Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Less is more

.. more or less

One of the things that struck me with Microformats that quite a lot of tags were needed to describe the data elements of something like a business card (hCard). I know they are necessary. When you create a database table you don't want put the entire address in one big memo field. You can not do anything with that. You split up the address parts into separate fields and then you can do sorting and finding and what ever you like to do more.

Microformats bring the same possibilities of manipulation to the data that lies otherwise hidden in a web page. So, hooray for Microformats!

But still ..

I saw all these tags and then had a look at some webpages and saw all this tags. We used to have table-tag-soup and nowadays we produce and consume buckets full of div-tag-soup. Hmmmm.

And so I started thinking ...

And I thought: do we need all these tags?

And I started experimenting.

And things started to form in my head and in code ..

And now I am compiling an article with working examples to produce clean semantic markup that still has plenty of layout possibilities.

And thus, I ask of you some patience, before I publish this article.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

You better start to learn microformats!

.. or stay behind

Over on the great Digital Web Magazine there is an article about Learning Microformats. Although the url is a bit funny and shows they are human after all, the article is a great primer on microformats. The article include to links to PDFs of presentations that were given at Web Directions North by John Allsop and Dan Cederholm on the subject:

Podcasts of presentations will be available. Check out the Web Directions North site. Leaving through the slides it makes me wish I was there.

Again this is seems so natural

A few years ago I started out (again) on a journey to do something on the web. I wanted to build websites and do it the right way. I think I first was on the Internet in 1994. In those days things still ran on coal. I even put up a few web pages and showed it to a colleague. He replied that there were no images. There were links to my local C:-drive :-( I corrected that and filled up some pages and then really never bothered about them. Back in those days statistics didn't really exist. But I guess I must have had an audience of two.

The a couple of years passed and I wasn't really active in the web area. I build a couple of small applications that produced some reports in html format. I had even created a very simple templating system in Access for that. But nothing really on the wild then budding Internet Freeway. The Boom came and the Burst came and I just looked at it. One moment sad because I wasn't in it and then happy because I wasn't in it.

Then, gradually, I rolled a bit more into websites. I started making my own and I immediately had the urge to do things proper. I skipped table-based design completely. Main reason being that I didn't have the tools that produced such a design. I was (and still am) a hand coder pur sang. And how one can create a beautiful design with all these stupid nested tables I could honestly not understand. I was forced to use something else.

And then ...

  • CSS
  • I discovered A List Apart
  • I discovered CSS Zen Garden
  • I discovered all these nasty bugs
  • I discovered that there were more than one browser
  • I discovered bugs, quirks and hacks
  • and slowly and surely, I understood
  • and I started love CSS and web standards and semantics
  • and I understood that SEO and usability were also somehow benefited from developing this way.

I became a standardista!

Then the real world application came

I made some websites for some small companies and then I got hired by a reasonable well known Dutch insurance company. I got to work on their "new" website. And I had the opportunity to put my knowledge into practice. And shaved loads of excess weight form the pages and tried to be as semantically correct as possible.

I stayed on top of things emerging on the web and implemented Google Sitemaps as soon as the website was live. And watched it succeed. I was amazed that it worked so well.

And then we had a Google Mini appliance (now we have two) and that needed implementation. I was the lucky one who got that task. Using the API and a simple web service the site was hooked up and Bang we had search implemented. And I used the <dl> tag for the first time in real life. And then later I used it again!

Hold on, Roho, don't get too excited now.

Back on earth

Having taking a deep breath and a glass of water, let's continue.

To me all these things showed me that these are great times to be involved in web development. Coding away in C#, CSS, XML and XHTML is just absolutely great.

It also showed me that doing this the right way has many benefits: leaner pages, better search results, easier to adapt layout, better usability and many more.

By doing the right thing, you fear no one

Inspired by the motto of my regiment: "By doing the right thing, you fear no one" I say "By doing the right thing, you do the right thing". Hmm, maybe not as powerful, but still right.

Regiment Huzaren van Sytzama
By doing the right thing, you fear no one

I had discovered for myself and proven to myself that these standard based xhtml and css and stuff just simply work.

And I stayed on top of the (r)evolution.

And here comes the next wave!

Now, in the last few months I found some posts about microformats. And it got my attention and I studied it. And now I am beginning to implement it on our company website. First the hCard and later more will follow.

By doing the right thing, you do the right thing
And more will come

Looking at the wonderful stuff that was presented at Web Directions North I realize that many more things are just only slowly coming our way. We have our first implementation of AJAX as well and we will put sIFR to use in the coming months, maybe weeks.

I start to see that in this business sticking with knowledge is falling behind. If you have yet to learn CSS and still stick to tables than you are already becoming more and more of a dinosaur. And we all know what happened to them!

With upcoming things like all these social networks, mashups, microformats, AJAX and many more exciting things being invented almost every day it seems, it becomes harder and harder to stay close to the leading edge. It is starting to become close to impossible once you have fallen just a tiny bit behind.

Better start studying, girls and boys

If you want to be and stay in this business you gotta learn and work and try and fiddle about.

Catch up on XHTML and CSS and then jump on the microformat bandwagon and keep your eyes open for any new developments. Learn, learn, learn!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Pipes: Want to read Dutch?

.. or just want a laugh?

Last week Yahoo surprised me with Yahoo Pipes. With Yahoo Pipes you can quite easily drag and drop a mashup together that takes information from several sources, do some transformation on that and present the result in a new page that one can easily link to.

As with all good Web 2.0 practices the mashups are shared and you can take one built by someone else and change it, tweak it to your personal pleasure or use it as the source for your own Pipes mashup.

Sounds like a lot of fun!

And fun it is! I started playing with it a bit and took the feed of this blog and piped it through the BabelFish translator to produce a version of the feed in my own native language: Dutch. A bit scary to say the least.

Well, this is a link to the Dutch version of this blog. Or use the RSS feed. Enjoy!

Or wanna see some pictures from animals?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

IE 7 is coming fast!

.. and IE 6 is going just as fast!

I had a look at the numbers of the website of the company I work for. I have added a paragraph below.

Just had a quick look at my site's statistics and found that Internet Explorer 7 is being adopted rapidly. Many users have installed (probably with knowing) the automatic update.

In januari I had 58% IE6 and 41% IE7 (when looking only at IE) and now just a few days into februari the numbers have changed dramatically: IE6 is down to 34% and IE7 up to 63%!! In december 2006 it was completely the other way around: IE6 69% and IE7 30% So, the push operation is steady, but very, very surely!

Comparing to Firefox

As this is a very specific site a large number of users use other browsers so it should not be a surprise that the percentage of Firefox users is bigger than what is a normal average.

The numbers are stable over the last months: a little over 50% IE users and around 38% Firefox users. A clear sign that the IE7 users are not switching back from Firefox they are just forced IE7 users.

The same once again using bigger numbers

I decided to have a look at the numbers of the website of the compay I work for. These should be more reliable as the number of visitors is way bigger (between 200,000 and 350,000 a month).

The share of is consistent over the last months on about 80%. Firefox brings in 8%. The ratio of IE6 to IE7 shows a very familiar pattern:

  • December: IE6 92%,IE7 7%
  • January: IE6 75%,IE7 24%
  • Februari: IE6 62%,IE7 36%

For all those web developers out there who are mainly targetting IE6 I have a simple warning: you are falling behind once more. IE7 has not only caught up, but has overtaken you left and right. It's now becoming more and more important to build standard based websites as many of your current rigs will break with most of your ordinary visitors. When you think you can offer your clients an IE7 compatibility upgrade for a reasonable price than I can only say that you are ripping of your clients!

Tags: has got a new player!

.. and I love it!

This is probably out for like centuries. But I have not been about that much lately. has a new player out. The previous one was simple, minimalistic. And I loved it for that. The new one is slick, fully features and extra information on the current playing track and artist. And I love it for that.

I think it is a quite unexpected surprise to see something go from simple and minimalistic to something fully equiped and still appealing and easy to use. Like going from a simple mp3 player to a bigger thing that you can use also to call your friends and check your email and you still just need to have and show off in public. Not many companies can pull that off!

Go and get it! I say.

Why wait?


Where am I?

.. and how did I get here?

Well, my titles are probably not always the best. In this case I could not think of anything better quickly, sorry.

Our company has several branch offices scattered around the northern part of the country. So, where ever a (potential) customer lives an offices should be quite close. Still, the customer may not know. Therefore we have put the branch offices on our website and through a simple map of our country you get a list of offices close by. Then it should be relatively easy to select the right one.

We also give them the address of the office and show it on a map. As icing on the cake we can show them the route from their home to the office. We are still working on teleporting them to the office but we are struggling with health regulations. Oops, got carried away. A little bit too much Doctor Who and Star Trek.

Back to normal

Anyway, the map and routeplanner we purchase from a specialized company and well, uhm, it just sort of works. We have the map in a popup window and that means that people are leaving our site, at least a little bit. And we do not have full control on the look and feel of the map. It's simply not our design.

It works, but ...

Yes, it works and we do offer what we would like to offer, but it's just not completely what we want. So, being a Google fan I decided to give Google Maps a spin. That has an API and well having played with other Google APIs I know they are usually easy to implement.

Even, with these previous experience I was amazed at how quickly and easy it was to get things going. In two days I have now a good Proof Of Concept that shows the map with a custom icon for the office within our site. I have some tweaking to, but functionally that is complete.

How do I get there?

Leaves me with just one puzzle: the routeplanner. But I have found a site that has a solution for that one so I might be able to deconstruct that and re-use it for our site. Yes, I will include a thank you message in the code.

Onward, onward, onward

When all that is over we can end a contract for a service we do no longer need and have replaced by something better.

We can also change the map where we select the area and then let the user pick from a list of offices. That can be replaced with yet another Google Map with markers for all offices and we can zoom in each click or we zoom in using the adddress the user enters.

Finally: the icing on the cake

Along with all this I have introduced Microformats in the form an hCard for representing the address data for the branch offices. And using another favorite of mine: a Firefox extension, namely Operator I have tested the format and have found that it is very easy to add the data to my contact list in Outlook.

It has been a couple of days of fun at the office.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The spam tsunami has passed

.. at least so it seems

Gmail is quite good at filtering spam mails. Only occasionally I find one in my Inbox. Then I can simply click the button report spam and I hope that that will make the filter even better.

Before the last holidays I used to have a little over 300 messages in my spam box. Just before Christmas that started to rise dramatically. Within a couple of days it had passed 1100! And still only every now and then one would make it to my inbox.

And since the New Year has begun it has slowly decreased again and I am now back again at a score of 485. Still well above the 320 or so I used to have until early December 2006, but way below the peak of 1150.

So it seems that the spam boys and girls have eased off a tad and are maybe spending their well earned money. And perhaps pondering the next wave of spam for the next season.

But still the number has risen considerably and I fear that I will see a flood in the not so distant future that will bring me above 2000.