This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Vitaly Friedman from Smashing Magazine to discuss the passion and enthusiasm at the heart of the web community.
We are also supported by .design domain. The new alternative to the boring, unimaginative .COM domain extension.
Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul Boag and joining me as always is Marcus. Hello Marcus.
Marcus: Hello Paul, how are you?
Paul: I’m very well actually, very well. Now Marcus this is going to confuse you, right? This is the second show of the new season. I know we’re recording it first, don’t let that confuse you too much.
Marcus: Basically Paul of just told myself not to say too much, otherwise I’ll mess it up.
Paul: Yes you’ll be referring to or asking you have a good Christmas? We did that last week, so no, none of that. And joining us, now this is a big question, very controversial is our guest today for a simple reason that I think I say his name totally differently to anybody else. Somewhere along the line I started calling you Vitaly when actually it is Vitaly, isn’t it?
Vitaly: It’s a very difficult question to answer. I really don’t know any more.
Paul: Have I traumatised you that much that you’ve now forgotten your name?
Vitaly: Yes you did. You are pretty good at it actually. Actually I think it should be Vitaly.
Paul: I don’t know why I started calling you Vitaly, but you’ve been far too polite to ever correct to me and tell me off.
Vitaly: I’m not polite at all and just ignoring you to be honest. But yes that’s probably the reason, I guess so.
Paul: Well it’s lovely to have you on the show. Have we ever had you on the show before?
Vitaly: I don’t think so.
Paul: I think you are just too famous really.
Vitaly: No not at all. I am disappointed as to why choose to ignore me for such a long time. Almost 10 years.
Paul: That’s because I was in awe of you, that’s what it was. Then I met you.
Vitaly: Oh, okay. That explains a lot of things.
Marcus: There is a topical comparison between Vitaly and Vitaly, like whether it’s Bowie or Bowie.
Vitaly: That’s fancy. I like the comparison.
Paul: By the time has been released it won’t be topical anymore. Well I suppose he will still be dead but for longer.
Vitaly: Charming Paul, as always.
Paul: I’m not very good with tact.
Marcus: You’re not, are you.
Vitaly: You’re not very good with anything you really.
Paul: Oh that’s harsh.
Vitaly: Let’s cut it out of the show.
Paul: It’s gonna be a long show this one. So for the three people that don’t know Vitaly Friedman, who are you Sir?
Vitaly: Well basically I co-founded Smashing Magazine, an online magazine for designers and developers back in September 2006. It’s actually 10 years ago almost and then I was basically doing all the front and consulting, UX and responsive design work of spending a lot of time doing web stuff with companies but also editing and writing articles and stuff. And also writing conferences and getting to write books with cool people like Paul Boag, for example.
Paul: That was a delightful process from beginning to end for you I am sure.
Vitaly: Well it was a very good process actually, I really liked it. So should do more books with us.
Paul: What? I want to. But you’re all like, we’ve got so many cool authors lined up to write with us I don’t know whether we want you. That’s how it feels.
Vitaly: Well I never said that, maybe I thought that but I never said it.
Paul: You are an incredibly busy guy.
Vitaly: That’s what you think.
Paul: Well you seem to be.
Vitaly: I am trying not to be.
Paul: Where you are better than you used to be, which is cool. Smashing Magazine has been around almost 10 years? I remember vividly, it starting. Because other than A List Apart at that time there wasn’t really very much. Do you think there is anybody in the web design world that doesn’t read Smashing Magazine? It’s like the definitive thing to read isn’t it really?
Vitaly: I think at this point, because we moved and changed our editorial direction a lot over the years, I feel like we’ve covered pretty much all the basics many, many years ago. So articles published now not really targeting newcomers so I guess that people just starting out may have stumbled upon articles through Google or tweets or whatever but they might be a bit scared by reading ongoing articles because they are really quite advanced. I think there are many people who are not reading us although we are trying to get more newcomers back to the site for publishing more articles targeted specifically at newcomers.
Paul: That must be difficult one for you guys to balance doing the advanced stuff as I imagine you must get criticism if you did like a beginners guide.
Vitaly: We get it quite a lot.
Paul: But it’s important I think to cover that ground.
Vitaly: Yes so we are thinking about different ways of doing this. Maybe handling it or creating new sections specifically for newcomers. But the content and editorial direction have evolved significantly over the years, so if you are looking into articles from 2007/2008 you wouldn’t recognise Smashing Magazine at all. Unless you have been following us from the good old days.
Paul: Because you were list post central for a little while weren’t you?
Vitaly: Yes it was all about lists and resources and inspiration and it’s very different now because most articles are actual case studies from people who are doing something on a project, this is what works and this is what failed and this is why. So has become very practical, it has become very different in a way of how we present those articles. In the past it really was just, hey here’s what people do. And now it’s authors, developers, designers writing and saying hey this is what we did. It’s a different perspective, lessons learnt and things like that alongside.
Paul: Actually have to remember that for the next time I write for you because I tend to say, I don’t tend to do a lot of that, I need to do more that.
But of course you do so much more now than just the blog. We’ve already talked about books which you seem to have a never-ending supply of now.
Vitaly: It feels like it to be honest, the main reason for that is that I’m really curious about many things and right now we are working on books which partially were initiated by us coming to others in saying, what if we did a book about this? I know you haven’t really done a lot of work in this area or maybe you have done some work in this area, so what if we take it further and really explore what we can do about something like design. So I am just really curious that exploring and challenging myself. I don’t like creating new things, creating new projects, initiating new projects just because it would make sense financially. This is my disadvantage to be honest.
Paul: Yes you are a bit of a shit businessman aren’t you really.
Vitaly: Yes I am if I’m honest. This is why we have Markus in the company to take care of this.
Paul: No not you, another Marcus. A Marcus with a K.
Vitaly: But actually always keep asking myself, so what would be a really new interesting challenge I would like to take on, and see what could be done, maybe having something like a Smashing exhibition or a Smashing physical object, or whatever. Something different.
Paul: We’ve done conferences now, you had conferences all over the place haven’t you?
Vitaly: Yes we have five conferences a year. This year they’re going to take place in Oxford and New York, San Francisco, Friedberg and Barcelona. I don’t mean that I’m tired of conferences, but I would love to explore something new as well.
Paul: You remind me of me, in that.
Vitaly: In a good way or a bad way?
Paul: Well it’s kind of a good and a bad thing I think. And it ties in nicely with the theme of this season, one of passion and enthusiasm. But you and me both are very passionate and enthusiastic for something for a limited period of time and then we move on and get very passionate and enthusiastic about something else. Is that a fair description?
Vitaly: I think so. I wrote an article a way back about it being a good idea to be a jack of all trades, and I totally agree with that. I do specialise in front-end performance and then responsive design but I actually keep going somewhere to find the things that I love most. Like how I fell in love with Flexbox and then I fell in love with SVG and I keep jumping from one thing to another all over the place.
Paul: I think our industry attracts people like that because it moves so fast. You can’t just do the same thing again and again forever and ever.
So why did you start Smashing Magazine? What board about that little moment? Because you seem to hit the ground running very fast and very forcefully. You just appeared overnight in quite a big way. Was that part of the plan or had you been around secretly for a while and we just hadn’t noticed? What happened there?
Vitaly: Paul, you know me. What do I look like a person who has a big master plan?
Paul: You might do.
Vitaly: Well we did have some ideas but definitely not a master plan. And you also know that I am selfish—well not bad selfish, just good selfish— so when we started the magazine itself it was mostly helping me. We were collecting all kinds of resources for front end developers and I was doing a lot of freelancing work, so it was handy for me to have one thing, all those CSS -related things in one place. And also having all the tools in one place, and all the frameworks and libraries and what have you. Because at the time in 2003 to 2006 we had this huge CSS boom where everybody was blogging about CSS and coming up with all kind of ridiculously cool techniques like sliding doors and everything. And there are many techniques like that. So I started collecting this stuff for myself and then put on the side, put on the blog and it grew popular. People really liked it. I still remember the article that actually changed everything, which was in December 2006. Over Christmas I collected 53 CSS techniques you can’t live without.
Paul: Yes that sounds like a very good click-baity title from back in the day.
Vitaly: It was very click-baity so it got on Digg and on Slashdot, all those things.
Paul: But we didn’t really know what click bait was them, did we? We just went through a phase of all writing articles like that. I did as well.
Vitaly: And then I also wrote an article about the 10 golden rules of click baiting. That’s a pretty good article actually.
Paul: So there was no plan for it to become as influential as it has been?
Vitaly: Will my colleague that I co-founded Smashing Magazine with, at the time he was writing a German magazine dedicated to design and development. So we have actually had some foundation to build on. So we translated a few articles from the blog and then kept running and writing new posts, mostly lists to be honest. And this is how we just went along. We gained a lot of interest very quickly so that by the end of 2006, four or five months later we actually saw a really steady growth in terms of traffic.
Paul: Why? What made it work do you think? Was it timing? Was your brilliant leadership? What was it?
Vitaly: It was not my brilliant leadership. It was my brilliant patients and my stubbornness. So it was working day and night collecting all kinds of things and trying to find the best and most interesting and most useful and available techniques, tools and everything and put them in one place. Really I was doing it day and night to the same time I was studying computer science so pretty much was not sleeping at all.
Paul: So we’ve now kind of come on to the topic of the show really, which is passion and obsessive compulsive behaviour.
Vitaly: Yes, all of us a little bit sick in this degree because we are getting so passionate and so curious about all of this stuff. You know how it works, right? The more you start digging the more you discover on the surface and then you go deeper and deeper and deeper. So I spent literally, the first year it was me doing a lot of experimentation, a lot of reading and a lot of writing, a lot of research trying to figure out the entire CSS thing and pretty much everything else. Although I was designing and developing the time anyway, so I knew some staff but not to that degree of course.
Paul: Right before we get into that conversation too deeply, I just want pause little moment and talk about one of our sponsors.
Marcus: But before you do that Paul, of Vitaly asked me before we started recording, where did I last meet him? And it was at Smashing Oxford, last year. And I’m seriously considering going again this year.
Vitaly: I would seriously recommend you to come because Paul is not going to be there.
Marcus: He wasn’t there last year either.
Paul: No, it’s been ages since you’ve invited me. Obviously I can’t just, I am too proud to just buy ticket income along, I have to get a personal invite.
Vitaly: Okay I can send a personal invite.
Marcus: You still have to pay though.
Vitaly: Maybe you don’t have to pay.
Paul: No pay, I don’t mind. I speak at a lot of conferences, I go to a lot of events, your one is the one I enjoy the most.
Vitaly: Was it because you just kept permitting your damn book?
Paul: Yes. That was funny.
Vitaly: You are good actually, people really like to. I don’t know why.
Paul: People have got good taste, what can I say?
Vitaly: I mean you are very British aren’t you?
Paul: Am I? I’ve never noticed.
Vitaly: But people seem to really like you.
Paul: Stranger things have happened.
Marcus: It might be the union Jack coat Paul.
Paul: I was wearing a T-shirt that said, buy my book, as well.
Vitaly: That wasn’t very helpful we didn’t sell many books by the way.
Paul: My book wasn’t really a big seller for the audience that we were going for, I don’t know why on earth you agreed to do it really.
Marcus: Anyway have we agreed here that we’re going to go to Smashing Oxford this year?
Paul: Well when is it?
Vitaly: Is going to take place in March.
Paul: I’m busy.
Vitaly: March 15, 16th of March.
Paul: I am busy the whole of March.
Vitaly: I don’t believe you. Yes 15th and 16th of March.
Paul: I really am busy.
Vitaly: Yeah, whatever.
Paul: I am, I am speaking at
Vitaly: If all of a sudden you get invited to speak at this very conference, you will find time won’t you?
Paul: No. Honestly I am speaking at a conference in London.
Vitaly: I will check if there are any conferences of the specific date in London, and you know that.
Paul: UCISA 16 Event. I think it’s a higher education technology event. So I might actually win some work out of that, so that comes first.
Marcus: Well I will see you Vitaly.
Vitaly: Great, so Marcus we will have some fun.
Paul: So can I talk about my sponsor now? Am I allowed?
Marcus: Oh go on then.
Vitaly: And we will have a lot of jokes about Paul. That you think it’s a good idea to start a tumblr blog about the jokes about Paul.
Paul: Last year, you instant message me from one of the breaks and had it on the big screen, which was embarrassing. I should have used more swear words.
Vitaly: Well I will not contact you during the conference this time, don’t worry. Or maybe I will.
Paul: Anyway, let’s talk about my sponsor. We’ve got some new sponsors for 2016 which is good and one of them is Dev Bootcamp and we are really excited to have them as a sponsor. They are the original immersive coding program which is designed to transform you from a beginner to a full stack web developer. They are located in downtown New York although they have places in other locations as well. Go and check them out at Dev Bootcamp. So if you are thinking about becoming a software developer and you want to get into that side of things, then these are the guys you want to check out. They’ve got very original, short-term, immersive programs that they provide that will transform your coding abilities, getting you up to speed and getting you ready for a job, and have the real life skills that you need to do your job properly and make you into that full stack web developer. See you can learn back-end web development, teamwork, leadership skills, all the things you need, not just those coding skills but the softer skills that go around it as well which are just as important. It’s this really rigorous, intensive environment. They have several locations around the US and they are accepting applicants right now, so go and check them out.
If you want to get into this industry because Smashing Magazine aren’t teaching you the basics anymore, so they’ve let you down, so what you need is a Dev Bootcamp course at Dev Bootcamp.
Sorry Vitaly, I got a little jab in there.
Passion and the web community
Paul: So, you were talking about those early days and the huge amount of passion and enthusiasm that you had and that obsessive thing to get you up and running. One of the things I was interested in talking to you about was whenever I talk to you, you always come across as this really passionate, fired up person who honestly and sincerely loves what you’re doing. You give credit to that, as you did just to go is being part of the reason for the success of Smashing. But is there a downside to that kind of passion? Has it pushed you to far at times?
Vitaly: Right, so in fact indeed actually. I find it very difficult actually to be able to balance out things like what you really want to do and what you want to spend a lot of time on and actually really turning off. Just to give you an example is very difficult for me last year to actually stay away from the laptop for more than two weeks. I can still use a phone but it was really, really hard. Just because I feel I want to see what other people are doing. I felt like maybe last year it was way too… It wasn’t stressful, I’m used to things being all over the place and travelling all the time and speaking and writing. I’m used to this kind of life, but it’s really critically important to actually come down. Actually as a resolution for this year I started really calming down and I started to actually reject lots of proposals and ideas and projects that we were thinking about, just a really slow down.
Paul: Isn’t that incredibly hard to do when your passionate about those projects?
Vitaly: It is, it is and I think it’s really important for me at this point, as it is for many of the people out there, to find the right time to actually turn off. This is why see many people doing things like automatic turnoff of the Wi-Fi at 10 PM or things like throttling the connection at certain times actually going off-line to just reply to emails. I think it’s really important to turn off.
So now I tend to go to museums, places I’ve never been to before and doing all kinds of things that would normally make me feel uncomfortable. Not in this weird kinky way that that you thought of.
Paul: I hadn’t thought of it like that.
Vitaly: But things I have never done before like exploring something new in terms of places where I am, going to an exhibition, meeting some people that are not all profession. Also going to opera, going to theatre, finding newspapers and magazines not related to our topics at all. It’s not going to be medicine magazine but maybe something like architecture, patterns that sort of thing, so really trying to push myself beyond the scope of the web.
Paul: What’s quite interesting about that mind is that it’s quite hard to, will this kind of two things in there. First of all, it’s quite hard to explain why it’s important to switch off. I know it is and I think it’s something that comes with experience and time. That you learn that you can do this. But if somebody actually asked you why, why you feel the need to step away, what’s your answer to that?
Vitaly: I think the most important thing about it is a little stupid because it’s randomness. I really feel empowered by stumbling upon something that I’ve never seen before. That drives into my motivation for keeping on doing the web stuff. Like maybe whenever I see a pattern somewhere, even if it’s a tile on the floor in a theatre, it always funnels back into this thing that I do on the web.
Paul: It’s about being more rounded human being really.
Vitaly: I think it’s important to have an understanding about what’s going on in general. Just because otherwise you keep producing the same ideas all over and over again. Maybe repackage those ideas in one way or another, but it’s not like you are really doing something entirely different and entirely new. So I really like to challenge myself to do something difficult or strange, or something that I wouldn’t normally do because it’s not within my comfort zone. This is why it’s really easy to just stick to your framework and keep building pretty much the same websites because everybody needs a website these days and we are in a comfortable position to get hired and be hired pretty much all the time. So we could feel like we are in this position where we feel comfort and we can do whatever we want and we can just build the same websites all over and over again. But I think if you want to grow as an individual is really important turnoff. That’s the advantage with this randomness.
Marcus: I think there is a difference between turning off and doing something different. Maybe they are the same thing for you Vitaly, I don’t know but I personally feel the need to completely turn off. Just go and lie on a sunbed and read a book for a couple of weeks.
Paul: And that’s a really good point actually. I was reading an article recently which was saying that what we call relaxing these days isn’t actually necessarily relaxing. It’s just being entertained. All our forms of relaxation are like going to the cinema, or watching TV programmes. We don’t just stop and zone out any more. And I can’t imagine you doing that, Vitaly. You don’t strike me as someone that would ever sit and stare into space.
Vitaly: Yes true, I really can’t, I really can’t do this. For me it’s more like maybe what you are saying, I wouldn’t call it entertaining but maybe going on an adventure, refocusing. Trying to give more attention to other things. So maybe it’s not relaxation but more refocusing.
Marcus: I think it was the first talk at Smashing Oxford last year— I can’t remember who gave it— but basically was about the idea that if you learn about music you learn about maths, if you learn about maths, you learn about anatomy, whatever. So I guess I am just reinforcing my point that you are still doing your job, you’re not turning off. Because that is good advice from a work point of view to learn other stuff.
Vitaly: Also what I noticed is that while, I’ve been in this industry for a long time now, I started designing and building websites in 1997 and 1998 which makes it almost 20 years. And I feel I’ve become really proficient in this industry, I know was going on I know where to jump in I know where to look things up if I need to. But at the same time also have this feeling of may be disappointment of my personal growth beyond the scope of the work that I do. So I found myself not knowing enough about music, not knowing enough about history, not knowing enough about architecture. Of course I can’t know everything and I keep exploring all the time but I feel like it’s really important for me to just go ahead and seek all those interesting things I’ve never heard of before. Because I’m curious be doesn’t mean I have to be curious only one thing. So I try to explore many things these days.
Paul: I like that. I just keep coming back to it’s about becoming a rounded human being and those things benefit every aspect of your life including your work.
The one thing that I am curious about is Smashing Magazine has been this kind of enormous success and has become one of a very small handful of big publications that have an amazing impact on the community and the direction of the community. Because I know that you are so passionate about what you do and you’re so passionate about the web industry and the web community, do you feel a pressure from that? That you could screw up the web community if you tried hard enough?
Vitaly: Well actually, yes. There is of course a certain feeling of responsibility that goes with every single article, so we have this internal process where articles get reviewed and we get feedback between the author and the expert and editor and all the stuff and eventually you might get really good feedback from experts that you’re working with and then just before hitting the publish button I read the article and think, hmm I am not sure if we should publish it. Especially if you’re talking about practical articles, case studies, things that worked of failed. And it’s not necessarily related with best practices. So it could be very, very different. So we have some articles, we have some situations where we have to weigh up the cons against the pros and so also being ethical or being accessible. Sometimes you can have a really interesting case study where things are done in a really interesting way with all kinds of Flexboxing and SVG but then you look at the site from the accessibility perspective and it’s so horrible. So at this point what we have to do, I think it’s our responsibility to do it is to not to just accept the article, but say yes we would love to publish it but we need to add a note or section on accessibility and the decisions you made there as well.
And we actually have some situations where authors pulled out, although the articles were really great, and published elsewhere, just because of the extra push that I made my colleagues made. So yes there is always this hanging sword upon us. Should we do it this way or should we maybe try to change the direction of the article. How do we do it best?
And also sometimes we have another intention with advertisers and you might have an article which is an overview or review of the tools and you shouldn’t put the appetisers in the bad spot unless you want to be objective, which we do, you have to just give the author a platform to freely speak about his or her experiences. But then if you have an ad spot just on the right next to it, it puts our advertising team in a very uncomfortable position. So we would still publish the article but we probably talk to the appetiser first. And of course the appetiser should not have a say about what is getting written about the product.
Paul: No, but you would give them a heads up.
Vitaly: We need to make sure things are clear and straight here.
Paul: It’s a really tricky one isn’t it. And even with what advertisers you accepted what you don’t, what authors you have and you have a good balance of different types of authors. And then of course there is conferences, and the right kind of people on the stage and the right mix of people, it must be quite a pressure at times?
Vitaly: Yes because we also want to make sure we have a nice diverse mix of people speaking and authors presented in the magazine. And also a different kind of mix of topics in the books, that kind of thing. So it does force us to say no many times to people we like and even if we actually said yes before that, which I really hate. I really hate to pull back. But then if you see that it’s not working but maybe we could reschedule, we could do something else, sometimes you have to do it. We are not here to be liked by authors or speakers, although we want to be, but we do have to pay attention as to what’s best for the users and readers or attendees.
Vitaly: It’s a challenging situation you’re in. You obviously care really deeply about the community and what’s going on in the web. And you’re all so deeply embedded it, like you say you’ve been doing this for an almost 20 years. Over that time what have you seen change? Has there been a change? It is still a community or are we all now grown up and it’s an industry? What’s gone on?
Vitaly: Is a very good point, good question Paul. I think often I look at Twitter and I looked articles all over the place, I feel like maybe we have become just because of the entire complexity of the web today, with responsive design with mobile, or kind of things happening today, I think that we ended up becoming little islands or tribes maybe. We have groups of people and they would comfortably sit and talk on Slack in their Slack channel, totally invisible to everybody else and I also feel like there are many groups like that. Of course there are many people who are in different groups, so they are now this intersection between everything, but I feel like on Twitter for example I don’t see a lot of conversations happening these days. I definitely don’t see them on Facebook. I do see them in Slack, but then again these are private channels or maybe they are semi-public channels but they are not as accessible and you can’t follow them as easily. You have to know where to go. They do happen on blogs although I would say that the amount of comments I see, the number of comments of see on blogs have dropped.
So sometimes I’m actually asking myself where are people? And what do they do? We definitely have many more web developers and web designers today than we had 20 years ago. But where are they? Or is it also distributed and so fragmented on media and everywhere that you can’t really see the mass of those developers and designers? Maybe they are just everywhere or maybe they are just so busy that they don’t have time to write blog or read?
Paul: It strikes me that we’ve become, once we used to write to share and to talk and communicate with one another. Now we write to market. And so we’ve got all these people churning out articles and writing stuff and trying to get their voice heard a note is actually conversing anymore. Maybe that’s too strong a phrase because you are right, there are pockets of it all over the place but I feel like we’ve lost something a little bit there. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, I think it’s just a change. As we’ve grown up as an industry, things have shifted maybe.
Vitaly: I think we have a lot of articles today about techniques and tools and people doing a lot of open source work and sharing, but it has perhaps taken maybe a different form or shape today? So is not centralised any more, just go to GitHub and create your project and have contributors and you tweet about it and then maybe some people discover it and re-tweet it and so it’s just totally all over the place. Which makes finding what you need very difficult and that makes tracking of what’s going on extremely hard. I keep reading a lot, every single day I follow what’s going on, on Twitter, what people are posting and every single week or so I keep wondering, why didn’t I read that article five or six months ago?
Paul: There is just so much now isn’t there? That’s the trouble. There was stage but I remember back in 2005 when I went to the first App media conference and they did a blog roll at the beginning where they asked individuals to stand up corresponding to their blog. All these people around the room, and they stood up. In that one room I could see 90% of all of the web design blogs just in one room. There are only a couple dozen may be whereas now there were so many different sources, so many different places that you can’t possibly keep up with all of them even if you wanted to. See you are having to be much more selective so I guess you miss a lot. It’s the whole filter button thing isn’t it?
Vitaly: I think so and this is why this curator process of speakers, of authors, of articles, of links are becoming so important. I think at this point the best thing you can do on the web, doesn’t matter if it’s web development or medicine or any other niche, you just need to stand up and say hey I’m going to curate whatever is happening in this industry and I go to send out a mailing once every day or once every week, all the most useful things that are actually happening. If it is done well, and you can actually really curate it, reducing the amount of links to 3 or four, maybe five a week then it gives real value to people subscribing. But it’s extremely difficult to catch up.
Paul: You could almost have an entire team dedicated to doing that kind of thing. One person really can’t any more. I remember a time on my Twitter channel I would be able to put out the best articles of the day and I could be confident those were the best. These days I just share whatever I’ve read because there was so much that I couldn’t touch or couldn’t get near. It’s a good problem I guess, lots of great content.
Vitaly: I vividly remember this one change in my habits where I used to have just a stream of tweets from all the people I follow and then just because it was becoming too much and I couldn’t follow I just replaced it entirely with a list, like useful resources or interesting tweets, which is significantly less. But I could track them I could keep up with a look into them every day, but now it’s the same story all over again and I’m totally lost. I think if an article is good, if a tool is important eventually it will pop up one way or another. Either in a conversation on Twitter or in a newsletter, in a blog post somewhere which you read later, some not really stressed out about this. I know that I have a lot of articles that I have to read on my to do list and I have a lot of emails to reply to, I never managed to get through my inbox to zero. It’s a myth.
Paul: It’s not, I do it.
Vitaly: Yes but you just delete stuff.
Paul: I do not just delete stuff, that’s a lie.
Vitaly: Yes but there were so many for example newsletters or conversations going on which would take hours to just send a reply to. And you say okay am going to reply to them later and you mark it as read instead of replying and have a little Skype call with a person because email will take way too long.
Paul: Oh yes I do do that, pick other mediums to reply but I always reply. You two are just dreadful. Marcus is dreadful at this as well.
Vitaly: Marcus is very nice, actually. At least he’s coming to the Smashing conference. Yes he is.
Paul: Yes he is. Hey there is one other thing I want to talk about before we wrap up, which is our collective passion. Our collective enthusiasm as an industry. We seem to be full of people that are just so fired up about stuff, that Drupal is the best content management system ever or WordPress is the best content management system ever for this is the best framework to use that’s the best framework to use or we should all be focusing on accessibility or we should all be focusing on digital marketing or we should all be worried about the gender balance within the community or we should all be passionate and enthusiastic about racial balance or whatever it may be. There were all these people that are so fired up about their stuff. Which is great but do you see that as a downside as well? Have we lost our objectivity a little bit?
Vitaly: This is why is that we are becoming islands or tribes. They try to focus on what they are doing anyway because of course everybody has found their niche and people are doing just access builds and people are doing just e-commerce or just WordPress and so on. And of course if you are familiar with your technology and your tools and everything then you would be inclined to say that this is the best for me. But then people tend to generalise, saying that okay, I’ve been doing WordPress for many, many years and I tried Drupal and it was totally horrible and then of course you just jump to the conclusion then that WordPress must be much, much better. So you do end up with a lot of people having excepting only one right truth, one ultimate truth which of course I think it’s a problem.
Paul: It’s almost the definition of religious fanaticism isn’t it.
Vitaly: Stephen Hay wrote an article about two weeks ago saying we all have to be pragmatic because we don’t live in a perfect world where there is only one tool or one framework that works everywhere. So we have to make the right calls within the right constraints that the client gives us or are the right requirements. So makes it difficult to produce quality work because you might need to jump from different frameworks, from different tools and so on. I think this is what we have to do. Just ticking to one thing, whatever it is, however fancy it might be, is not really helpful in the long term. Because we see how the industry is evolving all the time and how it has evolved over all those years, we almost always permanently have to change your tools. We have to change and adapt our processes, so we have to adapt all the time. So I think it’s just wrong to say this is the thing, this is the best because we’ve seen examples in the past where things that used to be the best or the most popular ones have just faded into obscurity.
Marcus: I think there is another downside to fanaticism, people speaking very loudly about what they believe in and this is something that I have witnessed with some of the guys that work at Headscape, is that they feel they can’t say anything because they are going to be picked on for whatever it is they want to join in on a particular topic about whatever their specialism as, but they don’t because they feel that they might get it wrong although going to be ridiculed or whatever. And I think that is a potential downside for a very vocal community.
Paul: It is, is a huge thing because you do have to have a blooming thick skin to say anything on the web these days. There are always 10 people ready to tell you you’re wrong. That’s must be a nightmare for managing Smashing point of view. Emails you get a week from people saying you should never have given this person a platform to say this, that’s not the right way, you’re not giving equal balance to this.
Vitaly: Sometimes yes. Sometimes people get annoyed by certain articles. Sometimes we will cover articles on Sass and sometimes we will cover articles on Less as well. And it’s almost certain that that day I will get an email from a person saying, why do you cover Sass and not Less?
Paul: Or maybe somebody writes an article being a bit critical of search engine optimisation experts.
Vitaly: And then that particular person doesn’t get to sleep for a couple of nights or days or weeks, just because the community gets…
Paul: …a little bit annoyed at me.
Vitaly: Who you? We’re not talking about you.
Paul: Sorry, I mean a hypothetical person.
Vitaly: So actually just for the audience listening to this podcast, I think it was two years ago Paul, wasn’t it? Two years ago Mr Paul Boag published a fantastic article about the inconvenient truth about SEO, writing about how basically SEO doesn’t matter anymore. Well not quite like that.
Paul: Yes, it had that kind of tone to it.
Vitaly: Well obviously the SEO community, feeling threatened by this mysterious Paul Boag, all rolled back to the post criticising him like hell and also I guess tweeting you and sending you emails, trying to convince you that you are damn wrong and that you should apologise.
Paul: Then you got hassled for it as well.
Vitaly: Yes because we published it.
Paul: But what was really interesting from that experience and something that tells you a lot is that the people that were most vicious, because there were people that were quite vicious over it, were the more obscure people. The people that weren’t as well known within the SEO community, who felt more vulnerable I guess in their position. What was really interesting whether people, the Geoffrey Zeldman and equivalents within the SEO community, several of which contacted me and actually I had really good conversations with them. Because they didn’t feel threatened. They thought I was wrong and they were passionate about SEO but they didn’t let that passion turn into fanaticism. And actually they talked me around quite a lot and I have now a considerable different position to what I posted in that article, although I don’t think I was wrong about what I wrote in that article I just think there is perhaps more the complexity then what I covered. That to me shows how sometimes you need to be careful with your passion. Those people that laid on so thick, those people that had a real go at me, that got fired up, I just dismissed as nutters. The people that came to me and held back were obviously upset by my article and were obviously passionate about SEO but held that in check to have a civilised conversation with me, they talked me round. And I think this a big lesson to learn from this.
Vitaly: Yes that’s a very good point because in the end we actually published an article, a counter piece which was really very well written and it wasn’t actually attacking your article it was more about covering a different side of the story which I found really interesting. There are people who contacted you and also me who are really knowledgeable people and well-known in the community and there were still people in the comments writing obnoxious comments, so there was a lot of moderation work involved. Because obviously we have a rule that if the comment is related to the article we will not dismiss it, we will not delete it. It’s only that I will delete it if it is spam or if it is actually abusive in any way.
Paul: So there were lots of comments that actually never did see them?
Vitaly: I think you would feel much worse if you knew and we published all the comments. So I think the moment when you start feeling vulnerable about your passion and about your work to the point that you actually try to fight back, when you are trying to fight— and I’m stressing the fight part here— this is the moment that is getting really bad because you are becoming fanatical and you don’t have a real argument any more. You are just trying to make a statement that you are dead wrong and insult you, but you out of place.
Paul: If you can’t attack the argument you attack the person don’t you.
Vitaly: I think so and this is the thing. When we see a lot of negative comments anywhere, for me it’s really a sign that it’s not necessarily about the person being really obsessed about what you wrote not agreeing with you, but may be more like a sign that this person in their work whatever it is they are doing, does not feel very comfortable, maybe feels vulnerable. Because whenever you feel vulnerable, this is when you react. If you feel confident about what you are doing then you can actually post a reasonable argument and argue with you properly. I think this makes a difference. Passion is important but then of course the same time you have to make sure that it fuels your strength and doesn’t make you feel vulnerable.
Paul: I think that’s a good point to leave it on. That’s a really great conversation, Vitaly and I for one feel that we still got a little bit of growing up to do in terms of how we express ourselves online and how we express our passion and enthusiasm for our subject. But on the other hand it’s great that we still have that as a community, which is wonderful.
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Right Marcus, do you have a joke for us?
Marcus: I’m digging up old jokes but I think this is probably from a very long time ago and I have to explain to Vitaly because he might not know what an AA van is. AA stands for Automobile Association. If you’ve broken down on the side of the road you call the AA and they come and fix your car.
I was driving this morning when I saw an AA van parked up. The driver was sobbing uncontrollably and looked very miserable. I thought to myself that guys heading for a breakdown.
Paul: Oh my word.
Paul: Any joke that you have to explain for you tell it…
Marcus: It was just because of Vitaly isn’t English.
Paul: Its AAA in America isn’t it?
Vitaly: It’s something similar, obviously.
Paul: Well in Germany your casting breakdown do they?
Vitaly: True yes.
Paul: So that is it for this week’s show. Next week we’ve got Ryan Taylor joining us to talk about elusive passion. Actually finding your passion, what you are enthusiastic about and where you’re you are enthusiastic doing it. Until then a huge thanks to Vitaly to coming on the show.
Vitaly: Thank you so much Marcus is definitely pleasure.
Paul: And we look forward to having you back before too long to talk about something else. Thank you very much of Vitaly, thank you Marcus and a goodbye to everybody.