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James Williamson and a web for everyone

Five years ago, at the second Artifact Conference in Providence, RI, I had the pleasure of meeting James Williamson.

I was really excited to hear James talk about icon fonts.

He walked on stage, and announced that he had ALS and that this would be his final conference talk. And because of that, he had completely rewritten his talk the night before so that he could talk about the future of the web.

James’s talk, A Web For Everyone, was one of the best talks I’ve ever seen.

I can’t believe he had put it together the night before.

I was a junior developer in my first real job as a web professional, and his words and ideas influenced my entire career.

In his talk, James talked about the importance of an open web that enables anyone to share their ideas and connect with others. He talked about the threat that governments (and their censorship of the web) and corporations (who build walled gardens and control what gets seen) pose to a free and open web. He talked about accessibility, and the importance of building a web anyone can use.

These are the same themes that Baldur Bjarnason wrote about last month in The Web Falls Apart. Five years later, things have gotten worse, not better.

This week, James lost his battle with ALS.

He lived years longer that he was expected to after his diagnosis. He continued to champion a free and open web. He continued to help people learn. Through his courses on (err, LinkedIn Learning), he’ll keep doing so for years to come.

I’m going to miss James a lot. He was a wonderful person who made the web (and the world) a better place. This is a devastating loss for our community.

I’m going to keep on fighting for the kind of web James envisioned: one that’s free, open, and works for everyone.

Good bye, James. 💔😢