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October 30, 2005

Site watch: New Age and SMH online designs - much to like, but work to be done

Last week, The Age, Fairfax's Melbourne sister paper of the Sydney Morning Herald, relaunched with a new site design. Indications are that early next week the smh online will also use a very similar design.

So, how does this v 2.0 of their standards based design, first launched a couple of years back stack up? Recently I completed a survey of major Australian web sites and their compliance with best practices in web development. smh.com.au faired reasonably poorly, with a score of 6/20. This actually put it second in its sector, so they are far from alone in being able to do better.

How are they doing this time around? Let's take a look.

My survey looks are 4 aspects of web development practice - validity of HTML/XHTML, validity of CSS, use of structured and semantic HTML, and accessibility. If you'd like to know more about the criteria, please take a look at my original article which details the decisions I made.

Validity of HTML

theage.com.au, when checked with the W3Cs validator, reports 229 errors, and a doctype of XHTML 1.0 Transitional.

With 229 errors in total, what's going wrong?

Here is a breakdown, most if not all of which turn up commonly, as I outline in my original article.

Case and XHTML

XHTML, an application o XML, is case sensitive. The site uses Javascript event handlers like onLoad, which should be onload. Similarly, attributes like HREF and elements like A appear. I suspect these are being generated by a content management system of other application.

Unescaped Javascript

when using HTML as part of the values of Javascript, this must be escaped. I cover this in detail n my earlier article. This accounts for a signiicant percentage of the 229 errors.

Style elements in body

<style> elements must be in the head of an HTML document. This i s a very common error.

Script element with language, not type attribute This is also a very common error.

Unescaped ampersands

All &s, whether in the content or in attribute values must be encoded as &amp;

Missing required alt attributes

alt attributes are required for all images, and some other elements. If an image is purely decoration, then alt="" is recommended as the value for the attribute.

divs inside paragraphs

It is a basic containment rule that paragraphs must not contain divs. This design uses <div class="clear"></div> inside paragraphs to clear the floated contents of divs (my guess is so that the containing paragraph "grows" to include any floated contained elements)

Overlapping tags

a most basic requirement for XHTML documents is that they be well formed. That includes the requirement that elements don't overlap. The site features example slike this

<a href="https://subscribe.fairfax.com.au/cgi-bin/age.cgi?s_cid=fd:planner:age">Get The Age delivered for $2.70 a week<sup>*</a></sup>

Unquoted attribute values

In XHTML, all attribute values must be quoted.

Non existent attributes

The site features "attributes" such as MARGINWIDTH (and many others) which are not part of any HTML specification.

These results are very similar to and consistent with the results I found i the original survey.

Score out of 5

The site would get 0/5 based on my criteria as outlined in my original survey.

CSS

The W3C CSS validator will often not validate CSS in invalid HTML documents. In this case it is usually enough to use the text area version of the validator. However, for the embedded CSS for this page, this threw an internal error.

My own validation using Style Master found spelling errors like this ine-height:1.2, and a number of properties like this _height:20px, which I suspect were properties to be ignored, but never removed.

I'll give the site 3/5 for CSS.

Structural and Semantic HTML

For such a complex site, it is gratifying to see not a table for layout in sight. The site does use extraneous div elements for clearing floated elements, but also gratifyingly, no other common non semantic elements such as bold elements in place of headings. It does use inline CSS, which discuss in the original article.

I'll give the site 3/5 for this aspect.

Accessibility

For more discussion on this area, see the original article.

The site has the following problems with accessibility as reported by Cynthia says

WCAG checkpoint 1.1

Some images, and pother required elements, fail to have an alt attribute

WCAG checkpoint 7.4

The site uses the META element with the 'https-equiv' attribute value 'refresh'.

WCAG checkpoint 11.2

Avoid deprecated features of W3C technologies

WCAG checkpoint 13.1 Clearly identify the target of each link

WCAG checkpoint 12.4 Associate labels explicitly with their controls

Which does give the site a score of 0.

This is probably a little on the harsh side, as the site is very complex, and some of the infraction are either a mite contentious, or like 11.2, only slightly infringed. But for consistency with the earlier survey, I'll maintain this purely objective approach.

Overall

Overall, the results are similar to those of my recent survey. There, the smh online received 6/20, as this redesign does too. Interestingly, in that survey the scores were 2 for accessibility, 4 for CSS and 0 for the others.

Has progress been made?

Despite appearances, I think so. The code for the design is now leaner and more semantic/structural than it was. This is perhaps the hardest problem for most sites to fix. Not much work could easily fix at least 3 of the accessibility problems. While many of the XHTML problems are probably the result of the CMS or other applications that are being used to develop or serve the page, or by content mixed in from other servers like ad servers, a coupe of days might well be enough to fix most of these. The CSS errors could even more easily be fixed with literally a few minutes work.

I do appreciate the enormity of the task facing the designers and developers of sites like smh and the Age. Content is being constantly updated, and the site design itself must of necessity be very very complex.

John

October 30, 2005 in site watch | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Australians at SxSW interactive 2006

Are you are Australian involved in the interactive industry? (look, I don't really know what that is either, but I guess computers and stuff :-)

But seriously - are you are web, game, DVD or similar designers developer, a UI expert, an accessibility specialist, or anything along these lines? Individual or company?

Have you heard about South by Southwest? It's an amazing week long conference held each year in March in Austin, Texas, where several thousand people just like you get together to meet, attend the odd panel or tutorial session (the speakers are literally a who's who of the web and interactive world), but above all to get to know others in our industry better. There are great free parties, some of the best indie musicians in the world are in town, and you get to go to parties where people like Malcolm Gladwell just turn up.

If so, and you are interested in going along this year, please get in touch. The Australian Music industry has great representation at the music festival, which follows the interactive conference, and I don't see any reason why our interactive industry can't similarly get its act together, and make a splash in 2006.

Last year, Maxine and I, as westciv, went, spoke, Style Master sponsored the web design awards, and frankly it's one of the best things I have ever done in a professional capacity.

It's not nearly as expensive as you might think, you'll have a fantastic time, meet new and interesting people, develop business and professional relationships, and come home motivated and enthused.
Depending on the level of interest there are a number of different options we could pursue, from a stand at the tradeshow, to a party for attendees, and a lot more besides.

So drop me a line if you are at all interested, and we'll take it from there.

Looking forward to hearing from you

john

sxsw

October 30, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 28, 2005

Best Practices in Web Development - results published

Those of you who came to WE05 or who listened to the podCasts might have seen/heard my presentation on a recent survey I did on how well major Australian sites are adhering to best practices in web development (valid HTML/XHTML, CSS, Semantic and Structural use of HTML, Accessibility).

I've just published the whole thing as an article, with all the results (what errors people are making, results for each site surveyed, results by sector).

Its available here long with links to the original slides in PDF, and the podCast.

Hope people might find it interesting/useful

john

October 28, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (48) | TrackBack

October 27, 2005

Noam Chomsky in Forbes Magazine!

If for no other reason than the I would consider it about as likely as the current Whitehouse adopting a raft of measure to curb global warming, starting with reduced dependence oil, have a read of Noam Chomsky, wearing his professional, linguist hat, in Forbes magazine, On the spontaneous invention of language. Chomsky is doubtless one of the finest minds of the last century, whose insights in linguistics have impacted everything from child psychology to the design of compilers and programming languages, but whose wider fame rests in his decades long rational critique of western, and specifically U.S. foreign policy.

If you woke up in 500 years time, I'd be willign to bet his would be one of the few names from this last century still in common currency.

John

October 27, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 26, 2005

WE05 Presentation available in article form

WE05 Presentation available in article form

When I present at a conference or to a group, I almost invariably write the whole presentation out in long hand. Well, actually, I type it out with two fingers on my computer, but you get the idea. This helps me to really work through all the ideas in the presentation, and to hopefully develop a good structure. It also makes it easier to later publish the presentation as an article.

For some strange reason, people often prefer to read a presentation, rather than listen to it. That way they don't have up put up with my Aussie accent, and can more easily skim the boring bits.

I've just published my WE05 presentation, The state of the Art in Australian web development .

Here's the abstract

How are major companies and government departments in Australia developing their sites today? Are they adhering to best practices in development and accessibility? This presentation looks at major Australian sites, to determine whether they are using best practices, and where they are falling down. We'll see what patterns emerge, where things are going well, or otherwise. And we'll conclude with some recommendations based on this cold hard evidence.

Read more (with graphs, tables of results and more)

By the way, this has drawn quite a response, with invitations to speak to a number of organizations and companies about the research I did. It's gratifying to see that people are starting to pay attention top this sort of thing.

John

October 26, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 19, 2005

WE05 Remixed

Many many years ago, when I was reasonably young, I spent some time being a pretty unsuccessful house music DJ, and playing around with electronic music. We are talking the 80's here people.

Anyway, for some curious reason, after WE05, while talking with Amber "I am the DJ" Nixon, Tantek Çelik's delightful girlfriend, who accompanied Tantek downunder, I got the curious idea of doing a remix of WE05. Not having done any musical stuff other than listening for certainly 15 years, probably more, I broke out GarageBand, and started playing around, and not too long after, had a couple of tracks. I then spent a day or two going through the podCasts of WE05, noting bits that I found inspirational, funny or which otherwise grabbed my attention.

Now, my wife Sara is a radio producer (if you listen to any radio Sport in Australia, you would have heard her work) and has done many many promotional clips. So I worked with her to get the right mix and balance, and in the end, came up with two original tracks, featuring excerpts from the speakers at WE05. One track is "funny", stuff that is amusing, some of which still makes me laugh out loud (check Russ's snippet right near the end, I laugh out loud every time I hear it), and one more inspirational.

I hope you enjoy remix culture gone mad - WE05 remixed

WE05 Upbeat Remix

WE05 Deep Remix

John

October 19, 2005 in Web Essentials | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

October 13, 2005

not that I am a narcissist, or anything

But these photos from my presentation at WE05 by Amit Karmakar make me looks so much better than I do that the man must be some kind of genius.

You'll also find links to my presentation slides and podCast there too. A full version of my presentation as an article, and the data is almost ready I promise,

john

WE05

October 13, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2005

WE05 podcasts go off!

Because I had nothing better to do, I counted up the downloads of podCasts from WE05 so far.

Since Friday las week, 30,000 podcasts have been downloaded. Simply unbelieveable.

And at Odeo (kind of like blogger for podCasts, started by one of the people who started blogger), we currently have more subscribers than the Wall Street Journal Tech News Briefing.

I thought the podCasting idea was a good one. But this is ridiculous.

If you don't know what the fuss is about check it out - hear some of the most inspiring and knowledgeable speakers on all things web (oh, and me too).

Tag WE05

john

October 6, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 05, 2005

Your web site is a tiny piece of a much larger experience

Last year, when we held WE04, podCasting was barely a blip on the radar, flickr was a few months old, technorati tagging had yet to be implemented (I'm pretty sure), and all in all the web was a calmer, more sedate place :-)

The rise of these and other new pieces of web technology (which are, if you think about them, really just ways of bringing people together) makes it much easier to bring the real and the virtual together. Which is what, by accident, we sort of did with WE05.

To start with, almost all of our "marketing" all along has been online - via mailing lists, blogs, web sites and online communities. Because our audience is so geographically diverse (from 9 different countries this year, and all over Australia) no kind of traditional "marketing" would possibly work for us to promote the conference. So if you think about the relationship between the "real" and the virtual, WE05 starts online. Then, for three days, it's "real", as people meet in Sydney. All the while, though, the conversation and indeed the conference continued and continues online - via flickr and blog posts (easily aggregated via technorati tags).

To amplify the loop, we gave some prizes to those who had posted cool photos to flickr, or who had posted quite a bit at their blogs, either in the lead up to, or during the conference.

The very first slide of Jeff Veen's workshop, which kicked off the three days of WE05 said

Your web site is a tiny piece of a much larger experience.

That's true not just of your web site but everything you do. Everything you do is a tiny part of what you do. What you do is the amazing thing happens when all the tiny parts work together. Smart people, whether in hardware, software, or indeed all forms of business know this instinctively.

The hard part is accepting that, letting go, and seeing where that takes you

john

October 5, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Hungarian note

OK, sorry about the geek joke.

An article I wrote about a year ago, 5 questions to ask your web development team is now available in Hungarian, thanks to Károly Szántai.

I spent about 10 days in Hungary many many years ago, and loved the city. So hopefully I'll get the chance to get back there before too long.

Thanks Károly, and enjoy,

john

October 5, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack