December 19, 2003

Did Denton pilfer code?

Gawker Media has recently redesigned its websites (Gawker, Gizmodo and Fleshbot), garnering high praise from the most unlikely places. One of the good things about the sites is that they use CSS rather than tables, thanks to coding by Noel Jackson. Unfortunately, Noel is unhappy about the fact that Nick Denton took his work on Fleshbot and applied it to the rest of the Gawker Media sites without credit.

If you scroll down Jackson's complaint, you'll find Denton's defense of his actions, which seems to be that Gawker Media uses a "standard skeleton template". If Denton changes Fleshbot, it would seem, then he has to change Gawker and Gizmodo as well. The explanation doesn't, it has to be said, explain why there's no credit to Jackson on either of the latter two sites. Denton also doesn't deny that he went live with Jackson's code on Fleshbot without telling him, and likewise kept Jackson out of the loop when he ported the code over to Gawker and Gizmodo.

Jackson never expected Denton to actually use his CSS coding on Fleshbot. "I figured my design would never be used," he says. "Either that, or the company hires you after they see that you are worth their time." Denton, on the other hand, says that he was very clear from day one that he couldn't afford these people. He quotes IMs saying that the code was "one of those Internet gift-economy things" which just falls into your lap for free.

Clearly, there was a miscommunication here, and equally clearly, I think Denton has to shoulder a large part of the blame: he failed to explain to the person who had spent many hours working, gratis, on a redesign of his website that his code would (a) go live, and (b) be used on other sites as well. Jackson knows what he expected out of the work: future jobs from Denton, specifically redesigning Gawker and Gizmodo. Instead, Denton took his work, and, according to Jackson, did a shoddy job in tweaking it for the other sites.

But I also think that Joe Clark – whom Denton refers to as Jackson's "mentor" – is somewhat to blame as well. It was Clark who first complained to Denton that Fleshbot wasn't compliant, and who volunteered to come up with XHTML-valid code in the first place, despite Denton explicitly saying that he couldn't pay for that kind of work. When Clark got Jackson on the case, he should have done a much better job of explaining to him that Denton was not the kind of web entrepeneur who spends vast amounts of money on coders and designers.

The sad fact is that this is a world where blog award-winners can rip off the likes of Jake Dobkin with impunity, and the only recourse left to the likes of Jake and Noel is to blog about it. Then, it's up to the blogosphere to decide who was in the right and who was in the wrong.

Posted by Felix at 12:05 AM GMT

Tricky one, but I'm with Nick Denton on this one.

There are CSS purists/evangelists out there who have nothing better to do than convert your perfectly fine table-based site to a CSS version that looks and behaves exactly the same. Which to me looks like a complete waste of time and effort, akin to inviting 7th-day adventists in for tea.

So Nick should have had a smile and a firm no and closed the door, but he invited them in, and he got the free magazine, but now they won't leave until you also pay for the subscription that comes with it, or else they'll tell the neighbours. And all the while, it sounds like Nick was considering buying a pew. No longer, I guess.

Nick should undo the CSS changes go back to the table-based design, and one fine day do like Ben Hammersley and offer an iPod in a CSS design competition. In any case, anyone asking for more than $400 for a stylesheet is overcharging.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on December 19, 2003 01:39 AM

I talked to Denton, Denton said he couldn't afford *me* (many cannot), I talked to Noel, Noel whipped something up, I helped Noel with it a little, I mailed Denton et al. saying this is how easy it is to recode Fleshbot in valid CSS and why don't you hire Noel?

So no, I didn't do anything wrong. The posting here attempts to sound fair and even-handed by apportioning blame to everyone. I don't deserve any.

Posted by: Joe Clark on December 19, 2003 01:50 AM

Stefan fails to understand the issue. Table-based layouts can be perfectly standards-compliant and accessible. (I use a couple myself. This cobbler's children do not go unshod.) The issue with the Dentonist sites was tag-soup, inaccessible markup.

The correct and superior method is a CSS layout. And Noel used that one. A less-correct and inferior method is tables. It could have been used but wasn't.

For Denton to "revert" to a previous state would not simply mean zipping back to table layout. It would require worse tag soup than he's got now after his minion appropriated and damaged Jackson's code.

I assume Stefan was merely unclear about this. Many anti-standards zealots are.

Posted by: Joe Clark on December 19, 2003 01:53 AM

Joe, as you put it: "most �Web� developers aren�t making Web sites at all, since they don�t have a clue what valid HTML and CSS means. If you�re not writing valid HTML, you are not making actual Web sites. You may be creating something else, and �Web� browsers may be able to read your document, but you�re not really engaged in Web development."

It seems to me you are somewhat of an elitist. In the real world, of course, it's the browsers that never render code with any degree of constancy, and so the proper approach is to use the least effort necessary to make sure a site doesn't break in 98% of browsers-for the rest there is an XML feed. Of course, that would mean nobody needs to hire you.

I'll make new designs when I'm bored of my current crop, and that will happen much sooner than the day 98% of browsers agree on how to render strict XHTML compliant code.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on December 19, 2003 02:32 AM

interesting point you make, joe.

too many people think that condemning all parties to a controversy makes them sound even-handed, wheras in fact they are, partially blaming the innocent and casually absolving the evil-doer, and thus end up committing an injustice. in most cases i think this need to be even-handed arises out of ignorance rather than anything else. the name "stefan" springs unbidden to the forefront of my mind when i use the word "ignorance".

much better, in the case of knowing nothing about a particular controversy but wanting to comment, to jump in with both feet on one side or the other at random. sitting on the fence makes you certain of being wrong while this way you have a 50-50 chance of getting it right and being unbesmirched with sin.

you are totally in the wrong. stop it immediately, whatever it is you are all talking about.

Posted by: eurof on December 19, 2003 02:38 AM

Actually, we're "elitists" only inasmuch as we understand that HTML and CSS have grammatical rules which, if followed, make it at least possible for multiple browsers and devices to read our pages. The hiccup is mostly in CSS misinterpretations rather than HTML; it is difficult to assemble a list of XHTML elements that browsers cannot "agree" on how to render. (fieldset, legend, optgroup?)

We know perfectly well the limitations of standards compliance. But what sets us apart from you and your friends, Stefan, is we also know the *strengths* of standards compliance-- and we walk the walk by using compliant code on our sites.

Posted by: Joe Clark on December 20, 2003 02:29 AM

Joe, i guess it's a matter of perspective. I see standards use (or lack of) as a means to an end, the end being cool, intuitive websites usable in most browsers. I play with new standards (CSS2) as they emerge and mix and match to create a delicious tag soup that can lead to wonderful suprises. But esthetics is my main concern. It isn't in your case.

Look, for example, at the web page your name links to. It contains a number of elementary design mistakes: you alter the boldness of linked text on mouseover (because you can?) and the result is a disconcerting shifting of text to the right of a link. It is not clear which links are already visited because the dotted line and lighter color do not clearly indicate depreciation. You are, in effect, breaking the conventions or "rules" that web surfers expect to be guided by when visiting. I consider these rules to be more important than your rules, which I might break when making a web browser render my site. I attach no moral significance to your rules, but I do care about how my visitors experience my site.

If you incorporate my advice on your site, I want attribution:-)

Posted by: Stefan Geens on December 20, 2003 05:05 PM

I'd also worry about anyone who talks about blogs having "canonical forms." Who, exactly, wrote the liturgy?

Posted by: Matthew on December 20, 2003 06:25 PM

I believe, Matthew, that would be the W3C.

Posted by: Felix on December 20, 2003 07:52 PM

Trinity did.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on December 20, 2003 09:32 PM

How cool is that?! I looks like Joe Clark has taken my design advice to heart and has altered his page to remove the text shift when you mouseover a link, as well as taking care of the link depreciation bit.

No attribution, though. Ah, giving advice is such a thankless job, especially when unasked for...

Posted by: Stefan Geens on January 2, 2004 10:35 PM


I wan't to that what is mean by pilfer?


Posted by: Azhar on January 26, 2004 06:33 AM


it means "to play with your food".

Posted by: Stefan Geens on January 26, 2004 10:20 AM

I didn't do anything in response to Stefan Geens. Perhaps he's using a shitty browser, and doesn't know the difference.

Posted by: Joe Clark on February 19, 2004 01:56 AM