SitePoint Podcast #53: “I’m here with the booze!”

Episode 53 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week your hosts are Stephan Segraves (@ssegraves) and Kevin Yank (@sentience).

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Episode Summary

Here are the topics covered in this episode:

  1. Full feeds versus partial feeds, and advertising
  2. Virgin America drops Flash from its home page
  3. Google’s Matt Cutts confirms 301 redirects cost PageRank
  4. Microsoft releases IE9 developer preview

Browse the full list of links referenced in the show at http://delicious.com/sitepointpodcast/53.

Host Spotlights

Show Transcript

Kevin: March 19th, 2010. Full-content feeds generate extra traffic; Google reveals SEO secrets; and Internet Explorer 9 does it all. I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #53: “I’m here with the booze!”

And it’s just the two Mac nerds on the show today. Stephan how’s it going?

Stephan: It’s going alright, how about yourself?

Kevin: Pretty good. I think Brad’s got family obligations today, and Patrick is still lost in the maelstrom of South by Southwest. We haven’t heard from him after that yet. He’s yet to put his head above water. I’m sure we’ll be hearing plenty about that … I hesitate to call it a conference, it’s kind of a giant party in Austin.

Stephan: It does seem that way sometimes, doesn’t it?

Kevin: But yeah, I’m sure we’ll be hearing all about that from Patrick on a future show. But just the two of us today, I think this is the second time it’s been just the two of us, right Stephan?

Stephan: Yeah, second time.

Kevin: And even though there’s less of us it seems like we end up talking longer. So we’ve got a lot to get through today. We’ve got the Internet Explorer 9 developer preview. I think it’s ironic that it’s the two Mac nerds here to talk about IE9 because short of a virtual machine, neither of us have a machine to install this thing, do we?

Stephan: No.

Kevin: We’ll come back to what we think about IE 9, even though we can’t really play with it, at the end of the show. But first, being Mac nerds, John Gruber is someone that we both follow pretty closely. His blog, Daring Fireball, talks about Mac news, but also a lot of sort of surrounding tangential issues, and it’s always a great read. And in the past week I noticed he was talking about full- versus partial-content feeds. And I wanted to talk about that a bit today. Stephan, do you have strong feelings about full or partial feeds?

Stephan: Well, I’ll just say this, I only subscribe to two truncated feeds in my feed reader. All the rest are full feeds, and the two that are truncated are both news feeds. And well there’s a third, I won’t mention who it is because he listens to the show. He’s actually on the show.

Kevin: Oh, I see. Alright, fair enough. I actually thought I subscribed to more partial feeds then I did. In preparation for this show I went through my RSS reader and just read a day’s worth of posts looking for the first one that would be from a partial feed.

For those who aren’t big feed readers in our audience, the idea here is, at least in my feeds, my collection of feeds, most of them are what you call full-text feeds, which means what you get when you’re reading the site in your feed reader is the whole story. If there’s a blog post you can read the whole blog post in your feed reader, and the only reason to click through would be if you wanted to leave a comment or read what other people have written about that post in the comments, or if you wanted to use that post as jumping off point to sort of browse the rest of the site. Often I’ll end up clicking on links in the story which then take me to that site or to other sites. But some sites seem a little reluctant to put out full feeds like that, and so what they provide is a partial feed, which has these truncated posts. Often it’s the first couple of sentences of the post and then it goes dot-dot-dot, click here to read more.

And I was all prepared to sit down here and say that I have a lot of patience for these things, and I don’t mind clicking through if they want to make me do that, but looking at my feed reader I think I would have been lying to say that because it took me quite a while to finally find a post that was from a partial feed. The site in question that I subscribe to, their feed for is Macenstein—true to form another Mac feed—but yeah, they have a couple of sentences or so and it just trails off and you have to click through to read the whole story.

Stephan: Now do you use a feed reader on your iPhone?

Kevin: I do. I use NetNewsWire on my iPhone but I’ll be the first to admit it is the exception that I’ll be reading on my iPhone. That’s pretty rare.

Stephan: Okay. Because I read on my iPhone a lot, so I’ll download the morning stories onto my iPhone; and then when I’m somewhere that I can read I’ll read it, offline usually. So for me the full feed makes sense because I can get the whole story I’m looking for rather then a couple sentences of something that may be really interesting. But if I’m on an airplane I want to read the whole thing.

Kevin: Right, that is a serious issue. And even if you’re not, even if you’re somewhere where you have 3G coverage, that full feed often provides a far superior reading experience on a mobile device than if you click from the partial feed to the full page and then your phone struggles to download all the ads and the navigation, when all you wanted to do was read the full story.

Stephan: Exactly. And I’ve gotten around that with Instapaper and things like that, Read It Later and things like that, but it’s more work then I should have to do. And reading the article, and you can get into it, Kevin, about why they chose to do this, but it’s really about money and getting people to view the pages and I understand that, I mean they’re a business, they’re trying to make money.

Kevin: Right.

Stephan: So I can sympathize.

Kevin: So John Gruber took exception to a few sites that, well, he was trying to provide the contrasting point. He said he’d seen a few sites go to partial feeds saying that they make their money from ads on their web pages that you don’t see in the feed, and therefore in order to protect their revenue, their source of revenue, they had to go to the partial feeds force readers to click through to these pages with ads on them. Jason Snell from Macworld.com was saying if only there were some studies out there that prove that full text feeds created more traffic than partial text feeds, then maybe they would be able to justify going back to full text feeds. So John Gruber said well look I can put up my hand as someone who has experimented with this and seen better results from full-text feeds. He says, “During Fireball’s RSS feed, which contains the full content of the site, not only generates money directly but has grown to become the single largest source of revenue for the site.” And reading through his story on that, first of all, he says he’s gone out of his way to source ads specifically for his RSS feed. It seems like a lot of people out there seem to take for granted that ads in RSS feeds have to be crappy, or have to be really generic or simple; in any case, they really don’t pay the bills. But it seems like John Gruber’s out there to prove that if you treat your RSS feed as a first class citizen when it comes to the content that you’re producing and then the ads that you’re going to source for it you really can make some money. And reading his feed, ads in his feed are not little one-liner links at the bottom of every post; he actually posts ads as full stories to his feed. And these ads appear nowhere except in his RSS feed. And I for one find that he attracts really high quality advertisers that are really relevant to readers of his site, and I actually don’t mind reading those ads almost as if they were stories, because generally they are very relevant to me. And they usually take the form of a handwritten testimonial written by John Gruber for whatever product is sponsoring the feed that week.

Stephan: Yeah, his ads are really good. I think that’s the way I would do it if I was doing what he was doing. I think it’s the right way to go about advertising in a feed rather then some kind of like gaudy image or link at the bottom, click here. I wouldn’t click. Some of the products he’s actually advertised I’ve gone to the websites; I’ve clicked the link in the ad to see what he was talking about just because it sounded interesting.

Kevin: And when is the last time you could say that about a web based ad?

Stephan: You know I don’t think I’ve ever clicked on a Google AdWord, you know, that’s been embedded in a feed.

Kevin: Not on purpose anyway. Have you ever done that? You click it and you go “Aw crap, I just clicked that ad!”

Stephan: You hate that, don’t you?

Kevin: You wonder if they run enough ads, if they make money just off of the accidental clicks sometimes. But I think the takeaway point for me here that I don’t think he makes a big enough deal about is that maybe the reason people aren’t making money off their RSS feeds is because it calls for a different kind of advertising content. And it’s just like it took a lot of arm twisting to get traditional advertising execs to buy into producing ads specifically for banner ad spots on the Web—you know, that took years for them to really treat that as something that they developed ads for commonly—I think RSS feeds might demand that same painful process where you’ve got to show, “Hey look I will develop your ad creative for me if you pay me, and I will guarantee you this much click-throughs”, and if you can show that the ads pay off then maybe you can start convincing these people that RSS ads need to be a new ad format. It’s not just text links; it’s not just banner ads and maybe it is worthwhile.

Stephan: Yeah. I agree.

Kevin: So Jason Snell from Macworld, the way he seems to interpret John Gruber’s point is that yes there is money to be made in RSS ads as a one man operation, but that this doesn’t scale to bigger operations like Macworld. He says “the economics of a one man blog are vastly different from the economics of a publishing company with multiple products, a staff of editors, and ad sales force, and a development team.” And I wonder, see, it just seems maybe an entity that is as large as Macworld, the problem isn’t that this ad format doesn’t scale to them, it’s that they are all— all of their workflows, all of their processes, all of these people’s jobs revolve around current web based ad formats. And getting that big ship to turn on a dime to try a new ad format to make money off of RSS, the way John Gruber has proven it can be done, is too difficult.

Stephan: I don’t think he really addresses the issue. I mean he just kind of says the economics are different, and that’s just kind of the end of it. He doesn’t say why, you know.

Kevin: Mm. Yeah.

Stephan: I mean he’s got to have a solid profit margin, okay, well don’t we all? I mean, or we go broke. So if the issue is scale then it seems to me that someone like the example that Gruber was talking about, or one of the examples, is Gawker. If Gawker has all these different blogs, Lifehacker, they’ve got Deadspin, all these different blogs, and they put a lot of content out there, if they came out with some really good ads that they could throw in with the content just like Gruber does, I don’t see any reason it couldn’t scale. That was relevant to what they’re publishing; if it’s a football blog why not put football content in there rather then some Google AdWord, you know? I don’t know.

Kevin: I’ll be the first to say I’m talking out of my butt here, but if I were to try and come up with a theory for why it might not scale, maybe RSS, maybe reading content through feeds is still something that advanced users, power users do. Maybe it’s still a niche thing compared to web browsing. And therefore the largest audience you could possibly capture for your feeds would still be too small to pay a staff of content producers at a company as opposed to… no?

Stephan: No, no, I buy into that, I do. Because I think that you look at Gruber’s audience is nerds really, it’s geeks. That’s who reads his blog. Who reads … I’m trying to think of … Deadspin. Wy wife reads Deadspin. And my wife’s geeky, but it’s a football blog. So people who read these blogs aren’t reading them usually through feed readers, they’re just browsing the website and they’ll click on something that interests them. So I can completely see how you’d want to drive the traffic to that particular blog to the website because that’s where most of your audience is anyways.

Kevin: Okay, where’s the downside, then, is my question. So you mentioned Gawker, and I suppose Gawker was once a very nerd, very geeky sort of site, and is trying to break into the mainstream at this point. And they have just switched from full-text feeds to partial feeds. Their quote from Nick Denton from Gawker, he says, “Gawker Media is an ad-supported company. RSS ads have never realized their potential. At the same time we sell plenty of ads on our website. So yes, it is in our interest for people to click through if enticed by an excerpt.” But if what you’re saying, Stephan, is true, if the mainstream audience haven’t figured out feeds or maybe they just will never read content that way, what is the downside for a mainstream site to offering full-text feeds? If their mainstream audience is going to come to their site and see their ads anyway, who is reading your full text feeds? You’re not cannibalizing from your mainstream audience; what you’re doing is providing something just for the small segment of nerds in your audience.

Stephan: That’s a good point. I would be interested to see what their percentage of readers drop off, if any. I don’t think they’re going to see a huge loss. Maybe that’s the thing, they thought the overhead of hosting RSS feeds, if they host them I don’t know, was too much.

Kevin: Awh.

Stephan: Yeah right, exactly.

Kevin: I don’t buy that.

Stephan: I don’t buy that, but I don’t know. I don’t see a negative to giving away the full text if most of your traffic is through the website anyway.

Kevin: I think the problem is just that it is counterintuitive. That giving away your content in a form without ads can be beneficial because—and this is something that Felix Salmon writes about in a piece at Reuters. He says, “There’s no evidence at all that truncating your RSS feeds results in higher traffic, and indeed there’s quite a strong case to be made that it works the other way around, and that switching from truncated feeds to full feeds is the thing which results in higher traffic.” And he’s got several case studies that he cites about this. He mentions that The Guardian newspaper—talk about a mainstream publication—moved to full RSS feeds in late 2008, and its web traffic grew dramatically from 25 million to 37 million monthly uniques. Now of course there’s other factors in play there, I mean that just sounds like the growth curve of the Web in general. But it obviously hasn’t hurt them. And I guess the theory behind full text feeds generating more traffic for you is that those people, those nerds who will consume that format of content, are the same people who tend to share your content, promote it through social networking tools like Twitter.

And so those people in exchange for your content without ads are out there evangelizing your content and generating more traffic for you.

Stephan: Yeah, I agree.

Kevin: That’s the theory and I’ll be the first to say it’s not an airtight theory but it sounds more sensible then any of the theories for shutting down access to your RSS feeds.

Stephan: Yeah, I think just cutting your RSS feeds like that and kind of surprising people out of the blue and then announcing it is the wrong way of doing it. My wife, she reads Deadspin through a feed reader and as soon as she found out, she saw that she was getting half the feed, she was like why would I want to read this anymore? The whole point of me using the feed is so I don’t go to the website and I just read everything quickly, the headlines, and get what I want. And so I told her to vote with her spacebar. Don’t go to it.

Kevin: Yeah, exactly. There’s got to be another site out there just covering the same stuff with full feeds if that’s how you read content, and I sure do, yeah I’m gonna go where I can get the content.

Stephan: So do you think then that Gruber makes a good point that these companies that are big can benefit from full RSS feeds financially, not just traffic-wise, but financially grow and be as successful as he is with their product or their content?

Kevin: I think it’s true. I think that is true. I would put money on that. I don’t think John Gruber proves it with his one man operation, but I think that if a big company like Macworld, like Gawker, approached RSS advertising the way John Gruber approaches his own RSS advertising, which is sourcing ads specifically for RSS, specifically targeted to that audience, presenting them as full posts in the RSS feed, if you did all that I think you would get a return on your investment. And even if you don’t advertise at all in your feeds—and this is not a point that John Gruber makes but I think this is what Felix Salmon is talking about—if you can’t spend the time to generate advertising that is specialized for the RSS medium then put it out there without ads. All signs point to the fact that it’s not going to cost you any traffic. And it seems like Gawker is hedging their bets here. Felix Salmon points out that Gawker still provides what they call a VIP feed; it’s a public URL but it is not advertised on their site anywhere. If you go to Gawker and click the RSS button on your browser you’re going to get their partial feed, but they have a secret URL full feed so that anytime a power user complains they can just go “Yeah subscribe to this URL, don’t worry about it.”

Stephan: That’s an interesting point because I remember Gruber used to have a subscription service where you could pay to get the— I guess it was the full feed back then, I’d have to go back and look. But yeah, and he got rid of it because it just wasn’t worth the implementation that he was doing to get it to work, and he said, I mean he wasn’t seeing the cash flow that he now sees with the full feed, so.

Kevin: Alright. Well, listener, full feed or partial feed, do you care? Is this a factor for you in deciding whether you follow a feed or not? And on your own site have you had to wrestle with this decision? Let us know in the comments for this episode, head to sitepoint.com/podcast and let us know, we’ll be sure to read out your comments next news show.

Let’s take a look at a couple of quick stories. Stephan, you flagged a link about Flash and Virgin America, what’s that all about?

Stephan: Virgin America is kind of a trendy carrier here by Richard Branson in the United States, it’s his low cost carrier that he has. And they’re kind of – I call them kind of like the trendy airline. And they actually have decided, their CTO has announced that they’re killing off Flash, and they actually have on their homepage. And to be clear, they’ve only killed it on the homepage, there’s still places in the site where there’s Flash elements. But his reasoning is that they don’t want to alienate iPhone users and users that do not have Flash installed on their devices. And so they’re hoping to move to a more open and usable website and this was one of those ways of doing that. So I thought it was interesting that they cut it out completely off the homepage.

Kevin: We’ve talked about this at some length before, but I think the one thing we can probably all agree on is that days of Flash for Flash’s sake are very numbered.

Stephan: Yeah.

Kevin: Like you can make an argument that you want to use Flash for a particular thing because it provides a superior experience, but the days of landing on the homepage of a site and its just a Flash movie just because that’s what the developer’s used to or they can create exactly what they had in Photoshop just by dragging and dropping the resources into Flash, those days are numbered. That’s just not an acceptable experience for an iPhone user to land at your homepage and see a big blue plug-in missing box.

Stephan: Especially when they’re trying to cater to a younger audience that flies their airline that’s using the iPhone a lot.

Kevin: Oh yeah. Seriously.

Stephan: You want to be able to go on there, book your— They’re moving to paperless tickets, so they want to make it as seamless as possible, and this seems like a good first step, so it’s interesting to see.

Kevin: Brad, who’s not with us today, but he did submit a link and this is from an interview with Google’s Matt Cutts seemingly confirming that 301 redirects result in page rank loss. And I think we’ll get it out of the way, we’ll say the disclaimer here that neither Stephan or I consider ourselves search marketing gurus, right Stephan?

Stephan: Oh absolutely, yeah, we’re not.

Kevin: You don’t have a secret life as a search marketing guru?

Stephan: No. Sometimes I wish I did though just so I could tell people that.

Kevin: I think it’s not the— It doesn’t have the stigma it used to have. Like for a while there everyone was a search marketing guru, and then it was like “aw, come on”; today I think that’s the social media guru. I bet there’s a lot of people wandering around South by Southwest handing out business cards that say ‘social media expert’ on it.

Stephan: That’s a good question for Patrick when he gets back, how many people on his cards, how many people that’s their title. I’d be interested.

Kevin: I hope that’s not Patrick’s title.

Stephan: I don’t think it is.

Kevin: Okay, good. But yeah, for a while there it seemed like everyone was a search engine optimization expert. But I think the pretenders have sort of gotten distracted by social media, and the people who are still exploring search marketing seem to take it pretty seriously. So this is an interview, wow, one of these oddball consulting sites, it’s not a— I like these stories that come from sites that you’ve never heard from before because I get a lot of link love, it’s usually because I have something really important to say. But this guy caught up, this guy Eric Enge caught up with Matt Cutts and really this is a deep interview where, I don’t know, you know when you sit down with someone from Google or Microsoft and you sort of wonder how far you can push it? Like you want to ask the Microsoft guy so what’s the release date of Internet Explorer 9?

Stephan: (chuckle)

Kevin: But you’re afraid he’s going to go, “Yeah, this interview is over!” But this guy asks Matt Cutts if Google, all of the questions that I would love to ask a Google search guy, afraid that he would end the interview, but he actually provides really good answers.

This one question, Eric Enge says, “Let’s say you move from one domain to another and you write yourself a nice little statement that basically instructs the search engine and any user agent on how to remap from one domain to the other. In a scenario like this is there some loss in page rank”—and he says earlier on when he says page rank he means the general link juice because page rank is a very small factor in Google nowadays, but just the general link juice that Google passes on from those pages—“is there some loss in page rank that can take place simply because the user who originally implemented a link to the site didn’t link to it on the new domain?” Matt Cutts replies, “I can certainly see how there could be some loss of page rank. I’m not a hundred percent sure whether the crawling and indexing team has implemented that sort of natural page rank decay, so I will have to go and check on that specific case.” And then there’s a note saying that Matt Cutts got back to him via email and says, “Matt confirmed that this is in fact the case, there is some loss of page rank through a 301 redirect.”

This interview is full of nuggets like this. It’s like every paragraph has got another little interesting little tidbit about Google’s search ranking algorithms. It’s more concentrated actual facts from the horse’s mouth about Google’s search marketing tips then I have ever seen in one place before. So if you only read one search engine optimization article this year I recommend this interview, it’s really good.

Stephan: Interesting.

Kevin: The big story today though is the Internet Explorer 9 platform preview from Microsoft. Which neither Stephan nor I have installed, is that right Stephan?

Stephan: Yeah, I haven’t installed it—on my Mac.

Kevin: You need Windows, and unlike the other versions of Internet Explorer where you can download a virtual machine so you can run it in a VM on your Windows box, there is not a VM for the IE 9 developer preview yet. And the reason for that is this, for the first time, is an official version of the Internet Explorer engine, and this is the rendering engine the JavaScript engine, all that stuff bundled together in a stand alone application that you can install and run side by side with Internet Explorer 8, Internet Explorer 7, whatever you happen to have installed on your machine. So it is a true standalone version of the Internet Explorer 9 in development rendering engine. And I think if nothing else that deserves serious congratulations because they’ve been saying for years they can’t do that, it’s hard to do, it doesn’t provide a true representation of the Internet Explorer developer experience. But they’ve done it. They’ve finally done exactly what we’ve been asking for. And I hope they continue doing this beyond the development process for the browser, personally. But this is a preview of where they’re up to in developing Internet Explorer 9, and it is really exciting.

Stephan: Yeah, it’s fast.

Kevin: Well, yeah! I was going to start talking about all the standards features, but let’s talk about speed. The scripting engine, which they say— Their new script engine, they’re calling it Chakra, and their trick, the thing that they do that no other browser does with JavaScript, is that it compiles JavaScript in the background on a separate CPU core. Which sounds crazy to put something on a separate CPU core it just means a separate execution thread in the app. Really it means that in the background separate from all the other stuff the browser is doing it can allocate one of the multiple CPU cores that you typically have in machines these days to compiling the JavaScript in a fast executing thing. And it’s really paid off. Just in this developer preview looking at the Sun Spider benchmark, which I think is developed by the WebKit people, so I guess you’d expect Safari to do especially well on this because it’s by the same developers as the Safari rendering engine. Internet Explorer 9 developer preview beats Firefox 3.6 and 3.7 (3.7 not even released yet, 3.7 alpha). It also, well it completely beats Internet Explorer 8 which is the slowest browser on the graph they show here. Opera 10.1 the second slowest gets its pants beat. But things that are still faster than Internet Explorer 9 include Safari, Chrome, and Opera 10.5 just released for Windows and still in beta for other platforms. Opera 10.5 is still the fastest JavaScript executing browser on this graph. But Internet Explorer 9 right in the middle of the pack, but the difference between it and the faster browsers is extremely slim. It’s right up there in the same league as the fastest JavaScript executing browsers out there, which is really amazing, I never thought we’d see the day where Internet Explorer was playing in the same league as the other browsers.

But what really impresses me, like I said, is the features. It would be one thing for them to say, screw it, we’re just going to focus on performance in this release, but here’s the quote, “In IE 9 we’re doing for the rest of the platform what we did for CSS 2.1 in Internet Explorer 8.” Say what you will about Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft came to the party in CSS 2.1 and implemented every feature of CSS 2.1. It had the most CSS 2.1 implementation of all browsers. Since CSS 3 is still largely a draft specification you couldn’t really fault them for saying “Look, we know support the latest finalized CSS standard in our browser.” And now it looks like in Internet Explorer 9 their aiming much bigger. They say they’re going to support HTML5, they’re going to support a whole bunch of document object model, DOM standards, that they haven’t supported before. CSS 3 they’re supporting big chunks of, and SVG, scalable vector graphics, they’ve added support for that. This is huge. If they had announced support for any one of those things I would’ve been excited about the Internet Explorer 9 release, but it seems like they’re trying to do it all.

Stephan: They’re kind of jumping all in. It’s cool, I’m glad. How can we be negative about this at all? I think this is great.

Kevin: And managing to boost speed. For the geeks in the audience, what do these– Like you can say HTML5, DOM, CSS 3; what are the actual features? Well, we have now finally border-radius, rounded corners in Internet Explorer 9. This is the last major browser to add this, so the days of creating images for your rounded corners if you want them in all browsers are numbered. I’d say as soon as Internet Explorer 9 is released there is no longer any real reason to fake those rounded corners when you can just do them in your CSS and tell Internet Explorer 8 users “You want the pretty, do the upgrade, really”. DOM events, at long last, for the JavaScript geeks in the audience you know what I’m talking about. As big a stride as Microsoft has made in JavaScript performance over the years, writing JavaScript for Internet Explorer has still been a huge pain if only because you have to handle events completely differently. If you want to say do something on click you had to do it one way for all the other browsers, the standards way for all the other browsers, and then the Internet Explorer only way. It seemed like this was the last major piece of, you know, back in the late 90’s you always had to do if it’s Netscape 4 do this, if Internet Explorer do that?

Stephan: Mmm-mm.

Kevin: This was the last major piece of code where you still had to do that today. DOM events, finally, like this is gonna— When Internet Explorer 9 becomes pervasive this is going to lift huge chunks of code out of libraries like jQuery and things like that that have to bridge that gap. And then things like CSS 3 selectors, advanced selectors, so you can write CSS rules that style every second table row, that kind of stuff, they’re really putting the final pieces in place there. HTML5 video is not in this preview, but it is coming in the Internet Explorer 9 browser they say. They say it’s coming in a future preview with H.264 video; so the same video standard that Safari 4 supports. This is amazing! Internet Explorer 9’s gonna do it all.

Stephan: I’m glad. It’s great. I think it’s good news. Less work for people, developers in the future, it’s good.

Kevin: Yeah. SVG is great, the version that’s in the developer preview is still very early, there’s a lot of missing features still, but they say they’re aiming for similar feature richness as you get in Firefox. So this is another blow to Flash. I hate to bang on Flash in this podcast over and over again, but you can say that HTML5 canvas, and stuff like that, was a replacement for Flash, but doing stuff in Canvas can be a real pain, whereas in Flash you can say look I want to draw this logo and then have it drift across. Where in Canvas you had to repaint that logo for every frame, in Flash you could just say move that object from there to there. SVG is the open standard for doing that same sort of thing: create shapes, create drawing elements, and then manipulate them with JavaScript without having to redraw them and keep track of their state in your code. So yeah, sorry for the non-geeks in the audience, I just have to geek out at this stuff.

The last thing that really surprised me in their list of features is XHTML support. Talk about coming late to the party. Everyone has given up on XHTML. The W3C has stopped development of XHTML technically. I suppose you can still deliver HTML5 as an XML document, and that is what we will now call XHTML going forward. But I don’t— oh!

Stephan: So they’re still late to the party that the party’s actually been broken up by the cops and everybody’s gone home.

Kevin: Yeah, exactly! And they’re like “Hey I’m here with the booze! Where’d everyone go?” I can’t understand this; it’s like congratulations for finally doing it. I don’t know why they’re doing it.

Yeah. For the first half of the past decade everyone was saying if only Internet Explorer would support XHTML we could do this, we could do that. It would enable semantic web, it would enable greater validation of websites and creation of custom tag sets that you could integrate with HTML. And then everyone kind of went well I guess they’re never gonna do it, we’re gonna have to find other ways to do all those things. And that generated efforts like microformats, and even HTML5 to some extent. Saying oh I guess we’re gonna have to go back to the drawing board and actually add some new tags to HTML—from many perspectives that’s what’s most exciting about HTML5. That would never have happened if Microsoft had gotten on board of the HTML train back when everyone was saying that’s the way to add new features to HTML. And now when everyone has moved on and found other ways to do these things, here comes XHTML support in Internet Explorer. I don’t get it but I love it anyway.

Reading their announcements I wonder how Microsoft is thinking about HTML5, and there was a Tweet earlier this week that I thought was particularly apt, and this is from John Allsopp who runs the Web Directions conferences. He said on Twitter, “HTML5 is the new Ajax. Discuss.” And I just want to read you a couple paragraphs from Microsoft’s Dean—I always get his name mixed up—Dean Hachmovitch, who is the general manager of Internet Explorer. This is from the Internet Explorer 9 developer preview announcement. “HTML5 applications will need great script performance and consistent same markup, same results across browsers. Great HTML5 applications will build on that foundation and go further, providing game-like interactivity and movie-like graphical richness to the user experience. Today’s standards markup web pages and today’s browsers are limited in this regard because they can only use a fraction of what PC hardware and the operating system can do. HTML5 applications will demand more.” Do you get the sense that when he says HTML5 he’s not referring to the HTML5 standards, the tags, the parsing rules? It seems like HTML5 is this buzz word that’s taken on— It’s web 2.0, it’s Ajax, it’s the next big wave of innovation on the web.

Stephan: That’s what he’s implying…

Kevin: Yeah!

Stephan: It’s just a word.

Kevin: To some extent I think you could take the actual features of HTML5, remove them from what’s coming in the Web, and all the other stuff, the CSS 3, the JavaScript performance, SVG, all that stuff put together would still let you do everything he’s talking about when he says HTML5.

Stephan: Mmm-mm.

Kevin: So I don’t really think it’s about HTML5. I think it’s unfortunate for the HTML5 standard that everyone is— Well, is it unfortunate or is it a boon for the standard?

Stephan: Well, I mean let’s think about Ajax. Ajax then just became a thing that everyone just knows how to do. They just didn’t call it Ajax anymore, right?

Kevin: Right.

Stephan: To me, that’s a good thing.

Kevin: Well, it got to the point where as soon as you saw a JavaScript-powered widget on the page that you could drag or, you know, if you had a slider control on the page that you could click and drag with your mouse to select a number, that became Ajax, people would say “Oh I love that piece of Ajax on the page”. And there was no Ajax going on there, it was just JavaScript moving a thing in response to the mouse. We are already at the point where people are saying “well this is an HTML5 application”, and in fact there is no HTML5 specific features in the page that they’re talking about. But is that good for the HTML5 spec? Does it mean that all these features that only developers and nerds like me care about are going to get implemented just because people are excited about anything called HTML5?

Stephan: I don’t think so.

Kevin: No?

Stephan: No. I just— I don’t see it. I mean people are just going around looking at websites going “Oh that’s HTML5”, well then that’s just as ignorant as saying a JavaScript widget is Ajax. I mean it’s—

Kevin: But maybe ignorance is good in this case.

Stephan: I guess so. I guess it could be, yeah.

Kevin: I want the <article> tag, I want the heading group tag. These are features of HTML5 that seriously no one cares about except the markup nerds, but they are going to get implemented in browsers because people are going “woo hoo, we want to say that our browser supports HTML5.”

Stephan: Yep.

Kevin: Yeah. Well, hmm, I don’t know. Which is better, people actually knowing what they’re talking about or me getting the features that only I care about?

The last thing that Microsoft announces with this developer preview is that they’re revamping the way they’re accepting feedback on their browser previews. First of all they say they’re gonna try and aim for a new developer preview release roughly every eight weeks, right up to the release of Internet Explorer 9. And they still haven’t given any kind of picture of when that’s going to be. I’d be surprised if it’s in 2010 at this point. They’ve got so much work ahead them, things like the SVG support, that it’s still very much a work in progress in this preview. I’d say early 2011, if I were a betting man that’s where I would put my money. So there’s quite a few developer preview releases between now and then if they’re doing one every two months. And they say that—this was a big criticism for the Internet Explorer 8 process—they were only accepting bug reports from registered Microsoft sort of partner developers. If you were in a Microsoft developer program you could submit a bug, otherwise you were out of luck. And understandably people were pretty upset about that. So they say they are committing to opening up that bug reporting process, and in fact the developer preview now has a menu item that lets anyone report a bug. And anyone will be able to view that bug database, and this is— and they are also saying they are going to read every single bug report that they receive. I suppose for me that goes without saying.

Stephan: That infers a little bit that maybe they weren’t before.

Kevin: Yeah, exactly. The big challenge they say is that they get a lot of bug reports that say things like, “Make Internet Explorer more standards compliant.” And yeah, is that a useful bug report? I don’t think so.

Stephan: To the person that submitted it maybe.

Kevin: “Switch to the WebKit rendering engine!” I’m sure there’s some people in our audience who believe that should be done, and maybe the Web would be a better place if they did, but Microsoft’s never gonna do that, and that’s not a constructive piece of criticism when it comes to feedback, a bug report on a Beta. So that’s their challenge is that they have to deal with all of that cruft, but congratulations for stepping up and actually saying you’re gonna do that.

But like I said at the start, neither Stephan or I have installed this developer preview. I will get around to doing so in my Windows development virtual machine at some point this week, but listeners, if you have installed the IE 9 developer preview and pointed it at your website; I want to know what you saw. Did your site break? Did features of your site that only work in more standards compliant browsers suddenly come to life? Did you see rounded corners where there weren’t any rounded corners before in Internet Explorer? I would love to hear that kind of story. Or if your site just blew apart and fell in a heap I’d like to hear that too. We’d love to get a picture of just how far along this browser engine is. Is it something that you would actually like to see in a browser? Would you like to see Microsoft releasing these kind of updates to their finished browser for end users to use? Would that be a good thing or is it still too much of a work in progress, a crashy mess that it really should just be for developers? That’s what we want to hear. Head over to sitepoint.com/podcast and leave a comment to let us know.

Before we get to our host spotlights I wanted to touch on a bit of listener feedback that we got on podcast 51, which was when we talked about designer who can’t code. Were you here for that, Stephan?

Stephan: Yeah. Yeah, I was here.

Kevin: Yeah. So how would you summarize where we landed on that? Should web designers be able to code for them to call themselves web designers?

Stephan: I think it was just kind of split down the middle. I mean I’m kind of torn on the subject, like I said before. I see the point of why we would want web designers to be able to code, but I also see the beauty of the art side of it, so. I don’t know, maybe I can make some enemies on Twitter, you know.

Kevin: Well, I have to thank our listeners because they wrote in with a whole bunch of really thoughtful comments. Some of them are like blog post lengths of their own. So I encourage you to head over to sitePpint.com/podcast and check out the comments on podcast 51 if you’re interested in this issue.

There’s some really interesting takes on it but a couple that I wanted to read out, Luciano Fuentes says, “I’m not really sure why the “designers should know how to code” tweet caused such a stir. It’s like saying “interior designers should know how to tile a bathroom”. It’s not necessary but it sure helps to understand your medium.”

Florent V says, “It seems to me that nobody has tried to teach graphic designers how to work for the web medium other than telling them: learn how to code stupid! I mean, there could be a 300-page book on the specificities on the medium for graphic designers. Not a “web design” book but a book which says what you can do and what you can’t, what the future possibilities look like, etc. And such a book shouldn’t be limited to the technical restrictions and possibilities, there would be other fields to cover (web marketing and web usability).” Wow! I don’t know how you would write that book, but I would sure love to see it. That would be an amazing accomplishment if you could communicate to designers in a designer’s language what the things you need to know before you design for the Web are. That would be amazing. Because I think Florent is right, the reason we tell people if you’re a web designer you really have to understand the code even if you don’t end up writing it yourself, the reason we do that is because we can’t find, we haven’t found a way to explain the Web as a medium, what you need to know as a designer, in any other terms other than well you just have to understand the code.

Stephan: I agree. I mean just pointing someone towards the code isn’t gonna help them understand what the Internet is as far as the design aspect of it, right. Just saying oh go look at the code behind that website is not gonna really help someone if they don’t understand the fundamentals of the screen and things like that. I completely agree with that point.

Kevin: Hmm, yeah. So yes, thank you everyone for that feedback, and we look forward to reading your feedback on today’s show. Let’s finish off with our host’s spotlights. Just a couple, so we better make them good Stephan.

Stephan: Alright. You want me to go first?

Kevin: Yeah, what do you got?

Stephan: Well, I have Evom, which it’s a converter for movies. It’s for Apple users so we’ll just get that out there right now. It converts movies for iTunes for the Web actually; it actually converts to HTML5 format. I don’t really understand that yet but I’m gonna try it out. And then it also converts to like iPods, things like that, and makes them— It’s much simpler. There was another app out there that it’s no longer around anymore, and I can’t think of the name; I actually uninstalled it because I wasn’t using it because they stopped…

Kevin: It’s VisualHub.

Stephan: VisualHub, yeah. Yeah. They’d stopped writing it, updating it, so I’ve been looking for something and I just happened to come across this link, so it’s called Evom, it’s fast, it’s quick, they seem to be on top of the feature, so go out there and check it out.

Kevin: Wow. The one I’m using at the moment is HandBrake, which is a free and open source and … it’s not pretty, let’s put it that way. But it does do nice things like DVD ripping, so you can put a commercial DVD in and if it’s the right region for your drive it will, by using a copy of VLC—so you have to also install the Videolan Player on your machine—HandBrake uses that to decode the DVD and will make videos that are suitable for iTunes as well. But it looks like Evom is way more polished and way more end user friendly.

Stephan: And it’s free.

Kevin: This is something – yeah, it’s free. There are plenty of options out there that will charge you $25 for this, but this is really nice. Looks like it converts YouTube videos as well?

Stephan: Yeah, it’ll pull them down and convert them; you just give it the URL.

Kevin: Wow, that’s very sweet. I’m not sure my spotlight can stand up to that, but it is one that will work on Windows, so it’s got that going for it. What I have to suggest is Dummyimage.com which is the dynamic dummy image generator. When you’re laying out a site, maybe it’s a wireframe or you’re just creating the skin, the outline of what your site will look like, you know when you put in text you generally use a site like Lipsum.com to generate Lorem Ipsum text, the nonsense text that will fill paragraphs so you can see sort of what the page layout will look like, well you need the same thing for your images. Maybe you’re putting ad spots down the right hand side like we have at SitePoint, and you don’t actually have the ads but you need some placeholder images that will just show those dimensions and what’s gonna go there. Well this site will generate those for you on the fly. You go to Dummyimage.com and you fill in a little form with the dimensions of the image you want, the background color you want, the foreground color you want, and optionally some text that you want in the image. So if it’s a placeholder for an advertisement you might write ‘advertisement’ in there as the text. And what it gives you is a URL that will dynamically generate a filler image, and then you just put in your page layout, you put an image tag pointing to that URL and you will get that placeholder image. If you don’t specify any text by default it’ll just put like if it’s a 600 x 400 image it will have ‘600 x 400’ in an empty box. But these will save you a lot of time creating these filler images. I know when I’m laying out a page and I don’t have images to fill, I go “Ah well, I’ll have to open Photoshop and create a new canvas of the right size and put in some kind of text that indicates that there’s something here.” This automatically does it for you. You don’t actually have to generate and store the images on your server, you just point at these magic URLs, it’s really slick. So yeah. The next time you’re laying out a page tryout Dummyimage.com

And that’s it for our podcast for two today, Stephan. Why don’t you signoff and let people know where you are.

Stephan: Yep, you can find me on Twitter @ssegraves and you can read my blog at badice.com.

Kevin: And you can follow me on Twitter @sentience and SitePoint @sitepointdotcom. Join us next week for the second half of our interview with Derek Powazek about community. You can visit the SitePoint Podcast at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on the show and to subscribe to get every show automatically.

The SitePoint podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker and I’m Kevin Yank. Thanks for listening. Bye, bye.

Theme music by Mike Mella.

Thanks for listening! Feel free to let us know how we’re doing, or to continue the discussion, using the comments field below.

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  • WebKarnage

    Microsoft have taken such a pasting for Internet Explorer over the past 6 months + more, they are finally taking note of the outside world in a serious way.
    Microsoft might be showing the first signs of a whole new attitude to development and design. Windows 7 is a seriously huge improvement over Vista (OK, so I know that’s not the greatest of challenges) so they might just be making a move that could be seriously positive for them and their users in the long term. I seriously hope so.
    with best regards,
    Karn.

  • powerpotatoe

    I do not subscribe to many web feeds, but the few that I do subscribe to are full feeds. I use my iGoogle page for feed subscription and viewing and I subscribed through Google for convenience sake. I placed the content on the iGoogle page so that I can access content of interest on one page. I do not want to click through in order to read more. Very seldom do I click through to the host page even when I am a fan of the blog feed. The feed is not only useful for new content notification, but also for convenient access to that content.

  • Dale

    I was following a Gawker property (Lifehacker) and unfollowed it when it went to partial feeds. Ironically, the full feed was also a superior experience to using their website directly.

    The reasons you discussed cover it pretty well for me. I don’t think the sites with partial feeds appreciate how much extra time, in aggregate, it takes to jump from RSS reader to site over and over again, especially with slow page loads. And with some sites I follow having the vanilla reader format is a relief!

  • http://www.danstephenson.ca Iceman90

    Great show guys!

  • iDude (Chaz Scholton)

    Great Show! I’d like to toss out an idea for RSS feeds. To provide full Newsletters in RSS feeds. Most newsletters are designed to be informative and entice readers to links on the website. Actually, this idea has some practicle merits to it, since many Email clients support RSS now days. Email Newsletters tend to get buried in with a heap of other emails and spam even. It would be great to be able to recieve Newsletters in an RSS feed format. Many newsletters contain content that often in not on the website itself, provide links and summary of new and old articles. It would appear that RSS would be a logical alternative distribution for Email Newsletters. The content with remain in the same format as the email newsletter itself. This would give readers an alternative method for recieving the same contect, and it would be well organized too. I’ve had to create a special folder for Sitepoint Newsletters with assignment of filters or rules to place sitepoint newsletters into that folder. Life would be so much easier, if I were to have all the newsletters I subscribed to in an RSS feed. Not just sitepoint.com newsletters but many other sites as well. In many regards Newsletters already have addressed the issue with how to entice people to the website itself, along with incorperate content that’s not published directly on the site as well as advertising. Why try to reinvent the wheel when you can just deliver it differently?