Category Archives: Opinions

Google Doctype Screams “Fork ME!”

The newly released Google Doctype is intended to be the Wikipedia of web design. There’s a video introduction on the landing page of Mark Pilgrim explaining what Google has been internally calling the the “Hitch Hikers Guide to the Web”. He’s been working on Google Doctype, said it is supposed to be the cross-platform alternative to MSDN. MSDN? I don’t know any web designers that rely on MSDN as the go-to spot for quality cross-platform client-side code! Maybe they’re targeting ASP.NET developers…and that could explain the very un-wiki linear treestyle navigation.

Google Doctype Screenshot

The Good

My own private wiki, largely comprised of web development documentation for my own projects, code snippits and links to online resources, is invaluable to me – so the potential benefits of an open wiki of this nature is obvious and I’ve often wondered why there isn’t one (with critical mass) out there already. Certainly this project, or at least the idea of it, could be an invaluable tool to professional web designers and client-side developers. Some take-aways:

  • “Written by web developers, for web developers” and by that they mean client-side developers…most of the current content is specific to JavaScript DOM stuff and cross-browser CSS considerations. I think this fills a knowledge gap as a lot of CSS and even Ajax resources are designer-oriented (lacking meaty technical details) and many developer resources gloss over or ignore web standards or a lot of the details professional programmers take for granted (like finding a viewport or using javascript to manipulate classes)
  • It’s built on the Google Project framework so you can download the whole thing via SVN.
  • The licensing is pretty unrestrictive, so you could SVN everything and put it up on an intranet statically or keep an off line copy, as was mentioned in the intro video.
  • Discrete code snippets. Rather than a long tutorial with examples that are specific to a given situation, many of the HOWTOs are broken down into more abstracted uses. This style of documentation will help a lot when your stuck on specific area of a bigger project. Personally, I learn more this way – I like the big step-by-step tutorials but when I cut and paste a lot I don’t retain very much.

The Ugly

Google suffers from chronic ugliness (IMHO) and this project is no exception. Don’t get me wrong, I’m GOOG fangirl all the way, but there always seems to be some basic user interface and user experience problems with their apps/portals/projects/whatever. And here’s where I think Google Doctype has need of improvement:

  • No indication of off-site links. Not only does a link to MSDN look just like the internal links, there are links to other Google Code project without any indications that you’re leaving Google Doctype, in fact, the logo is still Google Code. Navigation is a little confusing in general.
  • Lack of Style Guidelines. There is something to “just putting it out there” and I’m glad they did, but if a lot of people do start adding to this resource it could turn into quite a mess. It would have been ideal to have a written style established that would make sense for an open wiki. For example, statements like “generally, we recommend the following…” and “I’m not sure if this works on IE”. This type of thing would never fly on Wikipedia – now that the docs are open to the whole internets, such statements are ambiguous, lack authority and create a bad example that others are sure to follow.
  • Not really a wiki. First there’s the linear tree/node navigation pane (which seems to collapse by itself and disappear or reappear for no apparent reason) . There is no discussion page (although there are comments, sort of like PHP.net), no page history (but you can manually add a free-form line to a log file, if you notice the option), there’s no obvious way to check to see what links to a page, the list goes on.
  • Screaming “Fork Me”. A fork may be inevitable, and if a fork emerges using MediaWiki or any of a myriad of much more robust wiki platforms, I would be more likely to invest my time in that in spite of the Google mind share.

A Web Reference To Rule Them All

When I first read that Google published a web design wiki I was thrilled. I tried to think of other, similar resources. There are some great blogs, lists and forums out there but I’ve yet to find the one web reference to rule them all. If you know of one, please let me know! In the meantime I’m looking for domains…webwiki.com is just a db error, webwiki.net is a half-baked attempt at a wiki version of the Million Dollar Homepage. Hrm. If I come up with a load of extra time and a brilliant idea I will let you know. In the mean time, here are a few of my favorite web coder sites:

  • W3C.org – start at the top, right?
  • HTML Dog – very well organized reference and tutorials for CSS and (x)HTML
  • A List Apart – high quality articles published by those web standards freaks at Happy Cog.

Website Contact Pages

Contact Page vs. Mailto Link

Oh the contact page. So boring, so obligatory. And not as simple as it may seem. I was hoping to jazz up the contact page at BuildCarbonNeutral.org with some sort of slick Ajax contact form. You see, I built the site in a really big hurry could spare not time for extras like protecting raw email addresses. By the way, email address protection is not an extra, usually! It’s something I meant to rectify as soon as possible and sure enough, our general contact alias is already receiving spam. I thought I might take the email address off completely and post a contact form instead.

The Problem with Contact Forms

Even the best form is an obstacle. Users don’t like filling out forms and what’s more, you introduce an opportunity for error. Everyone commits a typo now and again, and what if someone sends you information you’d really like to follow up on but lo and behold, their email address bounces. Even if you add the extra email confirmation input (make the user enter it twice), there’s still the case of people using an incorrect email address just to harass you. But really it all comes down to user experience. Don’t make your user fill out a form if they don’t have to.

The Simple and Sincere Mailto Link

So it’s back to the good ‘ol mailto link for me. The added benefit is people can save the email address in their contact list of choice and can format the email and send attachments if they choose. An email link is more personal, less corporate. Of course you all know that any email address present in the code of a public website is crawlable by spambots. Therefore be sure to put measures in place to protect all email addresses!

There’s Always an Exception

Sometimes you really should use a form. A common use for them is on high-traffic sites where they actually want to make it a little harder for users to get in contact. This approach is especially prevalent on sites that offer a product or service that results in a lot of support email and they want to encourage users to troubleshoot their own problem using existing documentation (FAQs, support forums, etc) before contacting the company/authors directly. Some sites don’t provide contact info at all for this reason. Chances are though, if your site is for a small business or is personal, you want to make it easier for people to contact you.

Carbon Neutral Website Development

Carbon Neutral Websites? Check your smug factor!
Carbon offsetting is very trendy right now. Just last week my boyfriend purchased a wind power offset. I was sort of surprised as we’d never discussed offsetting, and asked him what his motivation was. "It’s for the electricity that I use, this card makes government purchase wind power." The thing is, we live in Seattle, where electricity pretty darn green already and there’s a program for utilities customers to contribute to directly.

Via the 9Rules Network I ran across Darren Stuart’s suggestion on the Web2.0 Show that websites developers become carbon neutral and that not only is it a good thing for the Earth, but it’s a great for marketing. A lot of people chimed in right away with "Oh yeah…I’ll plant a tree! Great!!" kind of stuff. A quick search for “carbon neutral website” indicates the trend has already begun (at least it has in the UK).

There’s more to offsetting than planting trees

I was both excited to see that environmental responsibility is becoming so mainstream and at once dismayed at this continual emphasis on mindless offsetting. Like most political and scientific issues, the devil is in the details. Many early offset companies actually hurt more than helped, through poor planning and lack of follow through. The validity of tree-planting offsets remain questionable both as to the long-term effectiveness of successful programs and the lack of ability to guarantee said trees will remain healthy and protected long enough to do any good in the first place.

And then there’s basic concept of carbon offsetting. Many have criticized the practice as allowing people guilt-free passes for ongoing irresponsible behavior. I agree that it should be only part of a persons efforts to do their part. I mean if you’re driving an unnecessarily gas guzzling car, indulging in excessive and unnecessary trips or think recycling only has to do with your computer desktop then purchasing a bunch of offsets shouldn’t be your only focus! I’m already gritting my teeth at the inevitable trend of smug “carbon neutral website” banners on the sites of people who’ve never even bothered recycled their hazardous electronic equipment.

Now, lest I wreak of smug myself, I must announce: I am no saint. I don’t own a car, I walk to work, I bus or bike whenever it’s reasonable. I recycle avidly (including compost and proper disposal of hazardous materials) at work. But I must admit, I don’t recycle at home as well as I could because our landlord doesn’t offer options (or take opinions!) so it’s not convenient. I borrow my boyfriends gas hungry work truck usually only when I need it, but occasionally when I’m just feeling lazy. I indulge in long, hot showers. And more I’m sure. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to offset and especially if you’re going to toot your horn about, research your options and choose responsibly!

Should you purchase offsets? And if so, which ones?

The Wikipedia entry ‘Carbon offset’ is currently very informative and cites a plethora of references, both skeptic and optimistic. This should keep you busy for a while and help you determine whether it’s the right choice, or the first choice for you. The article Shifting Into Neutral by Emily Main on National Georgaphic’s Green Guide web site should help you understand the basic differences in available offsets. Then head on over to TreeHugger.com for the latest on carbon offset providers.

Web 2.0 – When is enough enough?

Ong Bak fan site on FanPop
Screenshot of the Ong Bak fan portal on FanPop!

I have internet ADD. I try every new web 2.0 app out there – I have a good spam filter (gmail) and I always use the same password and the my username of choice is never taken so I don’t hesitate to try out a new website. I recently stumbled upon the Ong Bak spot I started on FanPop! when they were first accepting beta memberships. FanPop! is a site where you can find existing ‘spots’ for things you are interested in or start your own if it doesn’t exist. Each spot is a user community dedicated to a specific topic where people can go to find and share related information. Because the site offers RSS feeds you can subscribe to the content and always be in the know when someone posts something about what interests you.
I’d totally forgotten about my ‘spot’ and the site altogether, but a few users had posted some interesting Ong Bak related links so I decided to subscribe to the feed and look up a few more topics.
We’ll see how many of these sites earn a permanent spot on my feed list. The problem with all of these user-contributed social sites (much like 43things/people/places) is that there are so many sites like them vying for attention and not enough aggregation.  Studies have shown that for all the Web 2.0 community-driven sites out there, the vast majority of traffic is comprised of non-participators/spectators and the content is contributed and driven by a tiny percentage.  These sorts of people are also likely to have blogs and as the author of three blogs and frequent user of web applications flickr, digg and 43places, I can personally attest to how spread thin I am with my time and attention.

While each of these and hundreds of other sites have amazing potential that I could explore more deeply, there’s just too darn many. For instance, if I really like a restaurant and want to share my enthusiasm there are scores of places I could post a review – so how do I choose? Well, personally I choose my own blog first because I know the content will always be there and I can find it later, but because only my friends read my personal blog, I might post it on 43places because I like and use that site. But I kind of want to post it to CitySearch so non-geeks can find it, what about Yelp?, Epinions? Oh, I could post the review with a photo on Flickr, a lot of people are using Flickr as a blog these days. The list goes on and on, and on!

At what point are there too many user-contributed websites and not enough contributers? Too many content receptacles and not enough content?
What’s Web 3.0 going to look like? Web-based office…maybe. Productivity, I believe, and relevancy are definitely going to be major themes as we all struggle with the information overlap and overload.

Something I’d like to see is an easy way for people to customize display of, input and then push out content. I’d love to be able to just open up my WordPress admin panel, through it, upload my photos to Flickr, have them all link back to the post they originated from, push out the post as a comment or review of various sites like 43places or Epinions, etc. Because, like I said, I have internet ADD, I don’t necessarily want to pick my battles, but these days I have to!

Top 10 Web 2.0 Apps

Seth Godin posted a great list of 937 Web 2.0 applications ranked by traffic (according to Alexa). I compared it to my top 10 (most used and most loved):

  1. Flickr – photo site, browse photos and store your own
  2. WordPress – blogging platform either on your own server or theirs
  3. Gmail – Google’s web based email client
  4. Wikipedia – free community-written encyclopedia
  5. Google Reader – I started with Bloglines, then Rojo, but Reader is the best!
  6. Del.icio.us – Find your bookmarks no matter what computer you’re using, it’s a great discover tool as well as you can search other people’s bookmarks. I love the Firefox plugin as it works better than their default web interface.
  7. JetEye Jetpacks – I use this as a Firefox add on as well, although there’s a regular web interface so you can access your ‘packs’ any time. It’s like del.icio.us but you can save just an image, an excerpt of text, a movie and your own notes and package them into packs which can be shared with others – see my ‘Shoes I love‘ collection.
  8. 43Places – read and write reviews of places from Fremont to Dhaka, India. I use 43people and 43things too, but not as much.
  9. Google Maps
  10. Myspace

I use everything on this list daily, except for myspace. I hate myspace, but I must acknowledge it’s extreme power. The UI is horrible. Everything requires multiple clicks, I constantly run into error messages, what they allow their users to do to their pages is almost as bad as the ads that do anything but grace the screen. Myspace is not a site you want to be seen looking at at any respectable workplace. Yet I also love Myspace – because so many people use it. I have three friends including my 11-year old neighbor (*ahem* I mean 14 yo) who I’ve communicated with more in the last 4 months than in the last year, easily. It’s cheesy, it’s silly, it’s scary, but it’s also infectious. I actually don’t use it very often, but if I want to get a hold of certain people, it’s the surest way.
Related:Web 2.0 for designers.

Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0

Zeldman, author of the vastly popular Designing With Web Standards, offers an amusing comparison of Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 trends here are my favorites:
Web 1.0: Crap sites on Geocities.
Web 2.0: Crap sites on MySpace.

Web 1.0: Writing.
Web 2.0: Rating.

Web 1.0: Cool Site of the Day.
Web 2.0: Technorati.com.

He invited his readers to submit their own as well:

Web 1.0: Animated gif
Web 2.0: Badges

Web 1.0: Bloated Table Code
Web 2.0: Divitis

Web 1.0: “Under Construction”
Web 2.0: “Beta”

Web 1.0: Content is king!
Web 2.0: Contributed content is king!

Web 1.0: drop shadows
Web 2.0: reflections

Web 1.0: “Site best viewed with Internet Explorer”
Web 2.0: “Site best viewed with anything but Internet Explorer”

Web 1.0: “Looking for an experienced designer. Must be able to design and implement websites using HTML, CSS. Knowledge of Javascript a bonus.”
Web 2.0: Looking for an experienced designer. The candidate must be affluent in XHTML, CSS, Javascript, DHTML, AJAXY GOODNESS, Ruby on Rails, PHP, JSP, SQL, MySql, ASP.net, XML, Actionscript (2.0 and 3.0), Adobe CS2 products, Dreamweaver, Coldfusion, Quark, eCommerce, SEO, linux, unix, IIS.

And I reworded a couple:

Web 1.0: Surfing
Web 2.0: Consuming

Web 1.0: Webmonkey
Web 2.0: A List Apart

Bitcomet Feature Wish

I’m not sure if this is a feature that should be automatic in Bitcomet, or maybe it’s something I could script if I were a real windows scripting geek…but it would be SO cool if I could get an email notification when a specific torrent was done downloading. Why can’t you just look? Well, I’m at work, working late on a project task that has no clear ending…I’d love to just continue until my favorite show is downloaded, taking that as my que to get outta here!

Blogger Upgrade – Google Integration

My first blog post back in 2000 was powered by Blogger, though my site runs on WordPress now. A few of my client’s blogs are still powered by Blogger and everything still works great, helped in part by the fact that Blogger has changed very little. When Google bought Blogger in the summer of 2003 many people were left wondering why. Their questions remain unanswered, and then people wondered why Google has let Blogger stagnate the past few years as both blogging and blog software options exploded on the web. And now Google junkies and tech gossips will doubtless mull endlessly over the sudden beta release of the new, improved, Google-integrated Blogger.
Blogger will now use Gmail accounts

Reminiscent of Flickr’s move to YahooID’s after their buyout, my Google Account was already detected and a link encourageming me to switch my Blogger user account was presented. Already, I like this. I use several Google services including Gmail, Calendar and Sitemaps and like most people, I’d like everything to be simpler and easier. Integration all communication tools holds great efficiency potential.

I doubt the redesign will have much impact on self-hosting bloggers…that is, people who run blog software on their webservers as opposed to a hosted version. WordPress and similar full blown open source software applications boast incredible flexibility, customization capabilities and user-based support. Where blogger could pull ahead is in your hobbyist and non-tech blogger realm. They must realize that as the three features the beta highlights are:

New ways to customize your template – Drag and drop page elements and easily change your template’s font and color scheme.
Private blogs -Create a blog visible to just your friends and family, not the whole world.
Labels -Give your posts a category label so that you and your readers can easily sort by topic.

All of these things essentially make it easier for regular (non web-coder folk) to customize their blogs.
The new template customization seems to use the concept of web parts – movable configurable zones, similar to your customized Google, MSN or Yahoo homepage. This will allow people a more organic way of customizing thier site and allow them to feel in control without knowing any code.

Giving users push-button ability to make thier blog private is truly brilliant. All the loud mouths (like me) that want to shout their business to the world are already blogging – those left that don’t have blogs are either uninterested, intimidated by the technology or are concerned about privacy. Way to read your target audience Google!

The label feature is really just Blogger catching up to everyone else. Labels are more commonly referred to as categories or tags. Google’s chronic use of the word ‘labels’ instead of the popularly accepted ‘tags’ is perplexing and possibly confusing for some folks (IMO – it really just irritates me).

Beta blogs are invite-only (no one invited me *schniff*) so for now head over to Google Operating System and TechCrunch for an inside look at the new blogging features.

First Impressions of SQL Server Manager

A couple of things jump out immediately:

  • They’ve recruited and listened to some UI experts
  • It’s not terribly different from Enterprise Manager

I honestly didn’t think I would like the new SQL Server Manager…mostly because I already like Enterprise Manager and Query Analyzer. I was SO wrong, yippee! It’s flippin sweet. I especially love the new integrated script features – you can script just about anything you would do in the GUI. This is most excellent for learning and uber useful for making triggers and DTS pacakage and all sorts of things! Check it out…

new script features in SQL Server Management Studio

The merging of SQL Enterprise Manager and Query Analyzer will save plenty of time going back and forth, it’s an obvious move… Another obvious enhangement to Windows apps in general, one that gives me hope in terms of M$‘s direction, is the easy copying of error messages, relevant error messages and a help feature integrated in the error dialogue itself that lets you select different portions with which to query online help. It’s like they don’t want to torture us anymore!!!
helpful error message in visual studio 2005

Don’t tell my linux friends please, but I’m getting really excited now about Longhorn coming out. It could be much easier to support.

Virtual Server Website Admin problem

In my case, it’s not a box, it’s a laptop. After downloading and installing I was a little befuddled by the lack of classic exe interface. It’s got a web admin panel. The problem for me was it was opening, and then requesting authentication to view it. My admin credentials didn’t work. Then I noticed something funny (aside from the fact that Firefox is my default browser) – the url said http://computername/VirtualServer/VSWebApp.exe?view=1 but I’ve never set up a domain controller or IPs or anything. I’m learning from the ground up and my default IIS site is http://localhost. Changing the Virtual Server Website Administration url to http://localhost/VirtualServer/VSWebApp.exe?view=1 fixed the problem. (You can fix the link in the program group by right-clicking the ‘Virtual Server Administration Website and selecting properties.)
virtual server 2005 r2

Now, anyone who knows me may be wondering what the hey? Now, I’m as a web designer, I have to say, nothing is yummier than Apache and PHP. But, I’m learning development for my job, they’re a great firm that does amazing design work (architecture), so I’ve come to accept that for all their charms they are an MS shop.

My plan with Virtual Server? Well, I have to admit I’m kind of excited about SharePoint’s next iteration. I’m almost through with a course at Netdesk, which has been engrossing and enlightening and I’m trying to set up a good test environment for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS). MOSS is soo cool, the knowledge harvesting, management and communication possibilities are huge. I will keep you informed of my painful process.

New to MS > I’m not a Sysadmin > I’m barely a web developer > FEEL MY PAIN!

p.s. That screenshot is using IE7 beta. It’s much, much better than IE 6, more like Firefox, almost as clean and snappy.