Thursday, 15 April 2010

I am below contempt

I count myself very lucky in that I'm one of the few people in this world who can truthfully say they enjoy their job. I don't want to sound like I'm brown-nosing the boss or anything but one of the reasons Datapartners is such a good place to work is because we have fun.

We are still very hard working and diligent in our jobs. We are very professional when it comes to matters pertaining to the business and we genuinely strive to offer the best service possible.

Our recent Mailermatic newsletter plugging social networking was part of that service. We want to make our valued customers aware of important subjects that could benefit their business and we want to offer our help and assistance wherever possible. Social networking is also something that fits into our company ethos. It's new, it's different, it's exciting and, above all else, it's fun!

We had some great feedback from lots of people wanting to know more. Most people quite sensibly see the benefit and are interested in jumping on the band-wagon. Some are even asking us to do it for them. However, we did have one person say – in my best John Cleese impersonation – "I wish to register a complaint!"

Now, admittedly social networking is not for everybody but anyone who just dismisses it entirely from a business point of view is extremely short-sighted and I guarantee believes in Scientology and is a member of the Flat Earth Society. They probably don't even believe in evolution.

I did a check and the person in question was neither a customer of ours or a supplier. Just someone who voluntarily subscribed to our newsletter. Coupled with their assertion that they won't touch social networking with a barge-pole, I feel comfortable to share this with you. He started his email with the following:

“These sites that you say are the "place to be" are nothing but a wastes of both time, effort and energy. People have much better things to do in life that waste time using such facilities and you should be ashamed at promoting this sort of thing.”

OK well everyone is entitled to their opinion. I would argue that you only have to look at the fact that there are over 400 million people using Facebook and 70 million using Twitter. That's a huge potential networking reach for a business. I only have to look at the statistics from our own social networking campaigns to tell you that it definitely does work. I believe this is good reason to take it seriously. I also believe that people should have better things to do with their time than complain. I also think that writing complaints about something that in the grand scheme of things isn't that important is also a waste of time, effort and energy.

He then finished by stating “Any organisation that promotes such organisations is below contempt.”

Ignoring the repetitive use of nouns, I took the liberty of checking out his website and it turns out he's an “I.T. Consultant”. Enough said!

Monday, 12 April 2010

What goes around comes around

I left school at 16 to become a professional racing driver. That led me briefly into a career as a mechanic where I realised that the job, like most involving manual labour, was being superseded my computers. Realising that’s where both the future and the money was, I went for a career in IT which lead me to the internet industry, which opened the door to other businesses and also into the world of amateur journalism, which lead me straight back to racing where I am now a paid racing driver.

It’s a similar story for the godfather of Datapartners, Peter Banks. He set out to become a rock star and tore up the US charts before his band split up. After this, he moved into the recording studio he’d built which led to him spending more time using computerised equipment. This led to forming a computer company, which in turn evolved into an Internet business, which then re-ignited interest in his band and resulted in them reforming. So, as with my racing, the circle completed.

This brings me speedily rock ‘n rolling neatly onto the subject of website evolution.

You see when websites first appeared they mainly consisted of text on a page and maybe a couple of images. Soon, however, they started getting more advanced. Animated gifs became all the rage because people could have logos that spun around, Flash came on the scene and suddenly everybody wanted a website built entirely in Flash. Sound became the “it” thing and people started wanting pointless sound effects whenever someone rolled over their flashy button. Javascript started allowing sites to have quirky things like those wonderful dropdown menu bars that became so popular in 2001.

With the rise of the Google Empire, Search Engine Optimization companies started springing up everywhere trying to make money off the back of Google. First they told us not to use animation on a site because it distracted the visitor. Sound effects became a taboo because they caused pages to take an eternity to load. Then they told us that Javascript was bad and Google would smack our bottoms if we used it. They then told us that Google would not be able to see any sites that were built in flash. Then they told us not to use font tags and tables and instead start building sites completely using text and formatted using stylesheets.

So what we have now are websites that are mainly just text on a page and a few images. In other words, websites are back to what they were in the first place. The only difference is that they look a bit nicer.

So there you have it. The evolutionary cycle of life will always come full circle. Perhaps that’s why the majority of the inhabitants of this country are degenerating into apes who can only communicate using grunts and whistles. Nevertheless, one thing is absolutely certain: The Internet is a truly magnificent invention and can open doors to endless possibilities.

Friday, 9 April 2010

A plea to all surfers out there

When I started out as a wee trainee web developer back in 2000, nothing fazed me. I was a keen, wide eyed young whippersnapper who was keen to prove his worth.

Back then, the main challenge when designing and coding a website was getting it to work in both Internet Explorer and Netscape. At first I saw this as a great challenge. However, the keenness soon wore off and before long I was joining the rest of the industry in wishing death upon the people at Netscape.

So it was with great joy and much celebration amongst the web community when the general public started to tire of Netscape crashing every 30 seconds and stopped using it altogether. Internet Explorer was brilliant and anybody who wasn’t using it as a browser was an idiot and shouldn’t have been allowed on the Internet – or was a Mac user, which surmounts to the same thing.

Once Microsoft got their monopoly, however, things started to change. Darth Gates and his band of evil software Stormtroopers started releasing new versions of Internet Explorer that were always less reliable and full of more bugs than the previous ones.

Then came along Firefox and Google Chrome. Almost immediately, these two browsers surpassed Internet Explorer in both reliability and usability so needless to say I now use these two instead.

The problem now of course is that I have to get sites to work in Firefox and IE. Firefox is easy. A site will look exactly the same in Firefox as it does in Google Chrome and even Mac’s Safari browser. But IE? Oh dear me no. Not only does the latest version (8 as I write this) render HTML and CSS differently but it also renders it differently in EI7 and IE6. This means I have to effectively make sure a website runs in 6 different types of browser. It is a complete waste of time and energy!

Now personally I view people who are still using IE6 with the same contempt I held for people who used Netscape back in the day and I would recommend to them that they read up on the history of the T-Rex to see what happens to creatures who are not able to adapt.

So what is the point of this rant? Well, frankly, it is to urge all of you to ditch Internet Explorer and switch to Firefox. As well as making my life easier, you will also be able to rid yourself of that annoying clicking sound that it makes every time you open a new link.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

iWish Microsoft were this considerate

OK so in the wonderful world of web design we have to make sure that we build websites that work in Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and at least 3 different versions of Internet Explorer.

For those of you who are not cool enough to own an iPhone and have plumped for the new iPAD, which was released over the weekend, you will be pleased to know that we will now have to start checking that all our websites work well on this new piece of kit too.

Given that Apple are not as stupid as Microsoft and generally don’t completely change their minds on how their Safari browser renders HTML and CSS in different versions, I’m not anticipating too much of a problem because, theoretically, it should be no different to a Safari browser on a Mac or an iPhone.

Anyway, just to check – and to reaffirm they offer better customer satisfaction than those imbeciles at Microsoft, they have launched an iPad Peek to allow you to check what your website will look like on the iPad. Clever eh?

Check the full article on this bit of kit from here.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The domain name renewal con

Well it's that time of year again. The domain name con men are out in force. Every year they send authentic looking letters out to unsuspecting website owners. Please do not be fooled.

The letter is very professionally written and says something like: "As a courtesy to domain name holders, we are sending you this notification of the domain name registration that is due for renewal. When you switch today to the Domain Renewal Group, you can take advantage of our best savings."

They then go on to tell you how you can easily transfer your domain name. What they don't tell you is that they will steal your domain name so you lose your website, whereby they will charge you a thousand million pounds to release it back to you. They will also no doubt empty your bank account and sell your identity to some bloke in Ghana.

They provide a payment form where you can enter your credit card details or send a cheque. They even provide a pre-paid envelope. Very clever.

So here are my suggestions. The easiest option is just to ignore it, tear the letter up and do nothing. However, it is a fact that a company has to pay the Post Office whenever a pre-paid envelope is returned. I am convinced that if enough people sent the empty pre-paid envelopes back to these cheating scumbags they will not be able to afford the cost and will go out of business.

However, sometimes they are even smarter and don't provide a pre-paid envelope. This would be even more painful if you were to fall for the con because not only have you lost your domain name but you've also paid postage on it.

So here is what you do. You affix a second class stamp on the envelope, empty your bowels into it with a note saying "You sent me your crap, I only think it's fair I send you some of mine!" Now surely that is worth the cost of s second class stamp?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Can you just stop asking that question?

As a web developer, without doubt the worst questions I have to deal with always begin with the words "can you just". Whenever someone starts a sentence with those 3 words it makes my buttocks clench and my ears bleed!

Now, designers have it relatively simple. They just design something pretty, hand it to the customer and then spend the rest of the day smoking marijuana. A punter just wants a nice looking website and they don’t really give a flying Fokker how it works just as long as it does work - and therein lies the problem. Most people don’t appreciate the complexity and sheer weight of coding behind a database driven website, let alone the resources needed to power some of them.

I recently had someone commission me to build them a website. I spent about a month building quite an advanced content management system and video library to complement the site and, just as I was putting the finishing touches on the website I got a call asking if I could just change a few things around on the site. Not a major problem until I looked through the list of changes and realised that I wasn’t being asked to move a few things around, I was actually being asked to change the entire technical structure of the database which of course meant re-coding the whole administration area and website. Oh and I was asked if I could get it done that afternoon.

Have you ever tried explaining quantum physics and philosophy to a monkey? Me neither but it’s pretty much the same principle as trying to explain to someone that I’m going to have to charge them all over again because they are asking for something way outside the original specification.

The analogy I always like to give people is this: If you commission a builder to construct a bungalow and then wait until he is putting the roof on before you change your mind and tell him that you want a second floor on the building he will most likely batter you to death with a sledgehammer and bury your remains in cement. You see it isn’t as simple as "just" putting a roof on. The foundations will have to be dug out and reinforcements will have to be put in place to take the extra load of an additional floor. The same laws apply to code.

So yes a website can be re-developed. In fact I always like to encourage a review of a site every couple of years if only to keep it looking fresh and up to date with the constant developments and new techniques being applied to the wacky website world every 5 minutes. It just takes slightly longer than 3 hours to do and we won’t do it for free.

To give you an idea of some of the processes involved in a simple task of re-designing a website, take a look at this interesting blog from the BBC. Still think it’s simple?