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In: Interviews

By Nick Finck

Published on May 14, 2001

Back in 1996 I found a site that inspired me not only because of its design, but also because of its content. The excellence shown on that site and a few others was so powerful that I eventually took that inspiration and put it into the site that's now called Digital Web Magazine. I guess you can imagine that I'm humbled to have you here with me, celebrating the fifth anniversary of Digital Web's launch.

Digital Web:

For those of us who are not familiar with you or your work, could you please enlighten us with news about your current work, and what you have done in the past?

Arthur:

I still toil at Glassdog and I'd love to toil there endlessly, but one must make one's living, mustn't one? If anyone has an idea how to make enough money to live in San Francisco and not do anything except maintain their own web site, I'm all ears!

Glassdog is and was my Web playground, a place where I could experiment and investigate the workings of the Web, what people like, how to do things, what to write about, and how to organize it all. It's been around a fairly long time in Web years and it's certainly far less active now than it has been in the past, due mostly to my own lack of time and ability rather than lack of ideas. There have been all sorts of things I'd love to do, but most require that I learn MySQL and Flash and PHP and so on, all of which I'd love to be more familiar with, but none of which I can tackle in a single weekend.

In the past, which for our purposes I'll limit to the last five years that I've been actively online, I've written and designed for many other collaborative, non-commercial web sites such as the fray and SMUG. Most of my writing has been in the form of personal narrative, but I'm hoping to change that since I don't have the pile of tales to tell that I did when I started out.

 

Digital Web:

How did you get started doing web content and design? Where did you start?

Arthur:

I started on my own around 1995, when Netscape made its debut. My previous experience online was hanging out in CompuServe and AOL over a 14.4 modem talking about Star Trek and The Smiths and RPG's. You can see the result of the latter if you read Aspects of Reality at Glassdog, which I don't recommend because it's extremely long and has no ending.

Anyway, at the time I was working for an outsourcer, which is a company that swoops into other companies that are trying to cut back on their tech spending so they sell all their equipment and employees handling the computers and networking to the company I worked for, then we'd fire all but the best people and bring our own people in and start managing the telecom and technology. We were evil with a capital E, but I try not to think about that, now.

Part of my job was network management, like installing terminals and modems and getting hub A to talk to node B, so since I was a network geek they thought I should be the one looking into the biggest network of all, the Internet. So I was given the task to research what it was, what the Web was, what could be done on it, how secure it was for transactions, how many people are on it and so forth. At the time, I discovered that almost no one was on it besides college students, technocrats and other networking geeks like me and security was - and for the most part remains - a joke. So my employer lost interest, but I was hooked.

It was a vast playground with no rules. The rules were being written and designed by whoever wanted to take the time to do it. I had an art background and as soon as more design capabilities became available, I started using them. I did horrible things to animated GIFs, I played with all the buttons and horizontal rules in rainbow colors, I constructed horrible HTML code and stole ideas liberally from everyone. I only stole the best ideas, of course, and combined them so they looked new. But code is code, and there's only so much you can do with HTML after a while.

I taught myself HTML and JavaScript and Photoshop, which came free with a scanner they bought at work and they didn't want it so I had a fully licensed copy free of charge. I bought my first home computer, a Zeos 386 with about 8Mb RAM and a 14" screen and I was off with a head waiting to be filled with neat ideas.

 

Digital Web:

Forget what Webster's says. How would you personally define creativity?

Arthur:

It's interesting that you ask that because it's a current passion of mine, the rediscovering and nurturing of creativity.

I hear from people all the time that they aren't creative, and I want to ask them what they did as children. When you're a kid, you can take a hose and make it a snake, and an empty Saltines box is a dump-truck and the things you can do with a bucket and some wet sand is staggering. You had all this stuff living inside your brain and it wasn't controlled by anything, there weren't rules that said Saltine boxes are just Saltine boxes. When you were playing, you were in that other reality. You were driving your Sizzlers as you made engine noises. You were a drummer in your favorite band when you were banging on the Quaker Oats carton.

Then, that disappears because schools and adults and your friends knock it out of you. Your imagination gets fed by books and you shift what you're allowed to play internally until it all gets shifted internally and you rely on TV and movies to provide imagination for you. You are no longer required to be creative.

Creativity is the ability to do new things with old things. Creativity is not originality. It looks like it, sometimes, but it's not. I borrow - or steal, depending on the point of view of the person I'm borrowing from - ideas and designs and color schemes and typographic choices and pieces of code all the time from all over the place. When I see something that makes me go "Cool!" my next reaction is "I want that!" I want to use that, I want to see how that works, I want to integrate that cool thing where I have some need for it.

I may not even have an immediate need for it, but I'll bookmark it under "Ideas" and come back and go, "Oh, yeah! That cool thing! I can use that for navigation!"

Creativity is thinking of old things in new ways. It's entirely true that there's nothing new under the sun. My friend Mike has his own site, he's just getting started on the Web, learning HTML and Photoshop and everything that took me literally years to learn, and he's already frustrated and wants to quit. He thinks everything's been done! In five years? Everything that can be done has been done? And Mike is a fount of creative energy. He just doesn't know how to focus it.

I mentioned this to a co-worker and she said, "Didn't Mike make that painting in your apartment?" He created this great, huge, vivid red painting of a dog. "So, he paints, and how long have people been painting? 3,000 years? Longer? Cave paintings in France. And he's already done with the Web?"

And I thought, good gravy, she's right. And then I thought, I hate the Webbys. No art category? Bullshit. The web is about beauty and aesthetics, too.

 

Digital Web:

So in your own words, what is beauty in design?

Arthur:

Design is not art. Design serves a purpose, art doesn't have to. Art can be anything, design has to be friendly.

That isn't to say that design has to conform to a standard set of rules, either. Apply the idea that every web site has to use the same set of design standards to cars. Does every car operate the same way? Do they all look the same? Is a four-door family sedan the same as a pick-up truck? Does a Ferrari look like a Hyundai? No. However, when you sit in the driver's seat, you can pretty much bet that the steering wheel will be in front of you and the ignition will be somewhere nearby. It makes no sense to design the ignition so it's located in the trunk.

So, design has to make sense, but you can still build around that premise in millions of ways.

My interpretation of beautiful design, and this applies to anything I own as well as web sites, is that it performs its function with a minimum of effort, it is aesthetically pleasing to my eyes which normally involves simple lines and curves and very little decoration, each piece of the design works with every other piece and it does not attempt to disguise its purpose. I like chairs that look like chairs. I like lamps that look like lamps. And I think the best designed car on the road at the moment is the Audi TT convertible.

 

Digital Web:

When you design, do you start with a pencil and paper or an empty Photoshop document and a Wacom pen? Or something else?

Arthur:

I always sit down before a clean Photoshop canvas with my mouse in hand. I tried using a tablet but I didn't like it. I should try again, hopefully they work better with Windows than they used to.

If I have a concept in mind, which normally comes from client branding documentation if it's a professional job or my own preconceptions of a design direction if it's my own, I write down the simple, single words that I'm going for. Elegant, conservative, wild, playful, industrial… whatever those words are, I have them nearby so I can glance at them and ask myself if the evolving design still fits.

I sometimes start with a palette of complementary colors conforming either to the client's corporate palette or to one I set based again on the theme of the design. I use only a few colors in any interface, but I like the use of color to draw attention to things. Or maybe "attention" is wrong, and I mean "awareness."

 

Digital Web:

You have fonts named after you, and thousands of sites linking into your site. Do you consider yourself a Web celebrity? Why? [Why not?]

Arthur:

Not really. I occasionally hang out with other people I would consider celebrities in some sense, and I think they elicit a different reaction than I do - in that I don't really elicit a reaction, and try to avoid one if possible.

On the other hand I'm judging this purely from public, in-person reactions rather than anything written on the Web, which I tend to discount because the Web is so temporary and momentary. Those people, and I would include Derek Powazek, John Styn and Jason Kottke among them and, lately, Matt Haughey and Joshua Davis, have a sort of adoration about them whether they like it or not. John likes it, clearly, and fosters it. Jason is mystified and bemused by it all. Derek never believed it until a trip to Italy convinced him he was a star, or as close to a star as one gets in this existence. Josh told me he had people crying when they met him once. Believe me, the only reason someone would cry upon meeting me is because I live up to their expectations.

Why do I think I'm not in that class of celebrity? Because I don't want to be, for one thing. I love it when people admire my work, and it's easy to confuse admiring someone's oeuvre with admiring the creator. But it's not the same thing. You can't tell what a person is like from reading what they write, not entirely. And speaking personally, I am careful to present only those parts of myself I want to in the manner I want them presented. Maybe I'm putting too fine a point of distinction on this in order to separate myself from the cult of personality, but I'm pretty confident that I'm not a celebrity. People don't want my autograph, I am not being recognized on the street and fan mail is not a problem I face, not that I'd know what to do with any of that, anyway. I'd probably run and hide.

 

Digital Web:

When you write, the web takes notice. This can be both a good and bad thing. You've experienced conflicts over some of your content. How do you deal with both the negative and positive feedback you get from your works?

Arthur:

By and large I want the work to stand on its own without explanation or apology. To me, the point of having a personal space is that you don't have to please anyone but yourself. You do what you think is funny, you write what you want to write about, you say what you want to say. But, you're right; on occasion the reaction makes me question the role of the audience in my ego arena.

If the reaction is just negative, and not constructive, I ignore it. I delete the email or I ignore the thread in whatever forum it appears and it doesn't bother me. Everyone has an opinion and there will always be people who disagree with you for their own reasons and you can accept that or worry that "not everyone in the world likes me," which I guarantee you will lead to thousands of dollars in therapy until you simply learn to accept it and move on.

If the comments are constructive, I usually adopt them and change the content accordingly. On a couple of occasions I invited guest authors into my space to air their rebuttals because they were intelligent and well written and, although they did not convince me to change my own opinion, I thought they were well worth airing. In truth, I receive very little negative feedback. Whether this means everyone agrees with me or that the ones who don't are lazy, I'm not sure.

I have more difficulty dealing with positive feedback than negative. It's always been hard for me to handle affection or accolades of any sort. I feel unworthy of them and I see so much else going on that's much better than what I create. And I am rarely fully satisfied with my own efforts so it's easy to discount the positive feedback. Don't get me wrong, I read it all and do the usual Google searches for mentions of my name - I'm an egotist or I wouldn't have constructed a huge site all about me, now would I?

 

Digital Web:

Do you think people take you too seriously?

Arthur:

Oh, yes. Definitely. And that's a problem from time to time because I assume that people have read enough of my writing to understand my tone of voice, which is usually dripping with sarcasm. But it's hard to roll your eyes online, and I detest emoticons.

I am sometimes serious, but I am rarely 100% serious. I just can't be. Life is too absurd to be able to make it through without a sense of humor. Even when I am angry about something I have to be amused at the same time.

People, in general, confuse me. Why hasn't everyone come to the same conclusions as I? Why is everyone else wrong? Then I remember that, in fact, we're all the same in one respect - we all wonder why everyone else hasn't reached the same conclusions and why everyone else is wrong. So if that's true, then no one's always right and I am mostly wrong and if I can accept that, why can't everyone else?

Stupid people.

 

Digital Web:

Say, what's the story with the "fire hair?"

Arthur:

Well, I suffer from a little thing known as wallflower syndrome. In writing, on the Web, on a stage speaking, I'm fine. I'm dandy. I'm having loads of fun. Out of the spotlight, sitting in a room, minding my own business I'm a mess. I would rather be fine and having fun and being gregarious and full of life.

So the hair was an attempt to get out of my shell forcibly. It was a shrimp fork. I wouldn't be allowed to sit quietly and be shy and feel stupid, you could see me coming from 100 yards away. It would be very hard to be shy when your head's on fire.

I'm doing a lot of goofy, unusual or otherwise insane things lately. All part of the growing process, or so I tell myself.

 

Digital Web:

What's this obsession with world domination? How do you plan on going about achieving this goal?

Arthur:

Osmosis. It'll just happen. It's bound to, isn't it? If I just keep on going?

The world domination theme stemmed from a very early incarnation of Glassdog that I made right after Microsoft started their "Where do you want to go today?" campaign. I thought that was the most hilarious thing. Microsoft, the great Satan, the company that's all about devouring and killing new companies to limit my choices and force me to do what I don't want to is asking me where I want to go today, knowing full well that they don't want me to tell them, they want to tell me.

So I added the "World Domination Now. Is that so wrong?" tag line to the site and Glassdog world domination now comes and goes as a common theme. I fully expect that everyone will come around to my way of thinking and there will be Glassdog home appliances and Glassdog clothing and Glassdog edition Ford Explorers some day. We're the Hello Kitty of the new millennium!

 

Digital Web:

You seem to have created the archetypical example of a site that balances content and design and does both quite well. I am speaking, of course, of glassdog.com. Could you tell us a little bit about how Glassdog started? Please start with explaining with where the name came from.

Arthur:

The name comes from, duh, a glass dog I've always had ever since I was a child. It was one of those tchochkes that sit around anyone's parent's house on a bookshelf or on the coffee table and you don't know where it came from or what it is, it's just some decorative objet d'art that someone thought was pretty so why not stick it here on this shelf by the glassware. It just always seemed to be around and, for some reason, I latched onto it and kept it around.

When I moved away from home, I took it with me. I was always packing it and unpacking it and putting in potted plants, sitting on the table, not thinking about it very much at all. It was just there, a sort of meaningless piece of nothing that doesn't do anything except sit there.

When I started my first Web site I wasn't too sure I wanted to start broadcasting my every thought and opinions, and at the time the idea of avatars was very popular. You adopted a personality or character online, something to represent you but still afford you a degree of anonymity. So when I was coming up with a name for the avatar that would represent the side of me that rants and whines and makes a lot of noise, I looked beside the computer and there was that damned glass dog. And I thought, "Perfect. Glassdog. It isn't so obscure that I have to explain it, it's a thing that could be given personality, it's easy to spell and remember. Glassdog."

When I finally decided to buy a domain name for myself and my ever-expanding Web presence, I decided against getting lance.com or lancearthur.com because that seemed pretentious and boring, so instead I just got glassdog.com which I liked because it didn't mean anything - well, except to me. I decided that the glass dog represented me because it had been around as long as I had and it had come with me everywhere I went so in a way, it saw everything I saw and I liked the idea of a name that was simple to spell and remember and that meant nothing.

I had no grand plans or schemes regarding the Web site. Like everyone else, I was charmed and amazed when anyone visited, I promoted it by submitting the site for the various page badges that were popular at the time, the Cool Site of the Day, The High Five, Project Cool Sighting, etc. Personal sites never, ever received recognition. But what the hell, it was worth a shot. Then I actually started getting the badges and the traffic that accompanied the awards, probably because I was annoying and kept on submitting over and over and they ran out of sites to give them to. No one really does the badge thing anymore, but at the time badges were important. The audience was also a lot smaller and getting attention was easier, there wasn't so much competition.

What probably cemented the popularity of the site was the inclusion of the HTML design pages, which came about accidentally as a result of my own laziness. The email I was getting, by and large, wasn't about what I was writing or creating but about how I was creating it. How does HTML work? What is it? How do I make a page? Where do I go? And I got tired of answering the same questions over and over so I sat down one afternoon and started writing down everything I had learned about making a Web page.

That took all of six hours. I didn't know much, really. I had never read a book on the subject so I had no idea if what I was doing was right or wrong, I just knew what worked. So I posted that and lots of other people who were just as lazy as I was started pointing the people who asked them development questions to my pages. It's still, even after five years and in desperate need of updating and refining, the most heavily trafficked part of the site. Try as I might to be funny and erudite and colorful and impressive, what people on the Web want is information. If you can make the information entertaining, so much the better.

 

Digital Web:

As many have already pointed out, you're an excellent writer and a talented designer. Where and how did you develop these skills? How important was your formal education to the formation of these skills?

Arthur:

Actually, almost of no importance at all. I took all the usual school courses that are designed to create well-rounded, brain-dead, idea-less individuals and discovered I hated math, though I was pretty good at it, I sucked at every sport devised by man, I couldn't play a musical instrument and the history they teach in school couldn't be duller if they tried - and I think they actually do try every year to make it duller. I don't blame the teachers, I blame the process. School is an abattoir. It pulls live bodies in at one end and spits out meat on the other. The overriding goal is not to make you think for yourself and reason and listen and learn, it is to smash your imagination and make you conform and obey and kill all the cool little kid stuff you were born with.

Thank god for Mrs. Tallman in fifth grade and Mrs. Zimmerman in sixth grade and Mr. Rodgers in seventh. They were the ones who told me, or taught me, that everything is good. So I can't kick the damned ball, so I suck at four-square, so I hate math. So explore what it is you do like, and nurture that, and enjoy that, and liberate yourself. Sing, dance, act, write, tell stories, be funny, have fun!

So I started trying things I wouldn't have tried before. I painted. I did a comic strip - Maynard the Dirtwad - that lasted all of four weeks. I created another one called Maynard and Steve, Steve was Maynard's dog, and I drew that on a chalkboard at the record store where I worked part time. I went on stage. I wrote a one-act play. I tried my hand at writing fantasy and science fiction. I did audio recordings with my brother. I discovered that even if no one else ever saw anything I made, I was having fun making it. It wasn't really important whether anyone else liked it or "got" it, I was doing stuff!

By the time I reached High School, other forces were coming into play that forced me into a closet, if you get my drift. Hormones are acting up, I'm still creative, I'm still joining the chorus and acting on stage and being good at art and those are all "gay" things. Sports and drinking was what I should have been doing. And since I was way back behind the winter clothing and trying my hardest not to appear to be the person I was, I retired into writing for myself, and I learned how to write in lots of styles because it was important to communicate clearly and correctly in various forums. Five-paragraph essays aren't like term papers, which aren't like journals, which aren't like research papers, which aren't like short stories, which aren't like novellas. The one thing I became cognizant of was audience, and that the audience was always one person. It didn't matter how many people read a story, or read a newspaper, or read my journal to myself, the audience is one person, so you learn to write to one person and develop a voice and increase your vocabulary so you can talk clearly to that one person.

By the time I reached college I was a fine arts major and an English minor and I lasted two years and quit. I was sick to death of school and felt I was wasting my time and money there. I wasn't learning anymore, anyway, I was memorizing and observing. You have to go do something to learn something. Copying what other people tell you to do is little better than being a monkey in a zoo.

My design skills, such as they are, are just what I like. I'm constantly trying to refine what I do and I'm pretty frustrated that I can't do more and that I don't have time to get up to speed on Flash and Illustrator and some other tools that release more of that creative spirit. But there's always tomorrow, right?

 

Digital Web:

I remember SoulFlare, perhaps one of the first digital art galleries on the Web. What ever happened to that site? Why isn't it thriving like it should today?

Arthur:

Mostly due to my own laziness and a little bit about my disappointment with the site.

My original goal was not to present static digital art pieces. I wanted to show elaborate, involved, Web-centric art using HTML and Flash and JavaScript and everything that's possible. I wanted to have a museum on the Web that you could explore virtually, going from room to room having experiences with art. I wanted artists, or designers or authors or musicians, to explore what you can do on the Web. It didn't need to be linear, it didn't have to make sense, it needn't be beautiful but it should involve the viewer, it should use this new platform to its limits. Don't make self-contained art, use the whole Web. Put parts of the art into other people's guestbooks. Hijack MetaFilter and hide parts in source code. Create some downloadable desktop doohickey that goes off at random and requires the viewer to do something, making the viewer part of the art. I saw the possibilities as limitless at the time. Because no one was doing anything different.

But I started out with what I could get, which were some very lovely pieces of art but they all just sat there. They didn't involve the audience, they didn't use the Web. You could as easily print them out on a colorjet and stare at them on your wall as stare at them on your monitor.

So it never came to full flower, I couldn't elicit those sorts of works from anyone or, possibly, I was doing a bad job of conveying what I wanted. I became bored by it, but I still have the dream inside me of what I wanted to create. I'm quite proud of what's there and I think the works on display are all wonderful or I wouldn't have put them up. I leave the museum open but it hasn't been updated in almost two years.

If anyone out there gets what I'm saying and it's time to resurrect and relaunch, I'll be more than happy to start the wheels turning again.

 

Digital Web:

Where do you think independent content on the Web will be in five years from now? Do you think that any of us will ever see any form of compensation for our time and effort? Do you think material compensation is important in this context?

Arthur:

Well, I've been doing independent content for five years and it's pretty much the same now as it was then. New people come along and discover the power of the Web, they discover they have a voice, they become amazed that anyone is listening to them and then they want more. Soon after that they discover there isn't much more, that gaining and keeping an audience is a struggle to say the least and they start to wonder if all the time, effort and passion they're pouring into their projects is worth the roaring silence they get back.

In five years new people will come along, old people will be gone and I'll still be here saying this again because I believe in the Web and I like it here. I've gone through periods of doubt and hatred with the Web but I keep on going, I can't stop. I've found my passion and it's here. It isn't gardening, it isn't auto mechanics, it isn't model railroading - it's the Web. Love the Web.

As far as compensation, I think a sea change has to take place on the entire Web involving access and compensation for content or, no, there will never be any money to be made because no one is willing to pay any money for anything. The structure is such that advertising was going to drive revenue, but it isn't working. Advertising saturates everything we do and see now, so we're learning to ignore it. So they make bigger, flashier, more intrusive ads to get us to pay attention, and we ignore those even harder. Now the ads are starting to swim across the content we're reading as we're reading it. And that won't work either.

The question is; Is the audience willing to pay? Speaking personally, I would pay for the sites I use and frequent, the ones that are useful to me and that I find interesting or entertaining. But I spend a lot more time online than the average consumer, so although I may be willing to pay, would they if they visit a site once a week? Once a month?

The compensation isn't monetary, for me, I just get pleasure from the fact that people actually read the stuff I write. I mean, I've always loved writing, but before the Web there was no way to gain an audience. At least no easy way. And I am compensated indirectly for what I learn by doing out here, and direct compensation is a little scary. When the audience starts paying for your content, I think your responsibility towards them goes up as well. And do I really want to worry about whether an audience will like something I'm writing, or do I just want to write it?

I think under a lot of circumstances, material compensation is very important. On a personal level, it probably shouldn't be. But if you're creating publications for mass consumption, shouldn't the mass consumer pay for it?

 

Digital Web:

What do you think drives the independent content community to create these sites?

Arthur:

Hell if I know. Passion, I guess.

I've always compared making Glassdog with creating a huge, ornate, detailed model railroad world in my basement. Some people are into that. They spend money on new engines, they buy little people to populate the worlds, they create mountaintop with little toothpick trees topped with colored lichen, they put on engineer caps while they work the throttle, they have cars that move and railroad crossings that go up and down.

And why do they do that? They aren't going to charge admission for their friends to see it. They aren't going to take it out of the basement into the front yard to show the neighbors. They may spend thousands of dollars a year on that amazing little world and no one sees it but them and their family thinks they're crazy and no one understands what drives them, not even them, but they keep going.

Is that passion or insanity?

 

Digital Web:

I've asked a lot about your work, and the things that in your opinion make it an inspiration to others… so I need to ask, what inspires you?

Arthur:

Jealousy. When I see something great, I wished I had made it, or thought of it, or contemplated thinking about making it.

Inspiration comes from nowhere; I don't think you can look for inspiration. You can go to an art museum and spend the whole day moving from room to room, style to style, artist to artist and you admire the beauty or the passion and think, "Hmm, that's pretty." But you aren't inspired to go paint anything, sculpt anything, make anything. Then you walk out of the museum and look down on the sidewalk and there's a discarded candy wrapper and you've never noticed that you really like the orange of the Reese's package. The orange reminds you of pumpkin, and you notice that the particular orange looks cool against the gray concrete and, suddenly, you have an idea for a new color scheme.

Or something.

 

Digital Web:

They say that more than 80% of the web has yet to be discovered. I believe this is true, especially when you talk about all the great content sites that have never been recognized for their good work. What would you say to the aspiring web design and/or independent content producer that could help get them noticed?

Arthur:

Word of mouth is incredibly powerful, but it takes a lot more than that to get noticed on the Web. Finding your audience is extraordinarily difficult. Keeping it once you have it may be even harder.

People grow bored easily and they need either constant updates or consistent quality. You need things that you might call "classics" that will be rediscovered over and over, something so funny that it's always funny or so beautiful that it's always beautiful. Think about the sites you frequent and why you go back. Usually you were taken with something you read or saw and you're hoping for more.

Now putting yourself in the shoes of the content provider, you know that giving them more takes time and effort and gumption. It is always easier to give up than to keep going.

I'm often surprised that more mini networks don't pop up. Perhaps the Webloggers attempt to do this, but there are usually too many links and they are often the same ones and I wonder if they're there as recommendations or "just because."

What I mean by networks are the things like ChickClick, which is a bad example but it illustrates what I mean. Sites with common themes but disparate presentations. If you're making a site, and your friend is making a site, provide common links back and forth. Come up with a network logo and brand it, make the network mean something, a sort of quality guarantee. Devote a corner of your site to promoting the network and inviting new site submissions. Build something larger than your own little place.

Also, the best way to raise awareness is to foment it. If you're making a new 'zine, ask the usual suspects to write something for it. Usually they're happy to do so, because that article will link back to their site so it's mutually beneficial. If they have a heavily trafficked site, you get the benefit of that in a spike. Then it's up to you to use that spike to feature your site's other benefits to get them to bookmark it.

 

Digital Web:

You have redesigned Glassdog more times than I can count and just this week you mentioned you were in the process of another redesign. Every time you put out a new design it is pushing the bleeding edge of technology. Glassdog was one of the first sites to have an effective sliding menu system. Can you explain this urge you seem to have, to ride the bleeding edge?

Arthur:

I don't think I'm bleeding edge at all. If anything I'm behind the curve. If I were smarter and more talented I could have this cool dynamically generated site that would be easier for me to maintain as a one-man operation. It's only recently that I started using server side includes, every page used to be a static presentation!

What I am most interested in, as far as my own sites are concerned, is presenting the content as well as I can. Presentation is important, but you have to strike a balance between content and presentation. One should not overshadow the other. There are lots of beautiful sites that I see but never revisit because all they are is beautiful. There's nothing going on. It's all presentation.

On the other hand, there are sites with great content but it's boring, which makes it hard to concentrate, which makes it difficult to digest. They may have great stories or fantastic articles and amazing, intelligent opinions but it's too much. Too many words on a single page, sentences are two wide, my eye gets lost in the text, I get tired, I see that the scrollbar indicated I have a looong way to go and I decide it's not worth it. A little effort in the presentation would go a long way toward luring me to stay.

So when I see something I like, I want to integrate it. For example, I loved Style Sheets right off. Loved, loved, loved them. They provided a simple and easy way to improve the presentation of text, making it easier to read and understand and making the updating of pages incorporating styles ridiculously easy. You could control the space between lines, you could control margins and typography, it was everything I ever wanted.

Same thing with the sliding navigation. What I wanted was a way to keep the navigation to the site visible without using frames. The reason I wanted that was because I know everyone will get bored by something and will want to click away. If I don't provide a reminder that you haven't seen everything yet where you are, you'll go to your bookmarks or your home page or CNN or someplace else - and anyplace else from my point of view is bad. So the navigation not only offers you more selections, it even draws attention to itself which you may find annoying as a visitor, but it draws your attention and that's a pretty key desire for a Web site.

 

Digital Web:

When Glassdog passed its own fifth anniversary, you wrote a call to action within the community… and that call was heard around the world. It spread like wildfire through mailing lists and forums and sparked the passion to create and explore ideas we had almost given up on. Could you please explain to us what you mean by the phrase, "be great"?

Arthur:

I think most people get it. For me, it means live beyond your expectations for yourself. Challenge yourself. Do the things you wished you could.

Most people, at some point, settle. I think that's okay, but I also think that most people don't want to be settled. I hope so, anyway. I think it's a shame to believe you can't do something without even trying, and I think it's a double shame that we have this opportunity for greatness and we're ready to give it up to corporate cronies and no-brain conglomerates who only care about our wallets.

What I want most of all is for people to realize they have a potential, not that they have to live up to it. Potential is important. Potential is something like hope but it seems more attainable. Hope is like a wish, "I wish I could do that." Potential is "I could do that." You just need to try.

In my opinion, everyone is talented and creative. You simply have to find what your talent is. You may discount your own talent by saying, "anyone can do that." I know, because I used to say that. Then I realized that only some people can do that, and I might do it better than some of them - and I'm the one doing it.

 

Digital Web:

Not that we need any more back-scratching going on in the web design community... but I'm curious as to what you have listed in your Favorites/Bookmarks. What are your favorite or most-visited sites on the Web? Why are they your favorites?

Arthur:

I have a bunch of news and tech-related sites bookmarked for Memo, which is an email newsletter I publish when I feel like it. I enjoy staying up to date on what's happening in the world of the Web and gadgets and the media, and I found out - by realizing my potential, hint hint - that other people like to know that stuff too, they just don't have time to dredge for it. So those are things like The New York Times, The BBC, News.com, MSNBC, Internet.com, Newslinx, etc. There are a couple of dozen of those.

Then I visit my friends' sites, checking in on how they are, what they're doing or saying. Almost everyone I know has a Web site - not just a page, but a whole bloody site. We're all sick in the head, which is probably why we're friends. Hell, I've purchased URLs for a half dozen people just to get them sick in the head like me.

Odds and ends would be things like Tools, where I keep sites that offer development and design help, and Inspiration where I put sites that amaze and confound me that I can go to and get recharged. Lately I've been doing a lot more bookmarking. For a long time I never did it, but I'm back in the habit, now. Thinking about why I bookmark a site, at what point in my browsing I decide to bookmark, where I am in the site, what the thing was that prompted me to bookmark, helps me understand why other people might bookmark so the might bookmark my pages.

 

Digital Web:

Are you working on any new projects that you can talk about? What can we expect to see next from The Dog's creator?

Arthur:

I have grand plans concerning lots of new projects I'd dearly love to get off the ground but finding the time to give birth to and maintain more web sites and still attempt to have something that looks from the outside like a personal life is challenging. I'm on the verge of starting up storyFUCK which will use Noah Grey's Greymatter to allow author duos to post successive chapters of a story against each other, sort of like a battle of the bands except both bands are playing the same song and trying hard as hell to screw the other band up.

It's an old idea that's been done in real life as a writer's exercise and also a personality test of sorts. What I think will work great on the Web is that the stories will evolve publicly so you can watch what the authors inflict on each other and try to anticipate the next move. Making the entire process anonymous will, I hope, bring about much more heinous and nasty exchanges. How would one author deal with another author's plot if he keeps losing his favorite character? Will he keep resurrecting them like in a soap opera? How will he or she retaliate, but keep to the spirit of the tale?

StoryFUCK is on the verge of birth - but it's been there for months, so I'm not making any promises.

Another site that's been on the back burners for a couple of years is SezYou, which I envision as being a communications portal. It would be a site by, for and about how we talk to each other, and it would involve forums and chat rooms and email lists for the virtually minded, and I'd also like to include streaming interviews between ordinary people, like you might take a tape recorder to go have coffee with a friend and you'd record that and I'd put it up on the site allowing the world to be a voyeur. I'd also like to conduct my own interviews of people who communicate in odd or unusual ways, like John Styn's online and naked lifestyle.

I find the whole process of online communication terribly interesting. The flame wars that erupt, the way people become so attached to their written words, the way in which simple statements can be taken out of context and mangled. The Web is supposed to make it easier for us all to talk to each other, but more often than not it actually makes it harder.

Me, I love the Web but I also love control. I have mailing lists but they're all one-way. They aren't discussions; they're me being a dictator. I control Glassdog entirely. I've been hesitant to start a collaborative site because I, by and large, am not collaborative. Ask anyone I've written or designed for, I'm a tyrant. I either have all the control or, if challenged, I give it all away. I'm a horrible collaborator.

 

Digital Web:

Now that you've survived my, um, interrogation, is there anything you would like to say to our readers? If there is any one thing you could say to the next generation of web designers and independent content producers, what would it be?

Arthur:

Well, I'd repeat the whole "Be Great!" thing, but that would be redundant. Of course that assumes that everyone out there has already read it, which is presumptuous and probably explains a lot about my egocentric lifestyle.

I would like to say that everyone is better than everyone else, you don't know everything, no one does, the medium is still growing, there are good uses for even the worst-seeming technology and believing everything you read or hear makes you an ass.

Figure out what you believe and keep an open mind, no one is 100% right, 100% of the time. If you want to do something then fucking do it, and stop whining about it. If you're afraid of something face your fear and get past it, nothing will make your life less fun than fear. Challenge yourself, have fun and don't worry about the small shit.

 

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Nick Finck is a 13-year veteran of the web and considered a web craftsman by trade. His skills traverse web design, web development, user research, web analysis, information architecture, and web publishing. Nick founded his first web consultancy in 1994 in Portland, Oregon, and has since created web experiences for various Fortune 50 and 500 companies including Adobe, Boeing, Blue Cross / Blue Shield, Cisco, CitiGroup, FDIC, HP, IBM, Microsoft, PBS, Peet’s Coffee, and others. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington and is a co-founder of Blue Flavor, a web strategy company that focuses on people-centric solutions. More information about Nick can be found on his web site, NickFinck.com.

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