— 26 November 2007 —

The New Face of Web Standards

Back in 2003, a book called Designing With Web Standards was published by New Riders Voices That Matter imprint. The book was quickly, and rightly hailed as the go to book for, well, designing with web standards. Anyone who found themselves in a job where the web was their medium was impacted by this book.

What isn’t widely known is that, even though he’s listed as the author, Jeffrey Zeldman didn’t write the book. It was written, in fact, by the conspicuous Blue Beanie pictured below in what has come to be the shot that made her famous.

I got the opportunity to sit down with Blue Beanie recently for a frank discussion about what led to the book being written, what life has been like since, and where she sees the future heading for Web standards. The following is an excerpt from a much longer piece that will be published in the New Yorker in December.

MO: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
BB: Absolutely. I suppose with Blue Beanie Day coming up [ed. note: at the time of publication is was in fact Blue Beanie Day] it’s a great time to discuss these things.

MO: I’d like to begin, strangely enough at the beginning. Where did it all start? What’s your partnership with Jeffrey Zeldman like?
BB: Well Matthew, it’s hard to think back that far in some ways. Obviously I recall how “it all began” so to speak, but as with all things recollection gets a bit fuzzy over time. Zeldman and I were wandering around Manhattan in search of a nosh and talking about the state of the web. Talk of web standards was starting to heat up in the unfortunately-named “blogoshpere” and I suggested to Jeff that this could be a good opportunity to capitalize on the buzz.

MO: So the rumors are true? Designing With Web Standards was your idea?
BB: I maintain that it was a joint decision to move forward and I’d like to leave it at that.

MO: Fair enough. Was it difficult for you to get noticed by New Riders? I’ve felt I have a voice that matters, but so far…
BB: They came to me, er.. us actually. We’d been going to a few conferences trying out some of the material that ended up in the book. Turned out that VTM was hurting for content and frankly I was getting tired of the lecture circuit. One thing led to another and… book. Having previously worked with New Riders it was a good fit.

MO: Ah, yes. I didn’t realize that Taking Your Talent to the Web was a New Riders book.
BB: Well, it only sold 300,000 copies… Sorry, I am using sarcasm to highlight your inability to do research prior to an interview.

MO: And I see the rumors of your anger issues are also true…
BB: … [ed note: text removed since this is a family-friendly blog]

MO: Anyway… With the success of Designing With Web Standards, I mean, a second edition is a good sign of the health of a title, how did life change? Or did it?
BB: Well obviously it changed and I’d say mostly for the better. Thanks to the cover shot on DWWS, my public profile went… well, I should say that I finally got a public profile. What I appreciate to this day is that people were taking me as seriously as they took Jeff. And some of that is thanks to the man himself of course… but I suspect it had something to do with the natural charisma I have.

MO: And the lack of modesty…
BB: Of course. Listen, if you want to make the money in this game you’ve got to get rid of your modesty. If I could give no other advice it would be to drop the humility crap and yell out to the world just how good you are. It worked for me and look where I am at today.

MO: Speaking of which, where are you at today. I notice a distinct absence of Jeffery Zeldman in the room. Care to speak to that?
BB: [long pause] I am only going to say this: Jeff and I remain the best of friends to this day and nothing at all would make me change what happened; the work we did together. We’re just, you know, perusing our individual interests at this point.

MO: And where are those “individual interests” taking you these days?
BB: Well, obviously there’s the musical version of DWWS which I produced and which will be opening to a limited run in Boston December 9th through the 13th. But beyond that, I’d like to move into some other areas, particularly some non-web related areas in the near future.

MO: Such as?
BB: Well, I’ve never made a secret of my love for space travel. I’d really like to see it become a reality for the so-called “common person” in my lifetime. I plan on working with some of the people behind the X Prize on some ways to get more people involved in bringing this dream to reality.

MO: That is a great goal. I wish you the best and thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. And let me say a I hope Blue Beanie Day goes well for you.
BB: I think it will be great. I’m officiating at a few BBD-related weddings at City Hall that day and I think there’s talk of a small parade, nothing fancy of course. While it’s called Blue Beanie Day in honor of me, I really want the focus to be on Web Standards. I think we’ve come a long way since 2003, but there’s more room for improvement.

I’d like to thank Blue Beanie for her time. And to the people at New Riders who helped set up the interview (call me!).

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