Archive for the 'Web Code' Category

Pink for October

I’m a bit late to the party here, but what the hell.

Inspired by Phu, Anton and Matthew, I’ve turned this site ever so subtly Pink for October (you might need to hit refresh), in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Mmm, garish.

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”.

98% of statistics are made up on the spot

I’ve been using Google’s Analytics package for a little while now and the statistics make interesting1 reading. I’ve been quite impressed with it really. The interface is a little ugly (hey, it’s Google), but it gets the job done nicely.

So what do they tell me?

Firstly, you lot need to buck your ideas up. Over half of you are still using Internet Explorer, you crazy fools! There’s plenty of better alternatives out there — and they’re free! Firefox and Opera are the obvious ones.

One of you is still using Internet Explorer 5. Whoever you are, you really need to upgrade.

You lot don’t like Sony, do you?

It’s no surprise to find that a lot of you have trouble with the Sony SonicStage and Connect software that came with your Walkman. The most popular search phrases are about those two, and my rants about them get by far the most traffic. Those of you still looking for an answer, might like to try the ml_sony plugin for Winamp.

Of course I won’t be writing much about them anymore, because they simply don’t work on this shiny new Mac. That’s good in some ways, but it also means that I’m left with a Walkman full of music that I can’t update. If anybody fancies writing a Mac OS-X driver…

Ahem…

Second most popular search term? “Cumfest”. Nicely done folks. I bet you’re not looking for pictures of mountain bikers in the snow either, are you?

Speaking of which, the rest of you are into your bikes. Unfortunately those of you looking for Hope Technology and 24Seven bikes aren’t going find much more than my rants about their awful web-sites.

Hmm, ranting is becoming something of a recurring theme here isn’t it? I’m quite happy-go-lucky in real life…

 

1. But only if you’re me.

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!

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?

See, that’s how you do it!

You may remember the rants I had about the awful new web-sites launched by Hope, Mojo and 24Seven a while back. I was beginning to wonder if we would ever see the mountain bike industry launch a decent website. Well at long last it’s happened: Santa Cruz Bicycles UK have redesigned – and sugarstreet did a damn good job of it.

It looks fantastic. It works well. The HTML code is good. The Javascript is unobtrusive and the site continues to work with it switched off. The images have meaningful alt-content. The content is good.

Obviously it’s not perfect: The navigation isn’t particularly bulletproof and falls apart when I scale the text up. That’s just about all I can find that’s wrong with it right now though, which puts it leagues ahead of most other bike-related sites.

Good work peeps.

[Disclaimer: Mattmagic, the designer behind the redesign, is a friend of mine. My verdict on the website would be the same if I didn’t know him from Adam.]

The obligatory “I’m back from @media 2006” post

So, my first @media is over and very good it was too. Highlights for me (in no particular order):

  • Jeff Veen‘s presentation: Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps. Caused me to have all manner of light-bulb moments.
  • Chris Wilson’s very informative presentation about IE7 – and (perhaps more importantly) future versions beyond that one.
  • Mexican food with Adam and Gareth.
  • The relief when Peter Crouch finally scored for England, then the elation when Steven Gerrard sealed it.
  • Kate “buying” us (Amanda, Rich, Ross, Alan and myself) the most foul champagne of all time, then running away without drinking any enough.
  • Ian Lloyd mistaking the moon for Big Ben.
  • Robin Christopherson’s presentation was absolutely amazing (despite the technical hiccups). It gave a real insight into how a blind user operates a PC and what problems they can (and do) run into on a daily basis.
  • Chatting with Adam, Nate Koechley (it’s pronounced “Keckley”) and [insert name of that canadian dude who took a liking to London Pride here] about some of the innovations going on at Yahoo! including a great sounding inverse-forum on their corporate intranet.
  • Andy “Malarkey” Clarke‘s presentation: The Fine Art of Web Design. Really inspirational talk on pushing web design out of it’s current “comfort zone”. I intend to try. I wonder how far marketing will let me push it?
  • The “hot topics” panel session which closed the conference. Jeremy Keith lorded it over Molly, Jon Hicks, Eric Meyer and Tantek Çelic, which produced a very entertaining debate.
  • Inventing a series of new microformats (including hTopTrumps and hLove – for dating websites) in the pub with Rich, Gareth and Andy.

Big thanks to Patrick, Amanda and the rest of the team for organising it and everybody else who made it such a good event. It was great to meet you all again / for the first time. Can we book tickets for the next one yet?

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