User experience, web, technology

Need to search the Web for something? Try this instead of Google (okay, I know you’ll end up back at Google, but this is cool, so try it once):

It shows your search results as a cluster diagram. So, for instance, if you search for our dear, lovable old “Noel Heikkinen,” you’ll find clusters for the following:

  • All Results
  • email noel
  • journal
  • heikkinen (which happens to be bold, I assume they think it is the most relevant)
  • jr
  • pm
  • church
  • by noel heikkinen

Clicking on a cluster will bring up a results page that shows a list of links as we’re more accustomed to. Mooter also shows a custom sidebar on those pages that you can use to jump to different clusters.

So, thoughts? I think it’s encouraging to see this alternate approach to providing search results. It seems a more relational model (visually, at the very least) than going by sheer link relevancy or popularity. Google rearranged the world of search by introducing the link popularity idea. Other search engines have been running scared since, and while there are rumors of the future downfall of Google due to comparable lack of demographic data (compared to Yahoo! for instance

User experience, web, technology

Sort or search your email?

So, my inbox has 294 messages in it right now. When it gets to around 500 or so I usually go on a crusade to bring it to under 100. This involves throwing messages into folders and deleting lots and lots of no longer important ones that I won’t need.

So, this concept of not using folders to organize email is intriguing to me. I do this already within the folders, like if I’m only looking for messages from an individual, or sometimes I’ll do a subject or body search within folders if I have a sense of what I’m looking for. Why wouldn’t I just do that all the time, in one huge inbox?

Here’s a big old discussion about searching through email archives.

User experience, web, technology

Hm, a bug.

So, the background color isn’t showing in the Flash movie at the top. Any ideas? It wouldn’t have to do with the fact that it is not one of the sacrosanct web-safe colors, I would hope. Not sure. Using #eef.

Eventually the fading photo thing will be working on each photo section. In time.

User experience, web, technology

Two “separate” readings

First, Digital Web Magazine is redesigned. I think it looks sharp, nice colors. I wonder how much the design was influenced by the IA site, Boxes & Arrows

User experience, web, technology

Props to Capital Area District Library on their web site

Was just looking up something on the CADL site for my wife, and, as is my habit, I took a quick peek at the HTML code (View -> View Source in Safari). I was pleased to see first that it appears to be valid XHTML 1.0, and quickly noted some nice uses of accesskey attributes in the a elements. Very humane coding. Nice.

Specifically, I noted this pattern repeated for nav links:

<a href="/databases/"
title="Research Tools and Databases. AccessKey: d"
Research Tools

The title attribute will inform users of which accesskey is set for which link.

To see how this works, hold your mouse over the following link.
Capital Area District Library
Then, if you are on a Mac, hold down the CTRL key and that key on your keyboard. If you are using Safari, that should just load up that URL for you.

If you are on a Windows machine, you might need to press ALT or some other key. I’m not sure. Try something. May the force be with you.

The reason we care is that we are always open to ways of making our web sites more accessible for people with disabilities, and the accesskey can be quite helpful for people who may not be in a position to use a mouse. I imagine that some assistive technologies make use of the attribute as well.

If anyone out there knows more of the nitty-gritty detail of how the accesskey attribute is practically applied, I’m interested.

User experience, web, technology

XML/RSS is awesome

I just downloaded and installed NetNews Wire Lite. It is super-easy and fast. And it’s free. You add RSS feeds that want to receive updates from, and it let’s you scan news items very quickly.

What a great example of XML in action! (RSS docs are specific kinds of XML docs)

On that, I’m seriously considering burying my head in XSLT. Any recommendations on a good book?

User experience, web, technology

Venting (&^$%#@!!!) about a web host company.


Launching a web site really should be a simple matter. I’ve deployed hundreds of web sites over the last few years. Most of the time, it is a simple matter of backing up some files, uploading some new files, and occassionally making a DNS change so that a domain name actually points to said files. Sometimes it takes five minutes; sometimes half a day, if the site is really large. It may be more complex than that, but, generally speaking, it’s not hard.

If you think about it, making a site available to the public is really just one small step in a much larger series of tasks in building a site.

So, anyway, this evening I was doing a site launch. I started at around 5 p.m. I took about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, out to help with Lila and to eat dinner.

This launch should have been fifteen minutes. It’s turned into three hours, and I am not satisfied yet.

The main cause of the delays is that the web host has set up the account in a very inhospitable way. For instance:

  • PHP files must be put in the cgi directory to work. This kind of goes against the point of PHP files
User experience, web, technology

Plug for Mr. Tufte

“One visionary day….the insights of this class lead to new levels of understanding both for creators and viewers of visual displays.”

“The Leonardo da Vinci of data.”

Tufte has courses coming up in Dearborn, MI in mid-April.

I attended one of his courses in Chicago about a year and a half ago. It was the best one-day course I’ve ever attended, hands-down. Well worth the cost.

User experience, web, technology

Sir Inventor of the Web

Tim Berners-Lee is now Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Congrats, Sir Tim.

User experience, web, technology

Semantic vs. valid markup

Scott Pennington of Matrix at Michigan State University emailed an interesting link to me. The SimpleBits blog has a post and discussion of semantic markup of a page heading. A fairly elementary quiz starts it off, but the range of perspectives in the discussion starts to show the complexity of semantic markup.

On the one hand, if something is a paragraph, mark it up as a paragraph. If it is a list, mark it up as a list. Pretty straightforward.

But, semantic markup is not the same as valid markup. You can write markup that is perfectly valid, but not at all semantic.

For instance, when I worked at Michigan State University I was working on a pretty large web project, and we had just deployed a near-final version as most of the team went on a holiday break. While on vacation I got a few calls: one from my boss and another from a consultant they were bringing in to do a little more work.

I figured everything was fine, but when I came back I found out that all of the semantic, valid paragraph markup in the web site had been replaced with double line breaks between “paragrahs.” There wasn’t an actual paragraph left in the whole site. Sure, visually there was, but in terms of semantic markup, they had vanished.

Upon asking the rationale, the answer was that line breaks gave you more control over spacing between page elements. Anyone who has a clue will realize, of course, that you don’t control spacing on web sites with line breaks, you control it with CSS.

After trying to explain the issues to my boss, I ended up having to live with the non-semantic markup. The issue was deemed as a difference of opinion between two programmers, and neither position was wrong. How very diplomatic. I personally think it devalued the end product we gave the client.

This was just at the beginning of semantic markup becoming a big issue in the web community, so I had very little literature or other examples to draw upon. I feel somewhat validated as my stance on the issue has since been backed up by some of the leading names in the web field.