Category Archives: Standards

Inclusive design presentation, now on TV

I’ve been told my presentation at last July’s WordCamp Sydney 2012 has finally made it to WordPress TV. Even though I don’t really like the sound of my voice or my annoying ticks and gestures, I thought it would be a good companion to the page of Inclusive Design resources I posted at the time.

A friend told me that it is now listed as a “Popular Video” on the front page of WP TV, so I thought I’d take advantage of the SEO love while I can. I apologise for the video being Flash and not HTML5, but if you visit the site you can also download the H264 version from the site.

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PayPal Developer Day

I went to the PayPay Developer Day at The Grace Hotel yesterday, which was described as the launch of  a community for PayPal developers in Australia, the first country outside the US (and Canada?) to participate.  I’ve since noticed the UK in there as well. Since they rightly recognised that developers are their front line and are often the people who scope and recommend a payment processing option, they want to both support and influence their decisions.

Unfortunately it was more of a marketing than developer event, with not enough real world examples and more of a lecture-based set of presentations. As one dev put it, he could have happily followed a few links to play with new features in the API in his own time, as he gained nothing extra from the half-day session away from his computer(s). Devs don’t “look” at code as much as some people think; they look at code as much as cooks “read” recipes. They want to bite into code and try the new ingredients in their own kitchens and with their own pots, pans and spices, and their ideas for flavour combinations. They are very much hands-on people.

But for those with their planning or implementation hats on it was a great day. If you need your payment process channel to do more, and you like the types of tools and features PayPal offers, then selling it as the solution has become much easier. The devs are well supported, both with a local developer centre for all the devs who pass the PayPal Certified Developer exam, as well as a sandbox to test out your installed APIs and mods.

I was a bit worried that it ended earlier than scheduled, so maybe they trimmed out too much from what they thought would fill the day, but I had a great talk with a few of their reps. Seems like The Australian office is pushing the US office for more agility and improvement on the User interface, which looks like it was designed by coders from the 90′s and has no design considerations at all. And it looks like the locals here will get to influence what happens in code much more, by being vocally involved in the dev centre. And to top it off, they were giving out free exams to the first 150 through the event, a saving of $300 (three exams, $100 each).

If you use paypay on your site(s) or are a developer or Project Manager considering a payment gateway or agent, the new tools available, and the certification process presented by paypal will definitely get you closer to a better pay experience.

The difference between helping and hating your customer

One thing I am extremely passionate about, are sites that include a crucial process, like joining membership or soliciting feedback or making a purchase, that think about what I might feel about their process. I can’t stand form fields with conditions (i.e.: username requires special characters) that I’m not told about until the form fails, registrations that have a field that is required, yet is not marked as such, forms that don’t retain your information when they fail so you have to fill it out all over again… that sort of insult. That’s what it is, an insult. Terrible websites built by uncaring cowboys.

I just paid several dollars for the privilege of booking tickets that do not need to be posted and that I had to spend very many tries to get through the process; each time there was a difficulty, there was now way to return to the process except by leaving. The process was incredibly complex, involved needing to make choices I could not see, had no helper through the process, gave no indication what part of the process I was involved in, moved me through THREE different domains that had pages that looked different from each other and was generally the most uncomfortable process I have encountered in years.

Now I have made very complex purchases from dedicated or free Open Source-powered websites in the past, I have even set up an online shop or two myself and have some inkling as to what is possible and necessary. I do have to state that this particular purchase recently encountered was designed by a rude bastard who cared nothing for the people having to go through the process. we would be surprised to walk into a well-known shop that has the plumbing exposed, half-broken stock display units, dangerous wiring, etc, but we tolerate it in websites for some bizarre reason.

Whenever I encounter an online process like this, unless it is crucial I get it from them, I’d rather not reward them for their insult and look for it elsewhere, even if I have to spend an extra ten minutes of my own time to do so.

MOO Cards get it right.

From their attention to helping me find what I want, through a complex design and upload and selection processes that require no instructions at all, to fantastic delivery, communications process, perfect customer care to real love for me and my experience with them.

Get this, they quoted me free shipping erroneously, openly told me they would charge shipping later, which I assumed and agreed to anyway, made sure I saw the shipping costs and got my permission, and then they AUTOMATICALLY checked the process and decided that since one of four screens showed no shipping that they would refund me the shipping anyway.

Ordered, printed, delivered wrapped (with five discount coupons for friends) and received in 5 days, London to Sydney.

Guess who gets my custom again? And guess who I’m raving about to friends and colleagues?

zackly!

The Tribe at WordCamp Australia

WordCamp Australia, Day 1

Only about 75 people here, in a small hangar like cavern, quite appropriately called the big red box in canal street, Sydney. (Sorry, gotta complete my wordpress upgrade before I add the images!)

On the bus home, hired macbook on my lap (don’t get me started on how my MacBookPro died after a simple Safari update on Wednesday!!), reflecting on a good day at #wordcampau.

Instead of some florid exponation of how cool it feels to be here (v!) and the quality of the people attending (high!) I thought I’d riff on Matt Mullenwag whom I never met before but got a good feeling from the second I met him.

If there is anyone I would like to run my business (or organisation) or run a business I depend on, it’d be him. Calm, humble in the face of talented critics, open-minded to everything that is mentioned, charming to both the thoughtful and ignorant in equal measure, I beleive Matt is a example of a good leader (in the Seth Godin definition) of a tribe. His real passion in both wordpress.org and wordpress.com, and in the desires and aims of the people who use the tools he and his company Automattic create and drive for us is tangible.

Contrast that with the arrogant, obnoxious, controlling nature of people like Steve Ballmer and it becomes very clear who inspires and influences grass roots passion and who is intent on control and manipulation.

Good to see and truly inspiring of confidfence in the WordPress future.

On a side note, special thanks to Adam Makda at Next Byte / Rushcutters Bay who got me an excellent mac to hire at a decent price for a week while their techies at Broadway branch repair my sick Mac Book Pro. Advice on how to restore from Time Machine and even an offer of his personal mobile number in case I needed tech support during he weekend. Another truly helpful, committed and passionate person who cares about what they do.

Contact me if you want to know how easy it is to restore a disk from Time Machine in record time with a minimum of fuss.

On to day two at Word Camp Australia!

Obama, Palin and the twitterverse

Now that the dust has settled on the US election, with a clear and confident victory for Barak Obama and IMHO the US people in general, I thought I’d take a little look at my personal experience of election day, which, if you know me you’d be aware, was conducted entirely online.

Even today I received a tweet that the Obama campaign chose Apple and are very technologically aware. Gone are the days when modern heads of state can consider online communications something aides and secretaries and PAs do and stay personally removed from it. It is very interesting to hear Republican pundits talking about Obama’s “bottom up” approach and him being an “open-source”  candidate.

Alex Castellanos cites the book The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which, without going into too much detail, discusses the difference between older, Industrial-Age models of “top-down” approaches versus more modern (some might say “older and more historically successful”) models of “bottom-up”, collaborative, inclusive and flexible ways of getting things done.

That’s the place I was in while watching the election; although “watching” is a very loose description, as I was in a way, immersed in it, alongside the other activities I was involved in (coding, email, music, etc.). What was fascinating for me that day was what was happening in the twitterverse and how so many people were sharing not only the experience, but disparate online resources, to share facets of the election experience together.

I don’t need to list them all but to give you a flavour, there were people sharing links to live electoral maps of varying quality and scope, quoting and referencing mainstream news sources alongside more esoteric, specialist, independent or underground news, redistributing, retweeting and republishing opinions, facts, vids and images from the past two years, all relevant to the November 5 elections; all in their own way, personal. One tweep even corroborating a previous comment with three sources, one, an email from his aunt in the states, who got a text from Illinois. Horse’s mouth indeed! It really did exemplify what a friend called “a public conversation”.

I was also reminded of the discussions in campaigning circles these past few years about the effect of the internet on any political campaign, worried about embarassing information coming out. One tweet reminded me that YouTube was launched (Feb-May-Dec 2005) AFTER the last US election and is now already a mainstream information channel (as well as a place to watch idiots riding their bikes of of suburban rooftops) for many people. A few minutes (minutes!) after Obama was declared the winner there were compilation videos and tributes available on YouTube and uStream announced they were the official streaming partner of the campaign, ready with a video stream of his acceptance speech.This at a time when it was discovered (we knew it before they did!) that McCain staff had turned off TV displays with the live information people there were wanting.

And I am certain that even the politically unaware have heard of the Palin/Sarkozy telephone prank or the video of Palin attempting to deny she previously thought Africa was a country. Google it yourself if you haven’t.

But this is exactly the “bottom-up”, bazaar world we are now in, where news travels as fast as one can hit the return key and a million people can be reading each other simultaneously and that comments from very different sources (trad news/actors/friends/colleagues/strangers) can all have a place for us and WE do the aggregating ourselves. If you want to talk about grass-roots politics we the people are doing it for ourselves and I m very hapy to see that there is a plac e for free and open conversation, real conversation in the twitterverse.

What’s in a standard

As mentioned earlier, I run the Web Standards Meetup London and really get a kick out of talking the semantics of web-page creation with the excellent people who come to these meetings. I like combining the ease of a digital meet-space like meetup or facebook or LinkedIn with the pleasure of actively listening or truly interacting with real people in meat-space. Some people might find it too geeky, but for me it’s a perfect example of what makes the internet so interesting, the people involved.

Last night for example, we had an hour long conversation about the relative merits of where and what you put in the h1 tag for particular pages in a site. I have seen (OK, read!) some very passionate but polite discussions in mailing lists and the like about issues like these and, personally, it is important to you and your granny that some people ARE passionate about these questions.

Imagine if the people who were responsible for maintaining their websites were not passionate about the lowly h1 tag, and, by extension, all the other tags involved in creating pages. Actually you don’t have to imagine, as it happens all too often and this lack of passion is the reason that visitors have trouble on their site. Badly formatted code or non semantically structured sites can decrease findability, reduce availability in web searching, and break the appearance of the site for people who use assistive technologies, like blind people with screen readers.

So, thankfully, there are some of us who care, and our clients and friends benefit from it. drop me a line if you want to hear more about it.

Standardistas Unite!

Carrying on from my theme about using the online world to support rather than supplant the physical world, I thought I’d tell you about these monthly meetings I have been holding since late 2007, in London.

Called the Web Standards Meetup London, they aim to allow practitioners to discuss problems and successes with implementing web standards. There are a few other groups in London that do this but none as casually as this one, in a loose, network style.

What’s the big deal, then with web standards, anyway?

Quite a bit actually, and it has to do with how people and computers “read” websites, what we want from websites, both as users and creators/commissioners, and how to create structure around meaningful content so everyone wins. I’ll be discussing aspects of web standards over the next few months in here and on other sites on occasion but in the short-term, the elevator-pitch, as it were, is simply:

Semantically structured, standards-compliant, gracefully accessible web content, created with all visitors in mind, makes a website better for everyone and everything that visits it, from web-crawling search-spiders to web-savvy cyber-surfers.

The big problem has always been that people think it costs extra to code in this way or that the site will be less functional or attractive than it could be, but the opposite is true, actually. Once you set compliance, usability and findability as your target, the rest of the issues fall into place and it becomes easier to build, if you know how to.

So several of us (the group numbers 90 at present, but about 10 – 15 of us meet monthly) gather round and discuss what we can do to progress these practices into the wider web community. We would never have been able to organise something like this so easily without a site like Meetup or Upcoming to help one manage people and meeting dates.

So even though you may spend a few hours a week catching up with friends and colleagues on the internet, don’t forget to meet them in the flesh, in “meat-space” to make sure you can really connect! There4 really is no point to social networking sites unless you use them to occasionally meet and network physically.

If you are interesetd in the topic by the way, join up and I may even buy you a beer! *

*first few actual meat-space attendees and to be taken with a grain of salt!

Usability? Your problem, according to Skype

Isn’t it great to be told that when a site does not work, it is YOUR fault?

I went to skype.com to download the latest release for my Mac, went to the downloads page, and landed on the default Windows download page. OK, I’m used to this and expect it, even though I thought they used to sniff out my OS and browser and deliver me to the MacOSX Download page automatically. (For those of you not aware, all browsers tell the webserver what browser and operating system the visitor is using. It is trivial for a web designer to utilise this when it needs to.) So I click on the well signposted MacOSX Downloads link and click on the helpful big green button saying Skype 2.7 for Mac OS X Download.

So far so good.

So you’d now expect to see a download progress bar right? No, I get redirected to the Windows download page, which does not allow me to download the Win version either. To my experienced eyes, this is a clear example of some logistical loop on the web server. Someone has tried something clever, some web redirect to make the site deliver the file according to the OS given, right? No problem, all developers are human so I pop over to the poorly signposted help button and several clicks later (where there is no mention of the possibility that one would have trouble downloading) I manage to get a message off to support to get some assistance. The form asks me my OS, browser, skype version, etc… and leaves me space to tell them I am trying to download the latest Mac release, and would like a direct link to the file or dmg as required.

Guess what the reply, 24 hours later, is?

==============

Hello Joe,

Thank you for contacting Skype Support.

You should try to download as follows:
Close your current Skype by clicking the Skype icon in the system tray (the green spot in the bottom right hand corner) and choosing “Quit” from there.

It is suggested to clear your web browser cache to make sure you don’t get the old version again.
How to delete cache in Internet Explorer:
Go to Internet Explorer –> Tools –> Internet Options –> General and under Temporary internet files select ‘Delete files..’
How to delete cache in Mozilla:
Go to Mozilla –> Tools –> Options –> Privacy –> Clear cache.

Go to http://www.skype.com/download.html
Click download -> Download File -> Open… and off it goes. *If you again experience the issue, please repeat the downloading process while using an alternate browser.*

Later when you have logged in, check Help -> About to see whether you have the right version

Please reset your firewall for Skype as sometimes the old settings may need to be completely refreshed after an upgrade.

*Please note, that firewall does not completely disable Skype from connecting, but may be causing this connection quality.

1) Make sure your status is set to Online. Go to Skype > File > Change Online Status > select “Online”. You can also right click the Skype icon in the taskbar > Online Status > select “Online”.

2) Download and install our latest Skype version found here: http://www.skype.com/download/

3) If you have recently upgraded or installed Skype then your Firewall needs a new rule in the exception list. Even if the previous version of Skype is already in the exception list, delete it and create a new rule for Skype. If you have more than one Firewall each of your Firewalls will require a rule allowing Skype to connect to the internet. Sometimes Firewalls allow Skype to connect for a number of days before blocking it.
For firewall setup – http://www.skype.com/help/guides/firewall.html

4) Another reason for that may be a proxy that is blocking your access to the Internet. Ask your Network Administrator to help you on that matter.

5) If none of the above helps and you fail to connect to the Skype network, it is likely that your firewall is blocking these connections and you need to open up some outgoing ports. Note that this refers only to outgoing connections, not incoming connections. In most firewalls, you have to specify a destination port or port range to open. There are four options for Skype to work:

*Ideally, outgoing TCP and UDP connections to all high-range ports (1024..65535) should be opened.
*If the above is not possible, open up outgoing TCP connections up to port 443 & 80. Some firewalls restrict traffic on port 80 to HTTP protocols only, in this case Skype can not use it since we do not use HTTP. With some firewalls it is possible to open up all traffic to port 80, not just HTTP, in this case Skype will work.

* If none of the above is possible, Skype can use a HTTPS/SSL proxy. In order to do that, you have to configure the proxy address in Internet Explorer options. Then Skype will be able to use the proxy as well.

6) You may also try the following:
* Close Skype
* Go to C:\Program Files\Skype\Phone and rename Skype.exe. E.g. rename it to Skype1.exe or similar
* Start Skype using the new renamed file (if renaming the Skype program file helped you then it is definitely a matter of a firewall blocking Skype.exe

Best regards,

Brigitta – Skype Support

==============

Those of you who know your way around a mac can see this is a reply for WindowsXP users. I’m not saying that Mac users, a clear minority, deserve top line attention. I do believe that if you do offer software and support to Mac users, you retain awareness they are using a Mac. So in short, Brigitta

  • did not read the form Skype creates, clearly displaying the OS
  • did not direct me to a direct download
  • sent me a stock answer, after I filled in a detailed form with my problem

So on my reply, where I ask them to both review my original support ticket and note that I am using a mac and therefore WindowsXP support instructions will not help, received the following reply:

==============

Hello Joe,

Thank you for contacting Skype Support.

Please try to download Skype for Mac OS X using Safari, if using Mozilla Firefox fails.

Best regards,

Mihkel S.
Skype support

==============

Once again, I ask them to send me a direct link to the download, after I tried Safari, Camino, Flock and Opera.

The thing is, I clearly asked them to test this link with a Mac from outside their network in my original email. I am certain that no-one did any such thing nor did they post a ticket to the web team to ask them to do so either. Most sites that offer downloads also offer options and direct links to the downloads as well as these automated options.

What one does not want is to be told the problem is mine, but to be told the problem is under investigation. Surely I cannot be alone?