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Joe Clark

Joe Clark, Toronto writer–accessibility obsessif–curmudgeon. He has also been on the Internet longer than most.

About you

What did you do before the Web?

I was and still am a journalist. I've been published since the late '80s and have nearly 400 articles in my portfolio. I've written a book on Web accessibility, with more books in the works, plus a range of other materials. I'm an experienced editor, though that has not been much of a bonanza for me. I also worked Joe-jobs, particularly as an office lady ("OL"), to use the Japanese terminology. I have never really managed to get hired for a typical "good job"; I am probably unemployable in the domain of "good jobs," though I tremendously admire people who can snag and "hold down" a job, a terminology I find telling.

How did you find the web?

It wasn't a question of "finding" it. I've been online for more than ten years-- so far back that my first E-address was ontmoh!joeclark@UUCP (though I was encouraged to use a different address that looked more conventional). I was online when the Web was invented. I specifically remember the first public Mosaic and Netscape builds, and on the old jalopy across the room here I still retain an original Netscape 0.9 version. In fact, I talked on the phone with early Mosaic developers. I suppose that was one of many Golden Opportunities™ to jump to the U.S., learn to drive a car, and grow the fuck up that I managed to miss.

Back in 1994, in fact, I wrote a how-to-get-online series for the Toronto Star, and had to screech to a halt and switch topics halfway through when the Web hit. Suddenly it became irrelevant to handhold newbies through gophers and FTP sites; an entire Web had to be explained. I've published about the Web since what, 1994? I'd have to check.

I've run Web sites since early 1996 (again, I'd have to check-- it was a primitive tilde site), and consider it something of a coup that I now own an actual dot-ca domain (fawny.ca, cognate with fawny.org; joeclark.org, which took me two years to get and contenu.nu).

Why are you here?

A writer can't exactly *stop* communicating.

More substantively, I have to say that a strength of the Web is accommodating minutely-detailed interests. I tend to follow obscure topics, an activity that is not merely tolerated but encouraged-- the first time in my life where where I wasn't boring the arse off my friends, which admittedly I still do. I maintain dozens of pages on my sites that exist for no other reason than to provide information for other people with those minutely-detailed interests.

It is not true that the net means you never have to be alone. It does mean you never have to be the only person you know of with a certain obscure or unpopular interest. Even if there are only a dozen or 75 or a hundred people like you, eventually you will find each other through the magic of search engines and mailing lists.

For example, my own VsXe or Vegan-Straightedge mailing list unites what is probably the entire worldwide population of veganists who also don't smoke, drink, or do drugs-- all of 27 people. (I suppose I should exclude 1/3 of India in that estimation, but the point is made.) Online, 27 people are not "too few" anymore.

Methods of production

What do you use to create your sites?

I write absolutely everything, every single character, in BBEdit and a few other text editors (even Eudora!), though I make liberal use of templates. Nearly all my pages online are static and are manually maintained. Dean Allen wrote me a PHP/MySQL content-management system for the NUblog, and my sysadmin-cum-host Luke is Zopifying one or more of my blogs, but the essential thrust is that my sites are "handrolled," hence, I suppose, embarrassingly primitive and oldschool.

I go back 20 years in graphic design but am a lousy practitioner. The design of my sites is, quite frankly, atrocious or laughable. The best I can manage is design inoffensiveness, really, though I pay inordinate attention to text typography. I add my voice to the chorus of critics of overdesigned sites, but well-designed sites are another matter, and I really don't have one of those. A notable exception is the NUblog, which Dean put together.

I am, however, a superb design critic and can improve anything in print or online, should this skill actually be useful, which it is not, nor does it aid me in practice or make me any friends.

About the Web

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the web?

Personal choice. In the television medium, they didn't call it "programming" for nothing. You were trained what to think by limiting what you could watch. Now, by virtue of the ease of publishing, we all enjoy a vast range of choices of what we will actually read, follow, and enjoy. If we don't like it, we have the power to contribute, which is something you cannot exactly do with a television show.

What do you see as the greatest dangers?

I cannot think of any "dangers" per se, apart from excessive government regulation or corporate monopolism. I suppose proprietary design and features are a threat-- i.e., Smart Tags and coloured scrollbars 666.

What would you say to folks who want to work the web?

I would strongly caution neophytes that the Web is a trying mistress (sic). You love her, but she hurts you, though not quite enough to stop you from loving her. It isn't true that I have benefited from enough pleasure and advantage online to outweigh the ongoing personal attacks, unfair allegations, invective, misrepresentations, and every other burden we have no choice but to endure online. It isn't a question of a balancing of pro and con, as the conventional wisdom would state. The conventional wisdom has a tendency to lie and get away with it.

Rather, what has to be balanced is my-- and by extension a neophyte's-- need to communicate with the inevitable fact that other people are going to tell you just how much of a fuckwit you really are. It is, I suppose, a cost we incur. I suppose further that communication without feedback is a monologue, and monologues are egotistical and quasifascist.

It's not enough to push me offline, but it is a genuine cost. Along with the outright lies about the Internet industry itself (jobs are plentiful, the money's great, you're hired specifically for your skills), it is the personal emotional toll to which other people subject you that nobody ever talks about. Yes, go right ahead and work the Web, because if you are a susceptible personality you have no choice *not* to, but expect to get yelled at.

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