SitePoint Podcast #91: The Best Site of All Time
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Here are the topics covered in this episode:
- Googles Chrome OS, Store, and browser announcements
- Domain name seizures and distributed DNS
- 24 ways, PHP Advent, and the SitePoint Christmas Countdown
- James Clark: The future of XML on the Web
- Prepare to Launch with Launchlist
Browse the full list of links referenced in the show at http://delicious.com/sitepointpodcast/91.
- Stephan: Lettering.js
- Patrick: Saturday Night Live: Blizzard Man, Coming Home music video
- Kevin: Ben the Bodyguard
- Brad: Introducing Apache Wave
Kevin: December 10th, 2010. The Chrome App Store makes its debut; the future of XML on the Web; and thing-a-day mania runs rampant. I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #91: The Best Site of All Time!
And it’s another Friday, which means it’s another SitePoint Podcast and the usual cast of heroes here: Stephan, Brad, Patrick, how you doing?
Stephan: Doin’ good.
Patrick: When our rings come together they activate. Podcast powers!
Kevin: (Laughs) We as usual are recording this on a Wednesday my time, Tuesday for the rest of the guys, which means we are watching the dust settle from Google’s big press announcement. So we are only partially across what they announced. Brad, there’s some Chrome stuff going on, right?
Brad: Did you want to talk about the store?
Kevin: There’s so much stuff going on, there’s the Chrome OS, the Chrome Web Apps Store and what else, what am I missing?
Brad: There’s the new Crankshaft for V8.
Kevin: (Laughs) Well, the web store is something we’ve talked about a while ago, this idea that you could sell web apps, or access to web apps, I’m not really all that clear on it. I’m looking at it right now; this is the Chrome Web Store at chrome.google.com/webstore.
Patrick: Right. It looks like there’s s lot of free apps here but there are some paid ones as well. I see a lot of free games and I don’t know I guess when I look at the homepage they featured the Amazon app and so you have an Amazon app for your web browser where you could just browse to amazon.com. I don’t know, I guess maybe it’s a better experience for some people, but it’s kind of difficult to see I guess the allure there.
Kevin: They’re kind of like bookmarks on steroids is what I understand. So rather than adding amazon.com deep into your bookmarks menu you install Amazon as a web app and you get sort of this tab with the Amazon icon on it on your Chrome browser and you can click to it and that’s like launching Amazon in your browser. It all comes back to basically it’s a bookmark with a few little extra integration features that make Amazon feel more like an app running in your browser than a website running in a tab, but it all comes back to the same thing.
Patrick: So maybe it’s for people who really love their iPhone apps. Viewing Amazon on the iPhone now you can do the same thing just in your browser. And actually I opened up the top paid category just because I was curious as to what was being bought, and there’s 12 apps in there so I don’t know if that’s because there’s only 12 paid apps, that might make sense—it is brand new. And I don’t know if they’re in any order, the first one listed is called Toddler Jukebox, “12 classic songs for kids one mouse click away, Wheels on the Bus, ABC, Row your Boat and more for $1.99.” The most expensive one up here appears to be an app that’s $4.99 a year and it’s called Wordico, “match wits with your friends in this addictive crossword game.”
Kevin: I smell a Scrabble clone…
Patrick: Yeah, it looks just like Scrabble when you click on the product page, just like Scrabble exactly down to the wooden letters.
Stephan: So you have all of this cool technology and we settle on Scrabble. Everything leads to Scrabble. Facebook? Scrabble. iPhone? Scrabble.
Kevin: Stephan the other announcement was in relation to Chrome OS and these new web browser focused Netbooks. I saw you Tweeting about that, what can you tell us?
Stephan: I was reading it, it looks like it’s very focused on what you guys were just talking about, the store and the apps, and it looks like the whole OS is going to be built around those applications and the Chrome browser. Which I mean I guess it’s cool, it sounds like a great concept for people who don’t have much experience with computers—grandma, grandpa, young kids—it sounds like a great idea because it’s fairly simple. But for those of us who do work on the road and things I don’t see this being a viable notebook. Maybe I’m missing something. It looks really neat though, but the OS looks fast, it’s just like the browser really.
Kevin: So it doesn’t work offline is what you’re saying.
Stephan: Doesn’t look like that; they tout The Cloud very highly in the introduction.
Kevin: I suspect there must be some basic level of functionality that works offline because all of these HTML5 offline storage APIs and things like that, I suspect if you install Toddler Jukebox on your Chrome OS Netbook once that’s installed it will probably run offline. But, yeah, I guess it depends on the app whether it provides offline functionality, they wouldn’t be offline by default; certainly I can’t imagine browsing Amazon offline.
Stephan: Yeah, I guess like the Google Apps, the Google word apps like Google Docs and things like that they have offline access, Google Mail, so I’m guessing if those would probably work offline, but … other stuff probably would. But it looks neat!
Kevin: I’ve seen some complaining about the fact that this Chrome Web Store, this library of apps, you know, you go to that site and the very first thing it tells you if you’re not running Chrome is you need Google Chrome to install apps, extensions, and themes. The first impression is that this is a Google Chrome only technology; Google is trying to make a land grab here and say look we’re reinventing the Web, we’re redefining it in terms of apps and you need to be running our browser if you want to play. You know, months ago when we first talked about this stuff they released the standards for these apps and invited other browsers to implement it. So if this takes off one presumes Firefox will support the same app technologies and then Google will be able to loosen it up a bit. I think the fact that it’s called the Chrome Web Store is a bit dicey though. Maybe we’ll see the Mozilla Web Store and it uses the same standards and Chrome will be able to install apps from the Mozilla Web Store and Firefox will be able to install apps from the Chrome Web Store. That seems to me the direction they want to head in but it’s all bit unclear at the moment.
Patrick: Yeah, it’s unclear why Mozilla and Firefox wouldn’t just play into their already powerful plugin community anyway and just if you were so concerned with apps you could just add a new section or change the verbiage, right, and call them apps instead. So they already have kind of a stranglehold in that market, at least as far as I’m concerned, that’s one of the reasons I switched to Firefox was just the big plugin community.
Kevin: Does it seem in poor taste to you guys the— Actually I was going to say the ads on the homepage of the Chrome Web Store, but these aren’t ads, well they are ads, they’re featured apps really. So Wikinvest or “Wiki ’nvest” is the top right ad when I go to the homepage of the Chrome Web Store, and I thought that was just like an ad for a website but it’s actually an ad for a free app in the Chrome Web Store.
Brad: Yeah, I saw somebody on Twitter earlier point out too that this looks strangely familiar and almost similar to like iTunes, iTunes Store, and they have kind of ads like that where they look like ads but it’s just pointing to an app or an album that just came out.
Kevin: Well that’s got to be deliberate, right, I mean if you’re talking about an app store these days you must be inspired by Apple. Just scrolling down to the top extensions and top themes, besides being an app store, continues to be the source of extensions and themes for Google Chrome. So they’re going to struggle to separate this particular app store from the Chrome browser. I guess they’re just leading by example and hoping— maybe they don’t want to be the one and only web store.
Stephan: Here’s an interesting thing for the notebook, no Caps Lock key.
Kevin: I heard about this! What did they replace the Caps Lock key with?
Stephan: I don’t know, it doesn’t show, I haven’t been able to find a good picture of what the keyboard actually looks like.
Kevin: I’m guessing it’s a Back button because I heard someone say they sort of jokingly paraphrased Google saying “Because the Caps Lock key is confusing for ordinary users we’ve removed it and replaced it with a key that takes you to an entirely different web page if you hit it by accident.” (Laughter)
Patrick: Gone are the days when you will see people cease to post on forums “no caps, stop yelling!”
Kevin: But, yeah, so I think it’s a Back button or something like that.
Stephan: And there’s a jailbreaking mode built in.
Kevin: Oh! So, breaking news at the moment, we’d love to hear what you think about it because obviously we are still making sense of it ourselves, but lots of announcements from Chrome here, and if you run a web app it might not be the silliest idea to package it up as even a free app to have it in the Chrome Web Store. I suppose most people can use all the publicity they can get, and the attention that will be placed on this over the days and weeks to come could not, might not be unwelcome. I’ve seen some people talking about building auto-submitters for the app store like I get the sense this app store is open in the sense that if you submit something free it is listed right away and this could be open to spamming. You could automatically generate a web app for every page on your site and have it listed. I assume Google will deal with issues like that as they arise. But, yeah, lots to look at in the Chrome world at the moment.
But back to our regularly scheduled list of stories, and the first one is one that Brad submitted. Brad there’s some calls for the revamp of the DNS system?
Brad: Yeah, so there’s been quite a lot of controversy around WikiLeaks. I’m sure most of our listeners have heard it in one way or another.
Kevin: It’s big news down here in Australia, obviously.
Brad: Yeah. It’s quite a story and one of the more interesting topics for me that have come out of it, and it kind of relates as well to some of the other takedowns that we’ve seen with The Pirate Bay and some other domain seizures is there’s a new movement on the Internet or on the Web that’s growing, and they’re basically saying it’s time to seriously consider and come up with a way to decentralize the DNS system and that the current way that it’s set up to work is not as good as it could be and puts a little bit too much control under one company or one government. And so there’s this movement where this group is essentially trying to come up with how that could be accomplished. And it’s obviously not going to be easy by any means, and the technicality of it is certainly over my head, but I think just following the articles in the story is certainly an interesting topic and something that could happen.
Patrick: So this is borne out of first and foremost out of the ICE domain seizures, which happened recently, and there was a lot of talk about that, and the thing that strikes me is that I actually find the legislature and the practice itself interesting. We talk about this a lot on the Copyright 2.0 show, so I’ve talked about this ICE story a number of times and in detail, and we agree that for there to be a solution to piracy, if you believe there can be a solution, I know many people believe that we should throw up our hands and it’s just not worth fighting, but I believe that hopefully there can be some solution one day, and one thing that me and Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today often agree on is that it needs to come down from some — from a government or from something like that because it’s not going to be one ISP because when one ISP does it it’s competitive disadvantage and other ISP’s will profit off of that. So, if you believe there is a solution then it does involve some level of law enforcement, and a domain name to me is a piece of property, we’ve had seizures of property for a very long time of counterfeiters which is really who was hit mainly by the ICE seizures. There were a couple of hip hop sites that really were the questionable ones in the entire I think it was one hundred-plus domain names, but most of them were counterfeiters who were selling counterfeit goods, so seizures for that industry if you want to call it an industry have been going on for a long time and I think that domain names as a piece of property are just an extension of that. And so to me a lot of this is really being dramatized, and Techdirt is one of the sites that would really join in, in such a thing anyway to be honest.
Kevin: Yeah, Techdirt has this story that is covering this call for a decentralized DNS system for the Web. And predictably the person making that call its one of the people involved with one of the sites that was taken down, so someone from the peer to peer file sharing community is saying, look, I think it’s time we started building this, contact me if you want to help. So it’s early days, it remains to be seen if anything comes from this call, but if you wanted to see what the hoopla is about you can head over to a site like torrent-finder.com, this is one of the sites that was seized, and don’t worry, it’s safe to go there. If you go to torrent-finder.com what you will see is a rather intimidating looking page bearing the seals of the Department of Justice, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and the Homeland Security Investigations, a special agent badge; apparently this site is a special agent of the Homeland Security Investigations. But it’s one big image and I’ve spotted at least one typo in the message on the image, but it’s basically saying, yes, we, the government of the United States have seized this domain name. And it’s interesting that this comes mere weeks after we were talking about how unsafe it was to host sites like bit.ly in the Libyan top-level domain, so the .ly obviously belongs to the country of Libya, and Libya applies its own laws and values to whatever sites are hosted, or whatever domains are purchased under that top-level domain. Well, what we’re seeing now is that the United States is not a safe haven for anyone to do anything with their websites. Likewise the standards are obviously different but if you break U.S. law, yeah, you can run afoul of this stuff as well. Certainly there’s plenty of debate going on over whether this has been done correctly. Just before this was happening people were arguing back and forth about this legislation that’s making its way through — guys you’re going to have to help me out here.
Kevin: COICA, it’s making its way through Congress, or what is it?
Patrick: It’s making its way through legislature anyway, I’m not— People are referring to it as Internet censorship, but it’s the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act. And it’s making its way through the Senate just to get it all out; I found that out, so we’re good.
Kevin: Okay. Okay. So they’re saying if this law gets approved, if it gets passed then the government will be able to seize domain names anytime they want and we need to fight that. And what this seizure shows us is that the ship has sailed kind of on that. We don’t need that law passed in order to see that happen in the United States.
Stephan: I think for me one of the issues is .com domains I think a lot of people associated that with the United States and the reality is they’re worldwide domains, right.
Kevin: Well, yeah, that’s the kind of point of view, the .com is kind of the defacto top-level domain; if you don’t want to associate yourself with any particular country you grab a .com domain and they have the freest sort of policies of who can buy what and they tend to be the cheapest, and as a result it’s become this defacto standard, but we forget that it might as well be .co.us because .com is a United States domain name and you’re ultimately subject to the U.S. government.
Stephan: Yeah, it’s kind of a gray area, right. If you’re a Swedish company that bought a dot com and you host the company’s website in Sweden but you’re doing something that violates U.S. law, is the website, is the domain the property then of the United States government if they don’t like what you’re doing. It’s a really gray area and I’d like to see Interpol or one of the international organizations actually come out and say something because I think it needs to be discussed more openly between the countries and not just in the U.S.
Stephan: Well, it’s a similar situation to the war on drugs. I mean it really is. There’s people on both sides of the argument that say we have to fight a war on drugs or we don’t. And it’s like playing Whack-A-Mole with that too, so I don’t know, I think the government’s going to do it either way because they have to; they have to protect the interests of the general population, I think they’re going to continue to do it. I don’t think we’re going to see because people cry out against it I don’t think we’re going to see a reduction in the U.S. government seizing domains.
Patrick: I think it’s a deterrent also, I think that people will pop back up, and I deal with the same question with banning people from my forums, right, so some people will tell you don’t ban people they’ll just come back. Well, again, I have to have some way to set some sort of standard here and have an end point when they finally say this community I’m going to treat it how I want, I don’t care what the staff says, I don’t care what the guidelines say, we have to move on. Now, do they come back, sure, sometimes they do, but when they notice who they are we ban them again. And so I think it is a deterrent because what you do, at least in the forum case, and in some cases with a domain name that’s established, is you’re putting them back at or closer to square one. So when I ban someone from my forums they might go from a thousand posts to one, and when you start a new domain name or when you seize that domain name you do diminish that credibility they have in searches. Now, if you’re The Pirate Bay or WikiLeaks they can spread the word quickly, but do you still not try, I mean I think you still have to try. I don’t know that domain name seizure in and of itself is the answer, but I definitely think it’s an interesting first step and I think you have to try something to then improve whatever you did. So maybe this isn’t the answer long term but maybe it’s a first step to better understanding whatever the process, I guess the process needs to be, and I think that like I said most of the sites are probably justified, Torrent sites, like some of these it’s hard for me to defend. A couple of the hip hop sites, which if you don’t know that’s kind of an area of interest for me that I write about, I run a hip hop focused music site myself, and there were a couple sites in there that were questionable that maybe at worst were slightly gray but still worked with record labels, or a lot of record labels, and were popular, well-known sites. And so one of the sites in particular called OnSMASH they have people, artists, tweeting on their behalf saying that they should “free OnSMASH,” and so on and so forth, so this is a site that obviously at least was partially legitimate, and so should they have received the same treatment as everyone else? Should there be a different kind of process in place where more people would have an opportunity to comment on it before the seizure actually happens? Those are good questions and I think it will make for an interesting discussion that will be kicked off by this action.
Brad: It’s scary how they took them down because a lot of these sites are saying there was no notification, no complaints, no demands to take down, they were just gone. So there was absolutely no warning that it was going to happen, they were just gone.
Stephan: It’s kind of like when they seize property. I mean it’s the same thing. They just show up at your house and take it.
Kevin: They cite a court order, but yeah, it’s interesting the way they did it. It’s almost like a drug bust; you don’t put a letter in your mailbox saying we notice you’re dealing drugs, please stop it or we’ll be forced to raid you—they just raid you. And they’re treating these sites the same way. Looking at the wording of the COICA law, the one that is still not passed and therefore actually what we’re seeing now seems just as bad, but at least if the COICA law were passed they’re saying that the U.S. government will have the right to seize any site that has, “no demonstrable commercially significant purpose other than providing unauthorized access to copyrighted works.” It’s verily interesting. The torrent finder one, the site that I suggested you try out, for example, before it was seized that site really was just a search engine for finding torrents, and so technically they were one step removed from the illegal activity, they were just an index of the illegal activity, which, hearing them argue their case, they say that is as useful to countering piracy as it is to committing piracy, what did we do wrong? So this law that calls for a judgment call that says you know what, you have something to do with piracy and I think the word ‘commercial’ is what really bothers me. You have “no commercial purpose other than being involved in piracy” so we’re taking you off, what if you have a non-commercial purpose? I mean you look at sites like the Electronic Frontier Foundation who are a not for profit activism group that is active in this sort of area, do they have a commercial purpose? No. This podcast isn’t about picking holes in the wording of laws but it boils my blood a little I have to say.
Stephan: Well, I’ll tell you this, just to wrap it up, I’m still happy I don’t live behind the great firewall. I mean really, because that’s what we could have, right, they could cut off service to these domains and just block them from even being able to enter, from people even being able to browse them. So I guess it’s the better of two evils, really.
Patrick: Right, and I don’t even know if it’s an evil because I think to compare the two is kind of strange because, again, I don’t know, the Internet is viewed differently by a lot of people but, again, this is kind of how we’ve dealt with criminals in society, if you consider them to be criminals you censor them from society, right…
Stephan: No I agree. I agree.
Patrick: …if you want to use the word censor, that’s how we deal with that, so if we say that the law can apply to the Internet then obviously people are going to be censored from it. Now, again, I don’t necessarily agree with everything that was done and there’s maybe work to be done, we could do this a lot better, but still people are going to have to start or continue to be shut down. And I know a lot of sites out there that do just all their whole site is piracy or — from my book to I’m sure SitePoint sees it happening over and over and over and over and a million times over, and as a content creator a lot of these people, yeah, the DNS is great for small-timers, we can file a notice and get it taken down with a lot of people, but then there are these sites or these syndicates, organizations of people that it’s just hard to pursue and it’s impossible for us to really do it. And I have to say I would feel no compassion for those sites to disappear tomorrow and for those people to be thrown in jail. And maybe I’m just being coldhearted but that’s just my opinion.
Kevin: So how about this proposal that started this all for a decentralized DNS system? It seems to me if it’s going to happen the form it’s going to take is that these people who run these sites will say, okay, rather than counting on the fact that I’m going to register a name that’s not going to be taken down by some government somewhere, I’ll just register myself on this alternative DNS system and any people who want to access this kind of site will have to adjust their Internet settings and instead of going through their ISP they go through this alternative DNS system to look up the addresses of these sites. We’ve already seen alternative DNS’s, for example, Google provides a DNS service that is meant to be a little faster, a little more efficient than the standard ones that are used by ISP’s, and so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that people interested in accessing that kind of content would just, you know, “doot-do-doot-do-doo, all right, I’m no longer bound by the U.S. government to what is allowable and not allowable for an Internet name,” and then I suppose the next step is the great firewall of the United States.
Patrick: I have two thoughts. First is for it to ever catch on Peter Sunde from The Pirate Bay can’t be associated with it because there’s too much baggage there, there’s just too much baggage, and it will always be fringe as long as he is a part of it.
Kevin: Well, the United States should seize his name and then he can come up with a new name (laughs).
Patrick: Well, I don’t know. What domain names does he — I guess we’ll see.
Kevin: I’m not talking about domains; I’m talking about his name if his name is poison to any of these projects.
Patrick: I mean let’s not exaggerate, again, it’s a hundred and some domain names that were mostly counterfeiters, but I’m just saying about Peter Sunde, again, I just feel him as he’s kind of a fringe player and it would still have to be a fringe thing. And secondly, I don’t know how much — at what point will this come under attack too, though? If you’re going to say we’re going to launch a DNS service that’s basically lawless, right, so I don’t know that that will have a long shelf life. I think they will probably have to establish some level of legitimacy and responsibility to receive any traction, anything outside of people editing their host file or whatever file it is that would allow them to use your DNS service. That’s always going to be a very small percentage of people.
It’s not like Windows is going to make this change or something, right, or IE or Firefox are going to make this a default thing, they’re not going to. And it’s for obvious reasons.
Kevin: Yeah, it would be another victory for those who want to make piracy something that you have to be tech savvy to do. And I suppose that’s an effective measure anyway.
Well, moving on to a lighter subject it’s December which means there are a plethora of sites out there that are publishing something new everyday. These Advent calendar type sites, and of course we’re not one to be left out here at SitePoint, there is the SitePoint Christmas Countdown at sale.sitepoint.com, which has a deal on SitePoint products every day of the month, check it out if you haven’t already. But with that shameless plug out of the way there are a couple of other sites that I’ve been following very closely this month. There is as usual 24ways.org which has a web design and development article from one of the all-stars in this industry every single day. They’re up to number eight as we record this, and I’ve read every single article so far, stuff not to be missed here such as an article by Christian Heilmann about HTML5 local storage and how you can use that to speed up your web app by caching parts of your website on the user’s hard drive. I like the Golden Spirals one by Drew Neil, which is how to use simple CSS percentages to create web page layouts that have an immediate sense of harmony by using the Golden Ratio for layout, lots of really great stuff in there. You guys, are you aware of any other thing-a-day sites that we should be sending our listeners to?
Brad: I actually know one that’s (surprise, surprise) WordPress focused. Shocker. It’s wpengineer.com, and it’s actually a really great site because it’s more of the technical side, more developer focused articles and they did one last year, same thing, 24, 25 days Advent, new post everyday and they’re doing it again this year and they have some really great topics, so definitely check that one out.
Kevin: “Custom WordPress login page,” “plugin to add custom field to an attachment in WordPress,” “launching WordPress Framework Extreme 1.” Oh, the WordPress debug bar, that’s cool.
Patrick: Do you know who designed the SitePoint Christmas Countdown, Kevin?
Kevin: That would be Alex Walker.
Patrick: Okay, I was gonna guess that. I just have to say it’s awesome.
Kevin: Isn’t it gorgeous?
Patrick: I don’t have any one-a-days to add here, but just to drink the company Kool-Aid a little further; my personal opinion is that this is an awesome site. And you know what I like about it too just as a small kind of attention to detail thing because I love those things is that the images are actually full boxes, like if you click one and drag it and you get the shadow of the image it’s actually a full box on the page that is as part of this layout. So I love the whole thing, it’s really beautiful.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s right, so if a package is partially obscured by the other one sitting on top of it you can drag it out and actually see the top of that package. Yeah, it’s great. Alex has great attention to detail and he loves it when he can be let loose on something a bit experimental, a bit temporary that it doesn’t need to last past the end of this month and so he can really break whatever conventions we may have in place, yeah, it’s great fun. Beautiful, beautiful site. I actually liked it when we had it in preview mode on the last few days of November. The whole pile of presents was like backlit so we had this bright light coming from behind it and it was all in silhouette, that was my favorite look of the page but obviously you won’t be able to see that now. Yeah, check it out, it’s fun to see the presents ripping open day by day.
Stephan: Did you mention PHP Advent?
Kevin: No, that’s the other one that was on my list. Yeah, that’s something that I think that might be the second or third year they’re doing that but a PHP related article every day of December at phpadvent.org, and yeah, if you’re a PHP developer that is must read stuff.
What I love about these article ones is that even if you’ve been really busy this year and you know you’ve felt like you’ve had your head stuck in the sand of deadlines and you haven’t been able to keep up with the progress of the art and science of web development throughout this year, you can really catch up by just following one of these sites in December, hopefully when things slow down a little bit for you, or even catch up during your holidays. But if feels like you get a year’s worth of what’s new and fresh and best practice this year, you get it all at once through these things and that’s why I really like them.
An article by James Clark is making news. James Clark, if you’re not familiar with the name, was a member of the XHTML Working Group at the W3C, the ill-fated XHTML Working Group, as it turns out. And his article XML vs. the Web summarizes his thoughts on how XML has failed to capture the hearts and minds of web developers, why we are sticking with HTML5 and particularly switching to formats like JSON for our web APIs instead of sending XML back and forth across the wire as was originally imagined with standards like SOAP for web services. And a lot of people are weighing in on this issue, but I thought it was interesting to bring up. Guys, Brad, this might be one for you. Have you written much that interacts with web services or web APIs?
Brad: Yeah, and you’re right it is a pretty interesting article, and some of his points are actually right up my alley because when Twitter first came out I was kind of playing around with the API and I actually wrote some scripts and posted them on my blog. Back then I was doing Classic ASP, believe it or not, but it was all XML when I was using it and that’s why I was comfortable with it just because I knew it. And like he said everyone’s kind of going that JSON route and it’s almost kind of forcing your hand that it’s at the point now where you’re going to have to know it and you’re going to have to go that direction or you’re going to be left behind. I didn’t know that Twitter shut off the XML of their API until I read this article and I so I thought that was kind of interesting too.
Kevin: Hmm, yeah, the point he seems to make in this article is that while obviously— Twitter and FourSquare are the two services that have taken the XML versions of their APIs away. He’s saying, while JSON is obviously winning in these applications where you need to, like web APIs, where you need to send a little data structure back and forth, you know, you want a list of your latest Tweets it sends back a list of your latest Tweets, and you want to as efficiently as possible convert that message into something that you can use in your program, so a variable, maybe an array or an object. JSON is a much more natural format for doing that sort of thing than XML, where XML, you know, it’s all tags and the tags can occur in any order potentially and you need to formalize the list of tags you’re using. JSON has just been designed to be much simpler and much more connected to the programming languages that are consuming these APIs, and so obviously JSON is winning in those stakes. But he seems to be saying that XML was not designed for that purpose originally, XML’s strength is what they call unstructured data. So, when you want to receive a document or even a piece of data but that data’s structure is not necessarily predictable, it might contain these, it might contain that, it might be an entire document with text bolded in it or it might be an error message. So, the more unpredictable the content of the data that’s being sent back and forth the less appropriate JSON becomes and the more XML begins to play to its strengths. And so what he’s saying here is that if JSON really wants to take over everything that XML is doing on the Web today JSON is going to have to get just as complicated as XML and then suffer from all of the same issues that XML has, which is its complexity and the difficulty of learning everything that you need to know in order to be an XML maven. So I guess the message here is there’s room for both.
Stephan: Yeah, and then the complexity of XML actually makes it kind of simple when you think about it.
Kevin: (laugh) How does that work? I don’t understand.
Patrick: Please tell me of this, Freud.
Stephan: (Laughs) All I’m saying is that it’s so complex that when you really get down to it when you want to implement something in XML it’s actually quite simple if you know what you’re doing.
Kevin: Right, yeah, I know what you mean. It might take you a week to figure out what libraries and what XML features you need to use for your particular needs, but once you figure that out you go, “Oh, so I just include this thing and it works.”
Stephan: Yeah, exactly. So I think he’s spot on to me. Maybe I’m misreading him but I think he’s right on.
Kevin: But what seems to be creating no argument is that for simple web APIs like the Twitter API, like the FourSquare API, JSON really is a better choice, and I guess XML is appropriately stepping aside.
Let’s take a look at the SitePoint poll for this week. The SitePoint Poll, which is on the homepage of sitepoint.com is: “Which is your favorite browser debugger?” And this is something we’ve talked about before on this podcast, but the four choices are Firebug, WebKit Inspector, Opera Dragonfly, and the IE Developer Tool. And let’s be specific on that one, we’re talking about the one that’s built into Internet Explorer 9, so not the developer toolbar that you have to download for IE 7 or the one that’s built into IE 8. The one in IE 9 has gotten a lot better, but I suspect there’s plenty of developers out there, myself included, who haven’t looked at it in a whole lot of detail. What do you guys think? Brad, what’s your favorite developer tool among those four?
Brad: I definitely have to say Firebug, I mean Inspector’s definitely a close second and it’s come a long way in the past year. Ninety percent of what I’m doing because I use Chrome as my browser 100% of the time, 90% of what I’m doing I can figure it out with Inspector, but every once in a while I have to fire up Firefox just to use Firebug to work on something. At the end of the day I would prefer to use Firebug, I just wish it worked in Chrome.
Stephan: I actually like WebKit Inspector a lot, yeah, it’s quick.
Patrick: Yeah, I mean I’d also go with Firebug because I have to be honest and in fairness I haven’t used any of the other ones, I can’t even get IE 9 to install, so I haven’t even used any of the other ones, I’ve used Firebug and I find myself using it more and more. I use it because I manage a community focused on the forum software phpBB and have for nearly 10 years now, and when I’m helping people in the forums, especially when we’re talking about a style or some sort of superficial or visual change and they want to know why this image does this, I usually will use Firebug and figure out why it does it and it helps a lot that way as well, so it’s Firebug for me as well.
Kevin: The official results from the SitePoint Community are … Firebug by a landslide! So Firebug got 84% of the votes with WebKit Inspector coming in number two, good call Brad, at 9%. Then we have the IE Developer Tool at 4% and Opera Dragonfly bringing up the rear at 3%, which I think might sell it a bit short. The truth is these are all amazing tools, and if I had to do all my web development with Opera Dragonfly I wouldn’t be an unhappy developer at all. Opera Dragonfly is a really powerful tool, and it has some unique features in its ability to do remote debugging. So if you’ve got your Opera mobile browser running on your phone you can fire up Opera Dragonfly on your desktop and connect to your phone’s browser and debug it that way, it’s pretty impressive. But, yep, Firebug is the winner and I guess it’s no surprise, the blog post that’s related to this poll is on sitepoint.com, What’s New in Firebug 1.6 from Craig Buckler, which to me is just a list in the ways in which Firebug is leapfrogging ahead just as the competition is catching up and getting just as good as Firebug, that’s what I hear so often said about these other tools, “hey, it’s just as good as Firebug,” well, Firebug’s gone and added a whole bunch of new features and if you want to read about those check out the What’s New in Firebug 1.6 blog post on sitepoint.com, there’ll be a link to it in the show notes.
The last story on our list for the podcast today is to do with a site called Launchlist. And this is developed by some enigmatic Australian developers, they call themselves Collapps, so like Collaborative Apps, and they say they’re a group of Australians but they don’t name themselves, so a bit of a mystery, but if you go to launchlist.net or if you want to check out the free version of this app to begin with go to lite.launchlist.net. This site provides you a checklist of things that you need to check or you should be checking before you launch a new website. This would have made a good Spotlight I have to say, but I actually wanted to go through this list with you guys and see what you think. Are these essentials and are they the only essentials? The app certainly allows you to add your own things to this checklist, and the paid version of this app lets you actually store your checklists so you can come back and update them and create templates and share your checklists with the rest of your team and say, okay, this person’s responsible for checking the spelling, this person’s responsible for checking validation, etcetera, etcetera. But the free version’s pretty neat; if you’re a freelance developer you can actually when you fill this out and click ‘submit report’ it will give you a very nicely formatted report by email that you can then pass along to your client as sort of evidence that you’ve crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s on their project. It’s quite a long list here but let’s see, “all text is free from spelling errors,” I don’t guys, what do you think Brad, have you eve done a comprehensive spell check on a site before launching it?
Brad: No, other than just as I’m working in it, but typically we’re not responsible for the content on the site as it is, so I can certainly see some of these Launchlist tasks, they’re not all necessarily for the development company I don’t think, I could see some going towards the client as well.
Kevin: Oh, yeah, I can see that.
Brad: This might be one that could go either way.
Kevin: There’s some interesting ones related to validation, so there’s “HTML has passed validation,” “CSS has passed validation.” I would say on modern sites these days it would be probably the norm for you to not be passing validation intentionally, so you start with something valid and then you add a few sort of cutting edge CSS features that break your validation but they’re forward looking changes. So in that case I would probably say no but like put a comment in that says these are the things that don’t validate and why. Checking for broken links, “displays and functions correctly in IE 6, IE 7, IE 8, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera,” those are the browsers they seem to recommend you test in out of the box.
Brad: Put a big ‘NA’ for IE 6, nobody cares about that browser.
Kevin: (Laughs) And yeah, I would replace IE 6 with IE 9 beta at this point.
Brad: Now if you click one of these items to be ‘NA’ I haven’t seen the final report because on the front end it puts a strike-through on it; does that carry over to the end report with the strike-through or does it just take it off?
Kevin: Yeah, I’m not sure, I’m not sure. I think it would have to carry it through with a strike-through. It says we looked at this thing but disqualified it as being relevant. I think that’s a useful thing to have on the report. Interesting they recommend testing at 1024 × 768 and then also at larger resolutions. So it seems we’ve well and truly abandoned the days where 800 × 600 was the base resolution, I think I can definitely agree with that, but 1024 × 768 is quickly being supplanted by the widescreen resolution which would be, what, 1280 × 800?
What do you think, Brad, do you design for widescreen or 4 × 3 these days?
Brad: Usually 1024 × 768 is kind of the base and then go up from there.
Kevin: Hmm, it’s interesting. So, yeah, “web statistics package installed and operational,” that’s a great one. So often when I’m as a favor I’m putting together a site for someone that’s the one I forget is to install Google Analytics because sure enough a month later they go, okay, thanks for the site but could you tell me how much traffic its getting, and if I’ve forgotten to put the Google Analytics thing in I have to go, oh, sorry about that, I’ve just installed a stats package and it’s going to be another month before we have a good picture of your traffic. And if you don’t have it launched, attached on day one, I guess you miss having a complete picture of maybe your launch day traffic which might be very interesting. And the very last one is my favorite, “404 page exists and informative.” I wish we could always say we got that one right here at SitePoint but we don’t. It’s a weakness of many web developers is the 404 page is often an afterthought, but especially on very active sites where you might be moving things around and adding and creating pages. Remember the double rainbow 404 page we talked about a while ago? It seems like doing a charming 404 page is de rigueur these days.
Patrick: Yeah, your 404 has to be cute or you’re just not going to be successful.
Kevin: (Laughs) I’m not saying it belongs at the top of the list, Patrick!
Patrick: It’s at the bottom, right, so.
Kevin: Exactly. But, yeah, glad it’s on there.
Patrick: Notice how you can’t actually launch until you hit everything yes? Launch not advised until everything is yes, there’s no leniency here, there’s no compassion.
Kevin: There’s none. There’s no beta launch.
Brad: One item I think they should certainly have, and this one I’ve certainly come into a few times, is to make sure your robots.txt file and everything’s open for the search engines because a lot of times when we’re developing we’ll make sure everything’s locked down to make sure its not indexed on the dev URL, and then when we launch we forget about that. And then kind of like you said with the stats all of a sudden a few weeks or a month go by, why aren’t we starting to get indexed yet, and then you realize you left something in the header or your robots file is sending search engines away, so that’s probably one they should add.
Kevin: What was surprising to me is there is a real need for each of these check points for there to be like a mini-article, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs explaining what this is, why it’s important and how you can find out more about it. because I think a lot of web developers would be stymied by some of these check points and go, oh okay, I’m pretty sure I haven’t done that but that’s because I don’t know how to do it. So I’d love to see some pointers.
Patrick: Just link to the relevant article at sitepoint.com.
Kevin: Yeah! … Thanks for reading between the lines Patrick. (clears throat)
Patrick: I’m not subtle at all. But I think we all have our own kind of personal list for our own stuff, like I have a very small one and it actually includes the 404 page, and it includes Analytics code which includes Quantcast, and I also have things like automating database backups and make sure those things are set up. And I have the iFroggy Network stuff so we have the network bar and the network links so I have in here also to add that new site to the network bar and to the links section and to the network homepage and to update their relevant profiles and the sorts of business specific things also play in there as well and that’s why they have the custom option so that’s good.
Kevin: We actually did a book along these same lines way back in 2006 on SitePoint called Deliver First Class Websites, 101 Essential Checklists. And it was actually an entire book, 331 pages worth of checklists. So there was the copyrighting checklist, there was the Web Standards checklist, there was the SEO checklist, so the whole book was, and it came with PDF files that you could print out and actually check on pieces of paper. But I think this Launchlist site is especially nice the way it allows you to break up the areas of responsibility within a team and generate a really glossy report that you can show or put in your final package that you deliver to your clients, great site.
And speaking of great sites let’s get to our host spotlights, Stephan, you want to lead us off?
Stephan: Sure, this week I have I’ll admit I came along this website because it looked sexy; it’s a good-looking website, lettering.js, so it’s letteringjs.com. And it’s a jQuery plugin for…
Patrick: Branding issue! Branding issue alert! (Laughter) Sorry.
Stephan: …jQuery plugin for radical web topography, it’s actually really cool. It’s a jQuery plugin that basically splits up a tag and inserts spans, which I think it’s a great idea because what you can do is some of the examples are you’ll have like a heading with some class that you give it, and then you call the JQuery function
.lettering and it splits up your title and makes it each span has its own class and so you can style the span without changing the markup. So if you want you could — your client or you only see the
Stephan: Yeah, it’s really cool, because it doesn’t show up in the markup, so if you look at the markup for it that lettering, that title, it looks like it’s one class. So it’s really neat. It’s useful for people who want to do cool things with typography on a website.
Kevin: Patrick, what have you got for us?
Patrick: Well, continuing my tradition of not related to the Podcast at all spotlights, if you know me you know that I am a huge fan of Diddy and he’s releasing his latest album, first one in four years, called Last Train to Paris with the group Dirty Money, and so if you’re not a Diddy fan just imagine your favorite group in the world releasing their new album, that’s me right now. So in honor of that I wanted to share just a quick double spotlight I guess you could say. The first is a skit that he did on Saturday Night Live on Saturday with Andy Samberg and Robert DeNiro and Jason Sudeikis, Kristan Wiig and Keenan Thompson, and it’s just the usual laugh I provide here on the show I guess you could say, so check that out, it’s a funny skit in a recording studio where Samberg plays an artist who Diddy believes in despite not necessarily being worthy of that belief. And the second spotlight is the music video for Coming Home which is the song that they released and is on the album featuring Skylar Gray, and the music video kind of takes me back to when we did have some control on our copyrights and music videos had budgets, because I don’t know, a lot of music videos they just don’t have that big budget they used to, so this video kind of takes me back to that, a really well-shot really just a beautiful video to watch. Even if you don’t like the music it’s just an excellent visual for the song, so check out those two links and if you’re a fan at all pick up the album, but either way enjoy the hilarity.
Patrick: I wanted to commend you, Kevin, because I checked this site out and it might be the best website ever created, I’m not 100% sure on that, but it’s definitely in contention. I’m joking of course but it’s just this wonderful thing. And what I would say to do because the first time I kind of scrolled down and I actually missed the robber, so go to the bottom, read everything, then go back to the top and do that middle click on your mouse and just let it do a slow scroll down the page. So slow scroll on the page so that he just walks slowly and you’ll notice how everything kind of falls into place, the robber and especially the subway or the train where if you are going at a slow scroll that’s not you mousing down it will actually go like an actual subway train where it is moving slowly across the screen. So this is just a wonderful beautiful thing and worthy of five to ten minutes of enjoyment.
Kevin: Yeah, totally agree. Brad what have you got?
Brad: Oh, geez, I got to follow that up! (laughter)
Kevin: It’s the best website of all time!
Brad: The best site ever … and go!
Patrick: Excuse me, Brad, I’m going to let you finish but Kevin just put out the best website of all time. So now you can go. (laughter)
Brad: Thanks, Kanye. Yeah, so my spotlight it’s the holiday season, I’m in a good mood and feeling nice so I thought let’s pull something out of the dead pool, that’s always fun. We put a lot into the dead pool, but let’s — something’s come out so I think we need to show it off a little bit. What that is is actually Google Wave which we all thought was DOA. Back in August when they initially announced that Google Wave was no longer going to be a stand alone product we thought that was the end of it. Well, the story has changed a bit and back in just a few months ago in October Google announced that they’re going to open source parts of Wave, I think they said just over 200,000 lines of code that they were going to open up. and then shortly after that they said they’re going to open up even more and release what they dubbed “Wave in a Box” which is essentially everything required to run Wave servers and host Waves on your own hardware so you could set up Wave however you want. Now it’s gone even a step further and Google Wave has been accepted into the Apache Software Foundation’s Incubator Program, so Apache is actually going to oversee this and they’ve renamed it and redubbed it Apache Wave, so it looks like Wave will actually live on as an open source project. And having the Apace Software Foundation behind it is huge, so I would really expect to see some cool progress on that whole Wave protocol and Wave in a Box app that they have going there.
Patrick: For us laymen who used Wave, and I’ll count myself in that category, does this mean we’re going to see people create Wave and maybe allow you to convert your Wave documents to their set up or is this going to take form of some kind of web based thing where people who use Wave can take their documents and go to it? I guess what’s the arrangement here for people who were just users?
Kevin: What I think we’re going to see, what’s going to come out of this project is a distribution, so just like you can download the Apache web server and run your own web server with it you’ll be able to download the Apache Wave server and run your own Wave server with it. So this was something that was promised when Wave was first announced, but if you as a company want to use Wave internally as an internal tool for communication all you’ll have to do is download the server and you can use Wave behind your firewall, internally with your own login system and all of that. But what’s interesting is just like for example an email server, although you can run a private email server just for internal email it conforms to this open standard that can communicate with other email servers and so the Apache Wave server likewise will be able to communicate with other people’s Apache Wave servers and you can send Waves between these different Wave servers running at different companies on different public websites. So even if Google decides to completely take down their Wave services, which is not outside the realm of possibility, if someone else wants to come along and say look we are going to provide free public Wave accounts on our Wave servers for anyone who wants them, Microsoft Hotwave or whatever, they can do that and you will be able to communicate with other people using other Wave servers, that’s how the protocol was designed. So, you know, Google did a lot of work to make sure that this thing could survive beyond the death of Google’s own Wave services. I suppose the thing that remains to be proven is that anyone will ever use Wave enough that publicly hosted Wave services are going to make sense.
Patrick: Yeah, because I believe Google announced they’re going to close it at the end of this year which would be December 31st; I don’t know if they’ve extended that or anything but it is coming up.
Kevin: Yep, exactly, so if you’ve got a lot of Waves in there one presumes there will be an export tool of some kind. You might want to download the Apache Wave server as soon as a distribution is available and get your own private Wave server set up to host all that content. But it’s coming; it’s good to see this. I was going to say the Apache Incubator Program is a great place for Apache Wave, or for Google Wave— I’m already calling it Apache Wave! It’s a great place for it because there seems to be a lot of projects there that sat in obscurity for a while until their time came and then suddenly they burst into popularity, so I think it’s a great place to put it and go if Wave’s ahead of its time we’re going to put it in this program where it will continue to be updated by people who are passionate about it and when its time comes it will be there free for all to use.
Great pick, Brad, and that brings this show to an end. Let’s go around the table guys.
Kevin: And you can follow me on Twitter @sentience and SitePoint at @sitepointdotcom on Twitter. Visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on this show and to subscribe to get every show automatically.
The SitePoint Podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker and I’m Kevin Yank. Thanks again for listening. Bye, bye.
Theme music by Mike Mella.
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