Get it All

I can say with certainty that I’m not alone on this: my inbox has slowly, almost imperceptibly, switched from my primary source of communication to my least-used spam trap. Not even my parents generation is necessarily using email for much these days. Without realizing it, I’ve allowed my FaceBook account to be the de-facto means of communication in my life for all but the most specific of topics and recipients.

But this makes things very difficult, doesn’t it? For one, my entire communication circle is entirely under the banner of one company who can do whatever they like with it. That includes just plain screwing it up and making the service unavailable through some inadvertent “whoopsie.” Another problem is that I have really no means of auditing this type of communication: FaceBook keeps its own logs of wall posts, messages, comments and status updates to itself and I cannot backup my posts to my own private store. This is not the height of concern for those “I just ate bacon and it was good,” kind of status updates, but what about communication from really important sources?

Because, believe me, this type of communication can only grow more common and robust. We have a danger, in embracing the up-to-the-minute web, of losing what happened five minutes ago.

Alternative solutions which mimic the FaceBook system are being developed, of course. I suspect they’re being developed in one form or another just about everywhere. My company is looking to integrate such a system into an eCommerce website. Google Labs is developing Google Wave. Mozilla is looking to hit it big with Rain Drop. Such experiments and projects are inevitable whenever the meme of Internet communication changes in some way. I’m certainly starting to work new projects around the idea of FaceBook Connect logins as a gotta-have component; meanwhile, everything I build has at least some air of “Social Web” communication to it.

I’m not sure that any of these really hit the mark, though. Rain Drop, as it has been explained thus far, sounds like something akin to a Tweetdeck/ hybrid. Google Wave looks interesting, but even with as much as communication has changed, I think it might be just a bridge too far for the majority of Internet users; the interface as it current exists is just too wonkish and geek-centric. Individual sites – both eCommerce sites like my company and service-based projects like I’m working on in my spare time – will inevitably include some very personal means of communication, but they hardly hope to replace email.

And the most distressing thing of all is that the one component lacking in these various systems is an open source protocol on which to build. What has to this point made email such a great option was largely the fact that the underlying system is an open protocol which can be and was adopted by myriad companies in their own ways. But an AOL user was never prevented from sharing information with a Juno user or a Hotmail user. As much as the good systems now include APIs to spread their influence, they don’t include open standards which allow free sharing across the networks.

Does anyone with influence step in to say something about this? Or have we sufficiently commercialized the Internet to the point where its foundations no longer matter? Open forum communication and status updates are a great feature of the modern Internet, but it will be a dark day when the primary means of communication becomes mired in proprietary warfare.

I’m working on redesigning the front page of this website a bit with a new theme. The new look will be based on the current design, but more flexible, a bit flashier and like my political blog’s front page, more of a representation of the website as a whole, rather than this one blog.

As I’m working along with the new design, I’ve hatched a scheme to create an interesting sidebar which reflects some different thinking than most that I’ve seen. But I’d like this sidebar to – if possible – stretch the entire height of the page. While searching for answers, a Twitter friend suggested this:

Equal height boxes with CSS | Lab | 456 Berea Street.

Great! What a perfect solution, right? Well, not quite. Internet Explorer once again lags behind the rest of the pack with CSS adoption and this CSS table design thing is not available to any browser below IE 8. Currently, IE 8 adoption is happening at a snail’s pace. Three times as many IE users are using 6 and 7 as are using 8.

Give it a few months, and this will be a non-issue. In the meanwhile, I’m thinking I’ll need to work out a CSS hack to provide an acceptable alternative to older browsers while still maintaining the option for FF and IE8 users.

An interesting discussion of the DOCTYPE declaration in WordPress themes. Seems to me that Alex is spot-on with this: you can’t claim a theme as XHTML 1.1 compliant because you can’t know what gets added to it by the end user. Sure, the *theme* might be strict as a school marm. But if the end user chooses to add all manner of sloppy JS widgets for MySpace and whatever else, the final result is not going to be strict at all.

I confess that, even with my own blogs, the “strict” doctype is probably over-selling a bit. Some times – even most of the time – the blogs are not going to be XHTML 1.1 compliant simply because I am constantly experimenting with plugins. Whether those are my own plugins which are currently in a state of disrepair or those I’ve downloaded from just to mess with, there is always the possibility of being out of standard.

And to be honest, while being XHTML compliant is a goal, its more of an ideal than a practicality under the circumstances. For professional paid gigs, that’s another story. But for this little site, well, I don’t call it my hobby horse for nothing!