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Review of the new dn.se

Web Development - October 25th, 2011

Dagens Nyheter, the largest morning newspaper in Sweden, launched a new website today. The old one was a bit of a mess with horrible HTML and a design that discouraged the visitors from reading articles. Is the new one better?

In short, no. It’s still a mess from a design and user experience perspective, the front page weighs in at 2600kB and 183 requests, it has blocky fonts and while it works with JavaScript turned off it’s really a pain with NoScript and similar plugins since the requests are spread out over a number of external domains and there’s no way of knowing which is used for what. The way I see it it’s most of all a missed opportunity, with a full revamp and a move to a new platform they could have created a modern responsive website that really brings the game forward and pushes the envelope for news websites. Instead it’s just another newspaper website with a complete lack of vision and understanding of how the web works.

DN's first page 2011-10-25

DN.se's first page on 2011-10-25


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Microformats vs. Microdata

Web Development - October 24th, 2011

I first read about Microformats in the summer of 2010 and since I also run a food blog (The Cheap Gourmand) I got all excited about the possibilities with Google not only indexing my recipes but also interpreting the actual contents of them. They don’t just interpret recipes but also contact information, reviews and so on and this opened up another level for me in the quest for truly semantic and meaningful data on the web.

So, while Microformats was first and are being backed by Google a much broader initiative was launched duing the summer of 2011 where not only Google but also Bing and Yahoo together developed a new format for microdata. It’s called Schema.org and serves as a universal HTML5 based solution to the same set of problems that’s being adressed with Microformats. So, which is best and should be used?

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Mobile Web is Just Web

Web Development - September 13th, 2011

The current buzz around town (in Stockholm at least) is Mobile Web, it’s an exciting field and I’m very happy that more can see the opportunities in creating slick, polished mobile web sites as a complement or alternative to their native mobile apps. However, it seems as if everyone wants to jump on the train and create mobile web sites and mobile web apps using magic techniques such as HTML5 and jQuery Mobile. The truth is that these standards and frameworks are just tools, they are quite powerful but nothing more than the final polish of a mobile web solution. The foundation of a mobile website is much more basic than that, but let us start by finding out the characteristics of a good web solution

  • Focus on purpose and content
  • Clear and logic page and content structure
  • Linkable pages using pretty and unique URL’s
  • User experience adapted to the users screen resolution and browser capabilities
  • Clean, semantic and SEO-optimized HTML
  • Separated logic and styling (CSS and JavaScript)
  • Optimized page loading times through minimized file-sizes, compression and the number of http-requests

And then let’s find the defining characteristics of a good mobile web solution

  • Focus on purpose and content
  • Clear and logic page and content structure
  • Linkable pages using pretty and unique URL’s
  • User experience adapted to the users screen resolution and browser capabilities
  • Clean, semantic and SEO-optimized HTML
  • Separated logic and styling (CSS and JavaScript)
  • Optimized page loading times through minimized file-sizes, compression and the number of http-requests

The characteristics are identical, I’ve marked two that really provides the base for a mobile web solution. The only difference between “desktop” web and mobile web is in the implementation and that’s no different from making a website compatible with Internet Explorer on netbooks versus Safari on the 27″ iMac. It’s still just about creating a good user experience across all supported platforms and using the possibilities of the target platform.

A developer who wants to create a mobile web site by adding stuff hasn’t grasped the most basic concepts of web, that it’s always about adjusting and adapting and not about adding stuff. The most obvious exampel right now is jQuery Mobile, it’s a fantastic framework for creating an app-like UI-experience but it still needs a solid web-based foundation to stand on. Mobile web is just web, anyone who says different just doesn’t have their basic web development skills figured out.

Do you want to read more posts like this? I now blog about Web Development at cleanwebdevelopment.com.

Designing an iPad Optimized Website

Web Development - September 5th, 2011

I’ve previously written about some of the technical possibilities we have to tailor a website to an iPad (part one and part two), this time I’m going to give some directions on how to design page layout and interactions for iPads and other tablets based on my experience surfing the web, using apps and reading PDF magazines for the last year. I’m using my iPad at least 1.5 hours every day (my commute is around 45 mins using public transportation) so I’ve racked up a number of hours and have had the time to reflect on my usage patterns and the design and interaction choices I believe work and which can use some improvement.

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Define the Purpose

Web Development - June 30th, 2011

The web community has a lot to learn from the mobile world, in my humble opinion the greatest gift Steve Jobs gave us with the iPhone in 2007 wasn’t the app-store or device itself, it was the new focus on purpose for every interaction and piece of information in the user-centric and tailored app experience. This focus on purpose and essential functionality is a large part (if not the biggest) of Apples mobile success and has then gradually spread and transitioned to every aspect of mobile computing, web and other forms of user experiences.

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Agile Website Development

Web Development - June 20th, 2011

I’m a big proponent of agile development (although that’s a bit of an understatement, I’m huge fan), the problem with the most common methods (SCRUM, for example) is that they don’t work so well when the entire project is smaller than a single sprint and the development team can be counted on one or two fingers. This is the case for many fairly straight-forward websites which can be built by a single developer in under a month. So, I’ve been thinking about how to take some of the ideas that make SCRUM so efficient and apply them to small web projects.

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Search Driven Websites

Web Development - May 6th, 2011

During a recent sales seminar for a search engine provider I saw a piece of statistic that said that 26% of all users start their interaction with a website by going straight for the search field and entering a query. That might sound like a big incentive to go for a search driven design and really optimize the internal search engine. For me, that single statistic says that a vast majority of users (74%) prefer to start by using the conventional navigational elements.

Furthermore, it doesn’t say why the users have turned to search for their first interaction. I believe many scan the navigational elements but don’t find a suitable entry since so many websites are way too bloated. So, the issue isn’t the traditional navigation (which most still prefer), it’s the amount of information and the information architecture.

Getting users to find the right information is most of all about reducing the amount of noise.

What we really can learn from the proponents of search driven websites is how they use dynamic search terms and suggestions. A common feature is to suggest popular searches and even display the most used search terms. This information should be used to constantly iterate the information and conventional navigation on the website!

Of course there are scenarios where you can’t or don’t want to reduce the amount of information or choices and in these cases search driven navigation can be the right way to go. It means though that the users have to know what they’re looking for and you have to be careful not to invent new ways of navigating just for the sake of it. Conventions are powerful and give a sense of security for the users, to deviate from them requires that the added value surpasses the threshold of not using the usual norms of navigation. However, always make sure to use the information from the internal search engine to see what the users really want to find.

Do you want to read more posts like this? I now blog about Web Development at cleanwebdevelopment.com.

Mobile Web Versus Apps

Web Development - April 20th, 2011

Most vocal mobile development gurus I’ve heard claim that apps are faster and are the preferred choice for direct interaction on mobile devices over mobile web sites. In this logic, mobile web is the choice for indirect use, as a landing platform when someone clicks a link using a mobile device in twitter, facebook etc. However, the app market is getting crowded and I’m of a different view and belive that apps have a vastly more narrow use. Think about it, which is faster and requires the least amount of effort for the user:

  • Open the app store
  • Find the wanted app
  • Click install (or “Free” and then “Install”)
  • Click “Accept terms” (or enter the store password)
  • Waiting for the app to download and install
  • Find it somewhere on the device
  • Find the item to purchase or wanted information

or

  • Open the mobile browser (or tap a link on the homescreen, then jump to the last step below)
  • Enter the URL (or use a bookmark)
  • Find the item to purchase or the wanted information

Mobile apps can only be seen as direct communication when the user already have an established relationship with the company or service and have the app installed and regularly use it. For new relationships it’s a very time-consuming and energy-wasting detour. A problem also arises if the app is not up to par with the effort level of downloading it and figuring it out, more than 26% of iOS apps are only used once and then deleted (if they don’t just lie around on the device without ever being opened again). In this case a mobile website is much more appropriate, we don’t want to force our customers into downloading, installing something and then taking up screen real estate for a single interaction and for this the web is the appropriate medium.

I’m not saying that there’s no case where apps aren’t preferred over web, there are many of those (in-app purchases, advanced functionality, games etc). What I’m saying is that apps are only appropriate if they provide something more that isn’t available in a web app and the user already have a relation to the provider so they trust that the app and the content is worth the trouble.

Do you want to read more posts like this? I now blog about Web Development at cleanwebdevelopment.com.