Looking at web industry from a business angle, Ars Technica muses upon six big stories that stood out last year. Of those six, we’ll peg BitCoins as the story we’re most likely to look back on in a decade and wonder “what were they thinking?” Like Microsoft Bob, Pets.com, and the CueCat, BitCoins still have that cachet of “naive pre-web-bubble idea”. The article goes into several ways where BitCoin has had trouble already, which we predict is the shape of its doom, arrising like a Grim Reaper in the West.
Briefly, the point is that users avoid signing up to become a member of a site unless they absolutely have to. Call it, if you will, “social media fatigue“. Ten years ago, the web was yours just like your TV set, and the only time you had to sign up for anything was if you were buying something. Now you can’t click a mouse button without logging in with a nick and password. Who can remember them all? Why does it feel like getting married every time you just want to leave a quick note somewhere?
You’ll notice that the latest “easy enough for a caveman!” web design product always draws the same discussion online: First somebody moans how this is really a toy, no good for professionals. Then somebody always counters (in a snide tone) “Well this isn’t for you elitist professionals, this is so mom and dad can design web pages for their cookie business!” Yeah… but we’ve been hearing this since 1998 with Microsoft’s FrontPage Express. You know how it goes: The easiest-to-learn tool (which always has the least features) soon becomes an industry standard, at which point its user base demands more features. Then it isn’t easy to use anymore, and somebody makes another alternative… the cycle repeats.
The money quote from the article: “WYSIWYG’s shouldn’t be a way to avoid learning code, they should be a way to teach it.” Yeah, but that only makes sense on non-Earth planets. If it were as simple as “learn to code”, we wouldn’t have invented any of these tools. Humans and code appear to be mostly incompatible.
You might have heard that, amid the recent rash of cyber-attacks on high-profile institutions, that Citicorp got hacked. Details of some 200,000 bank accounts got compromised. But the news gets weirder when you consider how it was done, in the most blazingly obvious way.
Briefly, credit card customers noticed that their credit card account number showed up in the URL of any given page when they were on the Citigroup website. Well, what happens when we substitute another credit card number? Oops, that shows you the page for that card! Great, let’s write a script to have wget or lynx or something run through all the 16-digit combinations and save whatever pages it finds for later phishing.
Yeah, it was that simple.
The lesson we can all take away: Think of everything! While it may seem blindingly obvious now that not hashing the account number in the user’s visible URL was a bad idea, would you have thought of a similar hole that large on your own site? One expert is quoted in that article that he: “…wondered how the hackers could have known to breach security by focusing on the vulnerability in the browser.”
It just goes to show, anybody can be caught off-guard.
Melbourne, Australia hosts the annual Laneway Music Festival, and they’ve got a website that’s been attracting attention in web-design circles. For those not in the know, Laneway is the premiere event for the Indie music scene, hosting such headline acts as The Hold Steady, Echo & The Bunnymen, Midnight Juggernauts, and too many more famous acts to list here.
The site attracts attention for its unusually clean design. One really odd quirk that we don’t like, though, is that it has to build a different page for each major city, forcing you to a landing page that makes you select a city – why? The content looks identical regardless which city you selected. You can also change the city from the drop-down menu after you get to the main page anyway, so that’s pointless all over again! Here, the festivals’ in Melbourne, we gave you the Melbourne link.
Wow! For all the derision and loathing we pour on Microsoft and its village-idiot web browser, every now and then you see some engineering project from a back room on the Redmond campus that makes you think that somewhere in the steamrolling bureaucracy, somehow, there are fun, creative minds just trying to claw their way out.
Witness the IE Test Drive Site. It’s a place to test out demos relating to HTML5 and other web technologies, which Microsoft is trying to keep on track for preview editions of Internet Explorer. But there’s lots of fun, fun stuff here, including a pinball game, a Sudoku generator, an asteroid field simulator, and tons more stuff. Just be advised that it’s meant to be cutting-edge, so if you’re not updated to full-modern standards, you won’t be able to run this stuff.
We have just one question: Why aren’t the people behind this demo site running the whole dang company? It’s this thrilling attitude towards playing with technology and making it do gee-whiz stuff that Microsoft had in spades in its early days and so grimly lacks now.
We were reminded of this factor when we saw Tech Drive-In’s list of 11 Biggest Open Source Success Stories That Are Changing The World As We Know It. And all of them are tied to web and Internet business in one way or another.
We have Linux in general and Red Hat Enterprise Linux in particular (Linux is dominating the web server market and Red Hat is one of the chief vendors), Ubuntu (the most successful user-level Linux distro, distributed mostly over the web), WordPress and Drupal (there’s your whole CMS management system for websites), MySQL and Apache (the web server that ties it all together), Firefox and Google Chrome (two of the most popular web browsers), and of course Android (bringing mobile phones into the market). That leaves Open Office as the only desktop-related, non-web technology… although it’s a standard fixture on Linux.
We work in the web development industry, and so we love our shiny new stuff! Don’t we? We love our chrome-plated glowy neon high-tech toys, because they make us feel like the hero in a Tron movie.
Ohhh, it’s exhausting keeping that up. But anyway, as painful as it will be to live through, we’re starting to see lots of enthusiastic hype for HTML5, which means that it will come to pass. It works this way because the life-cycle of all new web tech runs like this:
Initial spec. Somebody like Tim Berners-Lee or Paul Graham makes a blog post about it; everybody laughs.
First implementation. Some bright little start-up implements it before its time and it falls over. All the big companies sniff over it and turn their nose up at it.
A handful of bright bloggers keep yammering about it and why we should give it a chance.
The least sexy word in the English language is “database.” You could just have the wildest party in the world happening, and run in and yell “database!” and it would take the fizz out of the champagne, make the DJ pack up his rig and go home, stop the dancing cold, and make everybody run away. Databases are the exact point where a CS major quits studying to be a web developer and decides to become a web designer instead. It’s still used in Catholic school to punish unruly students.
So everybody’s supposed to be very excited about this new NoSQL thing. Now we have to pretend to be excited too. We also have to pretend to understand what NoSQL is all about. Yes, horizontal scaling!
And we’ll also nod along with the important-sounding acronym ACID, which stands for “A Completely Important-sounding Designation,” and something about what databases should do. Of course, all this is drawing fresh ink because Oracle bought out Sun, and… wait a minute, what does Oracle make again?
Join us next time for the thrilling conclusion, when the backlash movement “YesSQL” makes an even more obscure ripple of hype!
Apple says Adobe is working to sabotage HTML5. Adobe says HTML5 is no threat to Flash. Everybody’s watching the fight, and we love the six-fingered tattooed fist in the image, guys!
While we’re all bickering, could we help by pointing out what Flash is?
In the first place, Flash is not an Adobe innovation. Flash was originally developed in 1992 by a company called Macromedia, when it created a browser plug-in originally for Netscape Navigator. Life went on this way for 13 years, all the way up until Adobe bought out Macromedia in 2005, in a hostile takeover which also acquired Dreamweaver. Since 2005, Flash has gone from being a relatively controversy-free plug-in to being a hotbed of drama and turmoil. Continue reading
Every web designer should at least save a copy of this chart listing social media use by age. It’s a gold mine of information in a small image. Charting age brackets for young teens, young adults, Generation Y, Generation X, Baby Boomers, Older Boomers, and Seniors, it shows who’s using the features of the modern web, from creators to spectators.
Obviously, you can see the age range from 12 to 40 doing all of the web activity to speak of. After age 40, the dip falls off dramatically until you get to seniors whose extent of web use is email. One interesting exception: RSS usage is flat all the way across the age groups! As surprising as it may seem to those of us who simply can’t start our day without our news feed, syndication just may not be taking off like everybody expected it to.
On any website using Linux website hosting, chances are good that you have the Apache web server software at your command, which puts you in charge of the most useful file on the Internet, the .htaccess file.
If you haven’t peeked into this file and learned what’s going on in there, you’re missing out on a powerful tool for disciplining your website (and unruly users!). You can edit it with any text editor – even Notepad! Below, a hint list:
Block directory listing:
“Options -Indexes” What it does: Stops visitors from being able to view a directory in raw form. You might do this to prevent paid content being viewable for free, or for security reasons.
It’s always nice when web designers share their tools of the trade, especially when it’s a mom-and-pop outfit.
This designer lists a lot of free and open source tools which they use to build a pretty impressive portfolio. Fancy IDE? Nah, Notepad++! And a freebie FavIcon generator. Open-source Firebug, the Firefox extension that turns Firefox into a power development tool. And of course, for graphics… Gimp.
People are always astonished when you say you use Gimp for production work. Bad press from Adobe and a legion of elitist Photoshop users have given people the false impression that Gimp can’t do anything, like it’s not even as functional as Microsoft Paint. No, Gimp is really all you need for basic web graphics. It’s just doomed to live in the shadow of everyone who doesn’t want a Gimp, but instead wants an open-source Photoshop.
The article does cover some good ground on the whole subject of interface – whoops – experience design, and is worth a look just for the thought it provokes. I like #4: It’s not “just about usability”. No, it actually has to do something worthwhile, is the point that needs emphasizing.
While I agree that experience design is important, and there are designs that are better than others, I have noticed in the past few years amongst the professionals with “nebulous titles” (see #9) is that they try to hard to justify their profession and end up over-thinking the whole thing. The best intentions and all that, you know. But have you ever seen something designed by a committee? Say, a government committee? Then you know what I’m talking about.
It’s good to be aware of the need to design the user experience, but at some point we also need to quit making up six-syllable words, get out of our academic ivory towers, and just say “It’s a button and a menu! Leave it alone!”
We missed this a while back with all the pre-Holiday rush, but IT-News Australia published the list of the top ten geeks of all time. And yes, it is an article which uses the word ‘geek’ in the positive sense, the way we used to use the word ‘hacker’.
The list is worth pursuing, because it reminds us of all the people without whom we web developers wouldn’t have a job today:
I say that because nearly every film and TV program that comes out, when it shows a computer screen, has some fantastically unrealistic magic going on. So the expectation is set high, and when clients come to you to design their website, they wonder why you can’t make it work like that.
From the orchestra-conductor interface in Minority Report to the fantasy computers on the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek (you like how Captain Picard can talk to the computer, but the bridge crew still has to push a million buttons to drive the ship?), the film and TV industries are acting like they’ve never seen a computer in their entire lives.
AJAXian has released the results of their 2008 State-of-the-Web survey, and the one glaring thing that stands out is that the people surveyed (“as many web designers and developers from around the world as possible”) seem to be losing touch with their audience.
A minority using Windows, a minority using IE, and a minority using mobile devices. That makes huge sense for web developers.
But that’s a sharp contrast to the web audience, where the most common visitor is still running IE6 on Windows XP, with the second place going to IE7 on Windows Vista and the third going to a smartphone running Windows Mobile.
This is a generalization derived from many survey sources, but it’s close enough to make the point.
The thing is, the farther apart web developers and web users drift, the farther the designs of the former will meet the expectations of the latter. True, we all test our websites on several platforms (I hope we do, at least!), but that’s still different from using the same thing your users use, day in and day out.
Layout and navigation are the key for attracting attention to a website. On a well designed website, individual elements, be it graphics or text, appear to be in harmony with and complimentary to each other. The quality of the layout dependents on the right mix of placing of objects, font size, empty spaces, and background.
Use background colour that enhances the look of the text or graphic on the foreground. Lighter shades are generally preferred and practically found to be useful. Avoid adding colours just to create shock value or add an element of surprise. In addition, the background has to be appropriate keeping in mind the focus of the site. A site dedicated for a medical facility may have white or light blue as the background giving an impression of purity, cleanliness, healing etc., while darker colours may not be suitable.
Placing of the text and the spaces in between may also give different impressions about the website. A website for a media company may display text and graphics in a random manner which may not be appropriate for, say a charitable organisation.
It is very important that you have a valid HTML document.
A valid document is important so that your page displays correctly on all browsers. You can use different validations that are available for the purpose. By using these validators you can understand the various errors that exist in your document and easily make sure that you remove these errors to make your page W3C compliant. These validators can provide you with a detailed description of errors that you can read out and eliminate.
When you submit a page for validating you generally get a window or an email that will explain the errors. You cannot have a perfectly valid page the first time so it is important that you validate your page. Moreover, with validation, you ensure that your page can load properly even when HTML versions improve. To effectively fix validation problems you can undertake the following measures: Continue reading
The total number of HTML files on each page should be as low as possible although most browsers can multithread. Minimizing HTTP requests is a key to web page loading.
The total number of objects & images should be a reasonable number. Combine, refine, and optimize your external objects. Replace graphic rollovers with CSS rollovers to speed display and minimize HTTP requests. Continue reading
Simple rather than flashy: The use of multimedia can help you provide all kinds of features making your web pages lifelike and interesting. However, it is advisable to avoid its use if you really want your prospective visitors to gain quick access to your website and obtain the relevant information. It is a good idea to limit flash navigation, which can confuse users if over used. Always make access to your Home page direct from any page.
Focus on speed: Files with graphic formats should never give users long download times or they will be driven away. Remember search engines find it hard to decipher text embedded in graphics and these features take longer to download. Avoid such things as far as possible. Have a look here for more technical tips on website loading and page design.
When Firefox announced a new version for their excellent web browser a couple of weeks ago – Version 3 – I wasted no time in down loading the latest version. Full of excitement.
I have been a massive Firefox fan (along with every other tech geek around) for a long time now.
What an absolute disappointment.
Along with the fact that half my add-ons were unsupported (such as RoboForm), it has an unbelievable amount of bugs, clashes with Norton 360 – and is just a massive let down.
After using the new version of Firefox for a couple of hours I actually changed my default browser back to IE7 (which I hate with a passion). Not for long however, because when you’re used to using Firefox – IE just doesn’t cut it.
So, IE goes back to being used only as the test browser for new web development – that’s about the extent of it’s use.
Yesterday, I uninstalled it and reinstalled Version 18.104.22.168.6 – and it’s back to it’s brilliant best! I love Firefox again.
The total size of your images should be under 30K. Consider optimising your images for size, combining them, and replacing graphic rollovers with CSS.
The total size of external scripts ideally should not be over 8K. Consider optimising your scripts for size, combining them, and using compression where appropriate for any scripts placed in the HEAD of your documents.
The total size of your external CSS should be under 8K. Optimise your CSS for size by eliminating white space in the code, using shorthand notation, and combining multiple CSS files where appropriate.
While designing your Website, you should understand the fact that your visitors might try to get access by using one of the many different browsers used throughout the globe. Hence, a vital part of your effort focuses on ensuring that your Website performs satisfactorily when accessed by any browser. If your Website is not accessible or does not run smoothly with certain browsers, then you might lose those visitors and potential clients to your competitors.
Various operating systems use different browsers. Therefore, even as Windows users prefer to use Internet Explorer, Firefox, or even Opera – Linux users could be accessing your site by using Konqueror while Mac users could visit via Safari.