Patrick: Hello again and welcome to another edition of the SitePoint Podcast. This is Patrick O’Keefe and I am filling in for our usual co-host, Louis Simoneau, who is hopefully having a good time right now somewhere other than in front of his computer. I am joined by my usual co-hosts, Brad Williams and Stephan Segraves, and we have a special guest host today, his name is Ralph Mason and he is one of the co-authors of SitePoint’s new community book, Thinking Web: Voices of the Community. The book was, as it’s aptly titled, each chapter in the book is written by a different member of the SitePoint Community, and it’s available for free from SitePoint.com. Ralph, welcome to the show.
Ralph: Hi, thanks for having me.
Patrick: So why don’t you give us the 10, 15 second bio; who you are and what you do.
Ralph: Well, I used to be a teacher, a teacher of little children, and then I just decided I wanted to try something different, and over the last four years or so I’ve been building websites, basically a freelance web designer and spending most of my spare time that I can get away with in the SitePoint Forums where I’ve basically learnt most of my skills.
Patrick: Excellent, excellent. Yeah, I met Brad and Stephan in the forums, and we’ve met in real life multiple times now, and I’ve made a lot of great friends, lifelong friends, from the SitePoint Forums.
Ralph: Hmm, likewise.
Brad: So I have to ask, what’s better, teaching little kids or teaching browsers to render websites correctly?
Ralph: Well, in the end little kids behave better (laughter).
Patrick: Yeah, I was going to say, having taught little kids you’re perfect to host this show and speak with us three today.
Ralph: Well, I’ll try not to get into that mode because you won’t like me in that teaching mode. But every teacher knows the kid that you’d call IE on the Web, but I’m used to him, never behaves.
Patrick: The class clown?
Ralph: Yeah, yeah, you’ve got to work out all kinds of ways to get around his antics and keep him in control.
Patrick: Well, you’ve just described my role on this podcast, that’s essentially me, I’m IE, and everybody tries to navigate around me (laughs), so you’ve said it to a T. So you can you tell us a little bit about the Community book project and how it came together.
Ralph: Yeah, well, it’s a dynamic community and people are suggesting things all the time, and suddenly out of the blue early last year in 2010 one of the members, I think I can say his name, Alex Dawson who’s a publisher or a writer in his own right, he’s published a couple of books now, but a very active member in the community at the time, and he said, look, there are so many people around here who are so good at what they do and speak to eloquently in their forum responses, why not put out the offer to let them put something in words and put together a book sort of harnessing some of the knowledge in the forums. And as Sarah said in the podcast last week it got a really good response initially because the opportunity to be published by SitePoint no less is a pretty amazing opportunity. Of course, though, it takes a while to get something like that together and people are busy, and over time not everyone who said they would like to contribute actually did, but by October last year a lot of responses had come in, and then of course there was the big job of working out what to do with them all, and of course they were quite a mixed bag, some were very long, some very short, some pretty hard to understand; it’s difficult for any one group to assess all those things because the topics are so widespread, and there’s probably nobody who could actually understand each topic, a lot of them go right over my head. So as Sarah said last week, there’s something for everybody in there.
Patrick: So you wrote the first chapter of the book, Anatomy of a Website, can you tell us a little bit about what is contained therein?
Ralph: Yes, well, basically being someone who likes the simple things in life, and probably why I ended up teaching little children because I quite enjoy the simple aspects of a subject, and when I was trying to figure out how websites work and how they’re designed, the first thing I wanted to know of course is what’s the basics of how a website actually works, what is it, what’s its anatomy; I chose that word. So I just set out to give people an initial concept of how a website is structured, and it’s really a lot like a folder on your computer, for example, it’s folders within folders and files in those folders that link together in a special way, and so I just tried to build up a little picture of the various components of a website and how they link together, and then with a mention at the end of how much more complex they can get if you start working with a CMS, a Content Management System. So I really just tried to give an overview of the basic components of a site.
Brad: What was the decision to give it away for free? Writing a book obviously takes a lot of time, and you contributed to this one and were co-author so you know that, so I’m curious what the decision behind it to give that away for free was?
Ralph: I guess in a way it’s just following on from the spirit of the community itself where some of us spend a ridiculous amount of time in forums answering questions, helping people out with their code, to the point where you almost write whole websites for people if you’re not careful. And so from that point of view it’s certainly consistent with the way the forum works in that it’s a nice opportunity to share ideas and, of course, most of the people who contributed to the book probably wouldn’t ever get anywhere near an opportunity to publish something anyway. You’ve got Alex Dawson and Paul O’Brien who’ve been published elsewhere, but most of us probably it’s quite fun and exciting just to have the chance to be published in any form. I think Sarah mentioned on the podcast last week as well that if you did try to introduce it as a paid thing there’d be all kinds of other issues that would come into it, whether or not you pay the authors and —
Patrick: It just complicates it a great deal.
Ralph: Yeah, and without really being necessary to do that. I don’t think anyone minded at all the fact that it’s a free download; it really means that more people will see it probably in reality.
Patrick: Right. Well, let’s get down to some news topics here, and like I said, Ralph, join in, jump in whenever you have a thought. So I’ll take the first story, you know it was big news the past week or so, Google+ launching, at least in limited form, invite only access to the new social network from Google. A lot of people are in there, I mean I got an invite I think the day they started getting them out, go me! But I seem to have unlimited invites, I was like who wants one, and I just shot out like 30 of them, 40, including one to Brad but I don’t know if it actually made its connection, Brad?
Brad: I never heard of it. What’d you say, Google what?
Patrick: (Laughs) Google+, yeah. So Brad’s not in yet, he’s not one of the “in” people yet.
Brad: I’m not cool enough apparently.
Patrick: Stephan’s in; Ralph, are you in on Google+ yet?
Ralph: I’m trying to still figure out what these Twitter and Facebook things are (laughter), no, I’m joking. No, not up with that yet, I haven’t quite worked out what it’s all about, but I mean I’m aware of the + button and adding buttons to your website, but I’m not — this is actually new to me so I’m looking forward to hearing more about this.
Patrick: So Google+, like I said, a new social network from Google, It’s what it is, it’s a social network, reminds you a little bit of Facebook, a little bit of Twitter, and then it’s its own kind of different thing. It’s very clean, it’s very attractive, I like it, and one of the reasons I like it is one of the key features they’re touting is the Circles feature. And essentially what it is, it’s a visual way of sorting your permissions, who gets to access, who gets to view the things that you share. And it’s not that Facebook doesn’t allow you to categorize people, because it does, Facebook’s been beat up over privacy, but what Circles does really well is it makes it, like I said, very visual and very easy to just sort people into these groups and then easily share what you want. I mean every message you send you indicate what group you want to send it to or even a specific person, so you can just share a message with a specific person or a specific group or public. Stephan, have you played around with Circles very much yet?
Stephan: Just a little bit, I added my friends, I have my tech group of all the tech geeks out there, and I have my family which the only family member that’s on Google+ is my wife so that’s not very interesting (laughter).
Brad: You know, Patrick, I’m surprised that you dove in because I know you’ve been pretty vocal about not wanting to share too much data with any one service. And I know Google is one of those services that you’ve always maybe shown a little hesitation to use everything that they release. So it’s surprising to hear you say that but it sounds like you are enjoying it.
Patrick: Yeah, I mean it’s a cool service. I don’t know that I enjoy it more than Facebook or more than Twitter necessarily. I was just on a phone call with my friend Jared W. Smith who’s the webmaster for ReadWriteWeb, a major tech publication, and he was saying how much he’s loving it; he enjoys it way more than any of the other major services out there, he’s been engaging in great conversation, there’s so many smart people on it. And I know that’s what you find maybe with a lot of services early on, KORA comes to mind where you had a lot of high profile very smart people answering questions, and then as more people get in there it’s not to say that more people aren’t smart, but, you know, there’s a watering down effect, there’s maybe less of that wow factor, and it remains to be seen if Google+ can compete long term, but they’ve definitely staked their claim on the notion of privacy, on data liberation, access to your data. You can easily go under settings and export your data that you’ve shared on Google+, there’s a specific area within the accounts settings, like I said, it’s called Data Liberation, and I clicked there right now, I can download my profile data as a .json file, I can download my stream data as a zip file, I can download my contacts and my circles as a zip file, I can export all of my data from Google+ very easily, and you know you can’t do that on Facebook. So I think Google is making a play at distinguishing themselves really on those two basis points, privacy and data portability, as much as anything else.
Stephan: The one question that I haven’t seen answered yet is how well is it going to plug in with things like Twitter and Facebook, etcetera. Are they going out for the kill here, you know, are they going to try to plug in or are they just going to completely ignore it and hope that people use Google+ exclusively?
Brad: Is there an API available?
Stephan: I haven’t seen anything, but then again people have been plugging stuff; I saw URL’s for it.
Brad: So it’s coming soon.
Brad: Yeah, I mean once there’s an API then that essentially opens the door to do whatever they’re going to allow you to do, you know; you can tap that into Facebook and Twitter and whatever. I think to not have an API would be kind of silly on Google’s part, but you’re right, doing that would allow people to still keep their Facebook and maybe just synch them back and forth or push updates one way or the other.
Stephan: Yeah. That’s the big plus for me for things like Twitter, you know, I can push my Twitter straight to Facebook if I want it or I can selectively do it.
Brad: I honestly hope it takes off because I like competition, and I think when there isn’t competition that’s when companies turn into problem companies, I guess, maybe not the best way to say that, but competition is always good, so when there’s one dominant social network out there, which is pretty much obviously Facebook, that can lead to problems I think, so it’s nice to have; it’ll be nice to have somebody keeping Facebook on their toes and making Facebook innovate, and rather than getting complacent as being number one they’re going to have to keep pushing ahead to keep that hold.
Patrick: Yeah, and there’s an article on SitePoint.com, an introduction to Google+ by Joel Falconer, and he points out some of the key features. Another one of those is the Hangouts feature, which is not necessarily something that’s brand new, but just how they do it is really cool where you can bring together up to 10 people to have a video conversation. You know there are services like Tinychat that allow you to have group video conversation, obviously Skype is an app that allows for that, as well as others, but there’s a social aspect to it; if you could group your Facebook friends into one group and then have them enter or exit a room as they please and just join up video, like Falconer compares it to like having a virtual bar in a way where anyone who sees this hangout’s going on and they’re in this specific group they can join in, see each other and chat, and also watch YouTube videos together. And I haven’t actually participated in one, but it seems like it’s a pretty cool, fun little thing that they have with the feature. And in all, like I said, it feels like they’re staking their claim in being different when it comes to privacy and data access, and I think that’s where they’re going at Facebook. And maybe ironically enough the most followed person, because Google+ it does play into both Facebook and Twitter in that there’s not that same, at least in my view, implied or hoped for reciprocation, you know, when you get a message from someone it just says they’re following you, it’s more like Twitter than it is a Facebook friendship because it’s not telling you where they put you in their circles, you could be in the circle that says “never read,” they could just be adding you for the number or you could be in the family circle or friends circle or acquaintances or some other circle they’ve created to manage their permissions, so it just say they’re now sharing with you and then you can share with them but you can put them into, again, on the flip side, you can put them into a category where you never read them. So it’s more of one-way opt-in sharing than a simple ‘add as friend, yes, no’, yes, it makes you think and it makes you categorize people, and with that comes a little bit of Twitter’s functionality as well because what I was going to say is the most followed person on Google+, the person who has been added to the most circles, any guesses, has anybody read the story on this?
Ralph: No, I haven’t.
Patrick: It’s Mark Zuckerberg (laughter).
Brad: Go figure.
Patrick: Yeah, Mark Zuckerberg is the most followed person on Google+ right now. There’s a site, Socialstatistics.com that charts who has the most followers and it’s not even close, it’s number one Mark Zuckerberg, 34,759 people. Second place, Google co-founder Larry Page, 23,633, and third place, other co-founder Sergey Brin, 18,715, so together they can top Zuckerberg, but it takes them coming together to do so. And the top ten is a lot of tech people right now, Vic Gundotra who is the senior vice president of engineering of Google and is working on Google+, Robert Scoble, Matt Cutts, Leo LaPorte, Bradley Horowitz and MG Seigler from TechCrunch and Gina Trapani who founded Lifehacker. And so there’s a lot of tech people, there are a lot of tech minds; it’s like one of those early stage social networks where it’s all the cool tech people.
Ralph: So you’re saying that anyone can join this at the moment or you have to wait for an invite at this stage?
Patrick: Well, I’ve heard stories that said it was open for a period and then it’s not, and they have invites and then they don’t; right now I guess you can’t get in, but they’re going to open this up I would think soon enough because right now it’s in that proverbial beta, right, even though it doesn’t say beta under the logo, so they’re still figuring things out, still testing things out. And I mean obviously they’re going for this to be a very popular network, so it’s only a matter of time before you get an invite if you really want one or it’s just open to the public in general.
Ralph: I’m just looking at their site now and it says it has “Take the Tour,” but one thing I always wish I could find on the Web with websites is a simple overview of what the thing is because, I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m getting old or something, but I don’t tend to — I’d love to have an overall concept of what this is, and I still don’t quite see where it fits in, in relation to something like Twitter or Facebook. So you just have to play with it and get used to it or have you seen some kind of something that describes what it is just for a simple first look?
Patrick: Well, the article at SitePoint by Joel Falconer has some description, I’m sure the tour helps, and it is what it is, I think it’s a social network, so what you think of Facebook as it’s very similar to that I think, and then they have their small differences, the Hangouts feature being one of their key features right now, the Circles feature which basically allows you to more easily visualize those permissions and how you group people and what you share with people, and the article at SitePoint talks about that. And it’s not that it’s some brand new thing, it’s just that Google is finally making their play with it, and then they have some features and some ideals I guess you could say that might make it more attractive to other people.
Patrick: So let’s stick on the social networks kick and talk about one network that has been hurting, right, we have a network that’s been launched and now we have one that’s been hurting. MySpace was sold at the end of June to Specific Media which has been an advertising network and is I guess turning itself more to a media company. As part of the sale they’ll also give a stake to Justin Timberlake who’s going to help with strategy for the company, and MySpace of course has been beat up pretty badly. There was a chart on the Business Insider that showed traffic from when it was sold in August of 2005 to News Corp for $580 million to the traffic now in June when they were sold for $35 million, so do the math, they have dropped in value about $545 million dollars. Oddly enough their traffic is actually higher right now than when they were sold to News Corp, but obviously at that point they were on the way up and a hot company, now they’re on the way down and not such a hot company. I don’t know, are any of us still on MySpace?
Brad: I have an account but I literally login to it maybe once a month or I’m sorry, once every six months, maybe like twice a year just to see. Every time I login to it I’m kind of lost because I don’t know what I’m looking at because it’s changed. But this isn’t really surprising, I mean I think we all knew MySpace has been having problems for a long time; most people that probably listen to the show don’t use MySpace, most of our friends and family don’t use MySpace anymore. I remember watching TV commercials and all the car dealers and this and that had ‘visit our MySpace’ and you don’t see that anymore, it’s all Facebook and Twitter.
Patrick: And a lot of bars and clubs had and even still have their websites on a MySpace page.
Brad: Just reading some of these articles I think they really need to kind of step back and take a look at how they can rebrand themselves, and I think they need to come to terms with the fact that they are not going to be The social network, so what can they do going forward to be successful because at this rate they’re just going to keep going down.
Stephan: You’d think they’d try to leverage the whole band thing because you know a lot of bands had their music on there I guess with other websites out there that are kind of doing the free music download type stuff.
Brad: And that’s where they started with music and bands and then they kind of went into this whole social network boom and really kicked it off in my opinion to the masses, and I know they’ve kind of gone back to that recently, back to more of the music, trying to get back in the indie scene and, yeah, I honestly don’t know what they could do. They certainly need a definite restructure, need to kind of reorganize and just figure out what they’re doing, and who knows, maybe Justin Timberlake can bring that to the table, I mean he was in the Social Network movie so he’s obviously qualified.
Patrick: Yeah, he played Sean Parker in a movie. And I actually like the move for bringing Timberlake on board, he’s always seemed like a pretty smart guy to me, and I think they’re obviously on the way down; if he can help with this strategy a little bit I’m interested to see how that goes. When it comes to direction obviously Specific Media is not offering much, but they did say that they plan to make MySpace a “Premiere digital destination for original shows, video content and music.” So, if you read into that then of course maybe they’re transitioning more into the digital content, video content, music content where they still have a market, they still have an audience there, because music was a strong point for them and it might still be a strong point as far as their traffic is concerned. They do have a pretty robust music section with full albums for legal listening, and so that kind of was their bread and butter and they might just be going back to that like you mentioned.
Ralph: From my point of view MySpace had started to fade by the time I even got interested in these things, and every time I go to it, it just looks I have to say just so ugly, I think maybe they could do a bit on the design side of it, I don’t know, maybe that’s its identity now but it’s just never something that’s attracted me.
Patrick: Yeah, I haven’t logged in to my MySpace profile in many, many months. I don’t know, I just never had much going on at MySpace at any point in time, I don’t know, Facebook is a site that I have decent connections, friends and some activity, MySpace I just never really got into; I kind of missed that whole thing other than just having an account. And just to look at the chart from Silicon Alley Insider that showcases the traffic according to ComScore, from August ’05 to actually May 2011 their traffic hit a high in about December, I would say January, February of ’09, and that was at probably about 75, 78 million unique visitors per month at that time, and that was the high. Now as of May they’re down to about 37 million, so from — that’s about a drop in half you could say. And when they were purchased by News Corp they were just above 20 million for 580 million, so obviously that’s a pretty massive loss of value there over a point of five years to lose from 580 to 35 million.
Ralph: Is that before the days of Facebook really took off or is that around the same time; has something cut in on their business or is just that they’re losing their edge?
Patrick: I think it’s safe to say it’s been Facebook, I think that’s pretty safe to say.
Brad: Yeah, I would agree.
Patrick: Yeah, Facebook was, looking at the dates now, but they were founded in 2004, February 2004 they launched, but they were closed to the public, they were college only and then they launched outside of Harvard, other colleges. So after it was available to schools for a while it was open to the public September 26, 2006 to anyone over the age of 13 with a valid email address, so if we pull back to the chart for November 2006 MySpace is on a way up at that point, they’re on the way up, traffic is going up November 2006, continues to go up, like I said. And finally peaks in late 2008, early 2009, before taking this pretty sudden drop, especially accelerated over the last year really very drastically. And this chart is actually contrasted by Facebook’s U.S. monthly unique visitors, it’s measured by ComScore. So Facebook actually reaches MySpace in April or May of ’09, and then Facebook just goes up like crazy traffic-wise, they are now at about 160 million unique visitors per month, so obviously a lot of people visiting Facebook and not as many people visiting MySpace. But still, MySpace has traffic that most webmasters would kill for, so where there’s traffic there’s still potential, they just have to turn it around.
Ralph: I thought it was worth since I came here to talk a bit about forums, it’s amazing some of the things that actually come up there, they’re more than just a place for trying to figure out why your right column has dropped below your left column. People post really interesting things there and I’ve learned a lot from being there. There are competitions that are run like Paul O’Brien’s CSS Quizzes, and I thought I’d just mention that just this last weekend I was browsing the forums on Sunday evening and one of the members called Jason Knight, aka Deathshadow60, he mentioned that he’s just been playing around with a new kind of dropdown menu. He was just asking if anyone had ever seen it before because as far as he knew a new way of doing it, it’s very simple code and it simply uses overflow hidden instead of absolutely placing the drop menu off screen. And it turns out that it has been done before recently, but it seems to be like one of those things where an idea just suddenly appears in different places at the same time. And I thought to myself it’s such a neat little dropdown, it’s very accessible, and if you wanted to check it out, if you wanted to find your way directly there, if you went to this forum index it was a featured thread on Sunday the 3rd of July. But it’s worth checking out just to see if you’re interested in doing dropdown menus, if you’re into that sort of thing; I’m definitely going to try it on my next time I have to do a dropdown because the first thing I wanted to do was test it on screen readers and tabbing on the keyboard, and it works really well and it’s very lightweight code, so you never know what’s going to pop up there. And there’s never really been a perfectly accessible dropdown menu, so anything that gets closer to it I think is worth checking out, although obviously these days with mobile and touchscreens and everything that introduces a whole different issue with dropdown menus in the first place, but still this is a really interesting way of looking at it.
Brad: So I came across an interesting fun article, and it’s called Ten Ways to Prove Your Programming Skills, which I thought was a good read and I’m sure one a lot of our listeners would enjoy. I think it’s easy as developers and designers, whatever you do around the Web, it’s easy to get kind of stuck in a rut of what you do and maybe not push yourself to learn either new languages or to improve upon the language that you do primarily. So this article kind of goes through ten steps that can help you improve your programming skills whether you’re a developer, designer, whatever it may be, and a lot of them were pretty good that I hadn’t really thought about. So I thought we could run through this list quickly. Number one, these are in no particular order, number one is Learn a New Programming Language. So basically the theory is if all you do is PHP inside and out and you know it inside and out and you want to improve upon it even more, pick up a different language, pickup a language you’ve never touched before, maybe Ruby, maybe dive over and work on .net a little bit, maybe whatever, just look at a different language and see. Because all languages, I think as developers and designers we know that all languages are very similar, it’s syntax that’s the main difference obviously, so sometimes diving into different languages can open up the doors of thinking different ways when you’re programming and whatever it is you do use. And just for context, Stephan I know you do some programming, I know it’s not your day job but you would consider yourself a developer, right?
Stephan: Yeah, occasionally (laughs).
Brad: And, Patrick, I know you maintain your own websites but you would not consider yourself a developer, is that right?
Patrick: In respect to the profession of developer no I would not.
Brad: But you can hack away, I mean you have some very nice looking sites, so I know for the most part you know —
Patrick: Yeah, I can correct the occasional PHP error, I can code a little HTML and, yeah, that’s about it, some CSS.
Brad: And, Ralph, how would you kind of classify yourself?
Patrick: Who writes programming books? Do we know any publishers? Does anyone here publish any programming books, maybe SitePoint (laughs)? No. Maybe Wiley.
Brad: I may have written a book or two, but as I said, this points out read a challenging book. So there are obviously a lot of books out there on whatever language you’re looking for, and many of them start kind of at a beginner level and work their way through intermediate to advanced, some are more advanced, but the tip here says read a challenging book, and he actually links to a few. One is the Art of Computer Programming which he labels as a real challenging book, there’s structure and interpretation of computer programs, a discipline of programming and then the famous dragon book which is all about compilers. So I’m sure that’s an extremely riveting read, but as you can imagine, reading a challenging book like that, and most of these books are not language specific, they are simply theories around programming and different ways to structure your program and things like that, so it kind of takes the language out of it for the most part.
Patrick: Yeah, so if you’re looking to do some good stuff in WordPress you might start with Professional WordPress, but then once you’re a little more advanced you might turn to a book like Professional WordPress Plugin Development to really make WordPress do what you want.
Brad: There you go, good example (laughter). I approve of this. Number three is actually Join an Open Source Project, which is another great tip. Most listeners know I work with WordPress quite a bit, and there’s no better way to really improve your skills than to dive into any open source project. You probably want to find one that’s kind of inline with what kind of development you’re doing, but one of the beauties of open source is it gets your code out there in front of others, you’re going to learn from people who are active in the project and they’re going to help you, they’re going to guide you along the way, and so you maybe submit a patch to WordPress Core or Drupal Core, whatever it may be, and they’re going to either accept or reject it, and if they reject it chances are they will tell you why and what maybe you did wrong or what you could do better so you can fix your patch and get it accepted.
Stephan: And they may tell you in very terse terms.
Brad: They may (laughter) or they may not, it really depends.
Patrick: Or they may just insult your humanity and make you feel like less of a person.
Brad: Yes, it’s important to remember on the Internet that just because something sounds that it’s not necessarily that way because it’s hard to gage emotion from text. But, yeah, I highly recommend it too, join an open source project, get involved, it’s a great way to learn. Number four, and this is one I haven’t really done but I’ve kind of started looking at it, Solve Programming Puzzles. So there’s actually websites out there dedicated to programming puzzles, some are math oriented, some are specifically just programming, but you can actually go out there and work and try to solve these puzzles and it kind of is a great way to kind of get your mind to develop different ways of thinking and solve some of these more complex — and some aren’t too complex but some are impossibly complex, and there are some links to some pretty interesting sites where you can dive in and start playing with some of these puzzles.
Stephan: The Project Euler site is fantastic.
Brad: Have you done that before, Stephan?
Stephan: Yeah. My wife uses it a lot for her math classes, so some of it I’ll sit down and I’ll try to do them myself and try to figure out code for them.
Patrick: And congratulations on being able to pronounce that.
Brad: Yeah, I’m glad I didn’t say it because I was going to say Uler (laughter).
Stephan: I thank my wife; I wouldn’t have known how to say it either.
Brad: Number five is an obvious one, Program; start writing program from scratch, architect it out, implement it, really just code, do what you do and just keep doing it, but it’s basically just saying try something from scratch, architect out maybe a new program, maybe a new — if you do things like Drupal maybe a new module for Drupal or a plugin for WordPress, whatever it may be, start from scratch, you know, start from scratching out on paper and then dive in to build it and see if you can do it.
Patrick: Don’t just talk about it, be about it.
Brad: That’s right, words to live by, right. Number six, Read and Study Code, this is also another excellent tip, this is one I do quite a bit. If you’re curious how things work look at the code, dive into it; open source project the code’s available to you. He actually links to the Linux Kernel; if you want to really dive into to some code that might be a bit on the insanely advanced side.
Patrick: That’s like reading the Merriam Webster Dictionary to learn about English.
Brad: Obviously being a Web community here we probably want to look at something more Web orientated. But, yeah, dive into Drupal, WordPress, Jumla, whatever, dive into some code, there’s a lot, Magento, there’s code out there, dive into it and see how they’re doing things, see how they’re making queries of the database, see how they’re looping through arrays, whatever it may be study and learn from it.
Ralph: And don’t forget front end code as well because that’s even easier to study, that’s how I learned a lot about websites, seeing things I liked and just looking under the hood through the developer tool system.
Brad: Excellent point.
Ralph: I actually found out about sprites by looking at websites before I even discovered there was a name for it, and things like that.
Patrick: Is it Front Page?
Brad: I hope not but if it is you may not want to learn from that, but yeah, look at how they’re doing it. Now just remember not everything you see may be done exactly how it should be, but it’s definitely going to help point you in the right direction of developing some of those things because there are some very popular sites out there that even viewing the source you can see they’re doing things incorrectly, not everyone’s perfect. Number seven, Hang Out at Some Programming Sites and Read Blogs; this is another good one, find sites —
Patrick: Like SitePoint.com and SitePoint.com/forums.
Brad: Thanks, Patrick. It’s a great point, SitePoint has some awesome articles covering everything about web design, development, all sorts of stuff, API’s, new versions of software, everything, so stay in tune with sites that are kind of inline with what you do. They mentioned Stack Overflow is another one that a lot of programmers are using nowadays, that’s a great one to kind of read and follow and look at how people are doing code differently. Forums, Ralph you were talking about forums earlier, I mean I think we all agree that we’ve all learned a lot from the SitePoint Forums, that’s pretty much how I learned to program ten years ago was on SitePoint just in the forums asking. It’s actually fun to go through old forum posts and look at the problem that was presented and then eight or ten different revisions of the code until they get this perfect piece of code that went from 50 lines maybe down to like 10 and see the different ways that people are doing it until they get it to work as perfect as possible.
Ralph: And that’s a great thing because there are so many people who really know their craft well, and so the opportunity to be able to run it past other people is a really great guarantee that you’re not putting bad code online because people just won’t let you get away with it in the forums.
Brad: Yeah, and it’s a great resource, so once you learn something bookmark it if you know you’re going to go back to it. And that actually goes into number eight which is Writing about Code. This is one I do; I don’t do it as often as I should.
Patrick: This one there’s a hefty advance with it.
Brad: Yeah, well I try to write on my blog, and basically the same blog about code; write tutorials, when you learn things put them somewhere, put them on a blog, put them on a website somewhere, share them. And I actually do that quite a bit; when I stumble across something that maybe took me longer to figure out than I expected or something I had no idea how to do that I know I’m going to need some other time, the way I archive my code is I write a blog post about it. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to blog posts that I’ve written to get the code because I knew I’ll forget where the code’s at, but I’ll remember, hey, I wrote a blog post about that. I’ve actually been surfing Google for a problem, come across a post I wrote a year or two ago that answers the problem and I realize, hey, I had it in front of me the whole time and forgot about it. So, yeah, blog about it, write about it, that’s another way. I’ve posted code before and somebody in the comments pointed out a more efficient way to do it, so right there I just learned something.
Patrick: Yeah, I know this might sound a little egotistical to some people, but I’ve actually referred back to my book sometimes where it’s funny because when you write about something, especially in book form, it’s like there’s an index in there as well, like someone actually went through the book and indexed your brain, and then you go and you go like, well, let’s see, I’m looking at this and refer back to it sometimes because I mean these are my thoughts and I’ve covered this before so I’m looking back at it, and it’s funny when you have to refer back to your own writing. But, hey, that makes sense, I mean it sounds stupid but it actually makes a lot of sense I think.
Ralph: I’m glad you say that, too, because I always get embarrassed that I can’t remember, geez, I’ve known people who never forget anything, like my dad actually who’s brilliant like that, and I just find the moment it’s out of sight it’s out of mind, and so I’m glad I’m not the only one.
Patrick: Well, if you think about it, why do we write things down? Like looking past Internet and books, why do we write things down to begin with? Well, we write things down so they live past us so we can pass them down, and we write them down so we can remember. And that’s the same case, it doesn’t change just because we have a blog now, we can’t remember everything, that’s the same reason we have to-do lists, we write it down so we can find it later. And the great thing about the Internet and a book even is that those thoughts are easily searchable and indexed rather than having to scan some sort of tablet or papyrus looking for what you wrote down.
Ralph: I wonder in time what will happen to archiving. I know some things are being done with that, but that’s my one worry that if your site goes down or you’ve lost all that stuff; do any of you archive your thoughts as well? I tend to keep a copy on the computer as well, which is not necessarily the best way to archive but it’s better than nothing.
Patrick: I have backups of my websites and my databases, so if I’m writing a blog obviously that goes into the database, and I have copies and multiple backups of that, that are updated regularly so, yeah, definitely important to back things up.
Brad: Yeah, absolutely. Number nine, Learn a Low-Level Program, or Learn Low-Level Programming.
Patrick: This is my only hope.
Brad: This is a tricky one. This is one of those ones they’re basically saying check out C or maybe an assembly language or maybe like Compiler, learning how computers execute programs would in turn help you understand how programs work. It makes sense in theory, it’s just low-level programming period is tough, obviously there are a small number of people in the world that really excel at it, so if you want to dive into it feel free, it’s probably not something I’ll be doing anytime soon but have fun learning or reading about Assembly. And number ten, this is an interesting one that I’ll be we’re all guilty of, so let’s see, Don’t Rush to Stack Overflow and Don’t Rush to Google, Don’t Rush to a Forum, think about the problem.
Patrick: Don’t rush to SitePoint.
Brad: Don’t rush to SitePoint. Think about it. Rather than spending 30 seconds on a problem and immediately going to Google and searching it, really spend some time on it, think about what the problem is, what the end goal is and how you can get there; write it down if you have to, flow it out if you have to. I know in programming school they tell you to flow out everything, and I would probably say that most people agree that you don’t really have to do that as often as they would want you to think in the real world, maybe you should but most people don’t. But rather than run out there and just try to find the answer to all your problems it’s not as easy to learn that way, right? What do they say, give the man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.
Patrick: Or just rush to SitePoint.
Brad: Or go to SitePoint and somebody will help you out (laughter). It’s good, I mean obviously you’re not going to spend a week on a problem you could just Google, but spend more than 30 seconds on it, really think about it; a lot of times it may come to you, and if not then go to SitePoint, then go to Stack Overflow, then go out there and try to find the problem. So that’s the top ten, it’s a great article, it’s actually written by a guy named Anders Ahlstrom, and believe it or not he’s 15, impressive; so we’ll make sure to have a link to that so everybody can go through it, there are a lot of good links within each tip on what he’s talking about so it’s pretty interesting to read. We’ll have that in the show notes.
Ralph: And if that doesn’t convince you to get into programming — I was just reading a review of a book the other day called Program or Be Programmed, that’s the title of the website, Programorbeprogrammed.com, and reading the blurbs online it’s a pretty compelling read looking at how programmers are basically controlling our lives these days, and if we don’t learn how they work we’ll just be their slaves.
Patrick: That’s our future, everyone, thanks for the uplifting note there.
Brad: Glad I’m a programmer.
Ralph: (Laughter) Well, at least we’re the ones who’ll be in it. Douglas Rushkoff wrote that and it’s newly released, it looks like quite a good book worth checking out.
Patrick: Cool. And our last story today is browser trends. The Statcounter.com global statistics have been updated to include the numbers for June of 2011, and so we have the latest breakdown on which browsers are losing ground and which browsers are gaining ground. You have an overall net loss for IE, it’s down by 29%, relative 70%, so that means it lost 70% of its market share, really a number that’s down 29%. Firefox lost .96% from 29.30 to 28.34% of overall global market share for web browsers. The gain, the big gainer, not a surprise I guess, is Google Chrome, up to 20.67% from 19.38%, it continues to gain and gain and gain. Within the IE subcategory IE 9 is a gainer, 1.61% up to 6.18% overall, IE 8 drops a fair amount, 1.39% to 27.67%. IE 6 some will delight to know is continuing to fall down another .12% to 3.72%, but that’s still 3.72% of the world using IE 6 unfortunately. Meanwhile, Safari sees a small gain and Opera sees a small loss, so it seems like a continuation of what’s been happening before, IE is dropping, Firefox is dropping and Chrome is gaining.
Brad: I like it. So it’s really only a matter of time until IE 7 is gone.
Patrick: IE 7 or IE 6?
Brad: 7. I mean I think we can all say that IE 6 is pretty much done. I’ve realized that there’s still the corporate world that is going to hang onto it for dear life, but as far as websites and designers and developers supporting it, I think that it’s pretty much over, it’s end of life.
Patrick: Yeah, IE 7 had 6% overall market share in June, IE 6 3.72, so IE 7 was down .39% so, yeah, they’re continuing to lose, and IE 8 has the lion’s share of the IE market share with 27.67% overall, so I guess that’s good news for developers.
Ralph: I’ve started to see a lot of people switch to Chrome, just about everyone I know who works on the Web has switched, but I’m not, I still can’t leave Firebug behind; even though the Chrome developer tools are good they’re just not quite the same. Firebug just keeps adding a few new things that keep it just slightly ahead, but Chrome is a very nice browser I have to say.
Patrick: Brad, Stephan, you guys still rocking Chrome?
Stephan: Yeah, it depends on what day it is (laughter).
Brad: Yeah, I’m a Chrome guy. I mean I feel the same as you, Ralph, on occasion I will have to fire up Firefox to get into Firebug, but I’ve really been pushing myself to use Chrome’s Inspector, and for the most part it works, I would say about 80, 90% of the time I get what I need.
Ralph: It’s pretty good, but Firebug still has a few things like you can go straight into the style sheet and rather than have to edit each individual style things like that are just a little bit ahead. I tried to convert my mother to Chrome the other day, but we couldn’t import her bookmarks from Firefox, I didn’t know what was going on there, so maybe that’s just a Mac thing, I’m not sure, but it just didn’t quite work so she didn’t want to know about it in the end. But I think if you’re not doing web development Chrome is a very nice browser.
Patrick: Alright, so it’s time for our host spotlights! Ralph, since you’re our honored guest why don’t you go first.
Ralph: Well, one thing I’ve been looking at lately, and I must admit I haven’t gone into it deeply yet, but it’s — we know about the HMTL5 boilerplate and here there’s a website now that has an HTML email boilerplate, and it’s by Sean Powell and it’s quite a pretty website, it’s htmlemailboilerplate.com. And obviously HTML email is a tricky beast to get under control, and there’s a nice article about that in the community book, and there are other books that have been published, and each time I stumble across something on HTML email I learn a few more tips, and this boilerplate has a basic template that you can use that has a lot of comments in it that are helpful for explaining it as well. But it goes into really fine-grained details about little quirks with different email clients and shows you, breaks down specific styles for all of those so that you actually understand what they’re for, so it looks like a really useful resource this one.
Patrick: Excellent, especially for anyone who’s regularly sending out those email newsletters.
Ralph: Absolutely, yeah, this would really give you a lot of control for some of the major clients like Yahoo and Gmail and the rest, very clear, and looking at some of the quirks of those and how to get around them, so it’s one of the best summaries I’ve seen, so it’s certainly worth a look.
Patrick: And, Stephan, why don’t you go next.
Stephan: So my spotlight is for all the programmers out there it actually kind of fits into that topic we were talking about earlier. It’s the 9/11 Memorial and how they were able to design it to fit the names and how they used a bunch of different algorithms to make it all fit, because the way it’s being done is that the names are going to be placed in an order where they’re in a geographic region of who they were close to when they passed away and when they died on 9/11. And so there are a bunch of different algorithms they used to get this data into a usable format, and it’s just an interesting read, it’s got a lot of neat graphics and a little short video attached to it and how they designed it and everything, it’s really cool. They used processing which is a nice little engine for visualizing data, so it’s just a good read, something that I found really interesting.
Patrick: Yeah, seems like a cool read. It starts with, “In late October 2009 I received an email from Jake Barton from Local Projects titled plainly, ‘Potential Freelance Job’. I read the email and responded with a reply in two parts, first I would love to work on the project, second, I wasn’t sure that it could be done.”
Brad: Bom, bom, bom! (for dramatic effect).
Patrick: That’s a cool story. Brad, what do you have?
Brad: Mine is the obvious one, WordPress 3.2 is out, it was released on July 4, I knew you expected it; released July 4th on Independence Day here in the U.S., and is a great way to release some software. So we spoke about it the last roundtable show, we have the refresh dashboard, the 2011 theme, distraction free writing, we also dropped support for PHP 4 which is great, and IE 6, which is also great.
Patrick: Great for who exactly? No, I’m just kidding.
Brad: Great for devs and designers. But we’ll have the link in the show notes, but you can certainly go out there and download, and if you’re running WordPress you can use a simple autoupdate to update your site to the new version.
Patrick: Excellent. And my spotlight is a music video. It is the music video for We’ll Kill You by The Lonely Island. You know I love The Lonely Island, as you can judge from my previous spotlights, this video was included with the DVD for their new album Turtleneck and Shane which was released a little while back, and it’s just I find it hilarious, and there is some vulgarity in there, there’s some inappropriate content, so bear that in mind, you’ve been warned, I just find it really funny. So definitely check that out and feel free to lament my off-topic choice in the comments. So, Ralph, where can people find you on the Web?
Ralph: I have my own website, pageaffairs.com, it needs a bit of updating I must admit, but also I Tweet occasionally at @pageaffairs, so pretty simple to remember.
Patrick: Excellent. So, following Ralph let’s go ahead and make our normal around the table, Brad?
Patrick: And I am Patrick O’Keefe of the iFroggy Network, I blog at Managingcommunities.com, you can follow me on Twitter @ifroggy, i-f-r-o-g-g-y. You can follow our usual co-host, Louis Simoneau, @rssaddict, and you can 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. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions for us, we’d love to read them out on the show and give you our advice. The SitePoint Podcast is produced by Karn Broad. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next week.
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