Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 6 Dec 02 14:29
(terry) to me, forms is forms. Dreamweaver does them just fine. So does Frontpage. Forms are about the easiest thing to automate, so I can't give an advantage to any tool there, but they all beat handcoding forms, to me. (Though you never get away from tweaking the code.) I'd like to see the interface for Dreamweaver involve to be more interrogatory though and less about dialog boxes that map to the spec. Doing CSS via a dialog box is lame. There should be a visual dummy template sandbox where you can "draw" your design and choose your fonts, etc. visually, perhaps on some boilerplate with the same number of text areas as your intended design.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 6 Dec 02 14:38
don, re the need to update websites as fashions change. i saw a good slam recently that i took to heart given some of my own early projects (http://ezone.org/ez/e1/enterzone.html): "Hey, 1994 is calling... They want their website back! (Aside for bloggers, I checked the exact wording of that quotation from its citation - http://www.davezilla.com/index.php?p=1277 - by going back to my blog - http://radiofreeblogistan.com/ - and searching for "blogger insults" in my own search box. Score one for the outboard brain.) As for database stuff, I still consider myself a novice at that, but I've gotten the same idea that it's imperative. Everything is disconnected listmaking without databases. I think eventually mastery of one's own personal network, a cloud of data you want persistent, secure access to, will require another evolutionary step in making the interfaces for managing databases more inviting and understandable for nonspecialists. What has worked for me so far is sitting down with friends who are much more experienced and doodling boxes and arrows on paper, while they explain "fourth normal form," guids, key fields, and so on and I try to grasp it once and for all. Dreamweaver is great for managing a database-backed site and you could theoretically build them in it, but I suspect most hardcore developers have a preferred environment for that already. But DMX knows how to "talk to" the database, so the designer can build dynamic pages off of static templates. A tapelist is the perfect "finite, usefull" project to teach yourself on. I find I can never learn something technical and detail-oriented (like programming) without a specific manageable project motivating me to wade through the dry parts.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 6 Dec 02 14:49
(jdevoto) asks the million-dollar question: "Christian, the book has a web site (as mentioned above - <http://www.dreamweaversavvy.com/>). How has that worked out for you? Have you seen a lot of hits on the site? Do you think it's brought sales of the book, or is it more in the way of an additional resource for readers?" The site like so much on the web is a work in progress. The design is an embarassing mockup I threw together while writing the book and never revisited (say, maybe pasewark and i can trade services...). But I see it mainly as an indispensable communications channel for and about the book. There are definitely two audiences: (1) potential buyers and (2) readers. For buyers there's a description and an affiliate link to Amazon, as well as the news on the main page, links from the book, downloads, etc. For readers, there is a place for news, updates, corrections, and a way to give feedback and help steer future editions of the book. I also maintain a low-traffic mailing list to gather reader feedback, answer questions, and to help them network with each other. We're doing a second printing (yea!), so I'm gathering errata now. Several readers have done a great job of identifying errors for us, which is amazing. What else? I don't look at the traffic on that book, except when it flows into my RFB blog, but I do subscribe to a service that sends me the book's Amazon rank every time it changes, and sometimes you see bumps in both, as when I was promoting the book on The Screen Savers on TechTV. "Do you think the web's changing how tech books are marketed and presented? With the web's ease of updating, will we see computer books presented online, or does the printed doorstopper have a long life ahead of it?" I think the latter. As far back as '92 I remember speculating with other computer-book industry people that we were approaching some electronic hybrid of periodical and subscription update service, as all the production processes telescoped in on each other in parallel. But we're not there yet. The books serve a purpose. It's an odd niche and I have a love/hate relationship with it myself. Computer books sell for the same reasons self-help books sell. People are willing to spend money on themselves, their own well being and on anything they think likely to bring in more money than it costs (like training, some forms of education, and some kinds of books). I'm all for smart books or smart paper or smart ink or whatever, and the computer-book industry is involved in the tech-bust hangover, so I'm not saying that nothing will ever change, but I've just heard so many predictions about e-publishing and the end of books as we know it and I don't see it yet. (Famous last words?)
Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 6 Dec 02 14:54
I'm particularly interested in the place where websites and books overlap (not suprising, as I've spent most of my adult life publishing books or building websites). I was the agent for a book called "The Phish Companion" (Backbeat) that grew out of a nonprofit called the Mockingbird Foundation, composed of Phish fans who mostly knew each other through the Internet, who banded together to encourage the "commons," as it were, of fan-reported setlists and show reviews, etc. The group built a website and eventually we did a first edition of the book containing much of the info at the site along with some original material. In the meantime the archive has grown and the database-to-book transformation tools have become more sophisticated, and Phish is touring again, so we'll be doing a second edition next year. But I loved that this book emerged from a web-mediated collaboration. Ideally a book and a website could feed off and feed into each other, in a kind of seesaw or swing motion. With my current hobbyhorse, blogging, I see huge potential for a writer to start blogging a topic, "own it" (to quote John Robb), and eventually get an offer to do a book on said topic, based mainly on a kind of self-generated credibility through doing. In that case, you don't have to build a website as an awkward appendage to a book. The website exists, it mentions the book. The book mentions the website, and ever onward.
David Gans (tnf) Fri 6 Dec 02 15:59
The official time span of this interview is at an end, but that's no reason to stop talking! Thank you, Christian, for being here, and thank you, Jeanne, for interrogating him so productively. Carry on!
Cyberian Husky (pasewark) Mon 9 Dec 02 15:45
I just go the book delivered today. Great job Christian. Thanks!
Christian Crumlish (xian) Wed 5 Feb 03 23:33
Thank you, Don. Now let's talk about my website's crappy design...
Gail Ann Williams (gail) Fri 7 Feb 03 11:47
<scribbled by gail Fri 7 Feb 03 14:13>
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 7 Feb 03 14:13
(Arrg. Fixing for readability. Sorry about that; here's a do-over:) That would be fascinating. You've talked a bit about having to stay fashionable, and above you said of http://www.dreamweaversavvy.com/ "The design is an embarassing mockup I threw together while writing the book and never revisited" So xian, what does revisting look like for you? Do you literally go visit there and note what makes you say ouch? Or do you look for sites you admire and want to, um, use for inspiration?
Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 7 Feb 03 15:19
When I say I "never revisited it" I mean the design, not the site! I do tweak the site from time to time, with news, etc. Or uploading errata or missing files. Things like that. If I were going to redesign an existing site, I'd go back to the fundamentals: audience, purpose, etc. The stumbling block for me is that I don't have great graphic design chops. I like to draw and paint, etc., but I don't have a bag o' tricks for coming up with color/image/layout ideas. I generally work with people who have those skills (such as the coauthor of my upcoming book that I can't talk about yet). For paying projects I work with teams or pay subcontractors. For less $$-oriented projects I try to trade skills. (Like: give me three comps and I'll edit the copy for your project.) For my book's website, I really just want a new "skin." That is, the functionality is mininal and acceptable. The look is just kind of clunky to my eye, very rectilinear, not very elegant. Someone with superior graphic design skills could mock up a new home page and a new subpage template for me and I'd slice it up in Fireworks, make a CSS stylesheet, and slap it down on top of the existing content.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 7 Feb 03 16:47
That sounds just right.
Donald Pasewark (pasewark) Thu 27 Feb 03 14:25
Christian, When I get finished with this "website from hell" I would like to take a wack at the redesign you mentioned. The current beast is 150+ pages with over 600 images that have to be edited by hand, plus a dynamic component that I've never done. needless to say, I'm putting the guy at the hosting ISP through his paces. :-}!
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