Posted Thursday, February 07, 2008 1:59:23 PM by Stephanie
So maybe you've never heard of twitter, or maybe it's old news but you thought it seemed silly. That's what happened to me at first as well. A friend told me to check it out (with no instructions), I took a look at the home page, wondered why I cared what all those people I didn't know were doing right now, and closed it. For those that haven't heard of it, twitter is a social networking tool that requires you to answer one simple question - "What are you doing?" - in 140 characters or less. And I agree, it does sound rather silly every time I try to explain it. However, I've found Twitter to be my favorite social tool. I've basically turned off IM (which can be an extreme time sink for me when friends need CSS help!), but I can still keep up with people I care about.
In light of the confusion of new people looking at the app, I thought I'd write a few tips I've found along the way that make it work for me.
A Quick Twitter Primer
- Your initial job is to find people you want to follow. You follow them by viewing their profile page and clicking "Follow" under their main icon. These are your friends. (They're called "Following" in your Stats sidebar and their icon will now appear in your sidebar.) There are a variety of ways to do this. Most obviously, start with the people you know. Then, check their friends and see who you know, or know of. Don't worry about whether they know you, it doesn't matter. They may not follow you back for now. Just find interesting people you'd like to know about, know better, or simply eavesdrop on. Heh. Once you've pillaged and plundered your friend's lists, use the search feature for other people you know. If you're really outgoing, you can search for people in your geographical area and start getting to know people you can actually get to know in real life! Wow. This is where twitter can become a great local networking tool. You can even watch the main twitter page for random people you might want to follow. I don't personally find this to be very useful with all the various languages represented.
- After adding some friends, you'll likely end up with a few that add you as well. Those people will actually "hear" what you tweet (a tweet is slang for your 140 character post--though you'll hear it called many different things). The tweets of the people you follow will be on your home page when you're logged in. Your tweets will be mixed in chronological order among them. If you're on someone else's profile page, you'll see everything they've written. If you'd like to see the interaction with their friends, click on their With Others tab.
- The people that don't follow you will not see what you tweet. But there's a workaround if you'd really like to interact with them (that is, if they're paying attention). Using the @ symbol and their username (for me, that would start with @stefsull), your tweet to them will show up in their Replies tab. But though it once worked in a different way, currently, the @stefsull must be the first thing in your tweet. Putting it somewhere in the message will not make it show up in their Replies pane. I try to check my Replies pane at least once a day to see what I might have missed (since I don't sit and read twitter all day). Even if I don't know someone, intelligent or witty comments may cause me to add them. :)
- Once you're set up in this way, just start twittering. Periodically through the day, leave a tweet. Doesn't matter if you only have a couple followers to start with--having a higher number of updates will likely get more people that find you in some way. And the numbers grow over time.
- When you follow people and they follow you, you have the ability to send Direct Messages (DM). These are messages that no one else sees and can be set to be sent to your email.
- Unless you set your tweets to private, anyone can read them, including googlebots which will kindly add you to the index. If you choose private tweeting, you will have to allow people to follow you. I don't do this, but I know some people, especially those who work at larger companies, enjoy that privacy.
- Be sure to check out your settings. You can customize your profile page, add your icon, set privacy, add twitter to your mobile device or IM client, choose how you're notified of DMs, etc.
- And if you're an organized person, you can click the little star icon at the end of any post and add it to your favorites. So if someone posts a URL you don't want to forget, or simply says something that makes you giggle uncontrollably, click the star so you can find it again.
What's the Point Really?
Well, maybe there's not one for you. But for me, a person who works from a home office, travels all over the world meeting people, works remotely with a variety of people and companies, it's an amazing tool. I began by adding anyone I knew of in the industry. Many of them I'd never met and perhaps hadn't even conversed with by email. But reading my page periodically, I began to feel I knew something of these people. I learned who had wicked wit, who had spouses and kids, when they were sick, when they had great accomplishments, when something traumatic happened. Yes, you can argue I don't really know them. And you're right. We haven't sat over coffee and shared our deepest feelings. But I certainly know them more than I did, or could have. When I do get an opportunity to meet them later, at a conference, there isn't that uncomfortable feeling of meeting a person you've only heard of. For me, feeling like I know them allows me to be immediately comfortable, relax, discuss, hang out. For those I have met, I don't lose track. I can keep up with their life until I see them again in the future.
There are companies and organizations using twitter to send out news and notifications. You can even keep up with politics, weather, news feeds, etc. Twitter is a tool. Use it as you will. But for me, the part that matters is it keeps me nicely connected with the little people inside my computer--my virtual, and sometimes real, internet buds.
Posted Tuesday, February 05, 2008 11:05:33 AM by Stephanie
As I train all over the world, one of the issues I try to spend a good deal of time on is helping people to understand the malleable em unit. And how to utilize it for good and not evil. :)
Anyone who knows me knows my burden for accessibility and the em unit is one of the most accessible ways to design. In fact, Greg and I spend a chapter on it in our upcoming book, so I won't go into a lot of detail here. But today, I stumbled upon a really great font-size calculator created by James Whittaker. If you'd rather keep it handy on your desktop, he also created it as an Adobe AIR application.
In reading the comments of his blog post, I saw a couple people questioning the reasoning behind decreasing the default text size of a user at all. And I began to answer those questions with my own opinions. About three paragraphs into my reply, it occurred to me that I was monopolizing James' comments and it was best done as a blog post of my own (please read James' post for the full story).
For the quick back story - the default text size of modern browsers is 16px (that would equal 1em). It's quite common to choose a 12px font-size which is 75% of the default sizing (.75em), as the base font size for elements on your page. (I'm not going to address here whether that should be placed on the body, or on individual elements.) The people responding in the comments were questioning whether we should adjust the base font size (something I've heard for years) since we're taking away "the experience the user expected." My reasoning follows...
The Three Groups of Users
I likely don't have to remind you that back in the days of tag soup, 12px was a very common size to set type to on the web. In fact, even after many developers started controlling their typography with CSS, 12px was probably the most common size to set type to. So saying that people who leave their browser set to the default 16px size want that size is simply not true. They hardly know what it looks like since more often than not, it's overridden by other font sizing and styling anyway. And if they're like the average user, they don't have the inclination to change it either. They can see just fine, thank you. And they use most of their apps with the defaults they ship with (which explains why most of those same people use Internet Explorer -- since it ships with their operating system). They're not upset that you changed their text size since they get what they have always seen and have come to expect.
Now, in the case of a low-vision user, this is not the case. If someone struggles with the issue of low vision and surfs the web regularly, they've probably developed a method of dealing with it. Users with aging eyes, many times instead of changing the base font size of their browser, have simply learned to use menus or key commands to bump the text size up. They change to a more comfortable size when necessary, but sometimes are limited by the fact that the site breaks in some way as they increase their font size. With this 75%/.75em font calculation, they get what they expect because they surf at default sizes to begin with and they still have control as well as a usable site at any size they settle on.
There are the more extreme vision-impaired that change their default browser text to 32px, 45px, or whatever size works for them. If they've changed their default to 32px, using the 75%/.75em size puts them at 24px. They can still use a key command to increase the text size if necessary. They're probably the users that know the most about making your site work for them because they need it the most. I'm guessing a great deal of the web is difficult for them to use (with columns that have one or two words per line, overlapping, elements getting cut off, etc). So though they don't get their initial optimum size (which is, most probably a common occurrence for them since many sites still use pixel sizing), they have the tools to increase the size a bit more if it's necessary.
Now, do not misunderstand me and think that I'm saying that since the very low vision user is the only one that doesn't get what they initially expect, that they're not important. They are and all users and user agents should have access to the content. I'm simply saying that the first two groups, and even part of the third (for the not uncommon pixel-based sites) see what they expect to see. And with em-based layouts, they have the tools to change them--very smoothly giving them a great experience. That's all.