Thursday, February 25, 2010

Here's online journalism in China.

Yesterday was the opening day of Shanghai's new Line 2 eastern extension towards Pudong Airport. Since the new terminal station, Guanglan Rd, is three blocks from my house, I woke up early and took my camera to get some pictures of the new stations. At work that morning I uploaded the pictures to Flickr and then posted them in a thread on the Metrofans BBS, Shanghai's largest BBS for fans of the city's subway.

Reaction to the new extension has been mixed tending towards negative. One of the focus points of criticism is that the new Zhangjiang High-Tech Park station isn't equipped to handle the high throughput it needs to as the first (and previously, only) station in the area. This includes the charges that the exits are misplaced, that there are too few turnstiles, and that the stairs down to the platform are too narrow. Criticism on this last point was particularly heated because the stairwells really are very narrow compared to all other stairs across the Shanghai subway system and it's a structural problem that should have been easy to foresee and will be hard to correct.

To address the criticism, the Shanghai Metro has added 11 new turnstiles to the station overnight and promised to redesign the stairwells to handle more passengers. This news came to me through a Google News RSS feed in my Google Reader, an RSS entry that features the graphic used by to report the news.

A black and white photo of one of the narrow stairwells under discussion that accompanies the RSS feed item.

Hey, that picture looks familiar.

Oh yeah, it's a black-and-white resized version of one of the photos I took on my morning trip yesterday. Here it is in full color from Flickr:

See the guy on the platform below framed by the stairwell? See the people hunched over the turnstile that was broken and being repaired in anticipation of the morning rush hour? Same image.

Obviously I don't know the chain of posts, reposts (转载), and downloads that lead the Sina editors to my photo. But there are some clues. Obviously the first step was when I posted my photos to the Metrofans BBS and captioned that particular photo with a comment reflecting the already existing opinion that the stairwells were narrow. Next, a link was posted to an article with the inane suggestions that the handrails be taken down as if that would make the space wider, to which another user took my photo and reposted it with the handrail circled for emphasis.

The same color photo with the handrail circled in red.

Then, one of the board's super-moderators reposted the modified photo in his own thread with a rant about the Shanghai Metro's ability to create their own "natural wonders". From there, it seems as if the photo was reposted to other BBSs because the Sina photo, though reduced in size, still shows a visible watermark from (I think), one of Shanghai's largest web forums. Looking at the Sina byline, though, shows that the Sina article is actually a reposting of an article from the Dongfang Daily, a Shanghai morning newspaper which had the photo on a page 2-3 spread (PDF) about the troubled Line 2 opening. Incredibly, the print-version of the Dongfang Daily used a cropped version of the same photo. This suggests that reporters at the Dongfang Daily source uncredited photos from online sources, prepare the photos and articles for posting online, edit/crop them for the print version, after which the online version is copied/distributed to other sites across the internet.

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm complaining about all this. I'm actually very happy that my photo was used to enrich the discussion across the internet of the Zhangjiang station troubles. My Flickr photos are licensed under a CC-license only because Flickr doesn't offer a copyleft/public domain/no license option. My preferred license is the WTFPL, and my personal policy is to always credit for things I use (ie Postel's Law).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pleasant intersection

At the Babela on Tianyaoqiao Rd, Charlotte and I met a very friendly young man from Beijing. I gave him my website address so I hope he sees this message. Hi!

No thank you

Here's China Telecom inserting ads into random webpages on me:

<html><head><title></title><link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href=""><script type="text/javascript">var g="";var location;window.onerror=function(){document.URL=g;}</script><script type="text/javascript" src=""></script></head><body id=b rightMargin=0 topMargin=0 leftMargin=0 scroll=no onload="pos()" onresize="pos()"><iframe src="" style="display:none"></iframe><table id=t width=100% border=0 align="center" ><tr><td><iframe id=a src="" width=100% height="240" frameborder=0 scrolling=auto></iframe></td></tr><tr><td align="right"><span id=x onmouseout="d(this);" onmouseover="d2(this)" onclick="h()" title="Close"><a href="#" onclick="h()">x</a></span></td></tr></table> <iframe id= c name=cn src="javascript:parent.w" frameBorder=0 width=100% height=100% scrolling=auto></iframe></body></html>

Hoho, writing me a couple new rules for Adblock+.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Web Standards in Shanghai

Back in mid-January I retweeted a link from POPOEVER about a web standards meeting in Shanghai on Jan 30. Quietly, I registered, added the event to my Google Calendar, and when the time came I made the trip to Ctrip's Shanghai office to attend.

Photo-0155It turns out that the event is connected to the 蓝色理想 BBS, a set of web design forums with a long (in internet time) and influential history on the Chinese internet. The event was an interesting format: first the host introduced a topic with three short bullet points which were discussed as a group, and then a speaker took the stage with a prepared talk on the topic based on their experience as coders or designers; this was repeated three times. I arrived a few minutes after the meeting started, but the topics I heard covered were workflow for daily and special projects (with a speaker from Taobao), using/developing Javascript libraries and frameworks (with a speaker from Ctrip), and the feasibility and future of HTML5 & CSS3. Discussion generally stayed on topic and drew from a wide range of experiences: large and small companies, professionals and hobbyists.

Photo-0154I didn't have much to contribute myself, having only been a hobbyist and out of the web development scene for quite some time. When I left, though, I felt like I should have said something like this:

I began working with HTML and CSS in college. After graduating in 2001, I spent a year in Tianjin at a low-pressure job that left me a lot of time in the evenings, which I spent on experimenting with personal web projects. At some point I signed up for the css-discuss mailing list. Now, style sheets and semantic markup had long been a part of the early vision for the web, but were neglected by website and (certain) browser developers for many years. Css-discuss was a mailing list made up of independent web developers, students and hobbyists who were passionate about harnessing the ideas of style sheets and the semantic web to create a more powerful, more flexible World-Wide Web. And so css-discuss came to be a "voice in the wilderness" calling for a return to that original vision, and ran in the face of a by-then entrenched tradition of using tables for layout and FONT tags for styling. The individual members of css-discuss, working together, analyzed and documented the HTML and CSS rendering behaviors of different browsers, invented CSS hacks for targeting specific browsers, and pressured browser developers to code to web standards through an active blogosphere presence, professional involvements, and the founding of organizations like WaSP and publications like A List Apart. Over time, people and organizations came around to see the benefits of web standards. Now, the knowledge of web standards is widespread to the point of complacence, and no longer the cause of a small minority.

This isn't true in China though. Due to the late start of the web in China and the widespread piracy of software from Microsoft (a perennial offender on the web), web standards are still a cause worth promoting. Technically, I have nothing to add to the cause. Personally, what I can offer is support through my presence, and the experience that I described above, from which I derived a lesson that I summarize in this diagram:

Text equivalent: Web standards back then were a minority cause, and adoption was driven by motivated individuals. Web standards today are common knowledge, but change is still driven by motivated individuals.

No matter whether you're a small minority working against the tide of mainstream ideas or whether you're part of a movement of many people, progress in the cause will come from motivated individuals who commit to a praxis: the combination of thoughtful reflection and confident action.

To the W3CTech group, thank you for letting me sit in on your meeting and best wishes for you and the work ahead of you.