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Interviews: Interview by Ronan

Originally published by Ronan at zlog.co.uk, July 15, 2003 as “Interview #5 - Shirley Kaiser” (Web site no longer online)

First, an Introduction

I’m a mom, first and foremost. I’m a born and raised California native who loves to explore all that life has to offer. My life-long passion has been creativity and the arts, especially with music and piano, and my academic degrees are in piano performance (bachelor’s degree, master’s degree). I’ve always been passionate about music, the arts, and creative expression. As soon as my kids introduced me to computers in the early 1990s, though, I found another passion, and by 1996 I started my Web design business, SKDesigns. In addition to creating and maintaining websites for my clients and some of my own, I’ve contributed to textbooks either as an author or as an editor, I write a weblog regularly, I’m on the Steering Committee for the Web Standards Project (WaSP), and I also compose music and continue to play my piano all the time. Somewhere in there I even walk my dog.

When did you start using the Internet regularly and why?

Around 1993 I subscribed to a local BBS in Sacramento for my kids and myself after installing my first modem. One of my first experiences on the Internet was connecting to a music library in Vienna, Austria that I’d visited in person a few years before. It was thrilling to me to so easily connect to places all over the world and have access to so much information right from my computer. I remember hearing about Mosaic around the end of 1993 or early 1994, a browser that even supported images (a huge deal in those days!), and as soon as I downloaded it I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I was also learning how to create those webpages myself.

Which languages or technologies interests you the most at the moment?

Many!

  • I’m fascinated with the possibilities for CSS3, and I love working with CSS anyway. I also enjoy working with XHTML. Photoshop is a big love of mine, too.
  • I’m working with XML and XSL a bit more, as I greatly appreciate the extensibility and standards-based approach.
  • I’m fascinated with where things are going with RSS, RDF and the latest discussions about standardizing weblog formats (see my post on it)
  • I’m fascinated with all kinds of wireless technology: wireless networking, Wi-Fi and hot spots, GPS technology and tracking, whether separate satellite tracking units or as part of cell phones, camera phones, units for cars, whatever.

That also stems into cell phone technology with GPRS, GSM, EDGE, and camera phones. And I’m closely following moblogging, too, which integrates weblogs with camera phones, and some are even including GPS tracking information within the images that they moblog. I’ve written about some of this at my weblog lately, too, such as this post.

I recently bought a new cell phone, a Nokia 6200, which has an Internet connection included with XHTML browsing, a reasonable GPS tracking capability that works pretty well for finding businesses nearby, friends nearby, and similar things through AT&T Wireless’s mMode. I wrote about my initial thoughts about it at the above link to my weblog post, too.

I recently ordered a camera accessory for it, but it’s been on backorder and is supposed to ship this Friday, so I look forward to trying moblogging soon, too. The camera accessory takes 24-bit color photos and has 2 resolutions possible, but it doesn’t include a flash component. It certainly won’t replace my digital camera (another one of my passions), and I don’t expect it to anyway, but it will be a fun experiment with trying this new technology and especially with sending instantaneous photos and trying moblogging soon.

Once I’ve had a chance to work with it a bit I’ll be writing a review about it, and I’ll also be moblogging with it, too, so folks can see how the picture quality is for themselves and how all this works (or doesn’t!).

What motivates your work for the WaSP?

I’ve always thought that standards can be helpful, whether it’s for light bulbs, videotape formats, DVD formats, or webpages. Standards, or the lack of them, can really impact our lives in all kinds of ways, whether or not we as consumers are even aware of it. As consumers I saw the impact of lack of standards years ago with Sony Beta format and VHS format. With my kids’ video games one brand’s games aren’t compatible with another brand’s games. Many cell phone plugs won’t work with another cell phone, even within the same brand.

With Web pages, I experienced and also observed early on as Web designers and developers were being forced to work with browsers that generated markup in all kinds of ways, didn’t support this tag or that tag, or even worse — did whacky things to various tags. It became an increasingly bigger nightmare as the browser wars got huge between Microsoft and Netscape. Designers had a lot to figure out, at times having to create separate sites for each browser. Clients paid the price for all that extra work and duplication. Users didn’t care about any of that and just wanted to surf the Web and had no clue why a site wouldn’t work for them.

WaSP was created to try to help all the way around, initially to get the browser makers to support W3C Recommendations and more recently to help educate companies, educators, and designers and developers about why standards matter and how to use W3C Recommendations effectively, in addition to dispelling the myth that following standards means plain, ugly sites.

What do you think about Web standards?

I think Web standards are critically important, that they make a huge difference, and that they matter tremendously. I feel strongly about that because I’ve personally seen and experienced the Internet without that support. It wasn’t pretty. In order for Web standards to work, though, they need to be supported and implemented by the browser makers, the tools used to create websites, and the designers and developers who create the sites.

Right now as I’m doing this interview with you I’m faced with a client who hired a marketing firm to invisibly integrate their marketing tracking within her company website. The marketing firm uploaded a page for use, and I was faced with a huge mess — the new page was enclosed in invisible frames without using any accessibility guidelines, and my previously W3C validated markup was senselessly altered and ruined with the marketing company’s use of Microsoft Publisher. All of this was just to add a log-in form containing two form fields.

I’m in the midst of writing a tactful letter to the marketing company about what, how, and why I cleaned up the log-in page, how their frames need to be implemented for Accessibility Guidelines for my client’s site, (although I’d prefer they didn’t use the frames at all), and to please not run the page through Microsoft Publisher again. Hopefully I can write my note in such a way that might even make them curious about why any of that might even matter.

Back to browser makers:
We’ve come a long way in getting support for Web standards by browser makers, but many designers and developers can tell you that we’re far from having the best support. Toss in road blocks like Microsoft’s recent announcement that they’ve discontinued development of a standalone Windows browser, they’ve discontinued development of a Mac browser (many Mac users aren’t sad about this, though), and we’re looking at the probability of several years or more of stagnation with countless millions of people still using Internet Explorer 6 while W3C marches on with more improvements and changes. Too many us have gotten stuck with having to support the buggy and non-standards-oriented Netscape 4 for 6 years now, and we’re tired of having to support such problematic browsers while the rest of the world has marched on long ago.

It’s also tough on designers and developers because most users don’t even know about standards and they may not even care much anyway. What matters to them is being able to access the sites they want to visit and have the pages work and load quickly. Plenty of folks don’t even know one browser from another, and it’s inconsequential to them. They just want to do what they need to do or want to do while they surf the Web.

So it’s up to us designers and developers to create sites that are effortless for users. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is if browser makers and editing tool makers support and implement Web standards. And of course, I’d love to see an increasing number of designers and developers basing their sites on standards, too.

Designers and developers who are fairly new to the industry may not have a clue of what we’ve gone through with lack of standards support to get to the much better place we’re at today, although still far from ideal. Without that understanding, they may not understand why standards matter so much.

Reading Robert Scoble’s June 23rd post, for example, also provides more insight for opinions that standards don’t matter. If Robert truly understood I suspect he’d have a different opinion. There’s more to it than he sees or understands right now, but then again, he hasn’t done what I do day in and day out, either, with site design and implementation.

I’m also not the type to try to dump standards down people’s throats, and I don’t think that’s the way to go anyway. I prefer to help people and teach people when they’re interested in what I think about the best approaches to Web design and development.

Do you apply Web standards to commercial sites you make?

Absolutely. If you check my portfolio you’ll see examples, of course. Upon completion of the sites they each validated via W3C’s validators. I can’t vouch for sites that clients update themselves, but I’ve provided them with the tools and resources to keep the sites standards-compliant if they choose to do so (and most of them do).

Clients hire me because they like what they see in my work, but they also hire me because they like, appreciate, and want what they see as a practical and efficient approach to Web design and development. If they don’t specifically know about standards, they do after they’ve read a bit about my work at my site. Often they come to me because they’re after a standards-based approach to their websites. Either way, though, they frequently tell me that they end up feeling that a standards-based site is a solid, strong approach that’s the best way to go for them for their particular needs.

Which browser do you prefer and why?

I actually use a variety of browsers on a regular basis. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. As many of us know, no one browser is perfect. Some of my friends and colleagues already know that I’ve been a strong supporter of the Opera web browser for several years now, especially because of their hard work toward implementing Web standards but also because of its many user-friendly features, such as tabbed browsing, saving sessions, and much more — see my review of Opera 6, for example, and keep in mind that Opera 7 offers even more. So I tend to use Opera the most overall because of its many features that I like so much.

Designers and developers rightfully grumbled about the lack of DOM and JavaScript support for quite some time, though, and I couldn’t recommend Opera to my friends and colleagues as the only browser they’d need since that lack of DOM and JavaScript support often meant they couldn’t do their online banking or many other practical and routine things users want to do online. Opera 7 thankfully has much better DOM and JavaScript support with its newest versions.

I also regularly use Netscape 7 and Mozilla 1.4 (I just downloaded the latest build Mozilla 1.4c, which I’ll be trying out). Next in line is that I also use Internet Explorer 6.

Which sites do you visit most regularly?

Quite a few, actually, especially now that I use an RSS Reader that allows far more efficient means of scanning information at literally hundreds of sites. I’m currently alpha-testing Bradsoft’s very promising upcoming FeedDemon, which I wrote a bit about at my weblog.

The RSS feeds, though, are just a jumping off point, and I end up visiting even more sites than I did before I discovered the world of RSS feeds. Here are just a few in alphabetical order, and I’m leaving out a bunch that I also read several times a week:

Shirley Kaiser’s Web sites are located at http://skdesigns.com/, http://shirleykaiser.com/ & http://brainstormsandraves.com/, so go check them out.

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