Archive for the 'Web Code' Category

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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The obligatory “I’m off to @media 2006” post

I’ll be jumping on a train to London in the not-too-distant future and making my way down to the @media 2006 conference, which is nice.

If you’re going, I might well see you there. I you’re not, well, yah boo sucks to you.

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More failed redesigns: Mojo and 24Seven

I spotted Hope Technology’s new website a while back and branded it a failure. Alas that seems to be something that’s spreading throughout the UK mountain bike industry.

Mattmagic pointed out that both Mojo and 24Seven have recently launched redesigns. He’s left it to me to point out exactly what’s wrong though. Let’s take them in turn:

24Seven Bikes

  • That’s possibly the most pointless splash page in the world, ever. What’s more, it’s completely inaccessible. Where a normal link would have worked, they’ve gone with an image map. They’ve used obstructive javascript instead of the href attribute. Best of all, they’ve forgotten to include any alt text. Search engines? Screen readers? No, I didn’t think so.
  • Oh, I see, it’s supposed to open in a perfectly sized popup window isn’t it? It doesn’t though, because I’ve told Firefox to open links in the same window unless I say otherwise. Someone needs to read Veen’s Give Up Control.
  • Frames? In this day and age? Are you quite mad?
  • Great use of the title element. A nice helping of UNTITLED DOCUMENT across the top of the browser window looks really professional.
  • Those are some nice navigation buttons you have there. I can’t read them though. Is there any chance you might choose a legible font next time?
  • Whenever you use a graphic to create a navigation element, you must supply alt text. It’s not an optional extra.
  • Speaking of navigational elements, using select elements to jump between pages is just plain daft, especially when they cease to work without Javascript.

Oh I give up. I could carry on for hours about this one.

Mojo Suspension Hoodoo

  • Oh man, another great splash page. Why do people still bother with these? This one looks great if you’re browsing maximised at 1280 x 1024. Anything less and I start to get horizontal scrollbars. Even better is the fact that there are no obvious navigational elements. It takes a good few seconds before you realise those three words down on the bottom left are buttons.
  • What the hell is an M-CYCLE anyway? Just write motorcycle and be done with it.
  • We’re currently greeted with the message “THE WEBSITE IS CURRENTLY BEING UPDATED (20/03/06), SO SOME IMAGES & LINKS MAY NOT WORK. PLEASE BARE WITH US, AS IT WILL BE SORTED OUT VERY SOON, THANK YOU.” Firstly, you might want to spell “bear” correctly. Secondly, why did you launch if the site was going to be full of broken links? That looks professional, doesn’t it?
  • Once we get inside we find great use of frames once again. I don’t tend to keep my browser maximised, and I quite often have a sidebar open. Thanks to the brilliant design of this site, half of the navigation disappears off the side of the page. Now, I know I ranted about unecessary horizontal scrollbars up there, but here’s somewhere I actually need one. Unfortunately, one isn’t forthcoming. Just fantastic.
  • Clearly I’m going to have to shout it this time. ALT TEXT, ALT TEXT, ALT TEXT and not just when you feel like it, either.
  • The bottom frame and the flash animation that sits within it: That really is completely pointless guff isn’t it?

Again, I could go on.

In conclusion

These sites are both great examples of work by someone who’s got themselves a copy of Dreamweaver but has virtually no idea how to use it, let alone an understanding of exactly what it does or what it outputs. “As long as it looks OK on my PC that’s good enough”.

As for semantic markup and standards compliant code, there’s no point even showing it to the validator. It’s awful. Not quite as bad as Hope’s code, but I suspect that’s simply because Dreamweaver has cleaned up it’s act a bit over the years.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t particularly enjoy tearing someone else’s work apart like this. I know that these companies produce damn good product and have great customer service. Alas their websites are absolutely awful and someone needs to say something.

So well done. Congratulations on your . Joe Clark would be proud. For your sakes I hope you got them dead cheap.