Web Agency Sites Get A Big F

Sometime in the last couple weeks I started noticing that my browser would hang while loading some Flash content, and since I’ve been too busy to diagnose the error1 or even just to reinstall the Flash player I’ve been surfing with Flash disabled via the built in Flash block feature in Camino.

A funny thing happened between noticing sites loading faster and lots of ads missing — prompted by the sight of the Razorfish redesign I noticed how many web development agencies had sites that were just big empty flash movies and thus all looked the same. Nothing but a big empty browser window, with a big “F” or play button, and sometimes a background color other then black.

they all get an 'F'

Clockwise from top left: Razorfish, R/GA, Schematic, WDDG, Organic, The Chopping Block, EVB, Big Spaceship — all looking nearly identical.

Camino’s Flash blocking option, similar to the flashblock extension for Firefox isn’t exactly disabling Flash or uninstalling it, instead the loading of the file is delayed until you explicitly hover over the content and click the play button. A behavior very similar to the old post lawsuit ‘click to play’ MSIE behavior. Sites built with a mix of Flash content and standard HTML like YouTube [below] degrade quite well under these conditions. Sites using a heavier mix of Flash like the Adobe or Hasselblad sites may look a bit sparse, but still completely useable without stating the flash movies.

youtube with flash blocked

However, there seems to be a contingent of studios that are still thinking that 100% by 100% Flash movies are the best way to represent themselves on their site and show off their skills. A lot of strides have been made the last few years in flash searchability, SEO and indexing, accessibility, history2 and browser integration — but when it hits the street its still plugin based content and as a result there may either be hurdles for clients to jump in order to see the content, and even if the hurdles are small [like hitting a play button before seeing the full content] the immediate impression of having to do so, or seeing nothing but an empty browser window may not be the best foot to put forward.

Now don’t get me wrong, these agencies do fine work — I work at or have worked at many of them. And I’m not a zealot that normally rallies against Flash — i think it has its uses though my own feet are firmly planted on one side of the aisle. I’m just wondering out loud if its not time to rethink the approach and reliance on one tool over the other or mix of them by some of these firms.

[OK, and I’m having a little chuckle at Flash’s expense, too]

1 looks to be a hang on a cross site security check

2 no comments from coworkers in the peanut gallery!

Hicks Adds Microformat Highlighting To Browsers

Jon Hicks has taken the idea of client side style sheets to highlight microformats that I implemented in my NNW Extract Microformats tool and ran with it. He’s cleaned up the presentation and made a user style sheet that you can use in most any mac browser—like Camino, Safari and OmniWeb (though the idea works in most other browsers as well). Combine the detection of microformats on the page via these style sheets with some bookmarklets (also provided) and you have a simple system for grabbing hcards or hcalendar events from any web site.

The downside of the client side CSS method is that you’re introducing new styles for microformat content where there may already be styles to highlight the hcards, or where the styles will otherwise clash with what the site’s author has coded. Chris Messina has posted a one example of this on Flickr. And here are two examples from Tantek’s site:

Hicks vs. Tantek Screenshot 1

Hicks vs. Tantek Screenshot 2

Even when there aren’t bugs, the effects of the style sheet can be gaudy or just feel out of place like in this screen shot of an article on ChunkySoup.net.

But presentational quirks aside, the idea is great and the implementation dirt simple. Its clearly a step in the right direction and another good example of how easy it is to leverage content marked up in these simple HTML based formats.

Feeds For All With hAtom

I previously had tackled the issue of subscribing to documents with embedded hAtom content by writing a script for NetNewsWire that used its ability to run special script subscriptions on the “client” side.

While the script works great, and I’ve got a number of feeds I watch from other sites this way as a publisher I still longed for a more “feed”-like and more universal, and less technical solution.

This afternoon I got one big leap closer to a solution I’m happy with.

Detected feed as seen in Camino

Instead of offloading the work of parsing the html document containing the hAtom content to a client side application, or relying on a 3rd party proxy that I have no control over and may not be expecting a ton of regular traffic I’ve set up a script on my own server to act as a proxy and turn any found hAtom content at the specified address into more useful atom content1. Through the magic of the link element I can pass the new feed url off as you would with any other atom feed and the whole process is seamless to the user.

This even works for adding feeds to hand edited pages [yes, people still do that!] or pages that otherwise don’t have a database to draw on and build multiple feeds from. You can see it in action now for the version history hAtom feeds here and here and I’ll soon be implementing it on all the non-blog pages on ChunkySoup.net.

For the curious, the screen shot is of the feed detection code soon to be added to Camino.

EDIT: I’ve just uploaded the changes to all of the individual pages on ChunkySoup.net. Look for the feed titled ‘This Page’s Atom Feed’ on pages like this to watch them for changes.

1 using the usual suspect: hAtom2Atom.xsl