121. Coda

In this weeks show we discuss 5 quick fixes to accessibility, and we review the mac code editor Coda.

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News and events

Skipping Photoshop

The biggest news this week is a post from 37Signals entitled ‘Why we skip Photoshop‘. The article outlines some excellent reasons why they choose to bypass designing in Photoshop, instead going straight from sketches to HTML/CSS. Reasons include…

  • Mock-ups are not interactive
  • Photoshop draws you into the details too early
  • Text on Photoshop is not like text on the web
  • Photoshop is not productive
  • Photoshop does not aid collaboration
  • Photoshop is too complex

They are all valid points. However, although I accept this is right for 37Signals, it is not right for Headscape. Our view is echoed completely by the response of Jeff Croft at Blue Favor. He argued…

  • 37Signals are working with an established visual aesthetic
  • That 37Signals aesthetic is simple and so is better suited to pure HTML/CSS
  • That 37Signals do not work with clients
  • That working in HTML/CSS can lead to constrained design.

That said, the post has made me consider experimenting occasionally with the approach. For me that made it worth reading.

It is a great discussion and I am really glad Jason at 37Signals brought it up. It has certainly created a lively debate including posts from Jon Hicks and Mark Boulton.

Web Designers should do their own HTML/CSS

But we haven’t finished with 37Signals yet. They have posted a second blog entry this week entitled ‘Web designers should do their own HTML/CSS‘. The title is fairly self explanatory and they put forward a good argument as to why designers should never produce a design and then simply hand it off to ‘code monkeys’ who make it work.

At the end of the article they write…

We simply don’t consider designers who don’t get their hands dirty with the materials relevant to the kind of work we do.

If you’re a designer working with the web who still doesn’t do your own implementation, I strongly recommend that you pick up the skills to do so.

Whether you agree with 37Signals or not, the message is clear: You will struggle to get a job if you do not know how to code pages as well as design them.

We would certainly never hire somebody unless they know HTML/CSS just as well as they know Photoshop. The nature of the web means that an understanding of the medium is crucial to creating a great user experience.

Beyond CAPTCHA

I hate SPAM. I hate it with a passion. I particularly hate comment/forum SPAM because it not only inconveniences me but also affects my users.

One common approach to the problem is CAPTCHA. CAPTCHA presents the users with a distorted word(s) that they have to type in before they can comment.

An example of CAPTCHA in action

Although in principle CAPTCHA sounds great it does have a number of weaknesses…

  • It creates accessibility problems
  • It are hard for normal users to complete
  • It can be beaten by spammers
  • It make SPAM the users problem

In short, CAPTCHA doesn’t work. So what is the alternative? Well, that is what James Edward (AKA Brothercake) explores in a post on Sitepoint entitled ‘Beyond CAPTCHA‘.

He looks at server side solutions, services like Akismet and honeytrap approaches. He also looks at OpenID and other forms of authentication.

The conclusion is that there is no perfect solution. However, he argues we need to stop making this the problem of users and take on the responsibility ourselves.

I can certainly see his position and generally speaking I agree. However, when you are faced with limited time and budget it can be necessary to cut corners. Personally, I cannot stand CAPTCHA and I regularly fail to complete them first time. However, I have no problem completing a basic question such as found on the boagworld website.

Read the article and make up your own mind. At the very least it will offer you some alternatives to CAPTCHA that can be implemented quickly and easily.

Website Owner’s Manual

Our last news story is a little bit of news about the book I have been working on. For a start it has a title; ‘The website owners manual‘. However, the big news is that you can start reading it and contributing to the final version.

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Feature: Quick Fix Accessibility

Complying with accessibility guidelines can seem like a massive undertaking. However, addressing 5 simple problems can make a huge difference to your sites accessibility. We discuss these in this weeks feature

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Review: Coda

Find out why I am seriously considering abandoning the code editor I have been using for over a decade in favour of Coda for the mac in this weeks review.

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Listeners feedback:

Team working environment

Gareth writes: I have been “promoted” from a support desk position for an Oracle based financial system to the company’s single web designer. We are not by trade a dedicated web design firm and as such i am having to develop procedures and polices by myself. I have been reasonably successful in this thanks in large part to your podcast, which has in turn led me to blogs and websites such as A List Apart, Sitepoint, Headscape (obvious one that) and many more that have also helped me.

Due to the sheer volume of work that is coming in this year we have found ourselves needing to recruit an additional web designer. At the moment i have all of my work saved on my laptop and all my tasks and appointnments stored in my Outlook.

What tips can you give me in relation to creating a centralised working environment that can be used by both myself and this new person as well managing our work loads. What do Headscape do? I should probably point out that we will be office based in the sane room rather than working from home.

Why is it that Ryan our producer, keeps picking questions he knows I am not an expert on. I am a front end interface guy. What do I know about this kind of thing! Also we primarily work remotely so have a different setup anyway.

That said, I am willing to give anything a go and ignorance has never stopped me before.

Okay, if you are sitting in the same office communication is not going to be the primary problem.
However, you still may want to take a look at Basecamp. Its a great way of organising team working.

The main problems will come in the form of file sharing, backup and overwriting each others work. One thing you might want to consider is a version control system like Subversion. At Headscape we use something called Source Anywhere however this is just personal preference. These systems allow you to…

  • check out files, preventing others from overwriting them,
  • rollback to previous versions of a file,
  • branch files, allowing multiple versions of the same file.

However, for some this might be an over the top solution. The biggest danger is overwriting files. There are a number of code editors which prevent this including Dreamweaver and Coda. This just leaves the problem of shared storage and backup. You could solve these problems separately. However, personally I like the look of Drobo. Its not that cheap ($499 plus the drives) but it provides an incredibly expandable solution that minimises the problem of data loss.

No doubt my ignorance is showing in this question so if you have better advice please post it on the show notes.

Stephanie writes: I have a question regarding internal site search. I am wondering what types of solutions there might be for enabling a site search when one does not have a development team to turn to. All I can come up with is Google custom search and it has some drawbacks (ad serving in the free edition and blog posts do not get indexed right away).

Love the new site!

So you want to add search to your site eh? If you’re using a popular engine such as MovableType, then there will be a built in search, so let’s assume you’re not. If you’ve just built your site using HTML, or aren’t happy with the results of your CMS’s out-of-the-box search, you still have options.

If PHP is your game, you can install a spider on your server, such as Sphider. This will index your site and provide a very customisable solution, that doesn’t send queries off to a third party server. If you’re looking after a large site, with huge numbers of pages and documents to index, you might consider a program called SearchBlox. SearchBlox is expensive, but powerful. It runs as a java based web app on your server, with many fine tuning features that will keep even the most fastidious of clients happy.

If it’s a free, third party service you’re after then you might consider Atomz or Google. Atomz is easy to setup, free and customisable but does include text based ads, similar to Google. The indexing schedule is regular, but only weekly. Google is an established name in search, but also has the downside of irregular indexing and ad supported results. It is of course possible to spend a little extra money to remove these, with Google Site Search

There is however an interesting alternative service called JRank. JRank don’t stuff adverts into the results, they only require that you provide a link to their website on the page that you set as the index for crawling. They also have a REST API, so without much work you can integrate the results in your website, as the PHP code below demonstrates:

$jrank = file_get_contents('http://www.jrank.org/api/search/v2.xml?key=[API key]&q=[query]');
$xml = new SimpleXMLElement($jrank);
$result = $xml->xpath('//entries/entry');
while(list( , $node) = each($result)) {
echo '

' . $node->title . '

';
echo '

' . $node->content . '

';
echo 'url . '”>' . $node->url . '';
}
?>

An interesting point in the question was that Google doesn’t index blog posts right away. In my experience, search is used to find old articles or those that can’t easily be found by tags or menus. Newer articles should be easy to find from the home-page of the site, particularly if it is a blog site. If powerful search is required, then you’re going have to put up with the ads, or fork out for a bespoke solution.

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