LikiWeaks

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.

 

Google TV – Hit or Miss?

Google’s march to world and web domination continues unabated. The world’s favourite search engine has had a busy twelve months, with a slew of new product announcements and the scrapping of some its less popular services, like the utterly pointless Google Wave.

The launch of Google’s latest offering, Google TV, caught my attention recently and got me thinking. According to the very slick but not very detailed online presentation, Google TV “will bring TV, apps, search and the web together in your living room.”

The technology will soon be available in the US as either a standalone Sony smart TV or a set top box developed by Logitech, named Revue. Neither of these have pending release dates locally so we will simply have to wait and see when Google’s new tech will reach the sunny shores of South Africa.

While we’re waiting, we may as well contemplate the possible impact (or lack thereof) that Google TV will have on the local market. We are assuming that, with Google’s local presence and following on the recent launch of locally-hosted YouTube, Google TV will similarly be available to South Africans.

TV in South Africa

Although the South African television market isn’t nearly as evolved as its US counterpart, we do have an incumbent that has dominated local paid-for television for over a decade – DSTV. With its selection of local and international channels, DSTV is the closest thing South Africans have to the US’ mighty cable and satellite television offerings.

On May 5th DSTV announced the launch of DSTV OnDemand, a new service that allows subscribers to its Premier bouquet to watch a selection of movies, series and major sporting events days after they are aired on TV. Subscribers can choose between on-demand viewing via the PVR decoder or an internet subscription. Currently, only MWEB, Vox Telecom, Neulogy and Cybersmart supports DSTV OnDemand, although Multichoice has indicated it is in discussions with other local ISPs to make the service more broadly available.

Potential threat?

It is unclear at present whether Google TV poses any threat to DSTV OnDemand. According to reports, Google TV requires no service cost, so once you’ve bought your Sony smart television or Logitech set-top box, you can surf, view and enjoy freely. DSTV Premier, which is the only bouquet that supports OnDemand, comes at a R500+ monthly cost, putting it well out of reach of the average local TV viewer. US prices for the two Google TV products on offer at the moment are USD1,399 for the 46″ Sony Smart TV and USD299 for Logitech’s Revue set-top box – both entirely out of reach for most South Africans.

So, Google TV is unlikely to have mass appeal locally. But will the digitally-savvy early adopters, gadget fans and assorted geeks pick up on it? Like with almost everything relating to the Internet, it all comes down to content.

The key ingredient

In the US, TV networks have embraced the Internet as a key tool in maintaining and building share of audience, and most of their popular shows are available on-demand on their websites. Having a Google TV, then, means viewers can continue to watch their favourite shows when they want to, with the added benefit of having the same flexibility and control you have on a PC now in your living room.

In contrast, local TV stations have never truly incorporated the Internet as a core part of their content delivery to viewers, to me a clear sign that the bulk of their viewers couldn’t give a damn about the Internet (or simply don’t have access to it). Add the fact that none of the US channels make their programs available to SA users, and Google TV is basically a device for watching YouTube videos in your living room while you surf Twitter and check email.

The verdict

As much as I’d like to believe in Google TV, I can’t get myself excited about it. A much more sensible addition to the South African TV landscape would be a more comprehensive rollout of Apple’s iTunes store locally – it already has all the content, its systems have been proven to be stable and reliable, and it’s a far sexier proposition that anyone with an iPod, iPhone or iPad already has access to and knows how to use.

Google will have to do better than a rehash of technology and services that have been around since TiVo came to the fore in 2003 to make it a serious contender in the TV market of the future. We’re interested to see how the US adopts this new technology, but don’t hold your breath to see Google’s latest in SA stores any time soon.

 

Flexible Pricing: The Benefits

Flexible Pricing: The BenefitsImplementing a flexible pricing structure for web-related products empowers a prospective client to choose the best fit for their individual needs. This will not only stretch your market share but also increase your chances of making the sale. Surely such a model would benefit both the buyer and seller.

Benefit to the Buyer

As a consumer, I am looking for a product/service that will accommodate my current financial situation, enabling me to minimize my financial strain. With a flexible pricing structure I have the ability to choose how much I am willing to invest in a specific function for my website, thus giving me the power to promote my own growth. Allowing me to adapt the product/service to my specific needs will add great value to the negotiating phase, in turn saving me time and money.

Benefit to the Seller

As a business, I am in need of more customers to sustain and grow my business and by offering a flexible pricing model I am allowing for a far greater reach in a financially stressed market. I am also securing more sales, by giving my clients what they need; at the same time making it more affordable for them. I can now either adapt my product/service to the client’s budget or allow the client to determine the degree of expense he or she is willing to incur.

In Conclusion

By utilising this method and adapting our pricing model to the current financial climate we can offer our clients a powerful differentiator – that of cost-saving. This financial winter, that we find ourselves in, will pass and will leave us with customers that are satisfied by our customised product and our willingness to accommodate their requirements in a time of need.

We all want solutions that can help us improve our finances so that we can live the lives we have always wanted to. We do not have to give up on our goals during a downturn – we just need to work smartly.

 

Google vs China

As two superpowers draw the battle lines, interesting questions are being raised about governance on the World Wide Web.  While there are any number of international governing bodies that can put pressure on China, who will rein Google in when they inevitably step over the line?

Who is Responsible?

The Google China Battle, as international media have labelled it, has sparked off interesting questions regarding the growth of the online community across the globe.

The internet has almost become its own country over the years. When thinking about internet giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, one seldom sees them as companies with nationalities – they appear to reside in a world that has no ties to the real world.

The internet’s non tangible nature and tremendous reach has made it a world bigger than the earth itself, with no physical constraints that may limit expansion, no green house gasses, no real world impact for its rapid growth.

The China – Google debate, as I would like to call it, is a symptom of the underlying issue; who takes responsibility for the internet?

Who does it Belong too?

On the one hand there is the opinion that the internet belongs to the “people”. On the other hand, some believe that it should be governed by the country where the users and businesses utilise it.

This is clearly the divide and ultimately the reason why there is friction between China and Google. This debate should not be taking place between one of the world’s largest companies and the world’s largest country, as their opposing opinions are grounded on vary different needs.

Who’s domain does this debate belong to then?

Currently there are no international authorities that govern the internet, apart from the technical standards. As more and more people “immigrate” to the web, the need for an international internet governing authority will become more and more critical.

Standardisation

This debate has multiple underlying issues and questions that need to be addressed. Why is there no web-based business accreditation and monitoring authorities that protect the online community from non qualified practitioners?

There are many companies online developing websites that have no standardisation experience. If construction companies had to build large structures with no standards most buildings would be piles of dust and rubble.

My View

I for one would like to see a multinational and multicultural governing body, that will protect the ever growing “online citizens” as migration numbers continues to grow – a United Nations of the internet.