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A Dozen Questions for Mr Keith

Adactio [Detail]

Jeremy Keith is a web developer, based in Brighton, UK (home to a decidedly healthy geek scene).

In 2005 Keith founded influential design firm Clearleft, along with user experience extraordinaire Andy Budd and typographer extraordinaire Richard Rutter (Keith is described at Clearleft’s web site as ‘Lineman for the County’). Their work for an international roster of clients, along with the conferences they organise, including UX London, have helped to shape the industry.

Keith is the author of two books: DOM Scripting, an excellent introduction to JavaScript and the Document Object Model (DOM), and Bulletproof Ajax, a comprehensive guide to the creation of… well… bulletproof Ajax.

We asked Mr Keith a dozen questions.

The Session

Where did you learn your craft?

I learned from viewing source. I also learned an enormous amount from people who were generous enough to publish what they knew. Zeldman’s ‘Ask Dr. Web’, Jeff Veen on Webmonkey, and Steve Champeon’s WebDesign-L mailing list were incredibly useful.

Who inspires you?

Well, Jeffrey Zeldman, Jeff Veen and Steve Champeon for the reasons mentioned above. More recently, the people I work with are pretty damn inspiring. Actually, the entire Brighton geek scene is a pretty inspiring place to be.

What are your influences?

My DNA and my peers. As to which is the more influential … that’s the eternal ‘nature vs. nurture’ question, isn’t it? Most of the evidence seems to point to nature, much as we would like to believe that the answer is nurture.

I am also influenced by my diet, my sleep patterns, and my involuntary exposure to popular culture and pervasive advertising.


You’ve gained notoriety for several personal projects: Huffduffer and Adactio to name just two. Your personal projects seem like a place to experiment: Machine Tags, CSS (X)HTML, JavaSript… what’s next on your experimental agenda?

There’s certainly a lot of stuff out there to experiment with. With all the APIs, frameworks and open source tools available to us, the barrier to entry for ‘Making A Thing’ is really low.

That said, what I really need to do is keep iterating on the things I have already launched. The Irish music website I started over a decade ago is starting to feel quite long in the tooth. There’s a lot more I could be doing with it. I need to set some serious time aside in 2010 to refactor the code and redesign the interface.

If you were independently wealthy, affording you the luxury of a life pursuing personal projects, would you keep your day job? (If so, why?)

I would keep the day job – Clearleft is a good environment for me – but I would definitely enjoy having more time to work on personal projects.

With WHATWG’s HTML5 Specification at Last Call what one thing would you add or subtract from the specification?

Last Call! doesn’t actually mean anything with regards to WHATWG. Last Call! for W3C specifications; that’s a different matter.

I certainly don’t think I would add anything to HTML5. There are a few things I would like to see removed.

I’m not convinced that there needs to be a separate article element as well as a section element. I think the time element is unnecessarily restrictive in that I can’t mark up months (such as 2010-01 for January 2010). I also think that the new restriction imposed on the cite element so that it no longer applies to people is a mistake.

UX London

Is 2010 the year HTML5 takes hold?

2010 and every year thereafter. As browsers start implementing features, those features will get used. Dates for Last Calls and Candidate Recommendations are mostly irrelevant.

HTML5 has already taken hold. Remember that most of HTML5 already exists in HTML 4.01. In fact, the name of the specification over at the WHATWG has been updated to simply be HTML to make it clear that it encompasses all previous flavours of markup, not just the new stuff in HTML5.

Whatever happened to Microformats?

Whatever happened to RSS? Or Ajax? Seems like everyone was talking about them a few years back.

All of those technologies are now ubiquitous. The reason why we don’t talk about them all time is that it would be weird. Kind of like greeting your neighbour with, “I see gravity is working well today.”

Microformats are everywhere now. Every result on Google Maps is an hCard. Google are indexing and displaying hReviews. But what is there to talk about? They’re so simple that, once you’ve grasped the basic concept, that’s it. You start using them and they become just another part of your workflow.

It’s kind of like the situation with accessibility: you don’t make a big deal out of the fact that you build accessible websites because it’s a given.

If someone is building a website for their client and they don’t mark up contact details using hCard or events using hCalendar, they’re doing their client a great disservice.

JavaScript was cool once, then it wasn’t cool at all, and now it’s cool again. Where to from here for JavaScript?

More of the same but faster. It’s kind of fun to watch browser vendors compete on who has longest di__ who has the fastest JavaScript. It’s all good.

It’s great the way that JavaScript is now being taken seriously and it’s great the way that libraries are making it so easy to work with JavaScript and the DOM.

What I don’t want to see happen is that ‘proper’ programmers come in and try to ‘fix’ JavaScript. There was a proposal on the table for a while there to make JavaScript more like Java. I can’t imagine a worse scenario. JavaScript’s relative simplicity is its greatest strength … kind of like HTML.

Server-side JavaScript is starting to look more and more attractive. Node.js looks quite exciting. Maybe that’s where JavaScript is heading.

Bulletproof Ajax

What’s your favourite typeface?

Ooh, that’s a toughie. I think that just about any typeface can get tired when it’s over-used. I’m getting kind of sick of seeing Gotham everywhere, for example, (Obama has a lot to answer for). On the other hand, a good designer should only need one or two typefaces so asking for a desert island typeface isn’t such an unrealistic request.

Hmmm … much as I love Futura and Clarendon, I’m not sure if I could look at them forever. So I think I’m going to have to go with something classic like Bembo, Garamond, Baskerville … wait, I can only choose just one, right?

Let’s say: Mrs Eaves.

But if you were to ask me again tomorrow, I’d probably give you a different answer.

What’s your favourite plain text editor?

Textmate. I used to use BBEdit but Textmate has left it in the dust. I use CSSEdit for CSS.

What’s your favourite tea?

Thé de constructeur.

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