Archive for the 'Work' Category

London Buses

Firefox 2 Microsoft aren’t the only ones releasing a new browser this week.

Mozilla have stepped up and released Firefox 2, the latest version of their browser. A built-in spell-checker and protection against fraudulent & malicious web-sites are amongst the new features.

If you already use Firefox, the built-in update system should let you know about the download shortly (if it hasn’t already). If you aren’t you really ought to give it a go — Grab a copy from getfirefox.com.

Heads Up: Internet Explorer 7 is here

Just a quickie to note that Microsoft have released Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP. Get it while it’s hot!

This will be pushed out via Windows Update in the next few weeks, though it’ll be a non-crititcal as a high-priority update for now. IE7 will not install without asking first. More information on the IE Blog.

[Thanks to Andrew Disley for the tip-off]

Microformats

Designed for humans first and machines second, microformats are a set of simple, open data formats built upon existing and widely adopted standards.

I didn’t understand it at first. I just couldn’t see the point. I wasn’t thinking outside the box. It took a kick up the backside from Jeremy Keith and co to figure it out.

You see, most web-sites contain some form of useful data: Contact information, reviews, events and so on. Sometimes, it’s not even obviously structured data. Take my “About the author” snippet for example:

Olly Hodgson is a Web Designer dude from Cheltenham, England.

It tells you who I am, what I do, where I’m from and includes a link where you can find out more about me. There’s almost enough for a business card.

The thing is, no two coders will mark-up their contact information, reviews and events in quite the same way, so it’s not exactly simple to extract it and use it elsewhere. Microformats aim to change that.

Here comes the science bit

Let’s take a closer look at that snippet:

<p class="vcard">
<a href="http://thinkdrastic.net/about/" class="fn url">Olly Hodgson</a> is a <span class="title">Web Designer</span> dude from <span class="adr"><span class="locality">Cheltenham</span>, <span class="country-name">England</span></span>.
</p>

You see those class-names wrapped around the important bits of data? That’s the hCard microformat in action. Basically, it’s an HTML version of vCard, which is the industry-standard electronic business card format. In there we’ve got a name (class=”fn”), a web address (class=”url”), a job-title (class=”title”) and so on.

Run this page through Technorati’s hCard to vCard converter and hey presto! A vCard you can open in your address book software.

The real beauty is that you don’t have to change the look-and-feel of your web-site in the slightest. Just add the magical class-names to your existing mark-up and you’re done.

So what’s next?

Microformats are obviously still in their infancy, but their potential is endless. Where hCard opens up contact information, hCalendar does the same for events. hReview has the potential to completely shake up the way products are rated in the online shopping world. XOXO could enable a web-browser to offer an outline-view of your site similar to the one offered in Microsoft Word. The list goes on and on.

What’s more, while microformats offer a standardised way of extracting data from HTML, they don’t in any way lock you into writing it in a specific way. Your HTML code can look how you want it to really, as long as it includes those magical class attributes.

Go on, get out there and implement them. You know you want to.

Fat feet: A good thing?

There’s been an interesting discussion going down on the SitePoint forums, about the recent design trend towards so called “Fat Footers”. As per usual in there, you’ve got zealots on either side of the argument and then those who take a measured approach and get lost in the noise.

Anyway, Derek Powazek first popularised the idea last year with his Embrace your bottom! piece. The idea is that the footer on your site can be more than the plain old boilerplate legalese.

The theory goes thus: A reader arrives at a page on your site and gets drawn in by whatever fantastic piece of content you have top and centre. They read down the page and assuming you’ve done your job right, they reach the bottom wanting more. So you use your footer to give it to them, with links to related articles and other interesting content on your site.

Sounds great, so why the argument?

Now, I’m a great fan of these things. I really couldn’t see people’s problem with them at all.

Then, whilst exploring the resources on Webcredible’s site, I found a very interesting article: Usability for older web users. One of the things I took away from it is that older users are much less likely to scroll down a page to find what they need, probably because it’s a concept novel to computer technology.

This doesn’t really change my opinion of the fat footer. It’s still a novel way of presenting related / secondary / meta-data without distracting the user from the primary content — another useful tool in the box. It simply means you need to take your target audience into account. If you’re designing for the “silver surfer” generation (and with an ageing population in the UK, you really ought to be considering them), you need to be aware that they’re less likely to use any navigation that sits “below the fold”.

That web-geek conference in Brighton

d.Construct 2006

I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s successfully messed up my body clock but I don’t think I can blame anyone but myself for that…

So, I arrived in Brighton on Thursday night after a surprisingly trouble-free train journey. After checking into the hotel, I wandered up the road to Heist for the pre-conference social gathering. I met some new people, caught up with the usual suspects and generally had a good time. We finished up at a random pub on the sea-front at about 3 a.m.

Just under five hours later, my alarm went off. I staggered downstairs where I self-served myself the biggest breakfast of all time, before wandering up to the Corn Exchange, venue for the conference. A bit of fresh air did me the world of good, so I was feeling surprisingly wide awake by the time I got there. I grabbed the freebies, downed some coffee and got chatting to some more of the peeps before we were called into the auditorium.

The conference itself was ace. We had talks from Jeff Barr, Simon Willison & Paul Hammond, Jeremy Keith (twice!), Aral Balkan, Derek Featherstone, Thomas Vander Wal and Jeff Veen. Various other attendees around the internet have dissected each of the sessions so I won’t go into detail.

Obviously it wasn’t all perfect. Biggest problem for me was the lack of leg-room in the auditorium. Maybe it’s just my bad knees?

The good stuff made up for that though. Aral’s “Mash my Flex up” presented Flash to me in a whole new light. Derek Featherstone came up with a series of gotchas and examples of deeply inaccessible coding on some very high profile sites (hello Google Calendar). Finally, Jeff Veen stole the show (as per usual). It was one of his inspirational tour-de-force talks, leaving most of the audience thinking “Yeah, this stuff is ace! Let’s go and build it, right now!”

Which of course we didn’t. After running off to drop off various laptops, bags and miscellaneous freebies off at numerous hotels around Brighton, we all congregated at The Terraces for the Snipperoo sponsored after-party. Alas, I missed out on the free-bar (which ran out in about ten minutes flat). That place closed somewhat earlier than billed, so a bunch of us went-a-wandering, eventually ending up in Sidewinder. Again, I finally crawled into bed shortly after 3 a.m.

Just under five hours later, my alarm went off. I staggered downstairs where I self-served myself the second-biggest breakfast of all time, before checking out and wandering up to the station. After a surprisingly trouble-free train journey, I got home to find that I’d lost my house-keys and ended up climbing in a window. Utter genius. Where did they turn up? Bottom of my wash-bag. Go figure…

Of course one of the best things about the whole conference was the backnetwork. I didn’t have to collect business cards from everybody I met. Instead I logged on, added them to my network (all done with XFN) et voila! I have their contact details. What’s more, it picks up people’s blog posts that mention , along with any Flickr photos tagged with dconstruct06. Madgex, that was an inspired idea!

Oh wouldn’t it be nice…

…if we could get away with just some of the silly ideas we come up with at work?

Alas I wasn’t allowed to put the Evil Edna button onto the live web-site.

A quick tip on concentration

I’m easily distracted in the office, especially when I’m working on something less than engaging. Here’s two things I’ve started doing to aid concentration:

  1. Set your browser’s homepage to the web-site you’re working on right now, as opposed to something eternally distracting like popurls.
  2. Hide the bookmarks toolbar, so you’re not tempted to click on any of the lovely buttons sat there saying click me!

Simple things, but they work for me. Anybody got any others?