Christian Heilmann

Writing for Smashingmagazine – what do you think I should cover?

Monday, December 28th, 2009 at 7:05 pm

I guess it is a nice case of the squeaky wheel getting the oil… After complaining on twitter about smashing magazine overdoing the “list posts” – you know “543 jQuery plugins you really need” and “3214 ways to create drop-shadows” I was now asked to become one of the writers for the magazine.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Smashingmagazine as it rose quite quickly in an already full market and showed that dedication works out in the end. I’ve learnt a lot of my trade from online magazines, and later from blogs. Things like A List Apart,, Digital Web and Sitepoint taught me CSS tricks, basics of SEO and other tricks. When Digital Web shut down, A List Apart changed direction and other, interesting new magazines like Particletree just didn’t quite get off the ground I thought it was over and to a degree it is. Personal blogs, Twitter and Facebook groups change the idea where we go for information and the old-school editorial approach appears stilted and seems to hold us back.

I disagree though. A good editorial process means we deliver better content. Books are great not because of the author being a genius but because of technical editors challenging the author to explain better, copy editors fixing spelling and grammar mistakes and the same subject being prodded over and over again until it is the bare mimimun and easy to understand.

Where it goes pear-shaped is when your editorial work is not appreciated and the reader numbers (and ad-views) do not add up to the cost you have for paying writers and editors. Back when the first mags came out this was not an issue – people were happy to do this for free. Nowadays, however it is much more business and a lot of online writers ask for cash for articles. Seeing the amount of work that goes into a good article this is totally fine, but what if you cannot find good articles every day?

This is when mags turn to list posts. These are quick to do and mean a new release for the mag – the RSS feed gets a new entry, people can tweet it and so on and so forth.

List posts are a real problem. They are immensely successful, as they are easy to digest, but they are also killing the overall quality of a magazine. As Scrivs on Drawar put in in not very minced words:

It used to be so much better than this. Every article that you came across wasn’t a tutorial or list. Hell, the majority of them weren’t tutorials or lists. There were articles that actually talked about design. There were articles that made you think how you could become a better designer and encouraged intellectual discussion on design. Those articles still exist here and there, but they are drowned out by the copycats.
The web design community is split into two sides: 1. loves to view every single list article there is 2. hates that list articles were ever invented. I fall into both camps because to me some list articles do serve a purpose, but when we start to see Design Trends of Spa Websites I think we might be going a bit too far.

I was very happy therefore when Smashingmagazine approached me (on Facebook of all things) to write for them as they want to change and release more meaty, in-depth articles that cause a discussion rather than a flurry of comments all saying “awesome” or similar YouTube-isms.

So my first two articles I’ve written stuck on airports on the way to my parents’ for christmas will be released in January and cover the following topics:

  • Basic performance testing using YSlow, PageSpeed and AOL Web Page Speed test
  • A seven step test to find the right JavaScript widget

What other things would you like to see on Smashingmag and reach the massive amount of readers it has?

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