Archive for May 2009
Now you got a crapload of squares (via igotyourcrazy via jimray)
@jamesatbuzz I think that number is actually high. I’m sure plenty report as using who don’t “really” use. Probably more like 5-15 percent.

Examining Typekit

Last week brought word of a promising new type solution for the web called Typekit. Created by Jeff Veen and the smart folks at Small Batch, Typekit aims to solve the problem of custom typography on the web once and for all. Unlike sIFR, Cufon, and several other stopgaps before it, Typekit does not attempt to hack around the problem, but to solve it in a permanent way, which is exciting.

As a co-inventor of sIFR, I’ve been getting a lot of emails this week asking what I think of this new effort. In evaluating its promise, it’s important to examine the following characteristics, in order of importance: compatibility, functionality, legality, ease of use, and hackiness.

Compatibility

Compatibility is the most important aspect of any new web technology. If your shiny new method only works in 10% of web browsers, it’s nothing more than a proof-of-concept. It is this reality check that keeps me from getting excited about W3C meetings, Internet Explorer extensions, or anything else that doesn’t apply all browsers in the here and now… or at least the right around the corner.

Compatibility was also what pushed sIFR over the top in terms of popularity, working in over 90% of all systems and falling back gracefully in most others. It also came out at a time, 2004, when there wasn’t a whole lot of tolerance for leaving certain browsers behind or having things look ideal in a few browsers and not so ideal in others.

Typekit appears to be doing ok on the compatibility front, targeting current versions of Safari, Chrome, and Opera natively, the next version of Firefox (3.1) natively, and all versions of Internet Explorer via a “backup” EOT solution. Here’s what the browser share landscape looks like today:

  • Works in:
    • Internet Explorer: 66.1%
    • Safari: 8.21%
    • Chrome: 1.42%
    • Opera: 0.68%
    • Firefox 3.1 or greater: 0.18%
  • Doesn’t work in:
    • Firefox 3.0 or lower: 22.3%
    • Miscellaneous other browsers: 1.11%

So you can see right off the bat that Typekit will work in just over 76% of browsers. Not quite as high as some of the methods that came before it, but it’s extremely important to recognize that the one group that’s keeping Typekit from almost universal compatibility is Firefox. I have no evidence to support this, but I imagine that Firefox users are among the quickest to upgrade, which would seem to suggest that this compatibility gap could be closed relatively quickly. Data shows that Firefox 3 is already used by 11 times more people than Firefox 2, and considering it was released just short of a year ago, this sort of upgrade pattern is encouraging.

Given the above data, combined with how often Firefox seems to annoy me these days with upgrade notices, I expect Firefox 3.1 or greater to be the dominant Firefox version in use one year from now, thus pushing Typekit’s compatibility percentage into the upper 90s fairly soon.

It’s also important to praise what Small Batch has done here on the compatibility front: their killer concept was involving type foundries in web-only licensing and propagating the font files through the standards-complaint @font-face CSS declaration, but they realized their solution would be academic if it didn’t work in Internet Explorer, so they made sure their backup implementation using EOT files took care of all IE users. The lack of this sort of practical thinking is what keeps a lot of great ideas from gaining traction on the web.

I also think that designers these days, self included, are a lot more amenable to things looking great on “most systems” as long as they at least work reasonably on other systems (as long as they look great on the particular system the designer uses). This is a bit of designer bias, of course, but it also represents an increasing desire in the design and development community to leave the old web behind. I still remember how much crap I took at ESPN from validatorians when we decided to leave Netscape 4 — with its 1% marketshare — behind. Now it’s all the rage… and I love it!

Functionality

By all accounts, Typekit will be more functional than any method that came before it. This is quite obviously because it uses a browser’s native font rendering technology. There are some concerns about reliability gaps stemming from downloading fonts off third-party servers, but I believe this fear will prove unfounded. Additionally, I imagine both the @font-face and EOT versions of fonts will come in larger files than sIFR font files (because usually you only embed a subset of characters in a sIFR font file) but with broadband penetration being what it is today, this too will prove immaterial. Additionally, even though sIFR font files may be smaller, the noticeable delay in rendering them probably more than makes up the difference.

Legality

I put legality in the middle of the pack and not at the top because, to my knowledge, there haven’t been any serious legal dust-ups over the use of technologies like sIFR and Cufon. So far, the burden has been on designers to buy the fonts they use before embedding them using sIFR or Cufon, but at the same time, there’s been no clear blessing or condemnation of this practice by foundries or type designers.

The nice thing about Typekit is that it specifically involves foundries and type designers in the process of licensing their fonts for use on the web. When you use Typekit, you know with certainty that what you’re doing has the direct blessing of the people who created and/or marketed the typeface you’re using. This is a nice piece-of-mind upgrade as well as a way of further compensating type designers for giving us the building blocks of web design.

Ease of use

Typekit promises to be easier to implement than either sIFR, Cufon, or any other font replacement technology. I guess we won’t know until we start using it, but it would shock me if it took more than a few minutes to implement, including licensing the font you want to use. sIFR’s second most common complaint other than “it uses Flash and Flash kills puppies” is that it’s a bit difficult to implement. Typekit’s improvement on this front will be more than welcome.

Hackiness

First let me say something I’ve said many times before: the entire world wide web is a hack. Get over it. Secondly, however, any technologies or methods — that work — which serve to dehackify it a bit are welcome. Typekit certainly dehackifies custom typography on the web by leaps and bounds. It was the solution we all knew would come eventually when we created sIFR as a stopgap five years ago. Just about the only things hacky about it are that it falls back to EOT (which, as discussed earlier, is great) and that it uses Javascript to handle the licensing nuts and bolts (meh, big deal).

Conclusion

Typekit is likely the best thing to happen to web design since the re-emergence of browser competitiveness. It will be embraced quickly and fervently when it is released this summer, and its creators should be loudly applauded for doing it instead of just talking about it. There are too many talkers in the world and not enough doers. The team at Small Batch has done an excellent job of taking a problem that a lot of people like to talk about and solving it in a practical, equitable way. It’s a welcome solution to a real issue and a significant step towards a leaner, Veener web.

Herdin’ cows the size of schnauzers, but they’re cattle…
Mini sirloin burgers commercial in Spanish! Not as catchy but just as weird: http://bit.ly/urLIc
@roblifford Nope, haven’t tried ‘em yet. Although I do loves me some Jack in the Box. Maybe today…
Yippee ya yay, mini sirloin burgers.
Interesting House quote: “He refuses to worry or pray. He believes if you don’t have one, you don’t need the other.”
@simmy When I think of “Black Mamba”, I think of what Mamba candy would taste like in a licorice flavor… which is gross.
@simmy What about the fact that his dad is named Jellybean? How can you hate the son of a jellybean?
Shared
Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.

“More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”
- Tim Kreider’s denunciation of the cult of busyness is excellent. (via jimray)
The iPhone and Disruption: Five Years In:

Take your pick of about 20 great quotes from this Daring Fireball article. My personal favorite:

The iPhone is not and never was a phone. It is a pocket-sized computer that obviates the phone. The iPhone is to cell phones what the Mac was to typewriters.