How to Do

Last week, John Gruber made an appearance on Jeffrey Zeldman’s The Big Web Show. Near the end, Gruber made an interesting point: that the “how to” articles at Daring Fireball are some of his favorites, and he hopes to do more of that type of work. Gruber pointed specifically to his recent ‘How to Create Retina-Caliber Favicons1 article as an example.

Gruber pointed out that this type of writing is great because if one person spends 5 hours figuring something out (like making a Retina Favicon), and writes about it – they could save dozens of other people the 5 hours. In turn, those people could spend their time figuring out how to do other great stuff and sharing – raising the tide of the whole community.

As an example, let’s take the recent months-long debate on Skeumorphism. Every day I see at least one or two articles trickling through across all my feeds. Every one is some sort of dogmatic preaching on why you should or shouldn’t use it. But the fact is, you can have gorgeous designs with warm, rich textures or clean, sterile colors. If writers had invested their time in explaining why and how to use either approach, rather than arguing about why the other side is wrong, the community might have benefitted all around.

I’ve been on my own journey over the past several months, reflecting on what the voice of this site, and Gruber nailed exactly what I hope to do more of myself. I had already been trying to shift more of my writing from commentating on events to showing how and why.

But how does a site that focused on commenting make the shift? I’m personally applying some lessons I learned from the now-defunct Build and Analyze podcast. It started as a show about development, but evolved into a show “for” developers, where they would talk about coffee, cars, gadgets, and anything else that might appeal to that community. A writer that might have focused on commenting on events can look at their readership and try and understand what they could share to benefit that community – dive into a deeper “why” and “how”.

My hope is that we’ll see this from more sites. Geeks seem to have a natural helping personality – it’s just a matter of translating it to the web so we can benefit the whole community.

  1. A guide that I recently used to make a retina Favicon in less than 5 minutes for this site. []
January 21, 2013