Do you really want to become a better Web professional? Simply reading this chapter will go a long way toward helping you reach that goal. You do not have to learn a new language or design concept; you just have to use the tools that you have already been given.
Regardless of whether you have been part of the community for a number of years, or are new to it, you should take a step back and see if things are the way you want them to be. I need to get something off my chest: we are ruining the Web design/development community. We have all been taking our community for granted, and if we do not straighten up quickly, we might lose it forever.
If you are selfishly thinking right now that you do not need to carry the burden of making the community a better place, you will not improve as a Web professional. Let me repeat that in a different way: if you do not give back to the community, you will not receive anything; and the more you gain from the community, the better you become professionally.
To understand how you can do your part to improve the community now and in turn help yourself grow, it is important you have an understanding of how the community worked in the past.
In the early days of Web design, there were a large number of websites available for people to get together and talk about graphics, HTML or other Web-related topics. Rarely, however, did all of the elements of current Web design―such as typography, user experience design, graphic design, grid structure―come together under one website roof like they do today.
Back then―and even in now, in some cases―people think of online communities as forums or listservs (think Google Groups). Back then we were stuck with nothing more than a form and a text area to type in. When you participated in these forums, you were not going out looking for a helping hand; you wanted to show the community what exciting things you were doing on your Geocities-hosted website. You were not out looking for someone to guide you through everything, because everyone was learning along with you. We were exploring new territory together and wanted to chronicle the next steps we took; by doing so, we enriched the entire community and made each other better.
For example, when CSS started to hit the community in a big way, a number of image replacement techniques were introduced online in a span of months; the people behind them let everyone know what was happening, every step of the way. Because one person shared technique, others shared more efficient techniques down the road.
“But this still happens today,” you say. Indeed it does; but most of the time you just find links that point to a links page, that might point to a technique you need. When you finally find the technique you are simply presented with the code, without a description or discussion of the design or development process behind it.
The best online communities of the past were about sharing and communication. It was almost as if everyone was in the same room, telling stories of their adventures. An example of this is Kaliber1000, a design community by the fine folks at Cuban Council (www.cubancouncil.com).
I still hold k10k up as a beacon of quality design. This means a lot, considering it has been around since 1998. How did it get started?
Token met mschmidt "accidentally" in ’97, mailing him, thinking he was someone else… Denmark is very small and they soon realized they had a lot in common, especially their love for type and all things dirty―and they both worked for the same kind of company.
They had loads of interesting discussions via e-mail, but it took almost a year before they actually met, at Reboot, the biggest yearly Web event in Copenhagen.
They talked a lot about how to create a place where they could display their own stuff, an online gallery or something, being very inspired by Digital Thread and SHIFT; these sites were the only sites that were "alive" at that time―and they wanted to do something similar. They just wanted it fresher and funkier, and updated every single week.
It is great to see that the idea behind the website started with offline communication. Nothing is as personal as being able to talk to someone face to face. They were able to successfully transition that experience into the online world. We might be separated by thousands of miles, but that does not mean we cannot feel as if we are talking to each other on the same park bench; at times, our community today can feel like we are trying to yell at each other from different rooms in different buildings, or from difference cities in different countries.
Not only did the feeling of communication differ back then, but the subjects of discussion were different as well. In the past, everyone was fascinated by the Web and just wanted to have the ability to create great work and to share it with the world; if you discovered a new way to lay out a table element, you shared it because you were excited about it, and figured others would be excited as well. This was what intrigued me about k10k: everyone else was just like me, enthusiastic about the Web and wanting to help each other out. It was a beautiful thing. Things are different, when your eyes are opened for the first time; most of us now no longer have that luxury because everything “new” is simply something we have seen before, just evolved a tiny bit.
There were a number of other design communities similar to k10k that consequently began to spring up, and although they have all changed a bit over time, I encourage you to check them out to see the pioneers of our industry:
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