SitePoint Podcast #79: Instant Kool-Aid
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Here are the topics covered in this episode:
- IE9 Beta Released
- Google Instant Search
- Apple Changes its Mind; Allows Compiled Flash Apps
- Adobe’s Side Bet on HTML5
- A Couple for the Dead Pool
Browse the full list of links referenced in the show at http://delicious.com/sitepointpodcast/79.
- Brad: The People Behind the Code: Famous Programmers Who Have Influenced Computer Programming
- Kevin: HTML5 Video Player Comparison
- Patrick: Lanyrd
- Stephan: Biolab Disaster
September 19th, 2010, IE9 Beta is out and it’s good! Apple toys with Adobe, and Google has a terrible idea. I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #79: Instant Kool-Aid!
And some big news before we get started today, the SitePoint Podcast is coming to BlogWorld and New Media Expo in Las Vegas this year! Yes, it’s true, all four of us are going to be in the same place at the same time; this is the first time I’m ever going to meet you guys!
Patrick: Maybe the last if it goes how it might!
Kevin: I hate you guys; I’m never doing this again!
Patrick: That’ll be our last episode, so make sure you watch it.
Kevin: That would be a great live show. (Laughs) It’s amazing, SitePoint will have some exciting stuff to announce at that conference, so we’re going to be there so why not use the opportunity, I think we’re going to try and record a couple of shows, we’ll stream them live as we’re recording them, but we’ll record basically as much as we can, try and get some interviews with some high profile personalities, we might even rope one Patrick O’Keefe to appear on the Podcast, you know.
Patrick: Ha, ha, ha, ha, you’ve got me in the bag.
Kevin: You’re speaking at three different panels during the conference.
Patrick: You’ve heard correctly.
Brad: If he can fit us into his schedule that is.
Patrick: Who told ya?
Kevin: But most of all I’m looking forward to connecting with some of our listeners that I wouldn’t get an opportunity to see otherwise. Brad, you’ve had an opportunity to meet with several of our listeners.
Brad: Yeah, I was actually at WordCamp Mid-atlantic in Baltimore last weekend and I met with a listener, Russell Heimlich, so Russell had nothing but great things to say and we had a nice little chat, so I appreciate you coming up and introducing yoursel,f Russell.
Patrick: And you heard that, right, Kevin said he’s most looking forward to meeting you, the listeners—not us—for the first time.
Kevin: That’s right.
Patrick: We’re doing the show, but we’re meeting you, so make sure you’re actually there.
Kevin: Gosh, you guys are fragile. (Laughs)
Stephan: He’s got a fragile ego, doesn’t he?
Kevin: So, Las Vegas, be there October 14th – 16th, head over to blogworldexpo.com and book your ticket now because the bigger the audience the better, I think.
So let’s dive into the news, today you’re probably not listening to this at least until September 19th or so, but we’re recording this on the 15th which we have previously established is a nexus date on the Web. And sure enough the biggest piece of news that was out today is Internet Explorer 9 Beta is out. This beta came out at 3:30 a.m. my time so I’m just barely getting through my first cup of coffee. Brad I understand you have the lowdown.
Brad: Yeah, so Internet Explorer 9 was released and I actually had the chance to download it and play with it, I hadn’t seen it prior to this, in fact, we talked about the leaked screenshot on the last podcast two weeks ago, and it turns out that was pretty close, it looked like an accurate pre-shot.
Kevin: It’s completely accurate! Wow.
Brad: Amazingly, which I think we kind of decided that it probably wasn’t, but it was.
Kevin: No, no, no I think you were skeptical, I think I had faith (laughs).
Brad: Okay, I think it was me; I’m always a little skeptical. But, yeah, I gotta be honest, most people know I’m probably not the biggest Internet Explorer fan, but I actually like it. I played around with it for a few hours this afternoon and was reading up on some of the new features and testing them out, and it’s slick, you know, it’s fast just like it said, I mean we all knew the big thing that Microsoft was going for was to make it fast and much cleaner because Internet Explorer has kind of this clunkiness feel to it I think a lot of us have seen over the years. It’s certainly faster, it’s certainly cleaner, and it has some really cool features that I haven’t seen in any other browser, and the one that stands out the most that I thought was the coolest is the new “pinning” feature.
Brad: So you can actually grab a tab, however many tabs you have open, drag one of your tabs down to your taskbar in Windows 7—obviously you have to be running in Windows 7—and it will actually pin that website, particular website, to your taskbar; it will save the logo down there and it basically will relaunch the website, it’ll close the browser and reopen it, and it will kind of theme the browser to match that favicon a little bit.
Kevin: A lot of the exciting features that I’m seeing are really, they’re OS integration sort of features. It seems clear that Microsoft is acknowledging that most of the time people spend in front of their computers these days, at least a certain class of users, is in a browser, so why not make the browser feel like a part of the OS. And so, yeah, the pinning is one thing, the other thing is sites can now provide like menu items so when you hover over the icon of the browser or if you’ve pinned the site, if you hover over the icon of the site in your taskbar the menu that comes up can include menu items that are specified by the website in question. So if you visit SitePoint Forums a lot and you have the SitePoint Forums pinned to your taskbar you could have menu items for checking your private messages or viewing your subscribed threads or things of that nature; those can be integrated right into the OS. If your site plays music or media of some kind you can even integrate playback controls into this icon, so you just go down to the Last.fm icon that you have pinned in your taskbar and included in the popup that comes up is a play, pause, fast forward, rewind controls that you can just click there without ever even going to the browser window. And tighter integration with things like the Aero Snap for putting tabs to the left and right of the screen, it’s just really a lot of making web pages feel like first class citizens within the OS, it’s really impressive stuff.
Brad: I think that’s pretty smart for Microsoft, I mean they obviously dominate the operating system market, and technically they dominate the browser market even though in the developments and design side we probably don’t hear that as much, but they certainly do own the largest chunk of the browser market. So they might as well use what they have and that is that OS market, start integrating it into Windows more, it goes hand-to-hand with Windows 7. A lot of people I saw complain today that they couldn’t get IE9 Beta on Windows XP, and I would imagine, and I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine Microsoft is doing that because they actually want you to get off of XP and upgrade and go with Windows 7. So it seems to go hand-in-hand; I think it’s a smart move on Microsoft.
Kevin: Yeah, I think some of these features won’t work in Vista, but smartly at least Vista is a supported OS, I think it would be a bit early to shut the doors on Vista, but really, yeah, to get the full benefit of Internet Explorer 9 you’re going to want Windows 7. And I think that’s a sign, I think Microsoft has realized the competitive advantage that it has here; when Microsoft is faced with competitors like Firefox and Chrome, which are cross-platform browsers, it seems obvious now in hindsight but I applaud them for making the leap. What is their competitive advantage? Well, it’s their ability to integrate tightly with the Windows OS. If Internet Explorer for better or worse is going to be in a Windows-only browser why not take advantage of the benefits that provides with OS integration? I think in the past they’ve come at it from the opposite side which is they wanted to force everyone who was on Windows to use Internet Explorer for certain things, and you know they’ve had their hand slapped in the past for that, that was obviously the wrong way to go about it, now they realize they can come about it from the other side which is starting the browser and integrate back into the OS; this is beneficial to the user but it doesn’t eliminate any choice, and I have no doubt all of these sort of integration standards, the little pieces of code you’ll have to put in to color the forward and backward buttons to match the theme of your site, to put a larger site icon in the top corner of the browser, to even pin and provide site-specific controls in the OS taskbar, I’m sure all of those standards are being opened up so that if Apple wanted to provide similar integration hooks into Mac OS X with Safari they would be free to do that. But Microsoft has taken the lead for the first time in what feels like a decade here.
Brad: They also updated the website that we talked about, Beauty of the Web, which has basically top-level overview of all the features and also shows how Internet Explorer 9 integrates with a lot of the more popular sites out there like Twitter and WordPress and Facebook and things like that and how it can take advantage. But one thing I thought was interesting towards the bottom of the product guide they kind of highlight three words, and I have a feeling this is going to be their main marketing push and it just said, “Fast, Clean, Trusted,” and I think that’s to most users out there that use Internet Explorer they don’t know any better so they’re certainly going to trust it.
Kevin: “Trusted,” I don’t know about “Trusted,” fast and clean I can get on board with, trust is earned as far as I’m concerned. You don’t put trust out there as a ‘you know what’s a new feature in our browser this year, you can trust it’! I think, yeah, you earn trust through things like security and things like fast and clean.
Brad: But if Internet Explorer is all you’ve ever used and you don’t know any better you would trust it because you don’t know any different.
Kevin: Ah, I suppose. I suppose.
Patrick: By episode 100 we’ll have trust as a feature on this podcast.
Kevin: (Laughs) You think we’ll have earned it by then?
Patrick: Quite possibly.
Kevin: So the one thing that we were skeptical about when we looked at the screenshots was the fact that the tabs were side by side with the address bar, and that sure enough has made its way into the final interface design here. I postulated that if you got enough tabs they would drop down into a second row so you could have the full width tab bar, that doesn’t happen as far as I can tell; some of their screenshots with 10 different tabs open they’re all crowded side by side there, and the address bar shrinks a little bit to make more room for them, but it seems like if you’ve got a lot of tabs they’re going to assume you have a big monitor and you’re going to maximize your window to make room for them. In their announcement they cite usability studies and this is something that Microsoft’s been doing a lot lately—and this is one of the things that I think will build trust—is that they are defending all of their design decisions by citing statistics of usability studies they’ve done. They said that over 97% of Internet Explorer sessions in their studies have five or fewer tabs open, and that more than 90% of users have never had more than eight tabs open at once. Now, I mentioned this to Alex Walker our lead designer here at SitePoint just before I came in to record this podcast and he swiveled his monitor around to show me his 30 tabs that he had open in Chrome. So I think obviously there are some exceptions, I think a lot of them will be in our audience, but I like the fact that they are studying their users and optimizing for a certain class of users. If there are a lot of browsers out there it’s good that they’re starting to differentiate each other and making decisions that may not be for everybody but make the browser a lot better for a lot of people.
Patrick: Well, another recent launch was that of Google Instant, and though we had to take a while to explain the features of IE9 we really don’t have to do that with Google Instant; just go to google.com and start typing and, bam, results start showing up in front of you, that is essentially Google Instant. Now, preemptively we had a listener to the show, regular listener, Chris Trynkiewicz, write in from Poland saying that he identified a couple of issues with Google Instant. The first one is that when you type a few characters he finds himself waiting a second and a half to see if it will be enough to get him to where he wants to go, and often it’s not. But another issue that he identified was that it seems like it will have a serious impact on the so-called “long tail traffic” where you type in a longer query or more specific query to get to a specific page. Whereas with Google Instant obviously you start typing and the first word is done and there is a result and you might just go ahead and click on that as opposed to waiting or typing a longer query. So, guys, have you tried out Google Instant yet and how do you feel about these two potential issues, have these affected you?
Kevin: I can’t get it to work.
Patrick: It’s not in Australia yet?
Kevin: Australia is one of the Google sites that its not switched on by default. They’ve turned it on for a group of countries, I guess they want to test the impact on server load before they go it worldwide, but supposedly you’re able to log in to your Google account, go to the /instant page on google.com, or in my case google.com.au, and I click the “try it” button and it takes me back to google.com.au but it doesn’t work. So, I’ve seen it through some videos, but I haven’t gotten it to work.
Patrick: What it strikes me as is a sort of ‘I have to get used to this’ feature, because I’m used to hitting Enter, I’m used to hitting the Enter key every time I type something, and this actually I can see where Chris is coming from because I actually find myself pausing for a second to see if the right thing comes up or to see if it comes up on its own. And I have even noticed maybe a slight lag there, so maybe it’s a perception thing, maybe it’s just a mental thing where I think it’s a little slower but for me I definitely need to get used to it.
Stephan: I think it’s distracting to me. It’s like I’m typing something and all of a sudden there’s crap on the screen and sometimes I just want to type something.
Brad: There’s results; get those results out of here.
Stephan: (Laughs) No, it’s crap.
Kevin: It strikes me as a really naïve approach to design which, you know, I don’t know, there’s been a lot said about Google and design but this feels like they had some videos of users using google.com and they went how can we streamline this experience and make it even faster, and they mapped out the seconds of the video and went, okay, here’s where he’s typing ‘a’, here’s where he’s typing ‘b’, here’s where he’s typing the next letter, and look, there’s a whole second where he types Enter! What if he didn’t have to type Enter, that would save a whole second of the search time, let’s just do that! And there was no testing or study of the effect this would actually have on the usability of the application. I know I’m casting aspersions here with no evidence, but I cannot understand how anyone would have seen this as a good idea.
Patrick: And I was just thinking like with me, with our technical audience here, to us it’s like, oh okay I see what its doing, but I was just thinking I’d like to put some people in front of a computer, and maybe Google did this, that don’t know the Web as well as we do; I think of my own family. If things starting changing on the screen when they showed up I don’t know how they would feel about that, it might be a little off-putting.
Kevin: You know what it reminds me of, it reminds me of when you’ve accidentally got focus on the wrong application and you start typing things and stuff starts happening that you weren’t expecting on your screen, and you’re like oh, crap, what have I done, I’ve been typing into the wrong window, I’ve saved two documents I didn’t mean to and opened a new instant message to my aunt; this is what it feels like, is unexpected activity on the screen at a moment where often you’re sitting there trying to focus on formulating a query that is going to get you what you want to having results tossed at you in response to literally every keystroke, it can’t be anything but counterproductive.
Stephan: I think like to me it just seems like they were going for instant gratification for the user, and I don’t know if it really works. Does anyone out there actually think this is a good idea? I mean when I first saw it I thought that’s stupid.
Patrick: Google does.
Stephan: Well, I’m talking about listeners though.
Patrick: Oh, real people, sorry.
Stephan: Yeah, real people who would actually use it. And I saw the video of them typing and I was like this can’t — who thought that this was a good idea because it fills in the background so it’s not even in the front, the results are kind of grayed-out at first so it takes your brain a second to process it, and it just doesn’t make any sense, it’s much easier just to hit enter.
Brad: Actually, I’m kind of like Patrick, I still hit enter out of habit but I’ve been trying to get better about that. I actually like it; I think it’s kind of a cool feature.
Kevin: Ohhhh, alright.
Brad: I’ll take this stance (Laughter). So far I like it and I am getting used to it.
Kevin: Google fan boy!
Brad: I’m getting used to not hitting Enter.
Patrick: Drinking the Kool-Aid!
Stephan: The Goolaid.
Brad: I’m not gonna win on this one am I? To be fair as soon as you search on the right-hand side it says “Instant is on” and if you click that you can change it to “Instant is off” and then you can hit Enter until your heart’s content.
Patrick: Good point.
Kevin: In the comment thread for the blog post about this on SitePoint, someone spotted the fact that as you’re typing keystrokes and results are appearing what’s also appearing is Google ads, you know the usual ads you see on a Google results page, but just as the results are flashing by, these things that are usually going to be ignored as you type the next keystroke, so are the ad impressions. So what is this going to do to conversion rates of Google ads, people running ads on Google search result pages?
Patrick: I wonder how they’re working on it internally to kind of track that. Well, obviously first of all ad wars is a cost per click thing so they may have the impression thing in there somewhere, but most publishers go on, or most ad buyers go on the click and the conversion for the click. So, on the fundamental metric that Google uses which is clicks it really doesn’t affect it, obviously if they were like AdSense publishers, let’s say, and they had that CPM model that some publishers have with AdSense then obviously we have some issues, but the cost per click thing isn’t really affected by this and I don’t know how they would track that because they do keep track of queries obviously and that all comes into play with bidding, so how long does it if have to be on the screen for it to be a real search query or do they wait until you stop typing.
Kevin: Optimizing ads, we’re talking about fractions of percentages that are significant in conversion rates here, and it seems like the fraction of a second of an ad being up on the screen if that is considered an impression for conversion tracking those percentages are going to drop through the floor and it’s going to be like “woo hoo, I have an ad that converts at 0.0001 percent”. That does not seem useful to me. I’m hoping they’ve got some code in there that it requires the user to pause for the ad to be on the screen for at least a second before it counts it as an impression for the purposes of conversion tracking. Let’s see if it sticks, I don’t know. Like you said, I can’t imagine the regular users being anything but confused by this, and I’m hoping they’ll find that instant off switch so they can give Google that feedback.
Stephan: Maybe they’ll change their mind kind of like Apple has.
Stephan: Apple has come out and changed their App Store application restrictions regarding third-party developer tools being used, and so some of the terms of service now say that you can use these third-party tools, or they don’t actually say you can use them but they don’t say you can’t use them. (Laughter) So I guess the question is, are they toying with Adobe now because the implication here is that you can now do the Flash compiler.
Kevin: Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure they can, they’ve sort of confirmed it. But, yeah, they went through this huge PR battle, we covered it on the Podcast here that they were deliberately locking out applications that had been compiled using tools like—and one might even say especially—Flash CS5; Adobe spent all this time building a tool in Flash CS5 that could create iPhone apps that had been developed using Flash and ActionScript, and Apple created this policy especially to lockout those apps. There was a PR firestorm, Steve Jobs got on stage at the D9 Conference and said, look— Or no, Steve Jobs wrote his big open letter to the user saying, look, this is why we don’t believe in Flash, Flash is an aging technology it’s on its way out, apps written in these third-party technologies don’t play well, they suck battery life, they aren’t optimized for the platform. They talked about the fact that they don’t want intermediate platforms getting between them and their developers; if bunches of developers start building on Flash’s feature set and APIs then Apple loses control of the developer experience, Apple’s going to be putting out new features for their phones that developers aren’t going to be able to use because they’re not supported in CS5. Everyone seemed to buy it or at least grudgingly go, well, if that’s the way you’re going to be about it we’re not going to deal with you, and they stalked away in anger, and now months later Apple goes … yeah, we’re changing our mind.
Patrick: The thing that has to kill Adobe on this is that they were launching CS5 with this as a big feature at the time, I mean that was the moment we were in was that was new software and this was a major selling point and Apple was like well, hey, guess what, too bad, you’re not going to be able to use it.
Kevin: They torpedoed that release! And now months later they’re going, yeah, we changed our mind. It’s almost like they’re kicking them while they’re down, they’re saying, yeah, we killed your big release but we were probably wrong about that, you know no hard feelings, right?
Stephan: I wonder if there’s more to the picture than really meets the eye with this thing, and I wonder — I would love to be a fly on the wall in the legal department to know if that’s what was really going on here and that Adobe’s folks were talking to Apple’s folks and saying we will take you to court over this because they’re closing off the system. I wonder if that’s what was really going on because it’s a possibility.
Kevin: I’m not sure. I wasn’t hearing much about that. I’ve heard more legal rumblings about things like App Store approval of Google Voice and things like that, competing apps, and that amounted to nothing at the time.
Stephan: So that’s true then, it could be nothing then.
Kevin: But I’ll tell you one thing that’s clear, Apple does not change their mind because people want them to, because there’s a PR controversy; if anything, that hardens their position. If people, if the media and developers and users are up in arms, and especially if competitors are up in arms and threatening, Apple is going to harden their position and not do anything. When Apple does change their mind they want it to be seen as their idea; it’s something they’re doing to benefit their users or their developer ecosystem. And it seems like Apple decided two months ago that they were in the wrong, but they said we can’t afford to be seen as flip-flopping here so we’re going to wait until the storm has passed and then make the right call when we can take credit for it.
Stephan: They want to control the situation, right?
Kevin: I think so.
Stephan: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That makes a lot of sense. But it’s good news for Adobe.
Kevin: It’s great news for Adobe. It comes two months late but it’s great news, and Adobe I’ll give them credit, they’re taking the high ground, they’re taking the high road for this one; their blog post on it just basically says this is great news for developers, Apple is allowing Flash Professional CS5 created apps into their app store, because of this change in policy we’re going to start putting work into that tool again, so come on developers, it’s time, and once again we can look forward to a day where mobile application platforms are united by the power of Flash.
Maybe Adobe is now regretting some work they’ve been putting into HTML5 lately because just yesterday as we record this they announced an add-on to Illustrator CS5 that adds support for HTML5 and a few other web technologies. This is called the Adobe Illustrator CS5 HTML5 Pack, it’s out in Beta, you can download it for free if you’ve got Illustrator CS5, and basically what it does is allow you to export vector artwork from Illustrator CS5 into formats that can be displayed natively using HTML5 and web standards. So you can display your Illustrator artwork on a Canvas tag or in SVG if you’re working with browsers that support that, and the upcoming Internet Explorer 9 has very nice support for SVG in it. So what I’m wondering is would we have had this tool coming out today if two months ago Apple hadn’t said no to Flash. I know, I know, it’s hypothetical.
Brad: Adobe’s a smart company, I mean I think we all agree and a lot of people out there agree that HTML5 is going to be the future of web development, once it gets a little more out there and more browser supported and more users are using those browsers, I mean it’s where it’s going to end up so to ignore it would be suicide on Adobe’s part. They should certainly embrace it and just like I said do the best they can to be kind of in the forefront of that.
Patrick: It’s also 18 minutes long which stopped me from watching it.
Kevin: Oh, good. (Laughs) Did anyone watch the video? No, moving on.
The next story is we’ve got a couple things for the dead pool, it’s been a while here since we have heralded, celebrated, bemoaned the passing of web services here on the Podcast, and we’ve got a couple this time. So the first one is Bloglines which is a venerable RSS reader, it was like the Google Reader before there was Google Reader. If you didn’t want to install an RSS reader on your desktop, if you wanted to access your list of feeds and your latest news stories anywhere you went just by going to a website you went to Bloglines, it was the A grade. Did either of you guys use Bloglines?
Patrick: I did and some might find this embarrassing in our circles but I still do.
Patrick: (Laughs) So I’m actually looking for a new feed reader and everyone I’ve asked is pointing me to Google Reader, so what I would like to do is ask listeners of this show to let me know via the comments what you use for a feed reader, whether that is Google Reader or something else, because I do need to get out of there by October 1st and hopefully sooner to get to something else, so I’d like to know, and also what do you guys use?
Brad: I have a good recommendation for you: Google Reader. (Laughter)
Patrick: Aren’t you an Apple user Brad? You are, right?
Brad: I have an iPhone.
Patrick: Okay, well, think different!
Kevin: (Laughs) What you’re going to find, Patrick, is that no matter what you use you’re probably going to end up using Google Reader on some level because whether you use Google Reader as your actual feed reader user interface or not it seems like all the best feed readers use Google Reader as a backend.
Just like even if you use a desktop email app you might choose to use it with your Gmail account just so that on the off day where you don’t have access to your desktop you can login to your Gmail account and have access to your email. It’s the same thing with Google Reader; all of the best news readers, the desktop ones, the mobile ones, they all seem to back on to a Google Reader account these days. And this is perturbing on some level I think.
Patrick: I just love feeding Google with more and more of my data, as much as I can give them I want them to have.
Kevin: Yeah. I used to use NewsGator which was a lot like Bloglines except they had a host of desktop apps that integrated with their web service. So they bought up FeedDemon for Windows and NetNewsWire for Mac OS X and they released new versions of those apps that integrated with their NewsGator web service and that was really good, but the time came that NewsGator went you know what, we’re putting all this work into our web service and no one’s actually using our web interface anymore they’re just using our free desktop clients. This is a chump’s game. We’re going to throw away our web service and update our desktop clients to use Google Reader. And so everyone, this was two years ago now, everyone who was on NewsGator had to move over to Google Reader to keep using their desktop apps that they liked. And since then I have moved on from NetNewsWire to things like Reeder, that’s Reeder with two e’s, R-E-E-D-E-R, on my iPad and my iPhone; those are my favorite newsreaders at the moment, and they back onto Google Reader as well. So what I’m wondering is what does this mean for RSS? Has RSS been routed around, and the actual technology that everyone is relying on and using and seeing, especially from a user’s perspective, is Google Reader?
Patrick: I think that what you just said was a very long way to say Patrick’s listener question was lame! And also, I think that—
Kevin: I’m really interested in hearing what our users are using as well, but I think what you’re going to find is all of their solutions involve Google Reader.
Patrick: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re right. And the funny question for me is always the RSS thing because in our space we’re kind of in an echo chamber in some way and RSS is something that’s popular, but with the general populace most people don’t know what that is and I say that a lot when I talk about Twitter because we have a lot of social media people who say no automation on Twitter, it’s awful, it’s bad, but the fact of the matter is that some people looked at Twitter to subscribe to their favorite publications; some people use a Facebook fan page to do the same. So, you have people who want to subscribe to your site via all sorts of means, also email is still as much as some people would like it to die, it’s still extremely popular. So I guess the idea is that it’s just another subscription mechanism and how you package it is just based on what your users want, and the idea of RSS just isn’t something that needs to be promoted as it’s not really part of the big picture I would say.
Kevin: RSS, Atom, whatever the actual feed format is you’re talking about, seems more and more to me to be moving towards becoming something like HTTP, the protocol that web browsers use to talk to web servers; it’s this technical detail that users don’t even care about. My girlfriend uses Google Reader intensely, she’s a power user of Google Reader I would say, but she doesn’t know about RSS; all she knows is that if she goes to a blog or a site that is regularly updated with new content and she wants to stay up to date with it she types its address into Google Reader and Google Reader will keep her up to date with it. The technical detail behind the scenes is irrelevant, and so I think RSS and Atom is something that we web developers are going to have to keep knowing and understanding about, but orange icons just don’t seem to have done the trick; users are going to choose whatever application or mechanism works well for them to get their site updates, and it’s not going to have anything do with feeds, I don’t think, from their perspective.
Patrick: You mean a standardized icon isn’t the key to success? I can’t believe that.
Kevin: (Laughs) I think it may be a prerequisite to success, Patrick, but it won’t get you all the way; it’s a 90% solution is what I’m saying.
Stephan: Yahoo Pipes, there you go.
Kevin: Yahoo Pipes, there you go, exactly, that’s how I subscribe to all my things. The other thing for the dead pool is Vox. Vox is a social network that came along around the same time as Facebook was getting really popular, they were taking on MySpace along with the others, and Vox I think saw some success especially in the Web designer circles; I know a lot of web designers embraced and applauded Vox for supporting deep customization of profile pages and things like that using web standards. I don’t know if you guys have ever had the pleasure of skinning a MySpace page in your day, but really it was this awkward process of trying something in CSS, realizing that MySpace had stripped out your CSS code, so trying to write it a slightly different way realizing that MySpace hadn’t thought to filter that version of the code and it got through, and just completely messing up your code in order to trick MySpace into displaying it. Vox was a lot kinder to web designers and really gave you a lot of leeway and power to make your home on this social network look and work the way you wanted it to, but, it is closing; it is sailing into the sunset. Was Vox ahead of its time or is it unrealistic for a mainstream social network to be customizable through web design skills?
Patrick: The one thing about MySpace was that, and when you get the coding it was never coders doing it, right, it was always people pasting something from some third-party site that gave themselves a background or something. So it is interesting; is it a defining feature of a social network to offer that kind of functionality knowing it’s focused at a small group, but knowing that that group could perhaps be designers who have clients who would bring those clients to the service. I mean I don’t know; I don’t think that is necessarily the recipe for mainstream success, I mean look at Facebook obviously it’s not happening there and people don’t — and it’s the most popular network there is by far. So, I don’t know, it would be a nice extra if they embraced designers, I guess, on that level, but as far as needing to do it I guess the answer is no.
Kevin: Well, yeah, Facebook is a huge success and has almost zero customizability.
Patrick: And they’re trying to stamp it out for more.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly.
Brad: I think MySpace kind of killed it for everybody because like you said, Patrick, it was mostly these little script kiddies that you could copy and paste in and it would be sparkling stars and dancing babies everywhere you looked and music blaring, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why MySpace kind of shriveled up was because of that fact; it got to the point where it was so annoying to surf MySpace you didn’t want to anymore. And I think people might have that perception, if you start allowing too many customizations it’s going to turn into this MySpace hack-a-thon that happened, even if that might not be the case I just think the perception still exists.
Kevin: So much of what Facebook has achieved is a result of them making the deliberate decision to create features at the expense of customizability. I don’t think we would have the Facebook site with the application environment and the mobile experience and the iPhone application if all of those things had to support customization at a deep level. But if they wanted to Facebook could introduce something like that; right now the theme is blue and white, but if I wanted my parts of Facebook to reflect my brand, you know if it was the SitePoint Facebook page, if I wanted it to be blue and orange and Facebook provided those hooks, that ability to give a bit of theme-ability a bit of Chrome that is under my control and that that percolated through all of their various experiences whether it be in the desktop browser, whether it be in the iPhone app, they could do that if they wanted to, but they haven’t seen fit to so far, everything else seems more important. So it seems like right now what makes a successful social network is not customizability, maybe that wind will shift and Vox will say “we told you so,” from the grave, but right now it’s not enough to keep Vox in business.
Patrick: And you look at Twitter, right, and Facebook doesn’t even allow you to enter color code or hex codes or change your background; Twitter allows you to do those things. Twitter has very minor, minor customizations and yet Twitter’s fine, right, a lot of people have customized Facebook pages based on those colors based on the background and an avatar, so I don’t know, is Twitter an example to say, hey, there is a middle ground between MySpace and Facebook and Twitter has done that fairly well, maybe Twitter deserves some credit there.
Kevin: I don’t know about that. From what I hear the new Twitter design makes those customizations take a step back in prominence.
Patrick: I speak as a person who doesn’t have access.
Kevin: Yeah, neither do I but what I’ve heard is if you’ve got one of those intricate backgrounds that has your bio and your website and stuff like that, you’re going to find the new Twitter stomps all over it, so yeah, another knock against customization.
Before we head to our host spotlights today I want to highlight the comment feed that has sprung up from our previous episode, and that was my interview with Matt Magain and James Mansfield here at SitePoint HQ about user experience design. This is, I think, our deepest comment thread we’ve had as a result of a podcast so far, it’s 20 comments and counting which doesn’t sound like that much, but every single one of those comments is well thought out, well argued, a couple of paragraphs of really interesting insight from a listener in most cases. Both Matt and James have continued to chime in with their thoughts and Matt described it to me as a robust conversation, certainly there’s plenty of disagreement in there, but it is a respectful disagreement, a battle of ideas, not of people; I think it’s a really great read and if you enjoyed our previous episode please do check it out. It was our biggest ever download numbers for a podcast, by a small margin, but nevertheless a really popular episode. If you haven’t listened to it yet please do go back and check it out and check back on that comments thread on Podcast #78.
I’d like to throw to our host spotlights now, Brad, what have you got?
Brad: Sure, yeah, I have a very interesting blog post that you can find at the Sherweb Blog, and Sherweb’s basically a company that offers software as a service. But this blog post is pretty interesting because it’s actually titled, “The People Behind the Code, Famous Programmers who have Influenced or Created Computer Programming Languages.” So it actually goes through and details the developers, or the original developers, of probably just about every programming language you’ve ever heard of. It’s pretty interesting to look back and see I’ve obviously heard of a lot of these languages, a lot of them are before my time, Fortran and Lisp and things like that, but it’s kind of interesting to read up on the people that developed them and some of the history behind them. And it also goes up to current time; it even has Ruby on Rails listed as new as 2004, so it’s definitely an interesting blog post.
Kevin: Is this more of a sort of mini bio of these people or is it the behind the scenes story of the creation of the languages?
Brad: Yeah, it’s like a quick paragraph bio, they kind of mention maybe how it got started; it’s not super in-depth, and then they have like a famous quote from that person. But it’s enough information that if you want to kind of dig into it you get the name and everything, you can hit up Wikipedia or something, but I found it pretty interesting to go through and kind of look at, and plus just put a face to some of these programming geniuses over the years. It goes back to the actual original developer; does anybody know who it is?
Patrick: I can look at the page, Brad, but that would be cheating.
Brad: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s not fair. It’s actually a female, Ada Lovelace, who is accredited as being the original developer, and her notes on the analytical engine is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine back in 1843, so it’s kind of neat to see a history of programming languages and where they started and where they’re at today and the people behind them, so we’ll definitely have a link to that.
Patrick: Who says there’re no women in tech!
Kevin: Yeah, exactly.
Brad: They started it.
Kevin: Patrick, what have you got?
Patrick: Well, my spotlight is a site I discovered today, it’s actually relatively new, I think it’s about a few days old, it’s called Lanyrd, and that’s spelled L-A-N-Y-R-D, and Lanyrd if you go to conferences is that thing around your neck that has your badge tied to it, so that’s a lanyard. So basically what this site is, well, it’s a lot of things; it’s sort of a conference database and most of the data is based on Twitter and what people will say on Twitter, conference hash tags and the like, and through those mentions it builds a database of conferences that people are talking about, are interested in, and the site actually is pretty rich. I went on it today and added the conferences I’ve spoken at and the ones I’ll be speaking at, and it gives you a real strong glimpse into the conferences that your followers, or the people you’re following, rather, are going to be attending or are interested in. And it builds up this entire calendar; they have almost a thousand conferences ahead, and they’re not all social media or tech as you might think. It’s just one of those sites where you go check it out and it’s really cool, it’s really brilliant, it’s really attractive, and it’s one of those sites where I say I wish I would’ve thought of this because the way that they’ve done it is just very slick, and if you go to conferences like me and you speak at conferences I have no doubt that you will appreciate it.
Kevin: So if you’ve got a lot of creepy stalker followers it’ll tell you which conferences to avoid?
Patrick: Uh, that feature is not on there just yet, but you might be able to—
Kevin: (Laughs) I’m just kidding; I love my followers. I love you followers!
Patrick: Sure you do, sure you do. But if you want to see an example profile my is lanyard.com/people/ifroggy, and I’ve entered some data so you can get a feel for how all of it looks and how the site works, so definitely check that out if you’re a conference goer.
Kevin: My spotlight is on HTML5 video player comparison chart. The URL is difficult to spell, but it’s http://praegnanz.de/html5video/, check the show notes for the link. But this is a grid, a comparison chart that compares oh, you know, some roughly 20 HTML5 video player scripts. The thing about HTML5 is you don’t really need a player anymore, you just put in a
<video> tag and it’ll play your video, but it will play it with the most basic of features and controls provided by your browsers. And these player scripts add an extra layer of Chrome, of skinability, of customizability and extra features to the basics provided by the
Last but not least, Stephan, what’s your spotlight?
Kevin: I’m just firing it up here; I haven’t had a look at it yet. Does it run smoothly?
Stephan: Oh, it’s really smooth, really smooth; it has music playing in the background, it’s great.
Kevin: Whoa, okay. Browser compatibility, oh, it says, “Firefox 3.6 has sound issues and is slow, but Firefox 4 Beta is perfect.” Whoa, I’m hearing the sound in my headphones now. Chrome has sound issues supposedly and IE9 Preview has sound issues and is slow. Well, that’s a shame; I’m surprised because IE9 is meant to be screaming fast at this sort of stuff. Well, I’ve no doubt it will get optimized in time. It’s kind of retro, it’s kind of pixel-y 16-bit console sort of era graphics, eh?
Stephan: Oh, yeah. Yeah, and I think that’s kind of like a new trend, too, we’re seeing in some of the games, so I don’t know, I like it.
Kevin: Whoa! Sorry, I just started playing there and things are crashing down around me (Laughter). I know I’m the only one who can hear that, but for a second there it sounded like the studio was falling down around me. Biolab Disaster, check it out. Whoo, adrenaline rush.
(Laughs) Alright, that brings the show to a close, a crashing end to the show. Just a reminder before we go to vote for us at thenetawards.com. October 12th is the deadline and we’re in the running for the Podcast of the Year, so if you haven’t already please do head over there and vote for us we could use your support. Let’s go around the table guys, where are you, where can we find you?
Kevin: And you can follow me on Twitter @sentience and follow SitePoint @sitepointdotcom, that’s sitepoint d-o-t-c-o-m. Visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on this show and to subscribe to receive every show automatically.
The SitePoint Podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker and I’m Kevin Yank.
Thanks for listening.
Theme music by Mike Mella.
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