Tag: Web Technology

Qt to the Rescue for XPlat Mobile App Designers? Not So Fast.

The HTML5 scene is a little confused these days. Between Facebook making public noise about the fact that it was unable to accomplish some of its design goals using the new technologies and the continuing argument on the part of those who favor native apps over web apps, those who support the new standards are getting a bit of a defensive attitude.

Qt scripting language logoThe latest incarnation of this phenomenon came when the company responsible for supporting and promoting Qt indicated this week that it saw the HTML5 confusion as a perfect opportunity for its technology to gain a toehold.

Sorry, but I just don’t see that possibility. Qt is somewhat arcane language and development environment, and the number of programmers who understand it well is vanishingly small. One of the oldest of the scripting languages that has been put to omewhat good use in a few desktop applications, Qt is nonetheless unapproachable by the folks who could learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript readily. It certainly has good cross-platform credentials, and if it were better developed, it might have a chance in the market.

But the fact is, even its supporters admit that it won’t support smartphone application development until the middle of 2013, which is far too late for it make a significant impact fast-evolving market.

Take my advice and stick with HTML5. If you really need speed, then that you might consider developing a native app or just dropping into native code for certain elements of your app using a hybrid kind of structure.

Still Messin’ With My Passwords

Big Brother is bugging me. Again.

Programs and Web sites that treat you as if you were too lazy or stupid or unconscious to take good care of yourself online and try to proactively help you get better at it are incredibly annoying. I’ve written here before about the idiotic requirements various Web sites place on passwords.

This afternoon a colleague sent me a document via his Dropbox link to it. I clicked the link in the email and was given the option of directly downloading it or logging in with my own Dropbox account to have it stored online. I chose the latter.

Up pops a page that says my password on Dropbox has expired because I haven’t changed it for a while. WTF?! Where do you get off expiring my password, you busy-bodies?! I mean, suggesting that I change it because I haven’t for a while is one thing, but just flat-out barring my access because you don’t like how long it’s been since I changed my password? Out-freaking-rageous.

And what about any apps I have that are interconnected with Dropbox? Are they now going to stop working and require me to update passwords as well? Why should I do that if I’m perfectly confident in the security of my password and my data?

Sometimes, doing things just because you can isn’t a great idea. This is one of those times. Stop “helping” me.

LinkedIn’s New Content Strategy is Very Smart

LinkedIn has recently unveiled a new content strategy that I think shows someone at that social networking company is thinking.

It started a few weeks ago when I began noticing a new type of email showing up in my InBox from the folks at LinkedIn. These were news teasers pointing me to informative posts made by people on the site to whom I was not necessarily yet linked. Thought leaders, they are called. I didn’t see any major press about the new feature (though I could well have simply missed it) but I was intrigued enough to open and read the email. Then I started clicking on the links in some of the emails. Now I’ve come to believe that LinkedIn may have hit a real sweet spot here.

Their news updates combine two things: commentary on topics of current interest or import (most of the time) and at least seemingly authoritative writers. This is quite intriguing to me because it is an attempt, at one level, to bridge the gap between information overload and insufficient use of credibility or reputation to filter the news flow. I’m monitoring carefully.

But I am concerned about one prospect I read. It seems LinkedIn sees this use of thought leaders (chosen by what means is not clear to me) as a sort of pilot project. They plan to open it up to more people and, according to at least one account, all LinkedIn users at some point. I hope they don’t do that, at least not without some way to separate wheat from chaff, or they will have usurped one of this new idea’s primary uses for me: filtering out the BS.

New MySpace Offers Possible Lesson for Facebook: Ponding

There’s been a good bit of buzz the last couple of days about the radical restyling of the long-dormant MySpace social network. Virtually all of the conversation has centered on the graphical and user experience aspects of the upgrade. And I have to say, the redesign is quite impressive, though not very original.

But an aspect of MySpace that gets only peripheral attention will be the reason the attempt to resuscitate the once-high-flying site and brand: its focus on a single audience.

The new MySpace is focused so clearly and intently on music and entertainment that it is completely off-putting to anyone who would think about using MySpace as a more general replacement for, say, FaceBook. Whether this was a strategic or tactical decision on the part of the MySpace re-founders (including, apparently, Justin Timberlake) isn’t clear. But it is wise in either case.

Back in the very early 2000’s, I founded and ran an online community called WeTalk Networks. Our first public site was WeTalkSports. We didn’t get a second round when the Dot-Com Bubble burst so we never got a real chance to prove my thesis, which I called “ponding.” My belief was — and is — that any community (what we used to call social networks) runs out of steam when it gets so large and so broadly purposed that the noise level begins to outweigh the value of membership.

I believe Facebook is just beginning to see the effect of this phenomenon and that it will greatly accelerate in coming months. Large communities want to organically sub-divide into specialized groups which can greatly reduce the noise level (or at least control it) and enjoy a closer relationship with folks who have more in common with one another. Thus at WeTalkSports, members could start out in the sports pond, then self-migrate (explicitly or via adaptive analysis by the software or both) to football, then NFL, then NFC, then the San Francisco 49ers. I called this “ponding” and it got a bit of attention at the time.

So MySpace appears to be starting out with a large pond of music and entertainment fans, which is already a significant reduction from Facebook’s “everybody” pond. Over time, it will be interesting to see how they implement the notion of ponding within their big pond, if they do. Should they choose to take that route to growth, I suspect they may become the first online property to recover from near-annihilation.

 

Finally Moving to WordPress

Well, the investigation is over and I’ve bitten the old bullet and moved my blogging presence completely to WordPress. In a day or two, I’ll post some of the details of why I made the decision and how the transfer away from Posterous went. (In a word, it was pretty easy and painless if a little convoluted.)

I spent way more hours on this task than I thought I would, in part because I’d really prefer not to have to switch platforms again before I finally disappear from Planet Earth and in part because I always make things more complicated for myself than they need to be.

Suffice to say that once I finished a thorough evaluation of WordPress in its latest incarnation, I found that a number of the issues I had with earlier versions disappeared. WordPress has quickly become a very comfortable environment in which to work. I’m still learning and I have a few features to implement yet but I decided tonight to pull the Posterous plug and devote my energies to WordPress and this new blog location. The URL is the same and all the data from my Posterous days appears to be intact, so I suspect that other than the drastically different typography and layout, the move should be relatively transparent.

Google Dart Aiming to Replace Javascript?

Doing some research on the current state of the JavaScript world, I ran across this article from The Register, headlined "Google plan to kill Javascript with Dart, fight off Apple."

I'm skeptical about the underlying news hook and doubtful that Google has plans to replace or kill JavaScript. But the article has a subtext that posits that JS might in essence collapse under its own weight as  its use expands and becomes so complex that it is as difficult to learn and use as, say, C#. In that event, if Google has a language waiting in the wings with some development exposure and experience to support it, migration from JS to this new language wouldn't be unthinkable.

I love JavaScript. I've been a huge fan and booster from Day One and I don't see any reason to abandon it at the moment. I figure my days are numbered and by extension so are my coding days and, frankly, I am not psyched at the idea of learning yet another programming language. So regardless of the outcome, I'll probably never learn Dart or Dash or whatever it gets called. JS is apparently the most widely used language on the Web, with many reports suggesting that virtually all "modern" sites using it. One report says that 45% of the top 100,000 ranked sites (per Alexa) use a JS framework. By contrast, PHP, easily the most widely used scripting-side language (though there are many variants of JS that run server side as well) is used on an estimated 20 million sites running on more than 1 million Web servers.

But that doesn't keep me from being intrigued by the notion that a language as deeply entrenched on the Web as JavaScript could be supplanted by a completely re-engineered language that is, as the article put it, "the ability to be tooled."

Hilarous, Raw and Insightful Advice About Your Shopping Cart Design

An old colleague, Randal Schwartz, has come up with a fall-down funny commentary on the common mistakes many if not most folks designing Web shopping cart interactions make. Schwartz, who is Mr. Perl and who has more recently become a significant player in the Smalltalk community, takes apart a fake site he built for the purpose and liberally sprinkles it with hand-written notes identifying the issues he sees. They're issues you've seen, too; I guarantee it.

I just hope they're not issues you've actually caused because Randal's irreverence and his penchant for the precise use of vulgar language might end up offending you. But if you have a thick skin and a warped sense of humor like I do, this is one of those share-it-with-everyone-but-Grandma kind of posts that will probably live long and prosper in Internet history.

Amazon’s New Web App: Good, Bad, No Ugly

Amazon.com today released its HTML5 Web version of the Kindle reader and online store combination. Clearly a response to Apple's heavy-handed restrictions on allowing the sale of ancillary content from within apps sold through its App Store, the new Web solution is a welcome addition to my iPad and another strong indicator that HTML5 is a tidal wave that will, without question, ultimately replace proprietary technologies.

That's not to say there isn't some cruft in with the welcome news. The biggest issue for me: Highlighting of text is not supported. This is a very real problem for me; I use this feature constantly and I probably won't be able to switch to the Web app for my reading until this one's fixed.

First, the good stuff.
  • It's HTML5! Any time a new HTML5 solution emerges that provides the substantial look and feel of a desktop app, it's one more nail in the coffin of proprietary technologies that have never had a legitimate place on the Open Web.
  • The bookshelf experience is clean, familiar and reasonably responsive.
  • Books you want to use on your iPad or other browser reader are downloaded in the background quite seamlessly and efficiently.
  • The experience of the Kindle store is well-translated from app to browser.
Now, the not-so-good (aka bad) stuff.
  • While it's understandable that Amazon can't support browsers (like Firefox) that don't support offline features of HTML5 well or at all, there doesn't seem to be a good reason not to allow the app to run on Safari on iPhone. Yeah, the UI is clearly optimized for the iPad, but still….
  • The overall experience is clearly not as smooth as the native app (and couldn't be).
  • App switching is quite slow because each time you switch from one app back to the browser-based app, it appears to re-load the entire page. Not sure why they're not doing a better job of caching here, but it could be an HTML5-on-Safari limitation.
  • Another problem with app-switching arises if you install the Web app as a desktop icon and switch from another app to that icon rather than to Safari (which runs the icon, of course). Safari remembers where you were before you switched out; the desktop icon/app doesn't. Weird.
  • The Kindle Store, while largely well done, has some UI problems. For example, if you go into your account and select a previously purchased item, then try to get it delivered to a specific device, you'll find it maddeningly difficult to tap in exactly the right place on the disclosure diamond next to the option, which then opens a dropdown list from which to make the choice. There are other places where screen real estate has been used unwisely.
  • "Sort recent" doesn't, at lest not for books in the cloud as they are initially placed in your bookshelf. My books were not sorted in any order I could determine.
  • Installing the app on the desktop went fine but produced what appeared to be a bogus error about installation problems. When I tapped on the inconspicuous error message at the bottom of the screen, it immediately disappeared and the install was clearly fine.
I'm sure I'll uncover other stuff as I use the app in coming days, though for now at least — until someone forces my hand — I'll keep using the standalone app as long as I can keep the seamless in-app purchase. I'm sure that at some point Apple will figure out a way to force me to upgrade. Meanwhile, I'll keep an eye on developments in the Web app. But I'm definitely glad to see it arrive.

The Web is Almost Old Enough to Drink in Some States

Twenty years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee posted to the alt.hypertext newsgroup a message in response to a request about ongoing research in the field of hypertext technology and announced publicly for the first time the existence of the World Wide Web. You can still read the original thread online.

Like most gigantic ideas, his was a simple and seemingly tame, even limited, notion. It grew over the first few years slowly and methodically and largely invisibly until two years later when the first popularly usable graphical Web browser, Mosaic, was released by researchers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

I got my first glimpse of Mosaic within a week of its release in the locked office of an engineer at Taligent, the ill-fated joint effort of Apple, IBM and Motorola to create an object-oriented operating system originally code-named Pink at Apple. I caught the vision but all I could do was drool. Soon, some of the original developers teamed up with Silicon Valley money and created what was first called Netscape Navigator. Mozilla is Navigator's successor, a result of a decision to take Navigator Open Source when the proliferation of free browsers made that business an irrational place to invest. 

I've built a great deal of my career and what success I've had on the Web without stopping to think that if I'd been 10 years younger and a lot better educated in technology, I might have been one of those pioneers building directly on top of Berners-Lee's genius.

An Old Fashioned Site Done the Old Fashioned Way is Strangely Enjoyable

I'm doing a volunteer project for a friend that involves creating a site based around William Shakespeare and my friend's organization for promoting Shakespeare in our culture.

If you read this corner of the Web very often, you know that I'm usually a bleeding-edge state-of-the-art tools-and-frameworks kinda guy when it comes to creating stuff in technology.

But after I spent a couple of hours deciding which technology to build this site  with, I decided that on balance it's a pretty straight-forward site and didn't need a lot of doodads, at least not yet.

So I decided to return to the Days of Yore when I was fortunate enough to be hobnobbing about with the folks who created the whole WWW and when a tool was an editor that was at least somewhat aware of HTML tags. I am building the site using Dreamweaver (CS4), starting from a free and fairly bare-bones template. And so far, it's been a real blast. No new architectures to learn, just HTML and jQuery JS operations, which, while a tad rusty, come rushing back like old friends to an Irish wake. There's something almost visceral about the process. Nothing between me and the site but a tool that really just tries to help rather than taking over whole parts of the project.

I'd forgotten how much fun this could be!