User experience, web, technology

LukeW. linking to my web tips!

This is cool: I referenced Luke Wroblewski’s book “Site Seeing: A Visual Approach to Web Usability” in some of my web tip articles on my professional site, and he found them and linked back.

Take a look. As of today, the links back to are at the bottom of the page under the Consulting header.

User experience, web, technology

Visual description of an HTML element

Click on the words above to see the differences between an element, element content, attribute name, attribute value, start tag, and end tag.

This is the first version of this “diagram,” so bear with me. Let me know if you have any feedback on it.

User experience, web, technology

PHP tab navigation switcher

I don’t consider myself a web programmer, but I have occasionally fiddled with the odd perl script, php, or asp code snippets. I had a situation yesterday that caused me to want to come up with a php script that would switch tab graphics on a web site, based on the URL of the page.

I’m building the site with Dreamweaver, and my client is going to use Contribute to maintain it. So, I have a page template for the majority of the pages in the site. The navigation is a set of horizontal tabs, and if you are in a certain section of the site, the navigation tabs should indicate that you are in that section.

Unfortunately, this might have meant creating a separate template file for each section of the web site. I thought about this for a few moments, visualizing the nightmare of updates this might create, and decided to try mashing together a script that would solve my problems.

I started by looking through the URL parser in a file I use on my site to create breadcrumb navigation based on the directory. Once I had that piece nailed down, I simply assigned a variable with the part of the URL in question, and then did a series of if else statements to determine which navigation tab html code to include.

So, the pieces:

  1. navswitcher.php — this determines which html navigation file to include based on the part of the URL immediately following the domain name
  2. a separate html file containing just the code needed for the navigation tabs; one file per section
  3. the php include line to add to the Dreamweaver template file where the navigation is supposed to be

Here is the navswitcher code:

// retrieve and parse the web address after the domain name
$str = $PHP_SELF;

ereg("^(.+)/.+\\..+$", $str, $part);
$str = $part[1];
$str = substr($str, 1);

// for the first example, the URL might be
// this script grabs the "client" part and makes it the value of $str

// set directory name variables
$navfiles = "/path/to/html/nav/files";

$client 	= 	"client";
$services 	= 	"services";
$portfolio 	= 	"portfolio";

// set up cases where $str will match certain values and output different files
if ($str == $client)

elseif ($str == $services)

elseif ($str == $portfolio)

// if none of those, then it must need the default home navigation
else include("$navfiles/main_home.txt");

That code should go into its own file which would then be included in the Dreamweaver template (or from whichever file you need it in).

Doing it this way enabled the site to work from a single Dreamweaver template file, instead of one for each section of the site.

This solution also separates the navigation html itself from the scripting that puts it in place. This means that my client will be able to edit those individual files when they need changing, rather than have to mess around with all the PHP code or Dreamweaver templates (which would require that he own Dreamweaver).

User experience, web, technology

Burning the midnight oil

So we’re here in my office. Chey has been working on her thesis practically all day and it is now tomorrow.

Her old, broken down laptop has been giving her problems. I initialized the hard drive and reinstalled the OS today to help make this go faster. The drop down menus were starting to get flaky…working and not working at their leisure. The clean system seems to have taken care of the problem.

Part of the problem is probably that her Word file is almost 7 MB (most Word files are measured in double digit kilobytes).

Meanwhile, I’m trying to organize all the stuff I have going on work-wise. I just made a “marketing” folder and dropped all the stuff about advertising in it. I should probably pull that folder out on a regular basis to figure out what I’m doing with the marketing part of this business. If anyone has ideas, I’m listening.

I wrote an article, Thinking critically about home pages, and have been thinking about submitting it to some local magazines. I put a query in to the Greater Lansing Business Monthly, but that came back with a negative. I’m wondering if the Lansing Chamber of Commerce has a use, and I’m wondering if it has potential as a piece for the Sunday tech section of the Lansing State Journal. There is a tech section, right?

User experience, web, technology

Study suggests shift in methodology for web development is needed

A recent study mentioned by CyberAtlas (formerly NUA Internet Surveys), Errors Rampant on Gov’t sites, found that 68% of U.S. government web sites had web application failures. Of those with failures, 61% had technical errors and 7% had incorrect data errors. The report suggests that a large portion of other errors were user failure errors, indicating a lack of perspective on the user-experience during site development.

The report ends with a quote from Diane Smith, an analyst with the Business Internet Group of San Francisco who collaborated on the study, “Government agencies can only achieve a comprehensive view of their Web site health by incorporating the perspective of the end user into the testing and monitoring process.”

Preach on.

Incidentally, the IRS web site apparently does quite well, passing the review with flying colors.

To me, the report verified a phenomenon that I have seen before. That is, web development teams are staffed by server and database admins, coders, programmers, project managers, designers, and writers, but quite commonly the user is left out of the picture. You get all these people with all these highly specialized skills and together they manage to forget about how the audience they are building the site for will actually handle the site.

Or, perhaps they don’t forget about it, but they think they can imagine how a user would interact. But then they don’t take the extra step of actually finding out in user testing and other user-centered design practices.

It is really one of the cheapest parts of web development, yet it is just so easy to forget about or brush aside.

User experience, web, technology

I have a workaround…

Oh, and just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I have a workaround functioning in place of MS Access. It is crazy to me that I had to put together some web pages to accomplish the fairly simple task that Access was supposed to do.

User experience, web, technology

MS Access is my nemesis.

So, I’ve been working on a project involving OLE data fields in MS Access (exported from SQL server tables). Simply put, the data went in, but it does not come out. Access has trapped the data and is holding it hostage. No ransom amount has been communicated.

I take this to be extremely hostile. I thought applications were supposed to operate with the principle, “Thou shalt not screw thine users nor their data.”

In true Micro$oft form, all I get are esoteric error messages about the OLE server and Active X Controls that don’t go away even after I’ve followed the instructions on the Microsoft tech support documents and other “help-me-gurus–I’m stuck” web sites.

From this point on, I shall do what I can to persuade my clients to not put their valuable information in Access.

User experience, web, technology

Say goodbye, Netscape.

Here’s the intro blurb from an MSNBC article:

Is this the end of Netscape?
By David Becker

May 29

User experience, web, technology

xsl to tranform xhtml pages

I don’t know why it took me this long to realize this. I’ve been writing xhtml for a couple years now, and around the same time I started playing with xsl stylesheets, but it just occurred to me in a real way that I can probably use xslt to transform my xhtml pages (at my business site, for instance) into forms more useful to other devices. Cell phones and PDAs, for instance.

It probably took me so long because XHTML looks so much like HTML to me, that it didn’t completely sink in that it is truly XML. Yet it is, namespaces and all.

Now that I realize this, I appreciate even more it’s role as an intermediary between html and xml. XHTML doesn’t need xsl to transform it or style it. It is so close to real html that even older browsers can handle it fine, and it works very smoothly with css as is.

So, this realization basically just means that making my site more available on handhelds is even easier than I first thought. Granted, I haven’t gotten into the sticky details of it all yet…

User experience, web, technology

help design this page – calendar, y or n?

MovableType blog calendar
MovableType blog calendar

As I’m slowly working through this new web page, I’m looking at each piece of the page. Right now I’m looking at the calendar.

It’s kinda cool as it gives a visual representation of what days have entries. On the other hand, the Recent Entries right below it seem more informative to me.

My rule of thumb it to get rid of page elements that don’t add significant value for web visitors.

So, my question to you is, does this calendar add to your value or not? Vote by commenting on this entry. Your answers will determine whether the calendar stays or goes.