If you haven’t checked out anything from Jason Santa Maria, go check his blog out. He has been around for a long time, I think. The fact that I don’t know much about him is what impresses me the most. I have read a few of his blog post, but each one has been incisive, and powerful so that they stand on their own. I don’t need to know who he is to understand the he gets it. He understands the types of conversations that need to happen in order to advance the web as a medium.
I loved watching this video with him speaking in it, it’s been sitting in my queue for quite sometime, and finally tonight, screaming baby in tow, I took the time to watch it.
Its quick like 12 minutes, but he breaks down an important discussion. Why isn’t the visual design of print get translated online. He gave two good examples from Wired Magazine. He is right, the magazine layouts were beautiful, and the web versions were not. Not only that but they were robbed of there visual interesting-ness. He goes on to show how on his site he is attempting the ability to give each piece, I hazard to call them blog posts because they are so stunning, a distinct visual layout. He is succeeding in his goal to bring visual identity for individual pieces to the web.
This is where the discussion divides. Websites, unlike print, can be consumed in so many different manners I think unfair to attempt to give the digital form style in the first place. It’s worthwhile if it matters to yourself, but how can you translate the visual identity into a blog reader, or across twitter, or in pull quotes on other peoples websites. The web is in effect formless.
Twitter is a great example, each tweet has a permalink, a webpage that displays just that tweet, but is that it’s form? I don’t think so, tweets are more often then not consumed someplace else. I believe this has the effect of disinter-mediating tweets from form.
Medium as the thrust of the discussion, is why I am so excited about the video. In talking about webpages as a collection of information he contrasted them with physical collections of information. A magazine is a stack of articles. A magazine has a defined form, it’s only as big as it. Our brains can look at that stack and gauage how much information is in there. All this is being lost in digital translation. There is an answer though.
This being a medium discussion means that we can talk about how things can’t be translated from one medium to another. The fact that the web is formless frees us from trying to form it physically, but that doesn’t mean we can’t collect it. We can still create windows into the massive amount of information, but it is all done through other people, through curators.
Jason Kottke is a curator. He has a website, which has it’s own formless stream of content like all others, but I know this one. I know that I will get x number of posts a day, generally, I know what size it will be. I know that I will be delighted by a large amount of it. All these are starting to look like the very things we get from books, and magazines. The people around us will provide the form for our content, and the window in the massless, formless pile of content.
Design will still be a huge part of the web though, we still need visually interesting stuff, and enjoy how layout can change the meaning of a story, I just don’t see it being huge past helping people read the content better.