Death of a Language

Vocabulary is on the endangered species list, syntax has been criminally evaded and grammar has taken a back seat in the national curriculum to more important subjects such as Responsibility Evasion and Facebook Friend Harvesting. What happens when a language flounders, chokes and possibly expires?

Words as Tools
Ludwig Wittgenstein, the seminal philosopher of language, had the following to say about language: “Think of words as instruments characterized by their use, and then think of the use of a hammer, the use of a chisel, the use of a square, of a glue pot, and of the glue. The use of words are as diverse as the function of these tools.” The problem, however, is when one does not know what a hammer is for, what a nail looks like or how to apply glue. The construction falls apart. And the same is true for language. Without knowledge of how to use the diverse tools of grammar, tone, register, syntax and structure, sentence construction falls apart. And with it, the ability to impart information, to communicate.

Par for the Present
In my time as a language teacher, I came across some horrendous language use. I don’t mean kids flicking erasers and calling each other chlorinated maggots, I mean jumbled prose and nonsensical tripe. But that is to be expected from the fidgety catechumens. It is not to be expected, however, from students in tertiary education about to embark on a career. And certainly not from those in the field of business that garner salaries larger than most tropical nations’ GDPs.

I lifted this from a random conversation on Facebook, written by students from an unnamed university in South Africa:

“Eish a neva ending debate coz n0bdy iz hapi blck or whte. Cnt we al just get al0ng “

Sadly, one needs a Enigma machine to decipher this. Or R2D2. I guess what the Facebooker meant to say was:

“Eish! This is a never-ending debate, because nobody is happy – black or white. Can’t we all just get along?”

One more, just for fun:

“I loved de show, it ws hot, nd im so neve gone buy steves cds or go 2 hs shows, he must be band out of sa!”

Which, when translated from English to English, means the following:

“I loved the show! It was hot! I will never buy one of Steve’s CDs or go to his shows – he must be banned from SA!”

“Band” is not “banned”. And Mr Hofmeyer uses backtracks, just for the record. Similarly, “too” is not “to”. And “your” is not ”you’re”. The latter two errors slip into many emails that appear in my inbox. The primary problems is not the amount of deciphering needed to understand exactly what is meant, but rather that meaning is completely altered, and not always for the better. Take the following example of accidental rampant sexism:

Woman without her man is nothing.
Woman, without her, man is nothing.

Punctuation could even change the course of history:

Ann Boleyn kept her head up defiantly an hour after she was beheaded.
Ann Boleyn kept her head up defiantly; an hour after, she was beheaded.

Of course, not everyone is a budding Hemingway or Steinbeck. And neither does one need to be, just to send an email to a client. Small mistakes will creep into the most scrutinised of copy, in spite of our best efforts. But language is made for communication, and lack of one will lead to lack of the other. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.

Need a little bit of clarification?

And just FYI


Queue Are Code

I’m not going to start this blog with something like: ‘You must have been hanging out in a cave for years if you haven’t heard of QR code’. Sarcasm is no way to start a polite blog post. I’m not going to say: ‘The ubiquitous prevalence of QR code signals a paradigm shift’ or some such linguisticarrogant (my word and I’m keeping it) drivel. What is true, however, is that those little boxes of black and white bitmaps that look like they were copied off the walls of Mayan ziggurats are everywhere.

From Vehicle Manufacturing To High Art

QR Codes or 2D Codes (or even Square Codes to the really nerdy amongst us) have been around since their initial use in Japan for tracking vehicle parts during the manufacturing and shipping process. In 2007, Italian artist Fabrice de Nola used them in his oil paintings and photographs, and soon the Pet Shop Boys and DJ Spooky were using them to connect audiophiles to websites ranging from music single downloads to information on Nauru, a South Pacific island. Since then, countless artists and institutions of all sorts have dabbled in QR code. Billboards, t-shirts, magazines, guerrilla marketing and business cards have all been done.

The Singularity

The real jewels, however, are those campaigns that manage to tie together different social media platforms to create a truly integrated experience. One such company is the Brazilian alternative to Amazon, called Editoras Online. They pasted QR code stickers all over a city, which took users to a website that drew live content from tweets with the word ‘Love’ or ‘Hate’. 200 sentences were selected each week to be published in a hardcopy book, which was sold on the Editoras website. An art, marketing and guerrilla interactive campaign, all rolled into one.

Tying It All Together

QR code is here to stay, as its quadrupled usage over the last year has shown. The challenge is not on whether to use QR as part of your campaign or not, but rather how you can tie QR into the existing social media channels, and then finally connect with a product or event in the physical world. Stickers leading to websites with locations and coupon or other rewards… a digital treasure hunt that rewards players (‘consumers’ and ‘users’ are just wrong) with real-world value: now we’re talking.

Create your own QR code.

Some great ideas on QR marketing.

And for those who like their commandments with a little less fire and brimstone.

Video Content & Crowdsourcing

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece on the rise of social media and viral campaigns, which featured Conan O’Brien and the Old Spice Man and their innovative use of the Web 2.0’s interactivity to promote themselves and their products. Of course, the big boys also get to the party at some stage, and Google recently came up with a brilliant idea.

Google has launched a slew of new applications over the course of the last month, everything from the well-known image recognition application Google Goggles, which functions like a combined camera and encyclopedia, to the little-known but very useful WonderWheel. The question is: how could Google create an advertising campaign that would showcase all their diverse applications while still maintaining fresh creative content? And do so cheaply? The answer is, of course, crowdsourcing.

The Solution

Step up Google Demo Slam. Anybody makes a video showcasing how one of the apps is used in everyday life, and each week two videos compete for the most votes, until the final winner is chosen. No cash prizes, no gimmicks. Only a glimmer of glory and bragging rights at the nearest high street coffee chain go to the winner. Google, on the other hand, are the clear winners. Massive exposure for their apps, massive doses of creativity from all angles, and all for free. Maria Sharapova even got involved, for crying out loud.

Here’s what Corey Christiansen, creative director for M80, the social media company that Google outsourced the project to, had to say:

“As far as Google’s objectives with Demo Slam – Google makes thousands of free technologies, but a lot of people don’t even know about them. We thought organizing the world’s most creative tech demo battle would be a great way to help educate people about what’s available and the many uses for each technology.”

The Future

So here’s the naked truth: we’re all advertisers. We’re all marketing machines. Like Jack London said between dog sled races and taming the wild: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Everyone has a webcam or camcorder, free video editing software and a YouTube account. Pick your target, and then go clubbing.

Go have a peek:


Leaks have revealed that Shapeshift Interactive, a web design company founded in 2003, has not only been providing website design services to local financial service giant Old Mutual, but also to Dubai-based client The Fridge.

Revealing Leaks

Shapeshift are reported to be busy designing a revolutionary new platform whereby the artist and events hosting company will be able to keep the Middle Eastern party elite dancing the night away, substance-free. Despite rumours that Shapeshift’s endeavours are the work of one man, which has lead to several IT analysts brazenly jumping on the Programmer on the Grassy Knoll theory, those in the know have clung to the conviction that it might just be a small team of renegade IT’ers (itters, which rhymes with fritters).

Operation Bazooka

Furthermore, sources have revealed that Shapeshift Interactive is busy putting the finishing touches on their personal website development platform, which will allow the electronically downtrodden masses to run and develop their own websites without the help of the so-called ‘Programming Elite’ or PE. This project, codenamed Bazooka, is seen by many on the inside as a revolutionary step in the development of home business and personal websites in Southern Africa. Several analysts, who declined to be named, have been seen jumping up and down and shouting ‘Whapbabaloobabangbang!’.

Little Richard could not be reached for comment.


A Case For CSS

A worrying trend that has caught and held my attention over the last couple of years, in addition to the over abundance of CSS “showcase” sites that have cropped up, is the fact that these very same “showcase” sites make CSS out to be the end-all of webdesign.

The Problem

These showcase sites proclaim their featured sites have been created with CSS. The problem lies within this simple yet misleading statement.

Yes, CSS was used in the building of the sites they showcase, but so was HTMLJavascript and maybe even a little PHP and a slew of other languages (PerlPythonRubyJava.NET) too. Some even had to be designed first. They simply fail to make it clear enough to the layman that this is the case.

CSS, as all “web coders” know, is just a part of the web design process. Being able to copy and paste someone else’s code does not make you a web coder nor a web designer. But being able to put all these processes and skills together into a functional, usable site IS web design.

My research made it clear these sites fail to explain exactly what they are trying to achieve. I found that the “about” page was markedly absent from 8 out of 10 results in the top 10 Googled results for “CSS showcase”. By omitting these essential pages they leave their content open to misinterpretation. The 2 exceptions being cssbeauty and cssmania, both of whom try and explain their purpose.

Pretty sites are being listed, that’s it. So why not just say that? A disclaimer, stating that they are only showing these sites as reference and not promoting the listed sites as made entirely of CSS, would be helpful.

It seems that the showcase sites are just a front to generate revenue by hosting ads for sites like firehost(hosting) and psd2html (templating), elegantthemes (themes), resourcesfree online games and others. Or maybe its just an exercise in shameless self-publicity for designers who want their work featured. Then again, any publicity is good publicity, right?

The Solution

Showcase sites have done their bit in promoting the use of CSS. I propose they clear up what is really nothing more than a simple misunderstanding. The addition of those missing “about” pages is a start. This will ensure fledgling web designers / developers won’t get disillusioned when they find out they need some design skill and coding know-how to reproduce what they see on the showcase sites.

The issue here is the simple and effective communication of information or the lack thereof. After all, clarity is a part of clear and effective communication in web design is it not?

Further Reading

The following articles were all written well before 2010, yet we’re still facing the same problem.

– Simon Collison says these showcase sites have to change in order to survive. – The end of CSS showcases

– Simon Collison talks about showcases in general – Part 1: CSS showcases – the sites

– The author of this article takes a look at the very popular CSS showcase site, css Zen Garden. – css Zen


3D: The Film Industry’s Hero

We have all seen the TV spots and billboards: 3D films have arrived and they’re here to stay. 3D technology has even infiltrated the home entertainment business and if it continues to spread we will soon be watching soapies and even the news in all its 3D glory. And it could not have come at a better time for the film and broadcast industry.

The rise and fall

It is no state secret that movie ticket sales have started to dwindle over the past years and, although piracy might be a big factor, there seems to be another underlying factor, especially if one compares it to other mediums that are as susceptible to piracy. Between 2003 and 2007 the sales of movie tickets have dropped by 6% and DVD sales have remained flat. But they are not alone – the record industry took a knock. with sales falling with 12% over the same period. So have book sales.

While these mediums have been on the decline, the internet has grown with 130% from 2003 until 2007 and gaming has climbed by 40% in the same time frame. To put that in terms of income; Avatar, the highest grossing movie to date made $ 27 Million dollars on its opening day, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the highest grossing video game to date forked in $ 77.4 Million on its release date. How can an industry that is a little older than 20 years outperform an industry that is over a century old?

But why?

There are many factors that have influenced the rise and fall of these mediums, but if one looks closely at the defining differences between these mediums there seems to be a general difference between the two camps; it is in the way that they engage their audience. The film, music and book industries refer to their consumers as viewers, listeners and readers respectively. These terms are more observational than that of internet users and gamers which are more participatory.

Humans like to be in control, we have more choices available to us in terms of food, transport, fashion and lifestyle than ever before. On top of choices between brands we also have options on top of individual items; we love to be in control. It is obvious that entertainment will follow suit and it seems that the older mediums are too linear and scripted for our appetites of control.

The future in 3D

Since the launch of 3D technologies at cinemas the movie ticket sales have climbed a little, but it might not be enough to remain competitive with the internet and gaming industries. When 3D technologies become available and supported online and in games, the chances will be slim. One thing is for sure; once websites are displayed using 3D technology, pop up adverts will become a whole dimension more annoying.


The Metrics of Success on the Web

Firstly, what is success? Success is measured as an event that accomplishes its intended purpose.

To determine the success of a website, then, is to first define its target or intended purpose.

In the case of an online book store, the purpose of the website is to sell books to a wide audience and to become the preferred website for buying books online.

In the online world, as it is in the traditional business environment, the number of people who enter the business premises, or in this case, visit the website, greatly increases the chance of the website being a success.

What will make a website succeed as a business?

Marketing a website is vital to generating increased traffic. As sales increase so does an intrinsic part of business increase – profit.

With profit comes increased opportunities for the business to grow and to ultimately offer better service to its customers. This also ensures that the business can continue buying stock and doing business – therefore generating website traffic and awareness should be a top priority for the website owner.

But this in itself will still not make the website a success as the entire purpose may not yet have been met.

Marketing will get the target audience to the website but the website will need to offer value added services that will make the customer come back. This can include a wide range of books, rare or specialised books, ease of payment and quick or free delivery.

Appeal and user-friendliness

The appeal of the website is target market-specific, as a website about women’s beauty advice would not necessarily appeal to a man. The content of the website greatly determines the appeal.

The appeal of the content for the target market should therefore be included as a key component of the website’s intended purpose.

Another aspect of appeal is user-friendliness which applies to all websites as it is the vehicle in which the content is delivered to the user.

Using uncluttered and simplified interface elements makes it easier for the eye to catch the various sections of a page, making it easier for the user to read the content and find navigational items.

Complementing colours and legible font sizes will also help create a pleasant and engaging reading experience. Animated transition effects, using technologies such as Flash or Javascript, should be kept at a minimum as it uses more system resources, slowing the user’s web browser down, and also impedes the time between user requests and content delivery.

Using standardised and familiar interface elements, like a clear and easy-to-find navigation at the top of the page and a sitemap in the footer, helps users to instantly relate to the website and makes navigating and finding content easy to do.

User participation and interaction

Increased user participation and interaction has become the norm with modern websites. This is mostly due to a range of new technologies becoming available in the latest web browsers. Among these technologies are Ajax and Flash which has added real-time interaction to the web experience.

User participation increases the appeal of the website for the user which subsequently drives the website closer towards its success. User participation also contributes to the content of the website and can increase traffic through the use of social media services.

However, caution should be taken not to add every single feature that the social media and Web 2.0 world has to offer. If market research and common sense shows that it will not have a practical and lasting function, other than it being a trend at the time, then it should be avoided. Other than it being an unnecessary function, it will also be an extra cost on development, both in time and money.

What is required to enable this interaction?

The most obvious requirement for user participation is of course the users. Having a well implemented marketing and advertising campaign will take care of generating traffic to the website but if the information is not delivered and viewed in an accessible manner the marketing will lose its effectiveness and the website will not succeed. This takes us to the technological aspect of the website which actually precedes the marketing phase.

Most web servers today will have all the necessary technologies in place to handle and process the more complex programming tasks needed for user interaction.

The key tools that are required is a database server such as MySQL, used to store all the user contributed data, and a server-side programming language like PHP, to process the data, store it and display it again. Client-side processing, through Javascript, Ajax, or Flash, is achievable with most modern desktop web browsers.

There are many great third party Javascript frameworks available, such as jQuery, Prototype and Dojo that make implementing user interaction-level programming tasks quicker and much easier than creating a custom Javascript framework.

Special consideration must be given to mobile devices, as the technology used in theses devices are still in a more primitive stage than its desktop counterparts.

The measurement of success

The bottom line in ensuring a successful website is creating a website that focuses on a target market through its content and visual appeal and follows interface design standards that users are familiar with. If these conditions are met then the users will be able to easily find what they are looking for and they will return to the website looking for more.

There are of course many finer details to design that constitutes a good website interface but what experience dictates is that simplicity in design is key. Even in this age of heightened user-interactivity, less is most often more.