The Long Road Back to 2000

On building a simpler page for A List Apart


A long road in Shimotakaido


Because books are now built with HTML.
Because us designers always need a solid grounding.
Because before the giant leap, we need one last big damned deep breath.

And, because this is fun.

Ten years ago this past summer it was the grand ‘ole days of 1999 2000. I was 19. The first Web 1.0 bubble had yet to burst, it took four million dollars to launch a website with a database, there was no Wikipedia, Joshua Davis was a web god, most of us searched via Altavista, Kioken was down with Puff Daddy, Apple had just released their drop-dead-sex-on-a-logic-board designed Titanium Powerbook and Kmart — Kmart! — was trying to become an internet provider. It was the Studio 57 days of the internet.

That very summer, sitting in my sublet apartment near the Opera House in San Francisco playing Dreamcast, an email arrived. It was an email from Jeffrey Zeldman. The Jeffrey Zeldman. Grand web warlock. He politely informed me that my submission to A List Apart was, sadly, not the sort of article for which they were looking. (Apparently poorly written nonsense wasn’t part of their editorial strategy.) Overshadowing any sadness of rejection was the fact that I had gotten a mail from Jeffrey Zeldman. A digital brushing of the sleeve, as it were, by the hand of a web zeus.

There are few things online that have survived the past decade, but A List Apart is one of them. Originally registered on May 7th, 1998, it’s the stalwart voice for anyone involved with the guts and goo of making web stuff. Countless other nodes of web knowledge have come and gone from public consciousness — places like hi5, webmonkey (hotwired?) and some guy named Lance — but ALA not only refuses to go away, it continues to grow. It first mutated organically and smartly into a conference. And now there’s a whole honest-to-goodness book publishing arm.

So when Carolyn Wood of A List Apart fame mailed me last summer — precisely ten years after my rejection — asking me to submit an article to ALA, I was smitten. Giddy — I love experiential symmetry. And I’ve long since respected the work of ALA and all those involved, so of course I was game.

After much prodding and ego-massaging by the unflappable Carolyn, and equal parts editorial knife and guidance of Mandy Brown, the piece is complete. The loop is closed. The article is online. And — no — I’m not crying, it’s just dusty in here. And I was making onion soup.

It’s called A Simpler Page. It’s about book typography, tablets and HTML. Because the core of the future of books is good typography, tablets and HTML.

The article also dovetails with a library I’m releasing called Bibliotype. Bibliotype is a base layer for long-form reading in HTML on tablets. It’s pretty simple. But what we need now more than anything else is simplicity.

So I hope you enjoy it. It took a long time for this to happen. And it’s an awesome way to kick off 2011 — publishing with an unbeatable rag-tag group of inspiring smarties.

Here’s to a better book — in all its myriad forms — in 2011.

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