Off the Top: DHTML Entries

October 24, 2006

Rebranding and Crossbranding of .net Magazine

From an e-mail chat last week I found out that .net magazine (from the UK) is now on the shelves in the US as "Web Builder". Now that I have this knowledge I found the magazine on my local bookstore shelves with ease. Oddly, when I open the cover it is all ".net".

Rebranding and Crossbranding

In the chat last week I was told the ".net" name had a conflict with a Microsoft product and the magazine is not about the Microsoft product in the slightest, but had a good following before the MS product caught on. Not so surprisingly the ".net" magazine does not have the same confusion in the UK or Europe.

So, the magazine had a choice to not get noticed or rebrand the US version to "Web Builder" and put up with the crossbranding. This is not optimal, as it adds another layer of confusion for those of us that travel and are used to the normal name of the product and look only for that name. Optimally one magazine name would be used for the English language web design and development magazine. If this every happens it will mean breaking a well loved magazine name for the many loving fans of it in the UK and Europe

What is Special About ".net" or "Web Builder"?

Why do I care about this magazine? It is one of the few print magazines about web design and web development. Not only is it one of the few, but it flat out rocks! It takes current Web Standards best practices and makes them easy to grasp. It is explaining all of the solid web development practices and how to not only do them right, but understand if you should be doing them.

I know, you are saying, "but all of this stuff is already on the web!" Yes, this stuff is on the web, but not every web developer lives their life on the web, but most importantly, many of the bosses and managers that will approve this stuff do not read stuff on the web, they still believe in print. Saying the managers need to grow-up and change is short-sighted. One of the best progressive thinkers on technology, Doc Searls is on the web, but he also has a widely read regular column in Linux Journal. But, for me the collection of content in ".net" is some of the best stuff out there. I read it on planes and while I am waiting for a meeting or appointment.

I know the other thing many of you are saying, "but it is only content from UK writers!" Yes, so? The world is really flat and where somebody lives really makes little difference as we are all only a mouse click away from each other. We all have the same design and development problems as we are living with the same browsers and similar people using what we design and build. But, it is also amazing that a country that is a percentage the size of the US has many more killer web designers and developers than the US. There is some killer stuff going on in the UK on the web design and development front. There is great thought, consideration, and research that goes into design and development in the UK and Europe, in the US it is lets try it and see if it works or breaks (this is good too and has its place). It is out of the great thought and consideration that the teaching and guiding can flow. It also leads to killer products. Looking at the Yahoo Europe implementations of microformats rather far and wide in their products is telling, when it has happened far slower in the Yahoo US main products.

Now I am just hoping that ".net" will expand their writing to include a broader English speaking base. There is some killer talent in the US, but as my recent trip to Australia showed there is also killer talent there too. Strong writing skills in English and great talent would make for a great global magazine. It could also make it easier to find on my local bookstore shelves (hopefully for a bit cheaper too).

May 25, 2006

Developing the Web for Whom?

Google Web Developer Toolkit for the Closed Web

Andrew in his post "Reading user interface libraries" brings in elements of yesterday's discussion on The Battle to Build the Personal InfoCloud. Andrew brings up something in his post regarding Google and their Google Web Developer Toolkit (GWT. He points out it is in Java and most of the personal web (or new web) is built in PHP, Ruby [(including Ruby on Rails), Python, and even Perl].

When GWT was launched I was at XTech in Amsterdam and much of the response was confusion as to why it was in Java and not something more widely used. It seems that by choosing Java for developing GWT it is aiming at those behind the firewall. There is still much development on the Intranet done in Java (as well as .Net). This environment needs help integrating rich interaction into their applications. The odd part is many Intranets are also user-experience challenged as well, which is not one of Google's public fortés.

Two Tribes: Inter and Intra

This whole process made me come back to the two differing worlds of Internet and Intranet. On the Internet the web is built largely with Open Source tools for many of the big services (Yahoo, Google, EBay, etc.) and nearly all of the smaller services are Open Source (the cost for hosting is much much lower). The Open Source community is also iterating their solutions insanely fast to build frameworks (Ruby on Rails, etc.) to meet ease of development needs. These sites also build for all operating systems and aim to work in all modern browsers.

On the Intranet the solutions are many times more likely to be Java or .Net as their is "corporate" support for these tools and training is easy to find and there is a phone number to get help from. The development is often for a narrower set of operating systems and browsers, which can be relatively easy to define in a closed environment. The Google solution seems to work well for this environment, but it seems that early reaction to its release in the personal web it fell very flat.

13 Reasons

A posting about Top 13 reasons to CONSIDER the Microsoft platform for Web 2.0 development and its response, "Top 13 reasons NOT to consider the Microsoft platform for Web 2.0 development" [which is on a .Net created site] had me thinking about these institutional solutions (Java and .Net) in an openly developed personal web. The institutional solutions seem like they MUST embrace the open solutions or work seamlessly with them. Take any one of the technical solutions brought up in the Microsoft list (not including Ray Ozzie or Robert Scoble as technical solutions) and think about how it would fit into personal site development or a Web 2.0 developed site. I am not so sure that in the current state of the MS tools they could easily drop in with out converting to the whole suite. Would the Visual .Net include a Python, PHP, Ruby, Ruby On Rails, or Perl plug-in?The Atlas solution is one option in now hundreds of Ajax frameworks. To get use the tools must had more value (not more cost or effort) and embrace what is known (frogs are happy in warm water, but will not enter hot water). Does Atlas work on all browsers? Do I or any Internet facing website developer want to fail for some part of their audience that are using modern browsers?

The Web is Open

The web is about being browser agnostic and OS agnostic. The web makes the OS on the machine irrelevant. The web is about information, media, data, content, and digital objects. The tools that allow us to do things with these elements are increasingly open and web-based and/or personal machine-based.

Build Upon Open Data and Open Access

The web is moving to making the content elements (including the microconent elements) open for use beyond the site. Look at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the open APIs in the Yahoo Developer Network. Both of these companies openly ease community access and use of their content and services. This draws people into Amazon and Yahoo media and properties. What programming and scripting languages are required to use these services? Any that the developer wants.. That is right, unlike Google pushing Java to use their solution, Amazon and Yahoo get it, it is up to the developer to use what is best for them. What browsers do the Amazon and Yahoo solutions work in? All browsers.

I have been watching Microsoft Live since I went to Search Champs as they were making sounds that they got it too. The Live Clipboard [TechCrunch review] that Ray Ozzie gave at O'Reilly ETech is being developed in an open community (including Microsoft) for the whole of the web to use. This is being done for use in all browsers, on all operating systems, for all applications, etc. It is open. This seems to show some understanding of the web that Microsoft has not exhibited before. For Microsoft to become relevant, get in the open web game, and stay in the game they must embrace this approach. I am never sure that Google gets this and there are times where I am not sure Yahoo fully gets it either (a "media company" that does not support Mac, which the Mac is comprised of a heavily media-centric community and use and consume media at a much higher rate than the supported community and the Mac community is where many of the trend setters are in the blogging community - just take a look around at SXSW Interactive or most any other web conference these days (even XTech had one third of the users on Mac).

Still an Open Playing Field

There is an open playing field for the company that truly gets it and focusses on the person and their needs. This playing field is behind firewalls on Intranet and out in the open Internet. It is increasingly all one space and it continues to be increasingly open.

May 23, 2006

More XTech 2006

I have had a little time to sit back and think about XTech I am quite impressed with the conference. The caliber of presenter and the quality of their presentations was some of the best of any I have been to in a while. The presentations got beneath the surface level of the subjects and provided insight that I had not run across elsewhere.

The conference focus on browser, open data (XML), and high level presentations was a great mix. There was much cross-over in the presentations and once I got the hang that this was not a conference of stuff I already knew (or presented at a level that is more introductory), but things I wanted to dig deeper into. I began to realize late into the conference (or after in many cases) that the people presenting were people whose writting and contributions I had followed regularly when I was doing deep development (not managing web development) of web applications. I changed my focus last Fall to get back to developing innovative applications, working on projects that are built around open data, and that filled some of the many gaps in the Personal InfoCloud (I also left to write, but that did get side tracked).

As I mentioned before, XTech had the right amount of geek mindset in the presentations. The one that really brought this to the forefront of my mind was on XForms, an Alternative to Ajax by Erik Bruchez. It focussed on using XForms as a means to interact with structured data with Ajax.

Once it dawned on me that this conference was rather killer and I sould be paying attention to the content and not just those in the floating island of friends the event was nearly two-thirds the way through. This huge mistake on my part was the busy nature of things that lead up to XTech, as well as not getting there a day or two earlier to adjust to the time, and attend the pre-conference sessions and tutorials on Ajax.

I was thrilled ot see the Platial presentation and meet the makers of the service. When I went to attend Simon Willison's presentation rather than attending the GeoRSS session, I realized there was much good content at XTech and it is now one on my must attend list.

As the conference was progressing I was thinking of all of the people that would have really benefitted and enjoyed XTech as well. A conference about open data and systems to build applications with that meet real people's needs is essential for most developers working out on the live web these days.

If XTech sounded good this year in Amsterdam, you may want to note that it will be in Paris next year.

April 25, 2005

State is the Web

The use and apparent mis-use of state on the web has bugged me for some time, but now that AJAX, or whatever one wants to call "XMLHttpRequests", is opening the door to non-Flash developers to ignore state. The latest Adaptive Path essay, It's A Whole New Internet, quotes Michael Buffington, "The idea of the webpage itself is nearing its useful end. With the way Ajax allows you to build nearly stateless applications that happen to be web accessible, everything changes." And states, "Where will our bookmarks go when the idea of the 'webpage' becomes obsolete?"

I agree with much of the article, but these statements are wholly naive in my perspective. Not are they naive, but they hold up examples of the web going in the wrong direction. Yes, the web has the ability to build application that are more seemless thanks to the that vast majority of people using web browsers that can support these dynamic HTML techniques (the techniques are nothing new, in fact on intranets many of us were employing them four or five years ago in single browser environments).

That is not the web for many, as the web has been moving toward adding more granular information chunks that can be served up and are addressible. RESTful interfaces and "share this page" links are solutions. The better developers in the Flash community has been working to build state into their Flash presentations to people can link to information that is important, rather than instructing others to click through a series of buttons or wait through a few movies to get to desired/needed information. The day of one stateless interface for all information was behind us, I hope to hell it is not enticing a whole new generation of web developers to lack understanding of state.

Who are providing best examples? Flickr and Google Maps are two that jump to mind. Flickr does one of the best jobs with fluid interfaces, while keeping links to state that is important (the object that the information surrounds, in this case a photograph). Google Maps are stunning in their fluidity, but during the whole of one's zooming and scrolling to new locations the URL remains the same. Google Map's solution is to provide a "Link to this page" hyperlink (in my opinion needs to be brought to the visual forefront a little better as I have problems getting people to recognize the link when they have sent me a link to rather than their intended page).

Current examples of a poor grasp of state is found on the DUX 2005 conference site. Every page has the same URL, from the home page, to submission page, to about page. You can not bookmark the information that is important to yourself, nor can you send a link to the page your friend is having problems locating. The site is stateless in all of its failing glory. The designer is most likely not clueless, just thoughtless. They have left out the person using the site (not users, as I am sure their friends whom looked at the design thought it was cool and brilliant). We have to design with people using and resusing our site's information in mind. This requires state.

When is State Helpful?

If you have important information that the people using your site may want to directly link to, state is important as these people will need a URL. If you have large datasets that change over time and you have people using the data for research and reports, the data must have state (in this case it is the state of the data at some point in time). Data that change that does not have state will only be use for people that enjoy being selected as a fool. Results over time will change and all good academic research or professional researchers note the state of the data with time and date. All recommendations made on the data are only wholly relevant to that state of the data.

Nearly all blogging tools have "permalinks", or links that link directly to an unchanging URL for distinct articles or postings, built into the default settings. These permalinks are the state function, as the main page of a blog is fluid and ever changing. The individual posts are the usual granular elements that have value to those linking to them (some sites provide links down to the paragraph level, which is even more helpful for holding a conversation with one's readers).

State is important for distinct chunks of information found on a site. Actions do not seem state-worthy for things like uploading files, "loading screens", select your location screens (the pages prior and following should have state relative to the locations being shown on those pages), etc.

The back button should be a guide to state. If the back button takes the user to the same page they left, that page should be addressable. If the back button does not provide the same information, it most likely should present the same information if the person using the site is clicking on "next" or "previous". When filling out an application one should be able to save the state of the application progress and get a means to come back to that state of progress, as people are often extremely aggravated when filling out longs forms and have to get information that is not in reach, only to find the application times out while they are gone and they have to start at step one after being many steps into the process.

State requires a lot of thought and consideration. If we are going to build the web for amateurization or personal information architectures that ease how people build and structure their use of the web, we must provide state.

August 4, 2004

Naked Div and Span Tags Lead to Embarassment

A word to the wise, don't use naked div or span tags in your markup, as you are asking for trouble. Many validation tools will let you know you have messed up, but you will soon realize this as you start extending your design with CSS.

What is a naked div or span? Look in your markup and if you see <div> or <span> you have naked tags. A div or a span tag should always have an id or class attribute that defines what it is doing. Calling div or span in your CSS is one giant hint this are going wrong. Add CSS modifications to the semantic markup that must be in place and use an id or class to place all other presentation layers.

Sooner or later a class or id attribute will be dropped in the div or span and it may lose the intended value, but since the CSS and markup were not used correctly the headache begins. Naked div and span tags lead to embarrassment at best or headaches and cursing for those that have to clean up the mess.

August 4, 2003

Antartica goes DHTML not Flash

Tim Bray explains why Antartica will be using DHTML and not Flash for its Visual Net application. These are some of the same problems I have with using Flash as a user in applications. It is very hard to get the interface close to right in Flash, which when compared to relatively easy to get it exactly right in (D)HTML (and yes I know the exactly right is a comparison of HTML to HTML, but there are millions, if not billions of people that have learned this interaction process).

December 4, 2002

Zeldman uncovers the mess of Aventis site

Zeldman hits the ugly nail on the head discussing Aventis. I believe that anybody who believes there is not an poor information design or site that is screaming for an Informaiton Architect has not been to Aventis, there are so many problems that begin with and end with the drop down menus that overlap. Zeldmen points out, as he always does, the need to understand what the HTML markup and code do in a browser. Not only understanding the browser but the user. The Aventis site fails in many areas, but the tucking product information under "About Aventis" makes it very difficult to find.

Zeldman has also been sharing his wonderful redevelopment pains and discoveries. I may tackle the last couple layout bugs I have left if he cracks the right nut.

February 27, 2002

Have you ever wish to build your own WYSIWYG tool in all within a browser? Mitchell Harper for Devarticles shows us how to build a DHTML WYSIWYG tool, aren't we glad we withed for it?

February 21, 2002

Scott offers a great rant on understanding the Web client. Scott is not a generalist, he understands the details of the interface. Did I mention he is providing specialist information in the Dynamic HTML Bible? Bow down and be a sponge when Scott speaks as you will learn a lot.

January 27, 2002

Eric Costello finds in-browser content editing and text design tools. These make nice use of the browser's DOM (document object model) to give it functionality.

November 9, 2001

Thanks to Scott posting again regularly, I have come across youngpup, which is a fun interface with lots of good DHTML content.

November 6, 2001

Web-Building provides website development resources. Don't be afraid of the initial presentation, this is a one-stop-shopping resource for HTML, scripting, application development, and everything in between.

November 5, 2001

Glish Returns. Wahoo!!

Previous Month

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.