Building Your Own Site? A Few Strong Words...
The General Issue.
Business owners doing their own website building, should really focus in the right place. They worry about trying to take on a designer at their own game, with little or no experience, whilst having simple access to awesome design from some amazing RapidWeaver, Sandvox or Wordpress theme developers.
Do you seriously think that's something you can beat these people at? I really don't, honestly. The placing of 'this image here, and a bit more space there' is unlikely to be what will make your site successful at what you need it to be. That part is all about pleasing yourself, not your visitors. The website should be there for your visitors. Do you buy in all the stock for a shop that you like regardless of whether it sells? No, you look at what your visitor's are going to want to buy, and try and make sure that's what you have.
Don't always spend your time working from a 'blank sheet of paper' approach when you really don't need to. People are afraid of themes. Why? Someone else might have a site that looks similar somewhere on the web, but does that actually matter? When was the last time you visited a website and thought "I'd like this if I hadn't seen something like this before"? I'd suggest virtually never! If someone makes a website look incredibly close to a huge site like Amazon, eBay (you really don't want to do that anyway do you?!), Apple or the BBC, then maybe that would notice to some. But that's really where it stops.
So, what should you be focusing on then?....
I know I'm shouting with the styling of the title above, but I seriously feel like I need to!! This is the very things a business owner knows about their business, and can really get into their site. They know what their customers are looking for and/or buy, and what information or goods they are therefore trying to give access to. Get your mind solidly on this, and use a generally good looking theme, and you'll do better than putting your efforts into competing on the design front where you will not be at your strongest. Keep your site easy to use. So many strangely awkward sites are made by people struggling to get something close to some image they had in their head without the skills to even know whether their ideas are a practical target in the first place.
Put much time into the content that will attract visitors and keep them there. Imagine yourself as a customer visiting. You know what they normally are looking for don't you? Think how they would use your website to get that information, and supply the info and make it easy to find. Try not to concentrate on 'telling them what you want them to think', it's close to being the web equivalent of shouting at them! If you can furnish your customers with what they want in an easy way that makes the experience positive for them, you have happy customers with a positive view of your business.
Android Tablets or iPod Touches:- Practical Uses.
Battle lines everywhere..
Doesn't this effectively spend much of your companies energy and capital publicising someone else? Apple for example, weren't the first to have a mobile platform not supporting Adobe's Flash, no-one else did at that point either! Adobe saw the massive growth of Apple's platform, and rather than making tools directly for that platform, tried to use negative sounding publicity to get Apple to take Adobe's proprietary platform for Adobe's benefit. That was quite a hiding to nothing, and only made more people aware of HTML 5 and Apple. Own goal on Adobe's part? In my opinion, YES!
Google then talked so much about Apple at the Google I/O this year, it was quite astonishing. Popping at Apple for not supporting Flash, and then not showing an Android able to run Flash on a mobile device. Adobe and Google getting together to make a kick-ass solution from Flash and Android would do this in a positive way. OK, so only if they can do it, and I think it would take proprietary hardware like is out there for H264 video, but surely that's not impossible? Adobe could have looked at this a few years ago, and Apple might even have been quite likely to get on board. Not now. Hardly convincing is it? It almost backs up Apple's stance!
Look, I know this is looking very 'pro Apple' right now, but that isn't my point, and Google do some amazing stuff nearly all of us use every day. I'm looking here at the effective or otherwise outcome of negative campaigning or causing a battle. I really think it so often doesn't work. Surround your company in negative campaigns and guess what? People start to associate your company with negativity. It's just a subconscious thing.
Get into positivity people, and stop doing yourself a disservice with crass negativity. Just saying something is crap is rarely a real opinion, and usually a lack of one. Reasoned positivity will get a good vibe going around you and/or your business.
Coding Languages, How Many Do You Know?
New year, more blogging? More something else? What about Fresh Thinking?
Wow, it's been a long time since my last post, far far too long really. I always think I should put more posts up, but about what? Should I just post anyway?
How many times have we all read posts about the value of 'good' content and regular new content being good for your site and profile? Many many times in truth. Isn't that just a symptom of a glossed over issue? How much of this 'good' content being posted everywhere is actually fresh content? Is most of it the same 'advice' as we have seen in almost the same guise somewhere else...
This is a dilemma that stops me from posting more. I'm not going to find someone else's great advice, re-package it and call it mine 3 times a month. There are already many people doing this, and don't mis-understand me, it's not all wasted time as it does spread the message, I just worry when I see whole blogs with no fresh thinking: 'How many more of these do we really need?' It's not what I want this site to be seen as.
We have all been made well aware of lots of IE quirks, like the 32 linked sheet limit (still happening in IE 8) and many more, but how many times can we be told these things before we think of the blog saying it as an 'also typed' and ignore it? There are some brilliant large resources out there I respect hugely like Sitepoint (whose podcast I have had the privilege to produce on a semi regular basis of late). With serious resources like that out there, what's the point of me repeating them in a small blog? Collated good resources are far more useful to us all.
Getting more software specific, there is the awesome Realmac Forum with loads of information regarding RapidWeaver and web design in general. Even there when answering questions you can find you are repeating yourself several times in one day. Do I need to be repeating that stuff here too?
Perhaps I am setting myself the impossible task of fresh thinking in my blog, but that's what I wanted it for in the first place. It's not here just to drive more random traffic to the site or increase my page ranking a bit. I wanted it to speak of my personal vision of things without just repeating what I've already said in other places. Is that just being too fussy?
The big thing I find myself repeating is the idea that web design isn't DTP, although the number of people I see trying to treat it as such is increasing all the time. Apps like iWeb that are wonderful to make a simple personal site actually increase that perception with those trying to move past it's limitations and seem to leave people shocked to find that every app doesn't just work that same way. I feel that the average visitor has less patience on the web than with any other type of media, and if the information they want can't be found double quick, then they are off back to the Google search to find another site.
Getting the most picturesque layout gets very nice responses when you ask how it looks, but who actually notices that when they are looking for the information on the sites they visit with a purpose? It generates an almost subconscious feel for the owners of the site, but that only get's a chance to be a positive thing if the visitor hangs around for long enough. If in a stubborn effort to stick to a design the SEO is significantly compromised (large amounts of text as images for example) then what is the design worth if no-one can find the site to read it?
How can we move ourselves to fresh thinking if we spend our time repeating on forums and then do the same thing in our blogs? Doesn't sound like a positive move forward to me. Newer methods like FontStyler allowing a wider range of fonts and looks that work in all major browsers give us new design options that inspire, we just have to make sure we keep the importance of getting the information across isn't lost in the use of all these great new technologies.
I am looking to give myself a new focus in web design and coding in 2010, as are others I know. I think we need to make sure we are not going around in familiar circles at the end of this new year. Let's burst out of this loop and make a break for it! Make 2010 a year for fresh projects and fresh thinking!
All the best,
Karn @ Webkarnage.
Will I ever learn not to penny pinch?
This is a typical story of hardware frustration where you try and save a bit of cost, and end up with no result and a huge time cost to go with it!
The problem to be solved:- Easy wireless Time Machine backup for all users in the house so no-one can forget to do it.
The secondary aim:- Spend less than buying the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station & the HD, or a Time Capsule.
This doesn't sound too difficult does it? The hard drive cost will be the same, I just need to beat the cost of the Airport Extreme B.S. of around £130. I find a great deal on a Netgear DGN 2000 802.11n Wireless Router, now I just need a little unit to make the USB HD (in this case a 1TB Toshiba drive) 'talk' to the ethernet port of the router.
At this stage, everything still looks good, but looks can be deceiving. I find a Belkin F5L009 Network 5-Port USB2.0 Hub which looks the part, and between that and the Netgear router, I've only spent just over £110! That's not too bad is it? Now, all we have to do is get it all working.....
I have set up many Netgear routers with little trouble, and this proved to be the same. The networking was a little quicker than the previous g+ (108Mbps) unit, with a stronger signal reaching certain areas of the house too. Brilliant! Another step completed. Using the same network name and password as before, and copying the mac addresses across, means everything connects without a hitch.
Now, on to the Belkin Network Hub. Here is where the 'fun' lies. I connect the Toshiba 1TB HD to it, load the software for the Network Hub and connect to the disk. The icon wasn't coming up at first, so I double-clicked the HD in the app, to see it connect then disconnect in a flash, leaving me unable to re-connect without a re-start! Oh well, let's not do that again for now and move on. There is software on the disk, which I decide to copy to the Mac for now (only later to realise it's nearly all MacAffee Antivirus for the PC and delete 98% of it) so I can re-format the drive to HFS+. I thought I'd test it, and try and format the drive whilst connected through the network. After a little time, the connection to the HD was dropped, and I couldn't re-connect. Sod it I thought, so I connected the HD directly to the Mac and sort the formatting. I also downloaded the latest software I could find on belkin.com and installed that.
Reconnected through the network, I tried copying some files to the disk. 60MB or so into it, the connection to the HD was lost, re-made quickly, leaving the system looking at 2 copies, neither of which I could eject, so I had to force the Mac shutdown with the power button in the end. Changing drive didn't help any either. Wonderous!! Several full system lockups later (hadn't had any of those for a good long while) I was considering if it would make an attractive door retainer....
While tweeting my evident frustration, @Belkin asked if they could help. My details were passed on (with system and issue details ie. drops connection to HFS+ drives) and I would apparently get contact Friday. Late Friday, I had contact from the head of Customer Support for Europe, just to ask where I was, I replied in 10 mins, and that was it until Monday. Obviously that was an easy way to move me from the list until after the weekend! I then get another email, merely asking for my telephone number. I supply that, and then wait while the week disappears.
Friday I finally get a call in the short period while I have to turn the phone off during work in an audio studio!! Geez! I go through the usual automated nonsense at lunchtime trying to call back, and then eventually speak to Paul (nice enough chap) and tell him exactly what was in the original email sent to Belkin about 9 days before, that he had been forwarded. Sound efficient to you? No, it doesn't to me either. He then tells me his team for Belkin in Europe have produced a newer driver a month or 2 ago, and he would send me a link to it. Would that have been tricky to do last Friday? No, not in the least. Well, that was a lot of wasted time for both him and me.
So, I download the new software, and I can immediately transfer much larger files to the drive without a hitch. Ahhh! Much better!. Now for the 'acid test'. I decide to get Time Machine going. I haven't backed up for a few days, and set it off. It takes a very long while to prepare, then starts transferring 4GB of files. I feel we're on the right track, and tweet the happy news, and even send a message to Paul saying the driver appears to work on Mac OSX 10.5.7. I periodically check on the progress, and wander off at a point where it has got well past the 3GB point. Suddenly as I start to answer a forum question, the connection to the drive is lost, Time Machine crashes and I get the official message to hold the power button down to turn off the computer! Boy did I get happy too soon!
Re-booting, I decide it got a long way, and I'd try to do this again. After 40 mins of 'preparing' Time Machine decides to try and backup the remaining 572MB of files. This process is also running the MacBook hot and the fans are going like crazy, even though it is transferring files so much slower than normal!! I am now looking at it failing to go past 1.6MB, but as Time Machine doesn't tell me which file it doesn't like, I'm gonna have to connect directly again to finish the job.
This is a seriously inefficient app you are forced to run to 'talk' to this Belkin unit, and it doesn't cope well with large data volumes either. I have now wasted over 6 hours messing with this unit, and that equates to about £3GBP/hour for my time and it's not finished yet. The connection just isn't solid enough, and the resources it takes to do a relatively slow data transfer are nothing short of astonishing. Even if I do get this unit to work, it has already not been a good decision.
So, the conclusion? I use an Apple computer because of time efficiency and solid results when using it beyond the basic. Why the heck did I think avoiding the Apple solution was going to be good value this time? Sure, if it was only a Wifi connection, the Netgear is cool, but using a drive on the network for automated backups is taking it that bit further, and I should have known better. Lesson learnt? I hope I have! Think twice if you are buying new hardware about what you're buying and if saving a few.dollars or pounds will really work.
The MacHeist Effect
What Is MacHeist?
MacHeist is the brain child of John Casasanta (himself an independent software developer) , Phill Ryu and Scott Meinzer. There are many articles about the 'history' of MacHeist, and have a look at their About Page for some details on these three guys known as the Directorate and the Staff who work alongside them. I'm here to write about the after effects of what they do.
The essential MacHeist idea is to entertain the Mac community (referred to as 'Agents') with great online puzzles and games, get them software licenses for completing these (referred to as 'Loot'), building up a huge amount of publicity, all pointing toward a stunning software bundle deal at the end of it all. The publicity this year included a 'reveal show' streamed out live featuring Veronica Belmont, Lisa Bettany and Chris Pirillo (technology correspondent for CNN), extensive use of Twitter (including 2 'Tweetblasts') and offering extra apps for successful referrals to the bundle purchase.
The bundle this year had a retail value of and astounding $1000 or so, with a crazy price tag of $39. Then, 25% of all takings are given to a list of 10 charities, with the purchaser able to choose their portion's destination, either one sole charity from the 10, or equally between all of them. Agents involved from the start ('The Giving Tree' in late December) could get a total of over 60 apps through taking part and buying the bundle, all for the one payment.
So what ripples are left in the Mac software pond after all this is over? The MacHeist community is huge (over 300,000 members) and 88,000 or so bundles were sold this year. Obviously, developers are supplying huge numbers of licenses for the money they receive, but they are brought to the attention of many more users, and sales of other products they have usually benefit significantly. The users taking part get to try complete pieces of software without short or otherwise limited trial restrictions, and get extra assistance from a very active forum community in MacHeist. The 'Loot' licenses are often only for a MacHeist version (may get updated a few times), but all bundle licenses are the same as those bought direct from the developer's website.
Some developers are dealing with many many thousands of new users, without the amount of revenue that would accrue from that number of sales normally. That sounds a little negative at first, but would anywhere near that number of users have bought the software otherwise? No, not at all! The user base has been significantly changed, and the word of mouth recommendations that will come later when people ask the MacHeisters 'what do you use for this job' will be significant too. Against that you have the serious increase in support the developers have to deliver just after the Heist, and some detractors would claim a devaluing of the software too, although we don't buy that argument, having bought Pixelmator after recommendation from someone who got it in MacHeist 2. We didn't think it had devalued it at all.
All this puts lots of productive software in the hands of people, many of whom are productive with their machines. I also think the cash injection into these indie developers has to help their software move forward, and with an extended user base, hopefully with far more constructive feedback to help the direction too. Given the number of developers returning to MacHeist from one year to the next, they must feel this works for them too.
What does this mean to WebKarnage?
I have been thinking about how this changes things for us here. We are now the proud owners of several pieces of awesome software that we not only would have shied away from in terms of cost, but some we simply weren't aware of. Kinemac is one such piece of software. Brilliant 3D animation with a price tag of $300. This will definitely get used during the year. BoinxTV is another.
Espresso is possibly the most directly related piece of software the bundle contained. This is MacRabbit's new web developer's and web designer's complete text editing and coding tool. It includes the FTP client side of things, as well as live previewing. We have been spending some time with this app, and feel is certainly shows potential, but isn't quite what we expect for a version 1.0.1 which it is at at time of writing. Too many obvious issues unresolved as yet, possibly the release being hurried to coincide with the MacHeist bundle release. V 1.0 was only released one day before the bundle reveal after all! Many on the MacHeist forums were hopeful of Espresso's inclusion in the bundle (I was one) so there should be quite an increase in Espresso users from this. But due to the hurried nature of it, I hope it doesn't provoke a kind of negative impression being spread out that has long term effects on MacRabbit's reputation.
All in all, I think this has added to the possibilities we have available to work with in quite a positive way. As it stands we remain working mainly with RapidWeaver, Taco HTML, CSSEdit and Cyberduck directly for web site files, Pixelmator, Picturesque and Image Well for images plus BannerZest Pro, Art Text and more for other additional work, but Acorn has some nice features (web export) Process for project management (across the network, it particularly useful), Espresso, Kinemac and BoinxTV as mentioned earlier and more. These are now apps we will seriously consider future paid updates for, that we would never have owned otherwise. This is the whole idea of MacHeist in action.
We wait to see the effects on several developers, but for us it's been great, and we look forward to MacHeist 4 with anticipation.
Karn @ WebKarnage.
Safari 4 Beta, other Betas and support for them.
Been a long while, but we need to put a few thoughts to you about Beta browsers and developers/users responses to them. This was all brought into a new focus when, just a couple of weeks ago, Apple released the Public Beta of Safari 4.
Wow, what a browser, but what an even more amazing response to it! Let us try and put some perspective onto this, which we think shows how unique the response to this Safari Beta has been.
Internet Explorer 8 Beta has been with us for a while, and has some users, but not really a noticeable amount from the view of the world of development and support, and with Microsoft's track record of changing things dramatically after the release of a Beta, who could possibly afford to put work in to support it, only to have to redo that work in the near future? All developers were turning out the standard response of "We don't support browsers while in Beta". And why wouldn't they. Standard practice we all say, then....
Apple release the Public Beta of Safari 4! The Mac world in particular goes rampant on it, getting Safari 4 reaching over 1 percent of active browsing in a matter of days! In todays market, that is an unheard of response to a Beta, and this isn't just a 'normal' beta from the Mac perspective either. Safari 4 Beta replaces some core parts of the system, namely the WebKit system used by not just Safari, but apps like RapidWeaver (web authoring), DEVONnote (information gathering + browsing), LittleSnapper (screen and web shots with library and browser) and more besides. Other browser plugins were affected too, like 1Password (auto form filling & password generator, a constant companion to many Mac users).
What would be the response? Would we see the expected "We don't support browsers while in Beta"? Not so in this case. A matter of hours, and a little article was produced be Agile Web Solutions on how to get 1Password to accept being used by Safari 4 (a simple plist edit), and in less than 48hrs an update could be downloaded with a permanent fix. These solutions were made public through the use of Twitter very quickly. RealmacSoftware, not far behind, were quickly at work on fixes for RapidWeaver. RapidWeaver uses the WebKit system extensively for previewing sites during building. This meant some internal code changes. The first available fix was again a matter of just a few days. LittleSnapper seemed to work straight out of the box. This is just a quick look at 2 particularly 'on the ball' developers, and more responded too.
Does this set a different standard for Beta release, or is it just a one off? Time will tell. we haven't seen a response quite like it.
Cross Browser Testing... Getting Easier?
This is just a few thoughts on how the movements and growth in the internet might have an effect on the work we all do trying to get our pages to render as best we can on all platforms.
We are now seeing the evolving world of browsers gathering pace, with Internet Explorer 8 (from now on referred to as IE8) gathering pace and looking like a significant improvement over IE7 (OK, we all know that's not the greatest challenge, but it is still progress), Firefox 3 curing some long standing anomalies of Firefox 2 along with great speed improvements. Although some issues with Flash 10 and Firefox 3 appear to be surfacing at the moment, I can't believe they will be long lived. Safari use is on the increase, particularly in the mobile sector with the success of the iPhone, and Opera is common place on mobile phones and even in consoles like the Nintendo Wii as well as a solid browser on both Mac and PC. Linux is now available easily as a pre-installed system on budget PCs with Konquerer providing the browsing power. The percentage of users still brandishing IE6 is dropping month on month so we are regularly informed. Could this be significant for those of us developing websites and tools for this job? Could our life be about to get easier?
The thing that strikes us, is do we know how much the actual numbers are changing? If the numbers of IE6 users remain fairly static, or at least not in fast decline, wouldn't we see this change in percentage due to sheer numbers of other internet users being on the increase anyway? Even those of us who have been on the internet for a number of years, if we compare the number of devices connecting to the internet in our homes now with 4 or 5 years ago, hasn't this changed dramatically? From one computer on the internet in my house, we have 3 computers regularly on it, one occasionally, 2 mobile phones that can (but rarely do to be fair) and even a games console with the ability. All these units fed by a wireless router. This in a household with 2 adults and a six year old. I don't know how typical this is in a worldwide sense, but it is typical of our wider family and friends. What other support do I have for this idea of fast growing numbers? How about the increased number of Apple Macs being sold, and the crazy uptake of the iPhone not managing to push the Safari user numbers to where those sales would suggest? That would suggest the numbers as a whole are growing strongly to compensate.
Despite the growing number of theme and application developers wishing to drop support for IE6, I have a strong sense we will be dealing with it for several years yet. Certainly more that we wish to believe anyway. Would that really be the end of our troubles of it did happen?? Not a chance! IE7 is here to stay for a long time yet, and with Microsoft never following standards too closely (after all, wouldn't do to admit they should have done it 10 years ago would it?) coupled to more and more competing scripts to fit into your webpages there will always be many a challenge to overcome.
We must try and keep a clear view of the reality of the situation, not try to make things fit how we wish them to be. Here, we think that reality will include IE6 for the foreseeable future, unless you wish to alienate a significant percentage of visitors.
Google Indexing Flash...
Google has now stated it is crawling Flash content in their Blog HERE. There is still the same caveat, that it only reads text and not images. SWF files are read, but not FLV (like YouTube) files as they contain no text.
How will this change things for SEO? Not massively for most of us, but it will help to push the use of Flash forward. This will lead to some more interesting sites, but some more garish ones too! It will be intriguing for me to see if this changes how programs like BannerZest construct their code or not for our advantage. It will surely please Adobe, who have improved Flash considerably in the last few years.
Our other hope at WK, is that smaller useful applications creating Flash (like BannerZest) will be inspired to push their boundaries as their use base may well increase. This with the inevitable upward speeds of the internet itself, will keep us all on our toes to provide the websites our clients want.