.
A common theme among many of the personal tributes that have been written / blogged / tweeted / podcasted over the last week is “I didn’t know him; he certainly didn’t know who I was.” This idea is shared by many, and it’s easy to empathize with it. But I don’t think it’s accurate.
Steve Jobs did know us. He may not have known us personally, but he had an ineffable ability to put himself in our shoes and look through our eyes and figure out what we wanted before we even knew it ourselves. He knew how to build a computer we would want to use everyday; he knew how to build a phone that would do so many things we never knew we needed a phone to do; he even invented a whole new class of personal computer, knowing it would fill a need we didn’t even know we had.
He did know us, and he did touch us, and that’s why his loss is a personal one.
It will be a long time before anyone comes along who knows us as well as Steve Jobs did.
I posted roughly this same thing on Metafilter yesterday, and I figured I might as well save a copy for myself.
I will probably always be a Frank Miller apologist. He may be a crank and perhaps past his best comics-making days, but Frank Miller is single-handedly responsible for my comics obsession of the 90s and continued love of the art form in general.
Here comes my pro-Miller screed (and screed it is):
For some reason I found myself in a comic book store in Madison, WI around 1989-90. Again for no reason I can recall, I bought the trade paperback of The Dark Knight Returns, despite not having read comics for at least ten years (and at that point I was just reading Archie and Caspar in the drug store).
I thought I knew who Batman was — he of the campy 60s TV show and the iconic Burton film — but this book was a revelation to me, one that revealed itself slowly. It took a good three or four readings before I even began to understand what was going on.
First, I had to learn how to read it at all; it had sophisticated page layouts, custom lettering for different characters, massively stylized illustrations, and it was essentially set in the near future meaning the world was both familiar and foreign at the same time. I struggled a bit with some of the pacing and panel transitions — struggles I understood when I read the seminal Understanding Comics. Miller was employing some of the same techniques found in Japanese comics and I had never been exposed to them before.
Second, I had to parse this Batman universe that, as it turned out, I knew nothing about. I didn’t know that there had been multiple Robins. I didn’t know Batman’s origin story at all, or that he doesn’t kill. I didn’t know that the Joker was in actuality a serial killer who was deemed too insane to execute (this is true of most of the Batman villains actually). The Joker plays a non-trivial role in the story but it was weeks before I understood when he even made his first appearance… And the Joker’s finale? It’s incredibly dramatic, but impossible to appreciate without the backstory of these two characters, which is a fairly demented little love story.
Third, and this was crucial, I finally caught on to the fact that The Dark Knight Returns is not real; that is to say, it’s not canon. If comic books are accurate depictions of the worlds they show us, this book is a fantasy among documentaries. I think it may have even been the release of DC’s own Elseworlds line that finally helped me understand this — it’s not that I had a problem understanding that The Dark Knight Returns was just a story, it’s that I didn’t understand that every other Batman book (and every other title on the shelf) held to a “reality” that this book was taking liberties with. This meant that I had to parse the book yet again, digging out those moments where it nodded to the conventions of the canon, but created its own reality.
This is when things really started to fall in to place for me. Superman as a governmental drone? Pre-pubescent killer gang members roaming with impunity? The Batmobile is a tank? With rubber bullets? Somehow the idea that these things weren’t canon, but — because the story is set in the future — that somehow they could become true made everything even more intriguing.
Fourth, I could finally turn my attention to the art. When I try to figure out just why I bought it in the first place, my imagined inner monologue goes something like this:
The Dark Knight Returns. Where did he go?
(picks up book; sees the art)
This was before computer coloring and lettering, and some of the pages still have the same power they did when I first saw them. Many of them can be seen here; this panel of a manically triumphant Batman entering the fray again is a personal favorite, or — crickey — this one of Batman and his new Robin effortlessly soaring through the page.
From that auspicious beginning came a dedicated collector. For about 10 years I was an ardent DC fan, and continued to collect and read anything that Frank Miller put out. Sin City may be cliche now, but in the early days it was a breath of fresh, pulpy air; Batman: Year One is a masterwork of storytelling.
I may not be a fan of his politics, or of some of his more recent work (I did not care for The Dark Knight Strikes Again), but that doesn’t make what I loved any less worthy of love, and it doesn’t change the experience I had with That Thing in That Moment.
And that is all I have to say about that.
This post on Friction-Free Collaboration is interesting and all, but I’m left with such a bad taste in my mouth that I’m inspired to blog about it. (For me that’s a pretty high bar.)
Take a look:
Even before reading the title of the post, the first thing I noticed is the “Ads by Google” module smack in the middle of the first graph. (This wouldn’t be such an issue if they hadn’t also jammed that Yammer logo in there as well.) Such a blatant call for ad clicks bothers me — they’re making their content take a back seat.
The next thing I notice is that the Google ads have been designed in such a way that they deliberately match the callouts farther down the page. Combine this with the fact that they’ve decided to let Google show lists of “related links” instead of the standard text ads in those spots, and I can infer that they’re trying to make the ads look less like ads, and more like content. They are trying to trick me into clicking the ads.
The last thing I notice, now that I’ve been completely distracted, is how many ads are on the page in general:
There are four Google ad placements on the page, all of them designed to “blend in” with the design, attempting to lure readers who aren’t quite paying attention into clicking them.
I know this is all kind of Not News and bla bla bla, but for me this site goes over the line. They managed to distract me enough from their content that reading the post itself was an afterthought, and I have no interest in reading anything else on the site.
I miss the days when Google only allowed you to place one Adsense block on your site. And, yes, apparently my lawn is full of children I must now shoo away.
We’re working on another project for a magazine, and as we’re laying out content pages we’re having to address the (admittedly minor) issue of how to display photo and illustration credits.
On most news or magazine sites, like Newsweek or the New York Times, when an article has a photo or illustration, they have to identify the owner of the image â€” not always the creator of the image, but often just the rights-holder.
The way these credits are usually presented within a web site bugs the heck out of me. As a consumer, I don’t care at all who owns the image I’m looking at. I just want to take it in, and the captions are almost always a distraction to me.
In fact, I have a hard time imagining that they add anything significant to most readers’ experiences â€” except to the one-in-a-million visitor who is interested enough to want to track down the owner of an image for their own purposes.
I understand that rights-holders require some sort of recognition, and I stipulate that providing the information â€” even if only for the sake of that one-in-a-million user â€” has some small value. That having been said, I propose that user experience should trump the irrelevant-to-most indication of who owns a particular image, at least in its current format.
The usage rights of images that are published, whether online or in real-world publications, is rarely straightforward. Even though a publication has commissioned a photo or an illustration, it doesn’t mean that they own that image outright, and it doesn’t even mean that they can publish the image in whatever medium they choose â€” or even for as long as they choose.
For example, a magazine may commission a freelance photographer to take photos of an event. The publication needs to negotiate ahead of time with the photographer what rights they will have to the photos, whether they are just for publication in the magazine, or if their usage rights extend to digital (i.e., the magazine’s web site). Of course this usually happens pretty swiftly â€” there are standard contracts for this kind of thing. The magazine could buy the photos outright, but this is usually much more expensive, and not worth it to the publication unless it’s a major event or topic that will have long-term interest.
The practical outcome is that the images you see are rarely owned by the people publishing them, which is why most of the time there will be some credit text near the image, letting you know who actually owns it. (Or, probably more accurately when you really get down to it, letting you know that the entity publishing the image doesn’t own it.)
We have to have the credits, we’re agreed, but let’s hide them until the user interacts with the image in some way, like mousing over the image in preparation for clicking it. Then we can present the image credits to users who are much more likely to be interested in them.
And, hey, as long as we know this about them, there’s no need to restrain ourselves regarding how much information we choose to show, and how it appears. (Nothing except good taste, of course.) We can take up even more space with our appearing/disappearing element and offer much more information than we normally would.
(The examples to the left are my idea of what would happen when a user places their cursor over an in-content image; the second being a thought toward making the credits even more useful for those who are interested in them. Does direct access to the source image hurt any rights owner’s bottom line?)
To my mind this benefits every single party involved: