Comedy Central leads the way

Good to see someone is finally asking their users to upgrade to IE6. I hope more websites start ignoring support for IE6 soon, since its such a headache to cater to. Of course, each will have to make its own cost-benefit decision, but we’re pretty close to the point that for most sites, supporting IE6 isn’t worth the time and effort. Just let your page degrade, and provide an avenue for users to upgrade.

Comedy Central New Site Dev Blog: Hey Hey! Ho Ho! IE6 Has Got To Go!

Why? Microsoft wants you to. IE6 has many issues with security and display. Comedy Central wants you to. Once you upgrade to FireFox (Windows or Mac), or IE7 (Windows), you’ll get faster download times, smoother animations and better looking pages.

Cuil – is it any good?

Cuil is a new search engine on the block, trying to displace Google from the top of the search heap.  They  say their index is larger than Google’s, as if size is THAT important, and was launched by former Google employees.

Rather than trying to mimic Google’s method of ranking the quantity and quality of links to Web sites, Patterson says Cuil’s technology drills into the actual content of a page. And Cuil’s results will be presented in a more magazine-like format instead of just a vertical stack of Web links. Cuil’s results are displayed with more photos spread horizontally across the page and include sidebars that can be clicked on to learn more about topics related to the original search request.

So – is it any good?  Would I recommend you start using it.  Based on some preliminary searches, which I’ll outline below, I’ll have to give an unqualified no. 

First, let’s search for me – Oscar Merida, this blog comes up as the first result, and the first four links are pretty relevant web sites where I  write (and had my full first + last name displayed).  Let’s take a look at what Cuil returns for the same query.

Failed Cuil query for my name

You may be surprised to learn I am a woman.  I am just as suprised as you are.  Who is that?  Why is her picture next to my blog?  For this first search, although my blog comes up first, I’d have to save its a big fail.  Also notice that the blog post displayed with the search result is more than a month old!

I have a pretty popular Soccer Blogs website – how does it display on Cuil?

How disappoining – I’m not number #1, but even worse in my opinion, my very own soccer blogs badge is listed next to a site that can be though of as a competitor and is not even listed or linked to from my own site.  Looks like cuil is, stupidly, matching images to search results without checking if the two are at all related or linked in some way!

I think the search results for Soccer Blogs on Google speak for themselves.

My own mini Firefox3 review

I’ve been using the Firefox 3 betas for a few months, and now actual release candidates are coming out of Mozilla HQ. I made the switch because Firefox 2 was causing the load on my work PC to spike randomly , leaving the machine useless for a stretches lasting seconds. The performance tweaks for memory usage and the rest seem to have done the trick, and even the v3 betas were better than their predecessor.

On the user side of things, I really like a lot of the interface improvements that are part of the new version. The AwesomeBar is actually awesome, although it takes a bit to get used to how it works. It replaces the boring old Location bar from every other browser and is smart enough to autocomplete matches based not just the url you are typing in but the title as well. It also seems that more frequently used URLs float to the top of the list of matches. The bookmarking system is more useful, simply clicking on a star in the awesome bar saves a bookmark. I still haven’t used the new tags system to help organize my bookmarks, what I really want is a plugin that replaces the local bookmarking system with del.icio.us, or at least mirrors itself to that link sharing service. There is a lot to like in Firefox 3, if you haven’t upgraded already, you should.

Firefox 3 RC 1 full review – Mozilla Links

Memory wise, a much needed memory cycle collector is now in place to take care of freeing memory no longer used by modules that requested it but failed to release it properly. This and other memory oriented tweaks, seem to have paid off so far: a set of tests I recently ran suggests a noticeable increase in memory management efficiency with more memory freed as tabs and windows are closed and no mysterious memory eaten up when Firefox is kept open and idle for several hours as it has been reported several times in the past for Firefox 2.

Next Internet Explorer 7 upgrade will be opt-out

According to InfoWorld, the next update of IE7 will be automatically downloaded and installed:Microsoft warns businesses of impending autoupdate to IE7.  Just thought you might want to know, in case you want to keep IE6 around.

Companies that stuck with IE6 must take action, Microsoft said, or IE7 may be automatically downloaded and installed to their workers’ PCs. Specifically, administrators who have set WSUS to automatically approve Update Rollups will need to disable the auto-approval rule before Feb. 12 to prevent IE7 from infiltrating their infrastructure. After that date, they must synchronize the update package with their WSUS server and then switch the autoapproval rule back on.

What is the difference between a router and a switch?

On our way to dinner Friday, my Dad and I were wondering what is the exact difference between a router and a switch.  Sounds like something basic most anybody with a home network should know, but at best all we could do was guess/BS our way through the answer.  Wikipedia to the rescue.

Router

A router connects networks together, by extracting the destination for a packet and selecting the best path to that destination, then forwarding data packets to the next device.  We were pretty spot on with our deduction of a router, that it is a device smart enough to connect two subnets (logical networks) like your home network and your ISP.  A commodity linux PC can be used as a route.

Switch

The term switch is a little less specific, sometimes used interchangably with "router", and is really more of a maketing term than a technical term.  On the low end, a switch is similar to a simple hub, with enough intelligence to inspect packets and route them only to the destination device.  Your run-of-the-mill linksys or netgear hub isn’t so smart and just broadcasts packets to all devices on the network, letting them sort out what packets are intended for each on their own. 

By the way, if you don’t think a switch makes much of a difference, when I replaced our hub with a switch at home, there was a noticeable increase in file transfer speed between computers on the switch.  If won’t make your internet connection faster, since switches and hubs are faster than what your ISP provides, but with less packet noise flying around among computers you should notice a difference too.

Digg = Poorly Designed Community?

Here’s an article Jason is sure to enjoy, Digg’s failing democracy.  I agree mostly, Digg was novel at first, but now for every potentially interesting story on any page, there are 10 others that are a waste of time.  Here’s a telling fact: slashdot is still in my feed reader, while digg’s feed was removed long ago.  Maybe I’m just getting old, but going to digg feels like jumping into a room full of geek-wanna-be’s with ADD.

How could this happen? Have diggers simply stopped caring about their own community?Aside from mindlessly digging everything that hits the front page, diggers no longer have any noticeable impact on their own website. They are a shadow of their former fired-up-federalist selves. Like all good "voters" they simply vote for the so-called top tier candidates, unaware of/uninterested in the process by which those candidates were placed before them. These days the reality is that most successful digg stories need exposure on a high traffic website to push the link over the hump and onto the front page.

Will people ever separate form from content?

The video below is a great attempt at explaining it in layman friendly terms, but I doubt that most people, especially the majority of those whose job touches the web in one form or another, will really grok it.  I blame Word Processors, which taught a generation of folks that content and formatting are basically one and the same.  If more people understood how they are separable, you’d see more users using Microsfot Word’s Styles to manage the appearance of their documents, instead of hard-coding bold and font sizes to what they want to look like a title.

 

A Shocking Truth about Web Designers

Shockingly, Web Designers should know how to design for the web, not just for Photoshop.  Its a point that was driven home during my recent trip to California for Forum One’s (my employer) Online Community Summit. While I may not have done a comprehensive survey, I visited another web company there, and also met a number of folks who work in Silicon Valley.  The former shared that their internal IA/Interface team were proficient in CSS/Javascript/HTML and used their skills to produce HTML prototypes, not sites idealized in Photoshop.  Similary, another person who described there job as a "designer" involved the complete lifecyle from paper prototyping, html prototyping, to final development.

A post on 37 signals, where someone asked "Do I need a designer to make pretty?" pretty much confirms this notion.  I’m hopeful that we’re finallly seeing a transition away from "Designers" as the folks to got into the web from a print/media background to a new generation who got their design feet wet online, and are comfortable with the technologies therein. 

Thinking of designers as someone who paints the application pretty in Photoshop is a common but unfortunate misconception. We certainly don’t have any designers like that. Instead, our designers apply their talents to the native materials of the web by working directly with HTML, CSS, and occasionally Ruby code or JavaScript.

That said, having good visual design skills is pretty hard.  There’s a whole set of right-brain skills that can be harder to excercise, hone, as you can clearly see on my sites.

Flash, Silverlight, all worthless

Now that we’re starting to get some benefits from maturing HTML, CSS, and Javascript implementations, via libraries like Prototype, Scriptaculous, Jquery, mootools, and so on, along come the vendors hawking their own proprietary re-invention of the same thing.  Wheter its Adobe’s Flash/Apollo/Flex, Microsofts’s recently demo’d Silverlight, or Sun’s rumoured own re-imagining of it all.  But who am I to listen to, go read Mark Pilgrim’s take on it, Silly Season.

Sigh. I used to have the strength to argue against such foolishness. Nowadays I’m reduced to nothing more than Grey’s-Anatomy-esque catchphrases. Seriously? Seriously? Do I really have to explain why this is a bad idea? Again?

In the same vein, Sandy has some thoughts on why Flash isn’t all its cracked up to be, it would make a good item to post on his blog.

Do not trust your web analytics

There are benefits to panels. Unlike server logs, which measure individual users by the number of times an unrecognized Internet protocol address visits a site, panels can tell companies more about the audience’s demographic composition. This is possible as panel members share such information as age, gender, and income level. Unlike using IP addresses, panels can also help distinguish between visits by different computers, which may have the same user, and visits by actually different people.

This BusinessWeek article does well to explain, without much tech jargon, the different approaches to measuring web traffic.  So, what can you do if you need to monitor site traffic?  Use a mix of measurement strategies, if you can combine log file analysis with a tag-based approach, like google analytics.  Look at overall trends, at a monthly time scale.  Finally, identify ways people can participate on your site and start measuring those actions, whether its number of comments posted on a blog, number of registered users, number of contributing users, and so on.