Author Archives: Peter Alvarez

Web Fonts API…Finally!!!

Posted by: Peter Alvarez on    |    Category: Design    |    Comments: 0

One of the biggest challenges in meeting design needs when developing a web site is dealing with the lack of web-safe fonts. Sure, there’s been ways to work around this problem, such as using sIFR, which embeds a small flash video for EVERY LETTER that needs to be displayed in the non-web-safe font. As you could imagine, sIFR takes quite a toll on a site’s performance and speed, plus its painfully tedious to get setup from a development standpoint.

Well, for the past week the web development community has been buzzing about the new, viable solution to this problem. Google has started a directory of open-source fonts that can be embedded on any page. This library of fonts is likely to grow with time, as font designers continue to donate fonts to the cause. Not only does this solution work well with browsers dating back to IE 6, but having the font hosted by Google’s servers increases overall site performance. Not to mention how easy it is to include on a web page.

If you’d like to browse the font directory, you can find it here.


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Google Fixes IE6

Posted by: Peter Alvarez on    |    Category: Development    |    Comments: 0

google-chrome-frame-150x150This is just plain awesome. Google’s dedication to bringing a high quality web-experience to all users, has moved them to do something Microsoft is yet to do; FIX IE6! How do you fix a web browser that’s nearly 10 years old? By turning it into a more modern web browser, namely, Google Chrome. Google released an IE plugin (compatible with IE 6,7 and 8 ) that they call Chrome Frame. Chrome Frame improves the running browser by making it more compliant to web standards and improving performance.

My only skepticism towards this new release, is how many IE 6 users will actually install the plugin if they are yet to install a newer browser? Yet, a large number of IE 6 users are forced to use the browser at work, because IT doesn’t allow them to upgrade. Chrome Frame may be an alternative for such users. Google also plans to passively promote the plugin on any Google apps that may render better on Chrome than in IE.

It will be interesting to see how web development evolves as the web continues to progress. As the capabilities of modern browsers improve, it becomes possible to make richer, more user-friendly web applications . With IE 6 lingering around, innovation in new web development techniques have been constrained to the capabilities of this ancient browser. Developers worldwide have been eagerly anticipating the eventual death of IE6. The release of Chrome Frame is just one more step in that direction.


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Apple vs. Google – Let the battle begin…

Posted by: Peter Alvarez on    |    Category: Development    |    Comments: 2

About a week ago Apple announced that it was pulling Google Voice Mobile from the App Store, stripping iPhone users from access to one of Google’s most innovative projects. Google Voice allows users to send free SMS messages and get cheap long-distance. It also allows you to use one phone number for all your other numbers, and manage SMS messages and voicemails online.apple-vs-google_2

This has brought on intense criticism over Apple’s app review process. Sure, there may be good reason to not approve certain applications, but is it fair-game to pull an app simply because it provides better service than AT&T (and free for that matter). One of the iPhone’s main marketing points is its extensibility. But is it really living up to that claim when its actually limiting what can be run your phone?

The thing that really bothers me about the move is that Apple is now actively stifling innovation. Google Voice is the kind of service that can actually have a positive impact on your life, and not in a frivolous, entertainment-related sense. It makes it easier to connect with people, and to manage those connections. Apple can point to the App Store’s 50,000 applications all it wants, but how many of them could truly be called groundbreaking? Are they really putting a dent in the universe?”

This move will just hurt Apple in the long-run. It gives iPhone users another reason (in addition to AT&T’s failure) to switch to Android as it becomes available on more phones and carriers. This could be a huge factor in the emerging “war” between Google and Apple.

Google has a well-known corporate motto: “Don’t be evil”. But, is Apple becoming ‘evil’? Or do they have legit reason to do this? Let us know your thoughts on the matter.


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Surviving evolving platform vendors

Posted by: Peter Alvarez on    |    Category: Development    |    Comments: 1
What iPhone user would want cut/paste funtionality? Apple decided to solve this problem for all users, not just the few that download this application.

What iPhone user wouldn't want cut/paste funtionality? Apple decided to solve this problem for all users, not just the few that download this application.

The Apple community is buzzing with the release of the new iPhone 3G S. Dan Morris summed up many of the new features available with the new OS. You may have noticed that some of these features step on the toes of some already existing iPhone applications, essentially rendering them useless. iSmashPhone.com lists 15 applications that are now obsolete.

How can independent software developers make sure their iPhone applications don’t end up on the chopping block like the ones on this list? Well, if your idea seems like something that all iPhone users would find valuable, its very likely that Apple is planning to solve this problem in a future release.  The trick for developing a successful iPhone application is looking for problems that are unlikely ever to be considered core features.

This usually involves being as demographic-specific as possible.  For example, what’s the probability that iPhone will ever add a feature directly targeted at doctors. Not very high, because its likely not something that the majority of users would find useful. Choosing a niche that isn’t in the direct path of the vendor is essential to surviving in the platform development arena.


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Avoiding the ‘Awful Parts’ in Web Development

Posted by: Peter Alvarez on    |    Category: Development    |    Comments: 0

Javascript: The Good PartsA couple of weeks ago I finished reading “Javascript: The Good Parts” by Douglas Crockford. The book highlighted how javascript, while having some amazing features, has some absolutely awful features (such as its dependence on global variables, not providing block scope for variables, and so-called ‘falsy’ values, to name a few).

Crockford proposed that javascript becomes a much more  valuable programming language when only a subset, which he calls ‘the good parts’, is used. This implies that the additional features (‘the awful parts’) of the language only serve to make it worse, and don’t actually provide any value to the language. This same concept can be applied to web applications (or any product for that matter).

A good web app is not designed simply by assembling a long list of features to throw together.  Too many features could end up making the product harder to understand and use. In fact, the more features there are, the harder it is to get them to all interact in a comprehensive way. Users aren’t usually impressed by a product with a large set of features. They just want something that works.

Careful forethought and dialog must go on before deciding on the final specs for a system. With careful planning, your web app will be more likely to provide a service with excellent features that are easy to understand and use.


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Flash: A Usability Nightmare

Posted by: Peter Alvarez on    |    Category: Design    |    Comments: 1

While Flash may at times be a very effective tool in web design (when used correctly), many times it’s abused and fails to add value to the website it’s used in. Flash could even detract from the website’s usability. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Flash distracts from site’s core values, such as the actual content
    Flash content tends to be created once and then left alone. Frequently updating content is key to generating traffic. Also, human awareness is usually dominated by anything that moves, so Flash could distract users from the most important part of your site, the content!  Human-computer interaction expert, Dr. Jakob Nielsen,  points this out in his Guidelines for Multimedia on the Web .  “Never include a permanently moving animation on a web page since it will make it very hard for your users to concentrate on reading the text. “
  2. Flash reduces accessibility for users with disabilities.
    For one thing, users can’ t zoom in on text appearing in flash videos. This can be annoying for your older visitors or those with vision problems. Also, screen readers aren’t able to decipher flash embedded on a page. Plus, a site that depends heavily on Flash forces users to install the Flash Player in their browser if they haven’t already done so.
  3. Flash encourages design abuse
    Just because we can make things move doesn’t mean we should. Flash usually encourages this “gratuitous animation”, which as mentioned in the first point, can easily distract users.  Some Flash designers also tend to decrease user interactivity (which is what Flash is good for in the first place!) by “reverting to presentation styles that resemble television” (Nielsen). This is a big no-no in web design usability.
  4. Flash is not search engine friendly.
    This isn’t necessarily a usability issue, but its still a huge drawback to using Flash. SEO is usually a vital part to the success of a website.

Flash development isn’t completely evil and has its place in web development. Discretion is necessary to carefully balance the pros and cons of Flash to create the best experience for your users.


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Make Users Feel At Home

Posted by: Peter Alvarez on    |    Category: Development    |    Comments: 0

There are many ways to improve the usability of a web application, but probably one of the simplest approaches is to allow for personalization. Users like to feel like they’re in control of their environment, and allowing them to customize the look and feel of the application is an easy way to give them control without compromising the core functionality of the application.

One good example of this can be seen on Twitter. Users are able to select from a set of skins, edit these skins as they wish, or upload their own image to use as the background. Facebook also makes good use of customization, allowing users to move things around or add tabs on their profile page. Even doing something as simple as changing their profile picture can make users happy. These are the little things that make the difference between good applications, and great ones.


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Facebook Connect

Posted by: Peter Alvarez on    |    Category: Media, SEO    |    Comments: 0

Who wouldn’t want to connect a network of 175 million active users to their up and coming web app or website? With Facebook’s newest venture, Facebook Connect, that is now very possible.  Facebook Connect allows you to integrate the Facebook Platform into your very own site, seamlessly connecting your site to users’ Facebook accounts.  Users can then share information and actions on your site with their friends on Facebook, or even connect with other Facebook users who also use your site. When a new Facebook user signs up to use your amazing new application, they’re not just signing themselves up, they’re bringing their (on average) 120 friends along with them too!

For example, this weekend I noticed Netflix has integrated with Facebook Connect, so I gladly connected my two accounts by simply logging in to Facebook Connect through my Netflix account.  Now, whenever I rate a movie on Netflix, an entry is posted to my Facebook Wall.  All of my Facebook friends can see the movie I rated, the rating I gave it, and a description and thumbnail of the movie. They are also linked directly to the Netflix home page, or to the movie’s page. In essence, I’m giving Netflix free advertising to all of my friends, who very likely have similar tastes in movies.

Netflix Facebook Connect

As the Facebook community continues to grow at an incredible rate, the value that it can bring to any website is priceless. And with Facebook Connect now being available on platforms such as the iPhone, the possibilities are endless. Is your web app taking advantage of this power?


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Using the web to connect with clients

Posted by: Peter Alvarez on    |    Category: Development    |    Comments: 1

Jimmy Eat World

Last night, as I was browsing sites of some of my favorite bands, I ran across Jimmy Eat World’s website. After looking around for a few seconds, I noticed that this site was significantly different than many of the other recent sites I’d visited. This was due to the fact that a large portion of the site’s content is generated by fans, not Jimmy Eat World. This trend of creating mini-social networks demonstrates how the web can be used as a platform to further connect businesses to their clients.

Short of creating a custom social network, business owners can maintain regularly-updated blogs as a way of creating an online community for clients & partners. Depending on the nature of the business, an open web-forum could be an effective way of encouraging collaboration among the ‘community’ that is your business.  With new technologies such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube evolving every day, the possibilities are endless. One emerging technology that could be very effective in fostering an online community is Facebook Connect, a topic that will be explored further in future Bottlecap blog posts.


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