Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of Webslinger 2007

With 2007 soon to be finished, I figured it would be a good time to revisit my blog postings from the past year.

These blog postings still offer some useful insight into Internet trends and best practices.

I tried to keep it to one post per month, but Webslinger is just too jammed-packed with goodness to follow that arbitrary limit.

Coming Soon: The Death of the Web Page

The Missing Quick Link

Can a million penguins typing away create the great novel?

Site index - to do or not to do?

Facebook is cyber-crack

Breadcrumbs help hold a website together

Website Accessibility Full of Barriers

Relaunch Post-Mortem

Keep your homepages clean

Caught Up In the Semantic Web

Quality Ingredients Make Bookmarks

Second Dot Bomb To Hit Any Time Now

Biggest Canadian Internet Success Stories

On the Royal Roads (critique of e-Learning)

Browsers Wars Wage On – 1 Dead (Netscape), Opera Fights On

I'll be working on term papers (including a semiotic analysis of social bookmarking) over the next few days, but if you have some time before the holidays are over then please check these out.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Browsers Wars Wage On – 1 Dead (Netscape), Opera Fights On

Huge news regarding web browsers

Netscape is officially dead as of today. (See Netscape’s blog or CNET for details)

Netscape was practically dead once AOL purchased it, and then buried when AOL decided to use Internet Explorer as its default browser. Now the tombstone can be engraved.

The browser wars have waged for years. A couple years ago it seemed like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had won. But spunky Netscape went open source, becoming Mozilla and thus Netscape’s scion Firefox was born to continue the familial battle.

Netscape continued on, but the battle was essentially fought by Firefox, who made some significant ground in the last couple years.

Yes there Apple’s Safari, but it hasn’t been a serious player – rather more a Switzerland figure in holding their own cloistered territory but not penetrating beyond their rather neutral ground.

As a web developer, I loved the simplicity of programming for one browser. Sure made testing a lot easier and you knew what you were going to get. So I didn’t mind the IE monopoly, until years went by without any improvements in the IE browser.

During the years between Netscape’s demise and Firefox’s glorious rise, Opera kept up the good fight. Their browser introduced improvements and proved that we all didn’t have to settle for a static IE.

Opera continues to fight valiantly

This month Norway-based Opera filed an antitrust compliant with the European Union. As Opera states their grounds for this complaint:
The complaint describes how Microsoft is abusing its dominant position by tying its browser, Internet Explorer, to the Windows operating system and by hindering interoperability by not following accepted Web standards.

While I can see a case for bundling IE with Windows, I’m not sure how not following web standards is antitrust?

I’m all for web standards. In fact, during my efforts earlier in the year to make my company’s website accessibility, I decided to drop some good techniques because IE doesn’t support them. Almost all our visitors use IE, so there was little point.

It is instances like this that give cause to the fight. I look forward to seeing the outcome of Opera’s recent attack.

I mourn the loss of Netscape, but thanks to Opera and Firefox the war is not lost!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Cult of the Amateur Web 2.0 Critic

I got an early Christmas gift of "The Cult of the Amateur" by Andrew Keen and I have already finished it.

The book is short and offers little original or insightful web 2.0 or even web 1.0 criticism. There is some good, topical commentary on the downside of user-generated content, blogs, citizen journalism, and online copyright chaos. But a lot of the book rehashes tired, old Internet (and granted legitimate) criticisms about Internet porn and gambling, with some saccharine lamentations for the death of newspaper classifieds and others. Then much of the book simplistically blames the Internet for the death of record stores and identity theft as if the Internet was the only factor in their demise. The book also glazes over things with vehement tunnel vision.

Still, I don't regret having read it.

There has been so much hyperbole about the web lately and particularly web 2.o (I have not been alone in predicting this bubble 2.0 to burst soon.) I firmly believe that boosterism doesn't ultimately help - it pushes both the good and bad aspects forward. Acknowledging the shortcomings as you go and addressing them builds something much stronger and much greater.

When Keen's book came out in caused a stir in the blogosphere. By and large, I heard critics denouncing the book with the one-sided fervour of Keen. There was no insightful dialogue going on either way.

I understand that Keen wants to sell books and he does this by being sensational. You don't make a buzz with a treatise showing both sides of an issue. So, Keen takes a stand and single-mindedly argues it.

Keen does raise some very good points that need to be discussed and acted upon.

For instance, why do so many people believe - or at least want to believe - so much rubbish news that comes out of the blogs? Why do people need to have news fresh by the minute instead of waiting for the facts to come in. Why would I want my news or commentary from someone more opinionated than knowledgeable (I don't want any comments on this point - it's a rhetorical question!). These are the main reasons I so rarely read blogs. But then again, many people blog about things that no other sources would cover.

Keen is also critical of the low quality of most YouTube content. And again, why so many people watch it (mystery) and believe it all to be true (stupidity). Again, I almost never watch YouTube except that it has allowed some small-scale companies to distribute content otherwise not feasible, such as CommonCraft's educational & entertaining videos. And yes, I have been known to watch a few irresistible memes/fad stuff on YouTube. It's not like everything on TV or in magazines is all enlightening fare either - why should Mark Burnett and Rupert Murdoch have the monopoly on manufacturing crap?

Like Keen, I also find the flagrant copyright violations that the Internet enables to be troubling. Not all Web 2.0 fans are digital communists. Obviously, people should be compensated for their work, although more reasonable pricing would help everyone.

There is a lot of things wrong with what's happening on the Net, but I believe that even greater, more positive things are happening on it. I think it's important to address the problems. Although I wish it were a better book, I applaud Keen for proclaiming that the emperor has no clothes.

I Don't Get Google's Holiday Logo!!!

I love Google's changing logos, particularly around the holidays. Some of them are really cool, funky, or clever.

The current one is too clever for me though.

I don't understand it at all! Mousing over it reveals "Happy Holidays" so it definitely was intended to represent Christmas. There's some sort of Santa-like figure made out of ribbon, this I can discern, but why is Santa being whipped around by a crane? And why is the crane hanging some poor construction worker? How does this all wish me a merry holiday googling?

I feel like Elaine on Seinfeld just not getting the cartoon in The New Yorker. If you can figure it out, please let me know below!!!!

BTW, Yahoo copied Google awhile ago and started changing their logos every now and then. As a victory for Canada (as if the higher Canadian dollar lately wasn't enough) Yahoo Canada's logo is much nicer than the main Yahoo logo! (Ah who am I kidding, it's not like anything Yahoo Canada does anything in Canada. Their tiny office on Toronto's Front Street I've heard doesn't do anything except sell ads.)

Dec. 23 Update: Google changed their logo to another weird construction holiday logo and I'm more mystified! It appears they may be working towards something, click on the logo to see the others in the series. But I still don't get it and it's not making my yuletide festive, rather frustrating!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cyberchondriac or healthy surfing?

The CBC, my favourite online news source, ran a story three days ago on how people obsessively look up their medical ailments on the Web. The article, while pointing out some legitimate concerns, tended to depict these people as crackpots and hypochondriacs. Indeed, the article was even called Cyberchondriacs.

The article, I believe, missed some critical points:
  1. People are forced to turn to the Internet as our current medical system is so inadequate.
    For one, doctors spend scant minutes with a patient. Even our current doctor, who is less hurried than most, does not spend more than 15-20 minutes per visit at the most. There is little time for doctors to even get all the symptoms, let alone spend time educating their patients on the issue, full treatment options, and alternatives. Actually, alternatives are rarely mentioned - it is just pop a pill and call me in a few days if things don't get better. Information on the Web, and there are some great health websites that present reliable information, gives the details doctors do not provide so that patients can make informed decisions about their health. Maybe I have a trust issue, but just getting a pill and going on my merry way doesn't work for me - I need to know the issue in more depth, like should I avoid certain foods, not travel, try this natural remedy as well, etc.
  2. The article points on those who constantly think they are sick, but there are those who don't seek medical attention either at all or in timely fashion. Getting a sense of the severity of an issue from online sources can help encourage someone to seek medical attention.
  3. Second opinions - why our society think doctors are gods is beyond me. They are human and apt to make mistakes, not have time to fully look into something, or not know about all the details or latest research of certain issues. While one is often encouraged to "get a second opinion," it's not so easy to get another doctor and not practical for more minor issues. The Web can help be that second opinion. My wife has many times successfully diagnosed health ailments online that were later confirmed by the doctor. This made me trust the doctor all the more.
I'm not alone in looking up health info online, as CBC points out:
Well over half of online Canadians — 58 per cent — search the Internet for health information from home, up from 46 per cent five years ago, according to Statistics Canada.

I do see the problems cited by the CBC. Among the problems of researching health issues online are people relying on inaccurate websites and also those who decide to treat themselves and don't go to a doctor.

Another problem, which I experienced two months ago, is that it's easy on the Web to find worst case scenarios and horror stories. When my daughter had to be put under anesthesia for dental work, we found stories of children dying as a result of similar work. It did make me REALLY worried. But we were able to contextualize the rarity of these situations and to ask the dentist about precautions. The dentist, unlike some others, had taken extra steps (eg. hiring two extra specialists) that reassured us that he was better option than other dentists who did the procedure alone. I'd rather have known the risks and accounted for them than to not have known at all.

Without the Web, we would have been in the dark on this issue and many other vital health concerns.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Put Facebook to Work

Here is one of my mini-assignments. As it pertains to the Web and as I got a reasonably good mark on it, I'll share it...

The Ontario government in May, 2007, banned civil servants from accessing Facebook at work. Premier Dalton McGuinty described his reasons for blocking it: “I just don't really see how it adds value to the work you do in the workplace” (Flavelle, 2007). Many bandwagon-riding companies apparently shared McGuinty’s assessment, and Facebook was quickly banned at many workplaces. If McGuinty and other employers do not value workplace morale, workflow efficiency, or workforce communication, then they might have a point. With guidance, however, Facebook can be an effective corporate tool. It fosters co-worker cohesion, opens up communication, and remedies bureaucracy.

Michael Geist, an Internet scholar at the University of Ottawa, agrees that companies have misunderstood Facebook:

The attempts to block Facebook or punish users for stating their opinions fails to appreciate that social network sites are simply the Internet generation’s equivalent of the town hall, the school cafeteria, or the workplace water cooler... The answer does not lie in banning Facebook or the other emerging social media sites, but rather in facing up to Facebook fears and learning to use these new tools to engage and educate. (Geist, 2007)

Facebook was banned in many workplaces due to perceptions that staff was spending too much time on it. Some employees will always find ways to abuse company time, but this does not render any technology useless; instead, it means that these employees should be disciplined. Critiques that Facebook would become a gossip mill could be countered by establishing clear guidelines for its use and content. A perceived lack of control inclines some companies to try to build their own social network or to suggest that their intranet suffices. However, aside from the substantial cost to build and maintain these types of platforms, compared to Facebook’s zero cost, these efforts are prone to wither, due to a notorious lack of support and no organic capacity for growth that Facebook has. New recruits, particularly younger ones, are already using this tool and expect prospective employers to allow it. These workers have experience creating and sustaining thriving Facebook communities and want to bring Facebook to work with them. With planning and supervision, Facebook can be put to work for most companies.

It is recognized by companies that co-workers’ social relationships are invaluable for business operations, but corporate events are often too poorly attended or too infrequent to be very effective. Some companies have already set up their own Facebook networks and groups, based on social, project, and team lines. Co-workers can then share personal and career details, get to know each other better, develop rapport, and build trust online. This social networking can also be extended to include clients, partners, and other work contacts. Facebook is available around the clock to help employees connect when, and where, they want.

Communicating at most offices is problematic. There is distrust of officially-sanctioned news and complaints that communications are only top down and one way. Communicating on Facebook is easy, as it enables personal and group blogs, sharing of links and information, group and individual messages, and discussions. Geographic barriers are also a communication barrier, as more companies have global, multi-site, or virtual offices. Facebook bridges both distance and hierarchy. It allows multi-channel and targeted communications in which any employee can participate. Established guidelines will inspire employees to be constructive, and if employees feel that they are connected and heard, they will remain positive contributors.

Bureaucracy or silo-mentality at many workplaces makes the daily process of getting work done difficult. Often co-workers do not know one another, and with a lack of trust, work does not move as smoothly as it could. In other cases, employees are not even aware that co-workers possess the experience or skills needed for specific projects. With a nourished workplace Facebook community, employees have the online opportunity to build knowledge and rapport that can than be taken offline to help operations hum.

Banning Facebook is counterproductive. By improving communication, developing relationships, and increasing cooperation, Facebook provides an existing, organic environment for companies to help achieve a more efficient and engaged workforce. Facebook could turn out to be the hardest-working employee of all.

Flavelle, D. (2007, May 04). Worries follow rise of Facebook. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from

Geist, M. (2007, May 07). Facing up to Facebook fears. Retrieved November 29, 2007, from

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Royal Road Warrior

I'm now two weeks into my residency at Royal Roads University. So what can I say that I have learned? A lot. So much, that nothing comes to mind. Ummm...

Okay, I'm really burned out. They are working us like dogs here. Well it could be that now that I'm an old student (I don't like the term "mature student" as anyone who knows me will attest that mature is certainly not a word to describe me) I'm taking my studies extremely more seriously than I ever did during my undergrad. Here's a description of how far I have fallen:
  • Lame: all my readings are pretty much done ahead of class
  • Sad: my essays are largely completed at least a day ahead of class, so that I have time for proofing & revising
  • Odd: I get up earlier than I need to so I can polish up assignments, get ready, etc.
  • Pathetic: I pass up opportunities to go drinking, so I can stay on top of my work
  • Frightening: I'm starting work on assignments due a month from now
  • Unbelievable: I opt for fruits & vegetables instead of eating my supply of Kraft Dinner

Aside from the rather brutal workload and my overly-serious attitude - and of course, missing my family incredibly much, the residency has been pretty great!

The instructors are amazing, the campus is probably the most beautiful in Canada, and my classmates are very friendly and interesting. Living in res these last two weeks felt like stepping back in time to my undergrad res years: the gossip, the drama, the late nights, the procrastination!

So what have I learned that I can share with you dear Webslinger readers? Ummm...

Semiotics isn't that bad. Don't climb the ladder of inference. Some academics are obsessed with grammar, while others can't write worth shit. APA style is fussy, but fine. Peacocks crap all over the place. The Participatory paradigm seems to fit. Halle Berry isn't very nice (X-Men was filmed here, staff have stories about her; Hugh Jackman, though, is very nice). Semicolons combine two independent clauses. We're stuck in a hermeneutic circle of life. I can use big words almost-correctly now. Everything somehow fits into Communications.

How this all relates to the Internet? Not sure.