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Making Your Mark On The Web Is Easier Than You Think

We who work on the Web live in wonderful times. In the past, we did of lot of trial-and-error learning, and the biggest hurdle was getting people to understand what we were on about. Over time, companies like Google, Yahoo, Skype, Facebook and Twitter managed to get the geeky Web into the living rooms of regular people and into the headlines of the mainstream press.

Now more than ever are there opportunities on the Web for you, as a professional, to be seen and to be found. I am a professional Web spokesperson for a large company, and I spoke at 27 conferences in 14 countries last year. I write for several magazines and blogs and have published a few books. When people ask me how I got to where I am now, my standard answer is: by releasing stuff on the Web and by listening and reacting to feedback. And you can do the same.

Future of Web Design Conference in London, 2010
Image credit1

There are numerous ways to become known on the Web (or at least to reach out to like-minded people):

  • Use social networking tools.
    This is where the people are.
  • Write a (micro) blog.
    Even if it’s just a scratch pad for your thoughts. This is how mine started.
  • Attend unconferences.
    Everyone who goes is already a presenter, which makes it easy to begin.
  • Attend and speak at conferences.
    Even if it means just asking questions. Conferences are where people find you.
  • Partner and build alliances.
    If you can’t do everything on your own, find someone who completes the set of skills needed.
  • Comment on other people’s work.
    People will find you inspiring if you ask the right questions.
  • Build on other people’s work.
    Can something do almost exactly what you need but not quite? And it’s open source? Fix it for your specific purposes and release it for others who have the same needs.
  • Release free code, designs or templates.
    Nothing gets you noticed more than giving out goodies.
  • Listen and prioritize.
    We already have information overload on the Web; you can be a curator.

Let’s discuss the practical applications of each point.

Use Social Networking Tools Link

Geeky nametag done by a student for me by  you.2

Social networks have the unsurprising yet beneficial feature of being social: you can actually meet people who share the same interests as you. You might stumble over one or another expert who you’d never reach by email or by contacting them through their blog. I, for example, am happy to answer a quick tweet — and maybe even use it as inspiration for a blog post — but I find myself unable, unfortunately, to answer long emails that bring up a lot of issues from people asking me to fix their code.

Social networks are great for sharing successes and ideas. Upload sketches of your products to Flickr, share an office outing on Facebook (only the photos you could show your mother, of course) or create a screencast of some of your tricks and upload them to YouTube. Whatever you put out there can potentially be sent onward by millions of people. If your productions can be found only on your website, most people won’t ever see them.

Be yourself on social networks. Write a truthful bio and list your name, location, interests and other ways to find you on the Web. I get a lot of traffic from my Twitter profile and that wouldn’t be the case if I just had a cartoon dog there and didn’t list my name.

Write a (Micro) Blog Link

b3ta newsletter and #songsincode by  you.3

On a blog, you can quickly share thoughts, finds, photos, anything. Not every blog has to be the refined and inspiring output of a Web expert. In the same way, a blog should not become an endless stream of boring anecdotes (like sharing the joys of having bought a new doormat this morning). My own blog, wait-till-i.com4, has always been a personal scratch pad if nothing else. If I manage to code something that has always annoyed me in a new way, I’ll write a quick post. If I find someone else who has written something cool, I do the same and give my commentary on it.

Keep in mind that if you host yourself, you’ll have to update regularly and battle spam. If all you want is to jot down interesting things from time to time, just use a service like Tumblr5, Soup.io6 or hosted WordPress7.

A lot of people fall into the trap of using their blog as a playground: they try out every cool CSS trick and design idea they’ve ever had and redesign it every three weeks. This is tempting, but this kind of fame is fleeting; months down the line, you’ll probably realize that falling short on content was a mistake. My blog looks minimal indeed, and I do everything one could possibly do wrong in terms of SEO, but it still had a Google Page Rank of 8, and I made good money with ads. I wrote about interesting things and people linked to my blog. If your content is interesting, your blog will show up in RSS readers and in people’s updates in social networks or shared bookmarks. You need good, sensible titles and well-structured content. Looks are not that important.

Staying up to date is important. Don’t write treaties and novels; instead, update often and regularly, and you will have a crowd of followers in no time.

Attend Unconferences Link

Barcamp London 4 by  you.8

Unconferences (including BarCamp and others like it) are wonderful forums for practicing your public speaking. The cool thing about BarCamps is that everyone who goes has to give a presentation, host a discussion round or do something similar — it won’t just be you up there.

This can be a huge opportunity to speak to people and get a sense of what works for them and what doesn’t. There is no such thing as a failed talk at a BarCamp — just ones that work well and others that are less interesting. Nobody pays to see you, so nothing can be a major disappointment; and because everyone has to speak, there is no incentive to harshly criticize others. There is just no showing off.

If you get a chance to help organize a BarCamp, even better; you’ll get to network early on. Organizing events takes all kinds of people, not just hard-core developers and rock star designers.

Attend and Speak at Conferences Link

Geek Bling by  you.9

Attend conferences whenever you can. They are priceless opportunities to network and to get to know people who you read about “in the flesh.” It’s a great feeling to ask a question of someone you’ve learned from and respect, and it shows them their work is appreciated.

Don’t get bogged down taking notes; that’s the job of the organizers. Instead, chat a lot, give out cards or — even better — swap Twitter handles. Go with the flow of the conference; if it’s time for beer, then it’s time for beer and chatter, not time to discuss highly technical matters.

Use the time during the talks and after the conference to your advantage: tweet about the talks and what you liked about them using the official hash tag, and publish a “Conference XYZ in my view” blog post as soon as possible. Immediately after a conference, there is much discussion among those who attended, but sometimes even more among those who didn’t. You could be the person who tells the latter group what they missed, and they just might remember you for it.

Keep your eyes peeled for chances to submit proposals for conferences. Clever conference organizers offer a “B” track — alternatives to the main speakers — and that could be your chance to get a foot in the door. There is always a need for fresh speakers, so don’t be shy.

Partner and Build Alliances Link

If you want to crack a certain problem but you’re not sure exactly how to do it, put it out as a question. A designer and a developer working together on a demo product or article is always better than a single person trying to do everything (and feeling out of their element). Duos can be highly successful, and even if the team is formed just for a one-off, collaboration lets you deliver products while getting to know the working styles of others.

Another useful way to collaborate is to form working groups. The WaSP task forces, for example, work that way and have been immensely successful. Other developers come together under local banners, which can bring collective fame to all involved. The UK-based Britpack is an example of that, as are the Multipack or the Webkrauts in Germany.

Organize some local meet-ups and go from there. This will help you meet like-minded people, and it will help them get to know you.

Comment on the Work of Others Link

Leaving comments on blog posts is a great way to become known, especially when you leave articulate comments that add to the conversation or explain the subject matter further. There’s no point posting if you’re going to suck up or divert the discussion. And there are enough comments that propose solutions to CSS problems. (“Just use jQuery. Worked for me.”)

Mull over the content of the post and try to think beyond it. Decent comments include:

  • “Great article. You can see that in action at XYZ.”
  • “Would that also work as a solution to the problem we see at XYZ?”
  • “ABC had a similar solution at XYZ, but it lacked feature X, which this solution fixes.”

You get the idea: show people other resources that back up the current solution, or point out problems in the proposed solution that need fixing and build your own.

You could also leave comments that verify or disagree with other comments that have stirred discussion. Being known as someone who prevents flame-wars or steers them to more productive channels is a good thing.

Build on the Work of Others Link

Fork Pull Download by  you.10

The wonderful thing about Web development these days is that you can easily build on what other people have done. A lot of hard work gets released as source code or as Creative Commons content.

Instead of writing your own solutions to solve problems that other people have nearly solved, extend their work to do the one thing it’s missing on your terms. Why not extend someone else’s ideas and localize them to your market? This could entail translating and changing some features (removing those that don’t apply and adding those that are needed), but it’s probably worth it. When the Yahoo User Interface Library team created its fonts.css file, it found 12px Arial to be a great readable baseline for Web typography. The Yahoo team in Hong Kong found that 12px Chinese glyphs were too small to read, so they adapted. The YUI team — based in Sunnyvale, California — would never have encountered this issue themselves, so having a local team fix it and feed back the information helped everybody involved.

There is no shame in using other people’s work. All you need to do is learn what it does and then make it better. Understanding the work you’re building on is important; if you leave everything to magic and your extensions break later, your reputation will be tarnished — especially if you can’t explain why it happened.

One problem I encountered when I released some code was that I omitted functionality that was flashy but inaccessible; people started overriding my code to make the solution flashy again. My advice, then, is: before you “fix” code, read the documentation and consider the rationale behind its structure and functionality. The original author probably had good reason to do what he or she did. Using open-source resources is as much about respecting the authors as it is about making your work easier.

Release Free Code, Designs or Templates Link

Once you’ve seen how easy it is to create great products by building on the skills and research of others, take part: release your products and let others have a go. This is the beauty of the Creative Commons Share-Alike license: you give stuff out but people have to mention you, and they are allowed to release your content only under the same terms and conditions.

So, go ahead: upload your code to GitHub or Google Code; put your photos on Flickr; put your designs and templates on showcase websites like deviantART. By doing this, you reach people where they already hang out, rather than hoping for them to stumble across your work by chance. Most of my contracts for paid work have come from people who found and were impressed by free things that I released.

Listen and Prioritize Link

Text a Librarian Booth at ALA Midwinter by  noelieo.11

A lot of content is on the Web, and keeping up to date on current happenings can be a full-time job. So, even if you don’t want to add to the already buzzing stream of information, you can make your mark by being a good content curator or librarian.

Librarians rock. They don’t know the content of all the books in the library, but they know exactly where everything is and can give you what you need in seconds. You could be that person.

Maintain a good number of RSS feeds, and bookmark them with clear simple notes and proper tags. Use social bookmarking to do the same with content that doesn’t come via RSS feeds. I follow a few people who do nothing but this and they do a splendid job.

One very successful feature of my blog is my “Things that made me happy this morning12” column. In it, I list links that I found in my RSS reader and got me excited or prompted a chuckle. I do the same on the official Yahoo Developer Network blog with the Tech Thursday feature. None of this takes much time because I check a lot of websites daily anyway — but I do take time to put them in a list and write a few words about each. It helps me organize my bookmarks, and the world thanks me for it.

Summary Link

These are just a few ideas you can use to get yourself noticed on the Web. Most are free or fairly inexpensive, so before you spend a lot of money on a social media expert or SEO consultant, have a go on your own. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself enjoying being a known Web citizen. A lot of what I wrote about here is also available in “check box”-style advice in my free Developer Evangelism Handbook13.

Don’t hesitate to comment and tell us your tricks, too!


Footnotes Link

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Chris is a Developer Evangelist living in London, England, who writes about Javascript development, accessibility, and all things open web. After several years evangelizing at Mozilla Foundation, he's now working at Microsoft's EdgeDev team.

  1. 1

    Great article! :)

  2. 2

    Vincent Gabriel

    July 2, 2010 1:57 am

    Great read.

  3. 3

    Đurica Bogosavljev

    July 2, 2010 2:10 am

    Great tips!
    Thanks for this.

  4. 4
  5. 5

    Andy Kinsey

    July 2, 2010 2:16 am

    Good stuff (@andykinsey)

  6. 6

    Sometimes I find the prospect of making a Name for myself online really daunting, but I’m finding that the more I put in the more I’m getting out. These tips are great because they are open and can
    be applied to all fields of online life! Thanks.

  7. 7

    Wendell Fernandes

    July 2, 2010 2:38 am

    I guess one last thing missing here is – Save money to invest in all mentioned above :) It all works fine, however, it all works easier when you invest some finances into your network.

  8. 8


  9. 9


    July 2, 2010 3:23 am

    Great article. Nice to see people taking time to enlighten others about how they got where they got. Also the hands-on style of your tips instead if the usual academic style “you need a social marketing strategy” blahblah.

    Keep up the good stuff!


  10. 10

    Useful tips which will definitely work… I do most of them but still needs to do the rest.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. 11

    thanks man for the inspiration…

  12. 12

    Mike Sullivan

    July 2, 2010 4:12 am

    Well organized “expression” on the topic. Useful as a guide for my learning curve as a novice to the space. Thanks

  13. 13

    another useless article. WE DO NOT WANT TO READ WANNA BE AUTHOR’S USELESS ARTICLES. Editors please please read this article in a calm place. Do you really think this is a kind of article that can be published in smashingmagazine.
    come on

    • 14

      Chris Heilmann

      July 2, 2010 4:22 am

      Hello Jessie,

      thank you for your comment. Care to enlighten us about how this article is useless and how it could be done better? What would you expect it to be? What other article do you enjoy instead? Do you work for another magazine and have a track record of editing articles and picking the real winners?

      Apparently the editors here thought it would be a good article and commissioned me to write it – I want to make sure we don’t waste our time and get constructive and useful feedback of real writers.

    • 15

      Michel Bozgounov

      July 2, 2010 5:07 am


      Write a better one and link to it, instead of posting your useless rants here! ;-)


      Your article is good, inspiring, and I find it useful! Just to let you know… :)

    • 16

      Jeremy Benaim

      July 2, 2010 5:07 am

      “Founded in September 2006, Smashing Magazine delivers useful and innovative information to Web designers and developers.”
      source :

      In my opinion, and I’m not the only one, this article delivers useful informations…so Jessie, seriously, why do you find it useless ?

      And it seems like you didn’t read it, and probably you should…to avoid leave comments like this one…

    • 17


      @Christian Heilmann: Nicely done. I think many web designers & developers (and web design/development blogs) get carried away with the latest techniques, tools, and software and forget that getting yourself out there and making connections is just as important as the latest trick that only works in last night’s webkit nightly build.

      • 18

        @Andy nice mouth you got there…
        You said this is a “nicely done” article.
        Can you please tell me what did you learn that you didn’t know before.
        If you are trying to make money from internet, and if this article contains information that you didn’t know or even guessed before, that means you are too idiot to use internet. omg please find another job.
        But hey on the other-hand this is new kind of men, right??
        Saying “very nice article” to every post. I read comments and you do that too please. Read Phil’s comments, if you have that version 0.1 brain you will understand :)
        but i doubt that

        • 19

          Chris Heilmann

          July 3, 2010 3:46 am

          This is not about making money on the internet. Never was.

        • 20

          Chris Heilmann

          July 3, 2010 3:47 am

          This is not about making money on the internet – never was. Might be a side effect though.

        • 21

          All hail Jessie! The smartest person ever.

    • 22

      @Chris, @Michel, @Jeremy & @Andy great to see such engagement with the community but please do not feed the trolls, seriously there’s enough of them here as it is.

      • 23

        Trolling aside, I do get his point.

        I’ve been frequenting Smashing for about 6 months now (this being the first comment that I have posted) and it’s hard not to notice the pointless comments (“great article”, “good read” etc.) on every article posted that fail to add any substance to the topic being discussed.

        As for the article itself, I find it doesn’t offer much in terms of upgrading or advancing what I already know. Maybe I’ve just grown tired of reading “how to [insert popular web 2.0 term]” articles that do a poor job of elaborating on each topic/trend.

        Specifically, I would enjoy a forward thinking article that questions current web practices and provides grounds for questioning and (possible) rebuttals in the comments section. I think it adds much more of a community feel then the typical “good article” type comments and would allow for real growth within the network.

        Just my 2 cents.

  14. 24

    Oliver Stretton

    July 2, 2010 4:27 am

    This is a brilliant article, I think it collects together a lot of handy tips which I am sure in the future will be extremely helpful. Thanks

  15. 25

    Christian Hellmann, do you like mayonnaise?

    See what I did there?

    On a serious note, awesome article.

    • 26

      Chris Heilmann

      July 2, 2010 4:30 am

      Only if I can spread it on the lawn (see if you can find that reference)

      • 27

        Oh, I get it. Harry Heilmann was a baseball player nicknamed ‘the slug’. And, slugs spread slime on lawns.

        I actually have no idea, sorry. ;)

  16. 28

    Alexander Dawson

    July 2, 2010 4:47 am

    Excellent article Chris, I would also add that contributing to sites other than your own can help you make a mark on the industry. With places like Smashing Magazine allowing guest authors and writers to put across useful topics, and forums aimed at the web design community already having a lot of impact, producing high quality content externally can get you recognised fairly quickly. And let’s not forget how podcasting / screen-casting is changing the face of education, producing free useful content always seems to be a winner!

  17. 29

    Awesome post!

    Love it.

  18. 30


    July 2, 2010 5:52 am

    I really appreciate this article, Chris. Thank you for sharing. I couldn’t agree more on the comment mentioned above concerning it depends on how much you put into it – if you look at something like facebook, your activity goes down if you’re not ‘around’ very much. As soon as you pop back in and start posting and being active, you start to notice a lot more feedback from people. I think this can be applied to everything from facebook, to blogging to even our social lives.

    I am very interested in sharing tutorials etc. but maybe an article more in depth about this idea of sharing information into the community – maybe someone could interview some people who do this already like Andrew Kremer from video co pilot or …his name eludes me from CSS Tuts?

    Anyways, ignore the flames – your time and efforts are appreciated.

    • 31

      Vitaly Friedman

      July 2, 2010 11:45 pm

      That’s a very nice idea, let me save it for future reference and see what can be done!

  19. 32

    I love how after all that you still get a ton of “Great Article” comments! Even better is when someone used your example of “You can see that in action…”

    What I can add to it… Use twitter as more than just a way to announce your latest blog post! The web super stars are much more likely to engage in conversation with you if you reach out to them over Twitter… I find it a great place to learn and observe others out there and to further my knowledge of web design.

    Twitter: @CWSites

  20. 34

    Ricardo Rocha

    July 2, 2010 7:08 am

    “Great Article” comment comes first.
    Well, I think it’s a good article, a useful one that is, some people feel the need to exchange ideas with other designers (good ones), and this article shows some ways to accomplish that. Also can show some people that Social Networks is not only about movies or girls or jokes. Cant understand the bad comment from Jessie, but who knows, keep up the good work Christian Heilmann.

    “Build on the Work of Others” did remind me the Picasso expression “good artists copy, great artists steal”.


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