Christopher Schmitt Voices That Matter Interview at SXSW 2008

Along with fellow co-authors Kevin Lawver and Kimberly Blessing, your hero was also interviewed at the recent SXSW for Voices That Matter podcast.

Below is the video the publisher made of the interview along with the transcript I’ve recently produced to go along with it.

Micahel Nolan: Hi, I am Michael Nolan, senior acquisitions editor for New Riders and we are here at South by South West at Austin, Texas and I am with Christopher Schmitt, the author of Adapting to Web Standards, which is a book about CSS and ajax for big sites. 

And, Chris, what inspired you to write this?  This is your third or fourth book isn’t it?

Christopher Schmitt: This is my eighth book. 

MN: Your eighth book.

CS: I think it’s my eighth book, but I am not sure.  I lost count.

What inspired me was that I was at previous South by South West and I came across the panel that talked about how to deal with Web Standards in a large corporate structure (slides, mp3, transcript) and I was just kind of floored. We need this type of information—expanded upon, of course. It was only an hour panel, but expand it to talk about the technologies, the processes and the team workflow.

MN: What are the challenges a big sites faces?  I mean, give me an example of a big site you might be talking about.

CS: Well, in the book Kevin Lawver talks about—he works for AOL—he talks about all the stuff he went through to deal with the front page of AOL.com, which is sort of a portal page. And he actually did a lot of analysis upfront with other sites to discuss, you know, what was the text ratio to the graphics of the document. 

He talked a lot about—at that point when you talk about a large site like AOL.com you are dealing with a lot of traffic that a single web developer working for a small website like me, a small local bank site if you say or a small local business that wouldn’t get the necessarily the same traffic that AOL.com does.  So, the books that you find alot or the tutorials you find online are great tutorials on how to develop sites for a single, small case scenario where there will be one developer, one designer or one designer and one developer build the whole thing or maybe there’s two people. And the code that goes into it or the graphics, the hosting, you know, works great in that area, but when you deal with a large scale company when you have various specialists—not everyone is a generalist—you have to deal with lots of technologies that you have to deal with lots of bandwidth you have to force down to people and not having a lot of code that is compressed. Basically, you are wasting a lot of bandwidth to deliver it and deal with JavaScript all these technologies. It doesn’t scale very well between a small site—

MN: So, in this book propose methods for scalability.

CS: No, we don’t propose methods.  We actually talk about methods that people are using. 

We talk about—you know, HTML is pretty much always going to be HTML. We talk about HTML basics for semantic markup, which is always great. We also talk about CSS, but also talk about CSS in terms of how to manage CSS files for large Web sites. 

If you do a small website maybe we will have one CSS file that control everything for a max of 100 pages or if you are very lucky like, maybe, 1,000 pages or so. But when you are talking about 10,000 pages and you have various hands in the pot as well,  it’s kind of tricky because how do you manage who has control of what CSS file.  And then you have various subsites or intranet sites, then you have to determine which CSS rules dictate which designs. 

Then we move on to the JavaScript. JavaScripts is great, but if you just dealing with some simple validations on a small site you can get away with mutiple. separate scripts.  But when you are dealing with large Web sites you have to deal with JavaScript libraries, you have to deal with compression of libraries since they are large files and then we move on to JavaScript frameworks and how to deal with those.

And then we have a great chapter by Kimberly Blessing, who talks alot about Web standards and how to actually get that into a work flow for a dynamic, large group. Because when you are working, you just want to get the work done because you always have a pile of it on your plate. You have to go through it

But a lot of times there is poor documentation. if there is any documentation, people might not know the best way of doing things. And so Kimberly’s chapter is great for explaining the purposes of Web standards and a large scale environment and how to do it. It’s a great way to cap the first part of the book.

In the second part we have a lot of examples like the AOL one that Kevin Lawver wrote. We also have one for Tori Amos’ site.

MN: Tori Amos?

CS: Yeah, we actually have it. We decided, you know, to mix it up a little bit in there. We talk about something a little bit more creative, but also high-profile.

MN: A large, large scale site.

CS: We talk about that a lot. And then we also have an interview that Mark Trammell did with the people that personally developed Yahoo!’s front page and all the stuff they went through.

MN: So, you had this book actually started of works the way a big. large scale site does in that this was a team effort. It wasn’t just you.   

CS: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, we had the idea of the book and, I know, that just with a the team, I don’t have every skill set. There are other more people that know lot more details about it. It was really great because the panel I went to Kevin Lawver was on it. Kimberly Blessing was on it. They were really great friends of mine—

MN: And the panel became a book.

CS: Yeah, the panel became a book and I was so grateful. I was, like, “hey, you have this great idea, we just need to expand upon it. Would you be in on it?” And they all said, “yes,” which is really great.

And I am also missing two other people on the panel, but I totally forgot their names. I’m sure they are going to hunt me down.

MN: They might not.

South by South West is always good source for us find books, the right authors. How long you have been coming to South by South West?

CS: This is my fifth year. And it was like 2,400 people, five years ago. Now I think I heard the number was like seven thousand or so.

MN: It’s tripled in size, yeah.

CS: Yes, it’s tripled in size. You know, it’s kinda hard to find lunch.

MN: It is hard to find lunch. What else do you miss about the old days of South by South West?

CS: I miss if you want to talk to someone, you could actually track them down. Now it’s more like surfing or like fishing, I guess, in a way—not that people are fish—, but if you see someone, that’s great, you know, just don’t plan on it.

MN: It wouldn’t be surprising if you came and you miss seeing—

CS: Yeah. Actually, people were talking about. They realize now that we are like a bit more than half-way done, if not more. They realize they are not going to se people because we are missing them in all this flow.

MN: But, on the other hand, there is flip side, of course. In the fact that it’s so huge to me, it has more richness, more texture, more things going on.

CS: But you can get more people coming from different point of views, different histories. There is a vibe in South by South West that you don’t get at any other conference.  

MN: What is vibe for listeners? Can you describe that?

CS: Well, I think it comes from our industry being so different than other industries. I don’t know a lot of other industries, but from talking to my brothers, my family members and my friends who don’t work in this industry. Other industries are very closed. They keep their secrets close to their hearts, chests.

This one, you know, if education is so—people are blogging what they’ve learned, you know, some Web design tricks or techniques. It’s very open and sharing. You don’t really get that type, of you know, talking about other places. And, I think, South by South West with the components of film and music, where it’s creative expression, it’s a natural tie-in, too.

MN: And then it is Austin which is such a wonderful city. It’s so fun to hang out in for few days.

CS: Yeah, I think South by South West Interactive is definitely helping keeping Austin weird—er.

MN: Oh, that’s good.

So, speaking of conferences, you are going to be at our Voices That Matter Web Design conference.

CS: I’m totally stoked about that one.

MN: Yeah, we are, too. It promises to be quite exciting. That is going to be in early June in Nashville, Tennesse, which is a similar to Austin, not quit as weeird, perhaps. But a great city full of creativity and music and all the rest of it. We look forward to see you in there.

Thanks, Chris.

CS: Oh, thank you!

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