Show 83: iphone bollocks

On this week’s show: Paul talks about the importance of undo, Marcus explains the benefits of stakeholder interviews and Struan Robertson highlights some legal deathtraps waiting for us online.

Play

Download this show.

Launch our podcast player

News and events

Safari for Windows

Probably the most talked about story of the last week is the fact that Apple have released Safari for windows. To be honest I am a little surprised just how much has been written about this considering I don’t think the impact is going to be that significant. Will Safari cut into Internet Explorers market share? Probably not. Will it undermine the market share Firefox has developed? Almost certainly.

If safari under windows rendered exactly the same as under OSX then there maybe some benefit to windows based web developers. At the moment it is impossible for them to test on Safari without buying a mac. This has the potential of changing that. However, in all likelihood differences will emerge and if they do then this is just another browser that we have to test against.

We will see.

Applications for the iphone

At the same time Steve Jobs announced Safari for windows he also talked about the iphone. The biggest criticism of the iphone to date has been the fact that it is locked down so third parties cannot develop applications for it. Apparently Apple have been thinking long and hard about the problem and have come up with a solution. They are going to allow developers to build web 2.0 applications that can be accessed by iphone users using the built in Safari browser.

What a load of bollocks. They are telling us something we already knew. As soon as Steve Jobs announced that the iphone carried a full safari browser we knew that web applications would be developed for it. Sure, they are now saying that methods are going to be provided to automatically access iphone features such as dialing and google maps but very little detail was given. As far as I can see Apple is not giving people anything more than they already had.

Jason at 37 Signals is excited about what this means for web apps. He says…

This is the coming out party for web apps. We are very excited about this. These are exciting times.

…and he is right. It is exciting for us web developers. However, I am not convinced the user will see it that way. David Shea mirrored my own reaction at this news when he simply posted a graph showing the astronomical cost of data calls on mobile carriers. Web applications are great for web designers but for users of mobile devices like the iphone they could quickly be prohibitively expensive.

Web Design-isms: 7 Surefire Styles that Work

I found a great article on Think Vitamin this week that talks about design trends on the web. One of the things you learn early on as a designer is that despite your desire to produce something completely original you never will. Everything has been done before and in this article Larissa Meek takes us through 7 styles of design that appear again and again on the web.

The article very much reminded me of design meltdown, an excellent site that showcases different approaches to design. However, what I particularly liked about this post is that the author showed examples of how these styles occur in art as well as online. This is nice because it encourages us as web designers to look beyond the web for inspiration, a subject I have spoken about before.

CSS frameworks

The final story caught my eye because it is an extension of something we have been doing for a while. A while back I talked on the show about the fact that Headscape work with standard XHTML templates. We use these templates as a starting point for development. They allow you to jump start the build process as well as ensure consist naming conventions across the entire design team.

In a new post on the List Apart website Jeff Croft proposes a similar approach for CSS, based on the concept of Frameworks. Jeff argues that certain aspects of CSS development are often repeated across multiple projects. From browser reset styles to creating horizontal menus and standard grid layouts, it seems absurd that we generate these from scratch each time. Jeff proposes that instead we create a series of CSS files that we can be reuse again.

Its a great idea and one definitely worth exploring if you work on lots of similar projects or are part of a large team where you are looking for consistency.

Agony uncle: The importance of undo

A couple of weeks back I received this email from Tom in Texas:

I am a designer currently working on developing a web 2.0 app. The developer is doing some really cool AJAX stuff but unfortunately most of it breaks the back button in the browser. He is arguing that it doesn’t really matter as there are lots of other ways of going back. What is your opinion on the subject?

Once I had recovered from the naivety of the developers comment and finished counting slowly to 10, I started to think through the role of undo. In the end this very simple question from Tom evolved into a blog post on the importance of undo. It is this subject I am looking at in todays show.

Client corner: Stakeholder interviews

Got this question from Dusted.

I’m about to begin a project to help an organization evaluate its current web site and web site management. I’m also going to perform some research and planning to help them start developing a new web site.

The organization is quite complex with a lot of different departments – marketing/events, sales, information/press, youth and more. Each person responsible for each department will be interviewed and I need some advice about what questions to ask them.

Starting off with a few…

  • Describe your department’s needs of the web site.
  • What can be done in a better way?

The results of the interviews will be used when I present my evaluation (and research/planning) to the board.

Any advice, links to articles, books… help of any kind would be deeply appreciated.

We have done quite a lot of stakeholder interviews over the years so this question seemed like one I could help with.

Stakeholder interviews can often be confused with user interviews, as they can often happen during the same process. I tend to differentiate the 2 by calling them internal and external stakeholders. These groups will always require a very different set of questions.

This piece refers to internal stakeholders only; those people that:

  • Will be paying for the project!
  • Are content owners
    • Some won’t know or want to be content owners – “that’s X’s job”
    • Some will consider their content considerably more important than everyone elses – “there should be a tab called ‘Corporate Accountancy’ and a big ad on the homepage”!
  • Will be users e.g. sales

There are a number of good reasons for talking to stakeholders, as follows:

Politics

Most organisations involve some sort of tension between departments/stakeholders/teams/whatever. Giving representatives from each of these groups (make sure you don’t leave anyone out!) provides everyone with a voice. It ensures that everyone has said their piece and it’s down in writing. Ultimately, it gets buy in on the project from all parties thereby creating a better end product.

Education

This applies from both sides. The interviewer is looking to be educated regarding the various points and specialisms that the interviewee has (that’s the point of the interview!). However, the interviewer also has an opportunity to educate a whole raft of internal staff about the web. A good example would be why it’s not a good idea to name site sections after departmental structure. In fact, teaching users to think of their end users early in the interview will probably affect what they have to say.

Verification

Talking to internal stakeholders can often highlight the need to develop certain functionality/facilities/micro-sites/etc that web managers only thought might be useful. Interviews can also be used as a test bed for ideas as well as feedback.

Semi-structured

Following on form the last point, make a point of telling interviewees that they can go off track. The questions are useful as guides but don’t stop writing down what someone is saying if it doesn’t fit with the script.

So, finally on to some good questions to ask&#…;

Questions will, of course, vary depending on the organisation, end user requirements etc, but looking back through a number of scripts, these seem to crop up regularly:

  • What does your department do?
  • What are your ‘processes’?
  • Who is your client and what do they want?
  • How do you think the web can help you deliver?
  • What is your role?
  • What is the biggest pain about your job? What takes the most time?
  • Describe your Internet understanding/usage?
  • Describe your software understanding/usage?
  • Name applications that you are a confident user of.
  • Do you store any information in databases? What?
  • The current website – what’s good and bad about it, what’s bad about it?
  • Are you tasked with providing content for part of the website? If not, do you want to be?

Ask the expert: Struan Robertson on Legal Issues

Today’s guest expert on Boagworld is Struan Robertson a corporate lawyer who specializes in IT law. I first met him on the .net podcast and thought it would be great to get him on the show to give us a small taster of the kinds of legal issues encountered by web professionals. In the show he answers three questions on particular scenarios to give you a taster of the kind of issues that can arise. These include:

  • What are the dangers of working on websites for illegal companies
  • Some of the issues surrounding using images when you aren’t sure about the licensing
  • Storing private data

Although the particular scenarios are quite specific hopefully they communicate some underlying messages and encourage you to take your legal obligations seriously. If you are interested in learning more about the legal issues surrounding web design and IT in general then check out Outlaw.com where Struan provides a lot more advice. Also Struan writes a column in the .net magazine where he covers different legal issues each month.

  • http://www.michaelnolan.co.uk/ Mike Nolan

    Google are releasing Gears for Safari so that will almost entirely remove the problem of data charges – just sync your apps whenever you’re near a free WiFi hotspot.

  • http://www.boagworld.com Paul Boag

    Unless I am seriously misunderstanding gears that won’t help because Gears has to run locally which means it needs installing and Apple wont allow apps to be installed on the iphone.

  • http://www.michaelnolan.co.uk/ Mike Nolan

    Since Apple are in bed with Google (and vice versa!) I suspect it will be allowed as soon as it’s stable.

  • Tim

    I installed Safari out of morbid curiosity – seems OK but I don’t think I’ll be switching from Firefox any time soon. Seems that Safari automatically grabbed my preferences and bookmarks from FF too. Cheeky! What did everyone else think?
    Also, check out this discussion of sub-pixel rendering in Apple vs Microsoft environments. Interesting! And I can see the difference in Safari and IE.
    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2007/06/12.html

  • http://www.michaelnolan.co.uk/ Mike Nolan

    I found Safari blisteringly fast as claimed and didn’t get any of the crashes other people have experienced.
    “Will Safari cut into Internet Explorers market share? Probably not. Will it undermine the market share Firefox has developed? Almost certainly.”
    I wonder about this as well. Windows Media Player is the default music player yet millions of people use iTunes – ordinary people, not just “early adopters”. I expect that Safari for Windows will be pushed out along side QuickTime and iTunes as soon as it’s stable which will massively increase the number of people with access to it.

  • http://phantomgorilla.com Andy Allcorn

    “Will Safari cut into Internet Explorers market share? Probably not. Will it undermine the market share Firefox has developed? Almost certainly.”
    I fear you could be right; I fervently hope you’re wrong. Mike is right about iTunes, of course, but I suspect that’s largely due to iPod sales. There’s no product which would drive Safari downloads like that… unless… the iPhone? Here’s hoping. Even another percentage point from IE’s market share would be a step in the right direction.
    I really hope they don’t bundle it with iTunes though. They’re not even vaguely related! That’d be a very Microsoft-ish tactic, using a strong position in one market to try to dominate another. Yuck.
    “If safari under windows rendered exactly the same as under OSX then there maybe some benefit to windows based web developers. … However, in all likelihood differences will emerge and if they do then this is just another browser that we have to test against.”
    Well, currently they render the same (so long as you have the same fonts) – and I see no reason for that to change. WebKit (the open source basis of Safari’s rendering) has undergone an awful lot of work in the platform abstraction department over the last couple of years, which is a lot of the reason for the Windows port emerging. It’s not a re-implementation, and it’s not a one-time port which will now be developed completely separately. I think we’ll see OS X, Windows and iPhone keep pretty much in step with each other over the next few years, and personally I find that very exciting from a design point of view.
    “They are going to allow developers to build web 2.0 applications that can be accessed by iphone users using the built in Safari browser. What a load of bollocks.”
    You’re right, of course. But I’m an optimist… I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future we see more open, real development, even if it’s only on the level of the invite-only, iTunes store-distributed iPod games we’ve got right now. I’d take that over nothing.
    The reason for my optimism? It’s only just been finished. I’m certain that in the mad rush to get the phone done for 29th, stabilising and documenting APIs was not exactly high on the list. I’m counting on it being somewhere on the list!

  • http://www.michaelnolan.co.uk/ Mike Nolan

    I really hope they don’t bundle it with iTunes though. They’re not even vaguely related! That’d be a very Microsoft-ish tactic, using a strong position in one market to try to dominate another. Yuck.
    They will though – they already push out iTunes with QuickTime by default and okay, they’re more related, but iTunes Music Store is basically a browser so it’d make sense for them to replace IE as the rendering engine and ship their own product.

  • http://www.shatterglass.net Brett

    Off topic, as I’m just beginning to listen to the podcast now, but I’ve been fooling with the Opera browser lately (anticipating buying the Opera cartridge for my Nintendo DS), and Boagworld looks like crap: all of the graphics, and even some of the text, is pixilated. The horror!
    Weird, considering Opera even has a Validate pop-up menu and keyboard shortcut.
    I thought only Microsoft could screw up something this badly. What’s up?

  • http://www.brenclosures.com.au Simon Griffiths

    I have a couple of comments on different subjects: -
    Surely the Safari browser on Windows was released at the WWDC so that developers who want to write web apps for the iPhone had something to test them on if they aren’t running Macs. Simple as that!
    I’m going to upset Paul with this one. I don’t agree with his comments on breaking the back button. In my opinion, it is all about how you see a web application. Is it a web page, or an application. If it is simply adding unobtrusive functionality to a web page, such as form validation, then I agree that the back button should work (but why would it need to for validation). However if it is an application like gmail, you really have to treat it as an app., and not even think of it running in the browser. In that case it should have the functionality and ‘undoability’ of the application. The interface design will dictate where the undo is, if there even is one.
    I guess that with Adobes new efforts to bring these web apps to the desktop this has further blurred these lines, as you can’t have a browser undo in a desktop app. Therefore you shouldn’t really be designing for one if you are thinking of going this way.

  • http://www.olivertreend.com Oliver Treend

    I really hope that Firefox won’t get undermined by Safari for Windows! Firefox will always be my default browser.

  • http://www.mealybar.co.uk Richard

    I’m just listening to a few back episodes…
    The breaking of the back button intrigued me, well not the breaking of it, but you mention ways to fix this, but dont quote any. Has anyone got any examples?

Headscape

Boagworld