Netdiver magazine

/ What's new in design
digital culture

Web stars speak

/ Interview with Alan Herrell

Alan Herrell aka the head lemur is a thinker, writer + status quo challenger + code warrior and publisher of p i x e l v i e w.

I know that the web is the greatest intellectual achievement in the history of the human race. This knowledge goes beyond my rational brain, into that area of human experience called profound faith. I spend a lot of time on the web. It's my day job, and I'm happy to do it. Besides building websites, I think about the web and where it's going. I said that. It is on my opinion page. Am I still happy about it? I don't know.

I watch and read and write about the web. I watched with horror the rise of the so called commercial web and it's recent collapse. Yes I laughed when these dot.coms crashed and burned. Making money the old fashioned way by working for it works much better than hoping that the kindness of clueless strangers with more money than sense will dig some company built on vaporware out of the dirt.

We are not passive participants in this space. Our new shiny toy with it's colors, tags and places for our lunatic ravings, (at least in my case) is giving us a soapbox of unprecedented proportion to extol our virtues, expose our faults and share what we have learned in the quiet singular universe of pixel mechanics.

I am concerned about the future. The web allows us to become different. The ease with which we can become something else is an awesome and frightening thing. We are merrily dividing the world into the connected, and those that are not. We hang out with folks who think alike, feel the way we do, and like us. This is not a bad thing, we did it before the web and if the web crashes and burns tomorrow, we will still do it. We are creating our own little pixel clubs that exclude by platform, browser, and connection speed. That is a bad thing.

I am a self-taught, self-employed pixel mechanic. I build websites for a living. I work the web. I get up in the morning and surf, read email, write email, visit my morning sites to find out what is happening. I am on the web because I can. Today I am a better person than I was yesterday.

What I know about the web now, I learned from you — All of You.

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/ How were you first introduced to the internet?

Freenets - ambertext on a black screen using the tab key for navigation as my first computer didn't have a mouse, or windows.

/ Do you remember your first impression of the internet?

This is absolutely amazing! Look at all the different stuff out here. Then I got my first copy of Mosaic, and I knew what I was my day job was gonna be.

/ You are an *internet activist*, what exactly does it mean?

I'm a loudmouth with a website.

I have a computer with an internet connection and I can reach out and touch anyone else who has the same. The possibilities for discourse on the web from email to websites is creating a culture of communication that has not been seen since the days of early tribal cultures where you knew and grew up with everyone you saw.

The ability that we have to point out that “the emperor has no clothes” is creating a crisis in the traditional halls of power. Freedom of Speech has taken on a new meaning that is empowering on an individual level and frightning on a political level.

Beyond the browser is a small group of people who see the internet as another channel that requires regulation and oversight by folks with agendas that are in opposition to the open nature of the Internet. Most notable are some of the recent regulations in the United States. The Child Online Protection Act, attempted to regulate access to portions of the web based on a slippery definition of pornography, utilizing community standards, which on the web is an oxymoron of the first water.

On the web the community extends from Boston to Bangladesh.

We are at a very dangerous point in the growth and expansion of the web. From limiting speech, access to the web through connections that do not require the involvement of the local phone company, privacy and the moving targets of 'standards' and regulations being promulgated by people who do not understand the promise of the Internet, which creates fear due in no small part to the open nature of the web.

Because of my belief in the Internet as a venue for expression by anyone, giving them the same opportunities that you and I have, it is important to me that anything that would curtail or censor these abilities be fought on every level possible.

/ Looking at your track record, you have a *multiple path* education. Why?

I read too much as a child, and nobody was ever able to say can't and make me believe it. And something interesting is always showing up.

/ What was your initial profession?

Deadtree Content Delivery (paperboy)

/ Describe how your love for the web started and present profession?

When I got my first copy of Mosaic in 1994, I knew what my day job was gonna be. It took until 1997 before I gave up everything else to do this. With the support of my wife and the folks I have met online, I haven't looked back.

/ What do you look for when hiring?

Currently I do it all myself. This is the one profession where your work is its own resume. You can give me a song and dance, show me comps, describe your love for the web, but in the end, what you have put on the web, what it does, and how it works in different browsers will tell the story.

/ What makes for a good web site?

An Honest site. Whether it is text on the screen, or a multimedia extravaganza, or a site that only six people on the web have the horsepower to view, honesty is what matters.

The majority of Business sites fail miserably here. Business has a unique opportunity to sell us stuff, with their own website in their own words. Business that heed this call will prosper. The alternatives provided by 'new media' companies and advertising hacks are filling up the webservers at fuckedcompany.com.

/ How did you first get involved in content publishing?

I was surfing the web after sending out a bunch of resumes looking for a new job in the bodyshop industry, and thought to myself after looking at source code that I could probably do this. Well here we are.

/ How did you first get involved with web standards?

Forgetting to close a table tag.

Netscape had 50% of the market and 1/2 of the folks who came to a site I built got nothing. Being able to test my work against a common set of standards, in multiple browsers, led me to the web standards project where the serious players were having the same problems on a larger scale.

The first day the WaSP was posted I joined.

/ How do web standards relate to a designer's day-to-day activities?

From here, they are the alpha and omega of website creation. You can get amazing crap to show up in one browser, maybe two. But to get the content to show up in anything that can connect to the internet, requires that you currently restrict yourself to techniques that will be understandable in Lynx to the latest iteration of visual browsers.

Many folks consider standards as a straightjacket, rather than a starting point. A lot of this is related to the astonishing things that people post on the edge of the capabilities of the new browsers.

/ What makes a good team?

Benevolent Dictatorship.

/ Your words have this unique signature. How does one achieve this?

Lack of fear and sense in equal proportions. I publish because I can. I publish because I reject the notion that I can't.

/ Describe what is *inspiration*.

Other people work.

/ Describe what is a top-notch client.

One who wants a website to increase their business. If there are any other reasons they need to see someone else.

/ How do you protect clients from their own bad taste?

By limiting input on their end. Either I am the professional who can present their business on the web or I should be handing them a copy of Frontpage.

/ Have you been invited to web related events. Can you tell us why?

No. I am one of those folks who fly under the radar. I also have an internet connection. Although I should get out more.

/ Is branding an important issue online?

Only to Branders and Ad Agencies. Branding is attempting to bring the old media message to the 'new world'. Over the last 30 months marketing weinies and ad agencies bought folks who called themselves designers and developers, created New Media companies, who attempted to brand the web under the impression that the internet was just another place for advertising. They are listed at fuckedcompany.com.

The sites that have impact are enablers. EBay is probably the best site to demonstrate the changing face of business. One to One scales and plays on the web. Amazon is successful from a pricing and service prospective, although moving outside of the Book, video, and music, which everybody already knows, and subsequently shop on price and availability, into electronics which most people need to experience in person is a mistake in my view.

Corporate Sites that push product do not. The most terrifying things are questions. A site that is 'branded' has a limited contact structure. They spent all their money on a concept and for the most part do not accept input.

The most notable exception to this are the food groups. Nestle, McCormick, and other sites by people who sell food products. They are probably saving millions in testing and marketing as well as branding.

The greatest discovery of the internet is that we are not cattle. They understand that we are not the same and will not be packaged for the pleasure of some demographic who feels that if we own a computer, we are in the market for Viagra, or home refinancing.

The most powerful sites on the web are sites like Slashdot, Metafilter, and Kiro5shin. They are distinguished by their open nature and share community, interactivity, and accessibility. They enable me to interact with you.

Their power derives from the assumption that all participants have value.

/ What was the catalytic thought that gave birth to LemurZone?

I can do this in my bathrobe! It took about 6 weeks to recover from that fantasy. Building websites for a living requires the same contacts and presentations that are required for any other sales job.

/ Describe what the internet means to you.

The promise of freedom of expression and the democratic ability of the participants to explore anything and everything makes this the most exciting accomplishment of the human race.

/ Describe 3 qualities necessary to succeed online.

Honesty

Accessibility

and Humor

/ Give a one line counsel to newbies.

Start Today.

/ What is the single achievement that makes you most proud?

My very first web page. Butt Ugly bright yellow thing with letters 60 pixels high, in a very bad brown color that required scrolling to the next county. It let me know that I could become a participant rather than just a spectator.

/ If there were no budget limitations - which single dream project would you launch?

The Internet Legislature. Voice of the People.

Making the legislative process totally transparent. We have the ability to communicate one to one (email)and one to many (websites). We need to communicate Many to one. Currently in the United States, we have a representitive government. The Internet can bring the promise of a truly democratic forum to explore issues and legislation in a method to enfranchise the people whose only voice in most cases is a vote against in the voting booths, if they even bother to go that far.

VOTP would present proposed legislation online. The authors and sponsors would be listed, linked and contactable.

It would have a Bulletin Board for comments, suggestions, and commentary. This would have the effect of immediacy and transparency that democracy represents as a concept. There is still work needed in terms of providing universal internet access, but with time that too will evolve as goverments begin to realize the savings involved in using the internet for communication.

/ What is your opinion of the present situation in the dotcom industry?

There is no dotcom industry. There is a diverse group of folks from one person shops, to large scale companies enabling business to create sites that provide the diverse expanding universe we call the web.

/ In your view, explain what is convergence?

The latest buzzword. An attempt to digitize everything that will end in disaster. Covergence in the current iteration means the transparent delivery of content/connectivity/interaction regardless of receiver. Some types of communication like SMS, ICQ, short email can work, but Flash presentations on a cell phone? No time soon.

Here we are also facing grave danger from the entertainment industry whose efforts in legislatures around the world, primarily in the United States, is attempting to take over the internet by not only restricting what you do with what you purchase, but also attempting to make your personal computer into a set top box restricting what you can do with your property in your own home.

/ Is the www an international network?

In reach yes. In culture it is just beginning.

/ Tell us what the future (net) looks like.

The largest array of computer connections using wireless technologies to seamlessly conect every person on the planet together. We will wear our displays like the current heads up displays used by the military, but with a lot more color and interactivity.

I will still sitting in my chair looking at the screen.......