Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

The problem with reviewing websites is that, because discovering them is such a haphazard process, you're unlikely to find them shortly after their debut—which makes it hard not to look like a latecomer to those who are already in the know. But what can you do? The web is such a vast ocean of data that even its biggest battleships can blend into the horizon if you don't know where to look.

The upside is that it seems perfectly valid to review even the biggest of sites (well, maybe not Amazon) because, as likely as not, most of your readers haven't heard of them yet either. That's my rationale for reviewing zeldman.com, anyway—a site that's already picked up every award going. It deserves them all, although I can't help thinking that bestowing 'Cool Site of the Day' on zeldman.com is a bit like calling Citizen Kane a Groovy Movie.

Jeffrey Zeldman has been building websites since 1995, and it shows. Websters talk of web years being like dog years, which makes Zeldman the equivalent of a band that's been recording since the sixties. But unlike many of those, he's clearly getting better and better. Some of the most intriguing parts of his site are the most recent; and the design couldn't be more up-to-date (on the top levels, anyway; though it's fun to dig deeper and see the older parts, too).

The use of colour, the clever graphics, and the seamless site-architecture make zeldman.com a joy to explore. I love the bold thick borders and the retro 1950s touches. But all of it would mean nothing without good content; and here, Zeldman really delivers.

For starters, Zeldman.com is home to Ask Dr Web, which has to be one of the best HTML primers out there. I'm sorry to have discovered this so late, but there's plenty there for more experienced hands to enjoy and learn from.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Zeldman is one of the driving forces behind the Web Standards Project and the A List Apart mailing list and zine 'for people who make websites'. Both are essential projects—the first for anyone who has ever screamed at a crashing browser, and the second for anyone who has developed a masochistic urge to build sites that work on several different kinds of crashing browsers. Naturally, there's a lot of cross-linking to both sites from Zeldman's own.

But valuable though the technical advice is, my favourite parts of Zeldman's oeuvre are when he starts waxing lyrical about the potential of this brave new medium. Slouching Toward Authorship captures everything I've been instinctively wanting to do with the web; it's a credo for all aspiring web authors and web artists. And The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Coder may be 'embarrassing personal stuff' to J.Z., but I haven't had such a shock of recognition from something I've read for quite a while.

Zeldman is going beyond the web as a functional tool for selling stuff, reporting research, or hero-worshipping, and instead is reflecting on what the web means: like the Coen brothers on film or Sven Birkerts in print, he's using the medium to philosophize about itself, while always keeping it entertaining. Witness If the Great Movies had been Websites, where Citizen Kane is transformed from Groovy Movie to web diary.

All this, and there's bread for the masses as well. If you don't give a damn about HTML and CSS, pick up some free icons and background pics, or have a look at The Ad Graveyard (he's originally from advertising); you may have seen some of the contents floating around the Internet already.

But whatever you do, click on over to zeldman.com, and see why this medium is going places.


This page: 13 February 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©2000 Rory Ewins