Traffic Quantity vs. Quality

Last week was spring break here at Wayne State. We had a significant drop in visitors to the main wayne.edu site. Below is the graph in green the previous week while in blue the spring break week. This seemed normal at first glance since less students were on campus to login at the library where wayne.edu is the homepage.

break-graph.gif

What is interesting is the quantity of visits went up. The basic stats are below, the numbers seem reasonable with a drop in bounce rate, increased time on site and a large percentage of new visitors.

break-stats.gif

It is probably safe to say current students in the library have a specific task in mind when they get on the computer. Since wayne.edu’s primary audience is prospective students bounce rates are high among current students. It is hard to distinguish if the increase in numbers is from the drop in current students bouncing directly off the site or real prospective students results actually coming through and not washed out by current students.

Time to celebrate! IE8 will default to standards mode.

In a surprise move yesterday Microsoft announced it has changed its position on the default rendering engine of IE8 from IE7 rendering to the bleeding edge standards mode. This is a HUGE win for web developers across the world, the average user and everyone with a disability.

Making the standards mode “standard” means the web will no longer be forked and actually it will be converging many existing forks into a single unified path. In one sense it will make the web developers life easier in another it will allow the web to advance at a faster pace, everyone will be looking at the same goal.

Those lazy developers I talked about before will have to update their skills or they will be out of a job. It will also be a platform to hold large companies accountable, they no longer have the “broken standards” excuse to fall back on. It will also unify the accessibility options out their, if they are all reading from standard HTML and CSS they can present the page with fewer quirks instead of trying to render the mismatch of IE hacked pages out there.

The decision comes at a time when the web is evolving from adolescence to adulthood. The tools for a useful web focused on the user have been building and this decision will leapfrog the web into a platform which will only enhance what a user can do virtually.

We embrace this decision with open arms and are ready for the challenge to educate future web developers on the need and requirement to use standards not only as a best practice but as a necessity. The standards have been developed for a reason, without them many professions would become dangerous, the web was becoming a dangerous place to code.

Again from all the web developers in the world, thank you Microsoft. Your decision to work with the community instead of dictate will be welcomed world wide.

Don't fork the web, IE8 meta switch may get ugly

IE6 v IE7If you don’t already have your head around the recent articles regarding IE8 and its three rendering modes you should, it is going to be a fact of life soon.

Basically it comes down to IE rendering pages in three modes, the “old mode”, the IE7 half standards mode and IE8 full standards mode. It makes sense to be nice to the web developers who refuse to keep up with their profession, their pages will work forever in future version’s of IE, and be nice to the leading edge developers who painfully hack their way into IE.

As a web developer myself at first I did not have an opinion on the topic but the more I read the more scared I get. This is going to introduce yet ANOTHER variable into the development world. Making developers working on new projects forced to keep up with these three modes and possibly in three years still be working in the “old mode” when they could have been in full standards mode two years ago and help out the end user. Instead it is advocating laziness (ignorance) and old code on the web.

The web is an always transforming place, the landscape has changed from a page-to-page static world to a fully asynchronized ajax environment. These three modes will just slow down the advancements on the web and ultimately make the end user suffer. The graph included is wayne.edu’s IE usage IE7 has taken over IE6’s lead and 7’s growth continues to climb, browsers come and go and developers know this. Soon IE7 will be gone and IE8 will have the largest percent of Microsofts browser share.

Not to mention if no other browsers pick up the idea (I really hope they don’t), IE will yet again become the corporate browser of its predecessors and the “lock in” continues. IE’s goal should be to unify the web and if some sites get broken in the mean time so be it, if enough people like the features (forced update via windows update) and end up using IE8 the non-compliant companies will get on board the standards wagon and won’t look back, their business will depend on it.

My stance is firm, the meta rendering mode is a negative not only for the web development community but the web users as a whole. Breaking the already broken end of the web may not be a bad thing in the overall scheme, just imagine in two years or so when they eventually deprecate the “old mode” rendering engine, it’ll be a much tougher fight than if they never implemented it in the first place.

Update: 01/24/2008 6:30 am EST:

After reading an article by John Resig and the HTML 5 DOCTYPE my fears of this meta switch have eased.  It turns out IE will only use the meta tag for doctypes which are already established and widely used. HTML5 and beyond will not need the switch to render in fully standard mode.  And IE8 will support DOCTYPE switching for all new DOCTYPES.

This changes the whole situation, it awards the developers who code to standards with  an actual useful browser and lets the lazy developers keep their routine.

New Addition.

We have added a new member to our team, Chris Pelzer starts today as a full time web developer. Chris has worked in the department for two years as a web technician. During those two years he has worked on most of our high traffic applications and sites. His knowledge of the industry and optimization has been key to those applications success. He has also worked on the open source framework that we use exclusively, PHPSimpl, adding features and fixing bugs.

You will be hearing more from Chris in the future, working through browser inconsistencies and CSS ninja techniques he will definitely be an asset to our group. Welcome aboard Chris.

Folksonomy – The Social Web

Yesterday I attended a seminar here at Wayne State University that was streamed from the University of Michigan. The seminar was called “Coming to Terms: Understanding Folksonomy”. Thomas Vander Wal, the speaker at the seminar, is often credited for coining the term “folksonomy”. Folksonomy is closely related to Taxonomy. According to Wikipedia taxonomy is “the practice and science of classification”. Folksonomy, on the other hand, is classification, more specifically tagging, applied by the general populous. Thomas Vander Wal said social tagging is simple data applied to an object by the general population which is then made available publicly.

Social tagging is gaining popularity on the internet. Sites such as Del.icio.us and Ma.gnolia.com allow people to create accounts and tag anything with a URI. Users can return to the site and search for keywords they might have applied to a URI they saved any time in the past. Users are able to easily re-find information that they have tagged on their account. These sites also allow users to search through items tagged by the rest of the user base which creates micro communities of like-minded people.

Re-findability is the key concept behind tagging. Allowing a user to remember the information or object that they tagged in a way that best suits them is the key to a successful tagging project. Thomas said the less time users spend thinking about their tags the more likely they are to find the tagged object again in the future. Community is also important when tagging goes social. Allowing people to search through other peoples’ tags will lead them to new information that will likely also interest them. Social tagging also helps bring like-minded people together through similar tagging trends. This can be applied in many ways; in a business environment it might be used to form the best possible groups of people to work on a project, or on a dating site it could be used to unite couples with similar interests.

Social tagging can also lead to insight about the public opinion of your product or site. Thomas said people often apply tags based on inferred meaning of the object. Tags with inferred meaning are just as important as tags with categorical meaning. Such tags will allow a company to see what people are actually thinking about the object being tagged as well as allowing the customer to easily re-find that item in the future. Thomas believes “Every tag is sacred”; even the negative tags should not be deleted. Data mining on tags can lead to a deeper understanding of the item and how the public perceives it. Knowing that the public has a negative view of something will allow a business to fix the problem rather than ignore it.

The ability to link things together through the co-occurrence of tags can be extremely useful. If the same tag shows up on two objects they are thought to be related in some way. When objects have several tags applied by several people it becomes easier to define accurate relationships between objects. Many ecommerce sites use this approach to display a list of other items to a customer that might also interest them and will hopefully generate additional sales. Most sites currently use tags applied by the company rather than allowing the public to socially tag the items they are selling. However, Amazon.com does allows the public to tag and comment on the various products sold on the site. This is arguably one of the many features Amazon.com has implemented that contribute to their ongoing success.

Social tagging is a trend that is gaining in popularity and implementation which is good for everyone. People can bookmark in a way that’s easier for them to re-find the site. Customers can find what they’re looking for faster. Businesses will generate more sales because customers can easily find what they’re looking for. And social tagging creates the feel of community which allows people to connect in new and interesting ways.

New year, New endeavors.

With the new year comes new endeavors. 2008 has started and we are back to work, here is a few things we are bringing with us.

  1. Welcoming Nick West to the team! Nick as worked as a student assistant for about a year and has been hired full time.
  2. A blog dedicated to the daily work of the web communications team at Wayne State University.
  3. The chance to be more open about what we do here and how we do it, taking the web development struggle and making it a resource for all to learn from.