Random thoughts of a digital web weaver

IE Auto-Updates – What’s the Big Deal?

I was reading through the comments on Jeffrey Zeldman’s blog post about MSIE auto-updates and noticed that a fair number of people complained that the announcement by Microsoft means nothing in terms of getting users to upgrade. While they have a point that people and/or organizations can still decide to forego upgrading, I believe that announcements like this are more important from an education/informational standpoint than a technical one.

There is no guarantee that people will upgrade. But if you are a web professional in an organization, you can make your case for it. I believe it is up to you to bring up issues like upgrading from archaic browsers. As an expert in your field, you have the ability to collect information and present your it to decision makers. Announcements like Microsoft’s which are “straight from the horse’s mouth” give credibility to your recommendations.

It may be difficult for them to drop everything and upgrade (especially in a corporation with legacy systems) so they may still decide against upgrading at this time but at least you have made them aware that even MS is trying to get away from old versions of it’s browser. When they realize the direction in which their “go-to” web browser is going, hopefully it will get them thinking about what they need to do to make the switch.

Like I said, there is no guarantee. But every little step helps.

CSS Wishlist: Extendible CSS

With more people viewing the web over high-speed connections and through mobile devices across cellular networks, bandwidth has become a major consideration when designing/developing websites.

While the bandwidth usage of CSS files tend to pale in comparison to the obvious big guns such as video, images, and other media, CSS bloat is still a problem. There are methods out there to organize/reduce the amount of CSS we create but it would be wonderful to have a mechanism that would allow us to reuse CSS rules without having to add classes to markup.

For example, if you have a site that uses links that are styled like buttons, you may have some HTML like this:

<a href="sign-in.html" class="btn">Sign In</a>

And some CSS like this:

.btn {
background: #f00;
border: 1px solid #900;
display: block;
padding: 8px;
width: 100px;

This gives you some CSS to create a basic red button. If you want to create a new button for “Sign Up” which is green, you can add an ID and style that:

<a href="sign-up.html" class="btn" id="sign-up">Sign Up</a>

#sign-up { background: #0f0; border: 1px solid #090; }

Pretty simple. As your site grows, you may want other green buttons. So what do you do then? Do you add another selector to your styles like:

#sign-up, #next-step { background: #0f0; border: 1px solid #090; }

or do you go in favor of declaring a separate class for all of your green buttons like this:

.btn-green { background: #0f0; border: 1px solid #090; }

and add the class to your markup?

<a href="sign-up.html" class="btn btn-green" id="sign-up">Sign Up</a>
<a href="logout.html" class="btn btn-green" id="log-out">Log Out</a>

The class route seems like a good way to go until you decide to change the color of the button to blue. Then you would have to create a new .btn-blue CSS class AND change your markup.

I wish there was something we could use that would import the properties of other classes and apply them. The way I’ve been thinking that it would work is something like this:

.btn { border: 1px solid #000; padding: 4px; background: #0f0; }
.red-btn { background: #f00; border-color: #600; }
.join-btn { inherit: .btn .red-btn; color: #fff; font-size: 20px; }

By inheriting a class, you could apply the properties to your new class. You could then inherit additional classes and/or apply additional CSS. This would allow you to quickly change styles without having to add to/change your mark up. It would also cut down on code and help keep your markup free of presentational attributes.

We have seen a huge increase in the capabilities of CSS with the implementation/support of CSS3 and I’d love to see something similar to what I propose above come down the pipeline because I think it would be a great benefit to designers.

Voting Needs to Jump to the Web

So another Ontario provincial election is in the books and Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government has emerged the victor. The big story coming out of the election besides the collapse of Tim Hudak’s campaign is the record low voter turnout.

I think the reason for this is a combination of voter apathy and a decrease in the willingness to take time to find and travel to voting polls in order to put a little check mark on a piece of paper.

The second issue is the easiest of the two to solve. Implement online voting. People against it start ranting about concerns over fraud and security yet every day millions of people give out financial information to shop and bank online. The government even offers various services through their website that require personal information.

I don’t believe it is a huge stretch enable voting online. I can already go to a government website to put in my information to find my nearest polling station. With a few more steps, it could be extended out to create a website that allows citizens to vote. I have no doubt in my mind that voter turn out would skyrocket. If the move to the mobile web is any indication, putting something at a user’s fingertips will encourage them to use it.

A website like that may also help with voter apathy. I think part of that problem lies in the fact that people are uneducated about issues and what’s at stake. They feel disconnected from politics. For many, the political process only pops into their head every four years when the media plasters election campaigns all over. If the user goes to the voting website and is provided with information on election issues and party platforms, they may feel more informed and inclined to vote because they are aware of what they are voting on.

Now I’m not advocating the removal of traditional polling stations. They have their place. But if you want to encourage more people to vote in this digital age, you need to embrace the technology and give them the choice on how they want to vote. I believe that technology is at a level where this can happen and given this year’s low voter turnout it may be time to seriously consider the jump.

Steve Jobs – Inspiration

Photo of Steve Jobs with years of birth and death
The news of Steve Jobs’ death shocked the world on Wednesday evening. I think most people realized that his time was growing short when he stepped down as Apple’s CEO but much like NDP leader Jack Layton’s death earlier this year, it is still a bitter pill to swallow.

While I am a fan of Apple and it’s products, I must admit that I don’t know much about the man who is credited with revolutionizing the computer and digital product industry. Much of what I know has come from reading stories about him from the hundreds of posts I see lighting up the social media landscape.

I learned of the many things he accomplished within his too-short life and find myself making unfair comparisons between what I’ve done and what he had done by the time he was my age. I saw a man that by the age of 30 was being canned from a multi-billion dollar company he helped build and was moving onto his next venture.

A friend then pointed out that we shouldn’t belittle our own personal achievements just because of what others have done. She is absolutely right. It is not Steve Jobs’ success that we should be striving for, it is the manner in which he lived his life that we should emulate.

Beyond the accomplishments and accolades, I have learned about Steve’s strong ideals, his deep passion, his work ethic, and his tireless perseverance. These are characteristics we can all adopt in an effort to make ourselves into better people. When we are able to look beyond the “what” of Steve Jobs’ remarkable life and focus on the “how” and the “why”, we will see the true legacy he leaves behind.

Thank you Steve for your gifts to the world and for inspiring us not only to think different but to think better as well.

Is Facebook Running Scared?

Wow. I never expected this.

I have been using Google+ for about a month now and find it to be a great social media application. I’m not surprised to find a lot of people trying it out and liking it.

What does surprise me is how badly Facebook’s attempt at outshining Google+ seems to be backfiring on them. With changes to the newsfeed, the addition of the timeline feature, subscriptions, and new partnerships with Netflix and Spotify (to name a few), Facebook launched a campaign to steal Google’s thunder.

Unfortunately all of the changes combined with some controversial moves (such as Spotify now requiring FB for login) have served to upset users instead of impress them. While there have been numerous times in the past where users have been upset at changes to Facebook only to suck it up and move on, this time around users have a viable alternative to look at in Google+ and they are definitely taking a look.

Time will tell if Google+ will become the Facebook competitor that many seem to think it will be but the effect that it’s launch has had on Facebook is amazing. I don’t remember a time where Facebook has made such drastic moves in reaction to another service. The net result seems to be the opposite of what they were hoping for.

My thought is that if they had continued their path of gradually introducing features and allowing users time to get used to them, people would have looked at Google+ as more of a curiosity than an alternative.

Instead, users who are now feeling overwhelmed and alienated by the “new” Facebook are turning to Google+ and are willing invest their time to explore what it has to offer. For Google, that’s just the kind of jump start they needed to get a foothold in the social media landscape that Facebook has dominated.

Google+ as a Personal Dashboard

The web is raving about Google+ (G+), social media’s new kid on the block and supposed Facebook (FB) killer.

Google icon in front of faded Facebook icon

Personally, I don’t think you’ll see a massive shift in user base from FB to G+. I think instead, you’ll see a shift in time on site as people will use G+ more than FB. The reason is that while FB is a great for connecting and socializing with people, G+ has the potential to be useful to a person on a day-to-day basis, especially if Google starts to integrate it’s other services into G+.

I have been playing around with G+ for a few days now and I think it’s great. But I also wish that other Google services such as Gmail, Calendar, and Google Docs were integrated into it (clicking on the Gmail link and having it open up a new tab is annoying). It would be great to be able to customize the toolbar to include Google apps that you use regularly, add widgets to the sidebars, and search the web right from your homepage.

With all of the different web applications and services Google has at it’s disposal, G+ has the potential of becoming much more than just another social media website. It has the potential to become a customized personal dashboard that we use on a daily basis.

Subdomains on Steroids?

Internet Web Address w/ CursorWith the news of ICANN opening the door to custom Top-level Domains (TLDs), companies are already gearing up for registration and thinking of ways to capitalize on this new method of branding.

According to ICANN: “Internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language, offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways.”

Personally, I don’t think its all that innovative. It strikes me as being nothing more than a sub-domain without the extension on the end. With an application fee of $185k and a yearly fee of $25k, it seems like just another web name for big biz to brag about having.

I’m sure companies are going to jump at the chance to get their own custom TLDs. There’s nothing wrong with that. A company like Nike would probably love to not have to worry about registering the Nike domain whenever a new country TLD comes out (but they’ll probably do that anyways) and they’ll like the idea of branding a site with “”.

But at the end of the day, I don’t really see it changing anything about the way we use the web. We’re still going to load up a web browser and a) type in a URL (whatever it may be) into the address bar or b) search for something in our favourite search engine and click on a link.

Designing for your Clients

As a web designer who likes to experiment with the latest web technologies and concepts, it can be frustrating when you are faced with certain restrictions imposed on you by a client. I am always excited at the thought of being able to use new ideas and code. But it can feel like you’re being stifled when you’re told (for example) that you have to design for a specific screen size or support IE6.

The thing to remember is that your client is the one who you are designing for. They don’t care if you have the HTML5 spec memorized. They care about getting the website they want. Your job as a web designer is to design/build that website.

Sometimes you’ll get a client that will give you carte blanche and will be happy with whatever you build. Then there will be other times where you will get a client that will micro-manage every design choice and nitpick pixels. Obviously, we all hope for the former.

No matter what kind of client you have, your focus should be on delivering a website that they will be happy with. As you build your reputation as a reliable web designer, your ability to influence and guide clients will grow. This will then translate into more opportunities for to spread your wings and provide more input and direction into your clients’ websites.