Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Grok?

I have a geek confession. I always thought grok just came from Unix. Oh no, I’m a dork, not a geek! How embarrassing….

The word “grok” comes from Robert A. Heinlein’s Zen-hippie science fiction opus Stranger in a Strange Land. It’s a verb from the Martian language that means something along the lines of “to understand completely.” To grok something is to achieve a deep, intuitive comprehension of it. – How to Grok Web Standards by Craig Cook on A List Apart

Killer Keyboard Skillz

I remember when I first met my boyfriend Tim, he impressed me by alt-tabbing and exporting paths from Photoshop to Illustrator. I was mesmerized by his Illustrator work flow: no visible tool bars, full screen mode. He was a keyboard master. Then I saw his desktop and realized he was an application-savant. Still…the impression was made during that critical get-to-know you phase.

Get L337 skills that impress the geekiest of your friends by becoming a mouse-free keyboard Jedi. Not only is it cool, it’s a major productivity booster.

Here’s some links to get you started.

Hack Attack: Become a Gmail Master

Now, don’t go off and try to learn everything at once! Unless you have an amazingly spongy memory it will be a waste of time. I usually learn a couple at a time by writing them on a post it and sticking it to my monitor. Once I have them down, I find new ones. The key is to actually use the shortcuts…force yourself, it’s harder than you think to start breaking the mouse addiction. It will feel awkward. But once you have, you’ll feel liberated.PDF of Firefox browser's keyboard shortcuts

I’ve got the basics of most my apps down, so now I have a cheat sheet for Firefox Shortcuts pasted to my monitor. Here’s a pdf of it, it’s a tri-fold that will eventually have a section for Gmail shortcuts and one for my macros and custom shortcuts in my text editor and various IDEs.

And once you’ve learned all the keyboard shortcuts you need, it may be time to take it to the next level and use an application like Hotkeys (freeware) that extends windows keys shortcuts.

Major Search Engines Agree to Sitemap Standard

Excellent news for web designers…there’s just one sitemap standard to worry about for all the major search engines. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft agreed, this bears repeating, agreed to use the same Sitemaps protocol to index sites around the web.  Visit sitemaps.org to learn how to create an XML file that tells spiders where to go and what has changed. If you’ve already been using Google sitemaps, it’s the same protocol.

Read more on TechCrunch.

Black Backgrounds

Cleverly titled Dark Side of the Blog, Centripetal Forces writes on the topic of dark backgrounds coming back into vogue. Whether or not dark to black backgrounds are as usable as very light or white backgrounds is simply not subjective.1 Whether or not people like them is. While I would agree that black background sites can be done reasonably well, but they’re never going to be as easy to read. I often skip reading blogs (unless they have full post feeds) with dark backgrounds simply because I don’t feel like squinting. Design Observer comes to mind. I, myself, have designed sites with black backgrounds at the owner’s behest.

  1. According to Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines, a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, when compared to reading light text on a dark background, people read black text on a white background up to 32 percent faster. In general, the greater the contrast between the text and background, the easier the text is to read. Study after study supports this finding.