Thoughts

From time to time I will use this page as a commentary on things I see happening in the IT industry or maybe just thoughts in general. My purpose here is not to be contentious but to be thought provoking. You might disagree with some of the things I say here and that is your prerogative. But, at least I will have made you think.

Who Owns your Website

Added 20th July 2013

On a client's behalf I have been investigating moving their website to a different host. Their current website maintainer informed me
"Bare (sic) in mind that the website itself does not get transferred with the transference of the hosting. It would need to be rebuilt using your own software and uploaded via the FTP username and password that would be generated once you opened your hosting account. Based on this, it would be best to have the website rebuilt prior to transferring it into your name so that there was minimum off air time."

This assertion by the website developer took me by surprise. Their position is that if they are the developer and you decide to take your hosting elsewhere, "Sorry, you don't get to take your website.". Admittedly, in this case the developer had done a lot of the work pro bono but on further questioning this developer claimed it is common practice in the industry to effectively retain copyright of the website.

This is contrary to what I understand to be the case with working for a commission. Most developers who are paid a fee for services do not have the copyright in the application they develop. If someone develops software while and employee of a company, then all the rights in that software belongs to the company. The intellectual property in software belongs to the party who paid for it.

I am not a lawyer so what I say may not be strictly correct in a legal sense. You should have this checked out by someone with the requisite qualifications.

It is my point of view that any client has full rights to the website, content, templates, code and whatever makes it tick. If the development has taken place using some proprietary software and maintenance must be undertaken using that software then the new maintainer will have to license that software also.

I would prefer to design a website and then hsampand it over to the client for them to maintain. That is why I design websites in the way that I do. And once the client has the code and has some tuition the mystery of website maintenance evaporates. Clients should not have to revert to a developer for every change they want to make.

Before you get caught in this situation, you should ensure that you own the content, the layout and the code to your website. If a developer tells you that they own the website, then I believe they are unethical.

Being Adobe Free

Added 7th January 2011

Realistic Alternatives Exist

As an IT Manager of a largely "Windows™ shop" by day, a big part of my job is keeping an eye on security threats. Too frequently there is a need to apply a security patch to our systems to address some newly exposed vulnerability in a common piece of software. There has been a bit of a theme over the last couple of years of these vulnerabilities having been discovered and exploited in Adobe™ Reader or Adobe™ Flash Player.

Reader and Flash Player are ubiquitous. Reader enables users to access PDF documents. I thoroughly endorse the use of PDF as a format that can be opened on virtually any machine. Flash Player enables users to access animated web content that uses the SWF format. This content is usually in the likes of streamed video pages but sometimes in webpage menus.

Conventional wisdom is that you just have to install Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash if you want to engage with the electronic world. However, I am not conventional.

One way of dealing with gratuitous use of Flash is to implement a Flash Blocker in your web browser. This helps put you back in control of your browsing session. You choose whether you want to download and run the animation on offer. This is especially helpful if you are on a slow Internet connection. Regardless of the following, I advocate having a Flash blocker of some sort in your browser.

Despite this, there seems to be a need to be able to view Flash content and PDFs. With the bad reputation that Adobe™ utilities have and to reduce my admin effort I went looking for alternatives to Adobe. What I found was very satisfying. I found the following:

Abobe™ ProductOpen Source Alternative
PDF Reader I found FoxitReader for the Windows world and Evince for the Linux world. There is a version of each of these for both Windows and Linux.

One very satisfying benefit is that FoxitReader is a 6MB download, compared to 36MB for the Abobe™ alternative.

SWF Player On Linux I am running Gnash. There's a Windows™ version of Gnash in the works, and if it performs as well as the Linux version then it will be a great alternative.

Now what I have to do is figure out a way of allowing users of Symbian S60 mobiles to access websites using Flash. For the life of me I cannot figure out what is so top secret that the developers want to prevent a portion of the population from accessing their information.


How Your Website Beats Print Advertising

Added 20th August 2010

At Least You Can Light The Fire With A Newspaper Once You Have Read It

Let me get this clear from the start. I am not advocating that you burn all your printed advertising materials. In fact, it was a printed brochure that lead to me thinking about this topic. Print advertising and having a web presence are complementary. Although I make light of the fact that readers will often dispose of print advertising after they are done with it, there is something to be said for having a physical piece of paper.


Websites Are More Dynamic

The very obvious difference between print advertising and web advertising is that the web is so much more dynamic. Many websites are very static, what are referred to as "brochureware" - i.e. they resemble a printed brochure but they are on the Internet. But this does not have to be so.

Print advertising takes a lot of time to prepare and is relatively costly. Changes are time consuming and costly to implement, and those changes do not always get to the people who have already received your hard copy ad.

A well-designed website can be changed easily and quickly. Every visitor reads the same current information. If it increases the impact of your message, your website can contain information such as sound or video that cannot be provided by a printed ad.


Websites Work 24 x 7

Printed material requires physical distribution and is only effective if it gets into the hands of a reader at a time when they are receptive. If the recipient is busy or distracted they may not be attuned to your message at the moment they take it out of their letterbox. If they put it to one side, they have to be able to find it again when they do have the time or interest to read and absorb it.

Your website is working for you 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week. It doesn't have the same time constraints as a physical piece of paper. It is available when a visitor is interested to come to your website.


Websites Are Searchable

What makes your website so readily available and accessible to interested visitors is the way it is indexed. Spiders or web crawlers visit your website and identify key words that will enable people to find it when they enter terms of interest into a search engine. Sometimes the more obscure searches that get a visitor to a website cannot be anticipated, but with good website architecture, these terms can be made available to search engines.

Print media doesn't have this "searchability". It has to be written and laid out in a way that helps readers find the key messages. Those obscure messages that might get picked up through a search engine may be missed by the reader.


Websites Are Better for the Environment

When you distribute print advertising the recipient is in control of when it gets "deleted". If it is disposed of in a thoughtless manner, your name might be negatively associated with littering. We once lived a "burger-coke-and-fries-walk" from an outlet of a multi-national fast food chain, and I resented every item of branded rubbish I disposed of on behalf of their patrons.

Your website does not produce physical waste. It is a bunch of electrons, and you are in control of when and how your content is disposed of. You decide when your content has past its "use by" date and either delete it or update it.


Reflections on the Last 10 Years

Added 8th January 2009

Was Y2K really an issue?

Many media commentators have reported on the unprecedented technology changes that have taken place in the last 10 years. A lot of technologies or services that are used today did not exist 10 years ago. The prevalence of social networking websites, such as Facebook™ and LinkedIn™ is one example. People on the street, not just "pin-stripe suits", have cellphones that are Internet connected. These represent both technological and social change.

But it seems that the angst that was to the forefront 15 years ago, "the Y2K bug", may not have taught us many lessons. I firmly believe that the issue of dates on computers was overblown with people believing that everything from planes falling from the sky to hairdryers dying would be the consequences of Y2K. Even IT professionals were somewhat vague in their comprehension of the issue. I was receiving requests for information about my Y2K preparedness that showed that the requester clearly did not understand the issue and the impact that Y2K could have on their business.

Some unscrupulous consultants made money out of the "technical illiteracy" of others who had not looked into the issue sufficiently. I know of businesses who replaced their whole PC fleet because they were told that they weren't Y2K compliant (whatever that is). Unfortunately the business people involved did not ask the question "Do I need to be Y2K compliant?".

Unfortunately this kind of "shysterism" continues, and can become "viral" in our highly connected world. We have probably all felt that pang of embarrassment on someone else's behalf when we have received one of those hoax e-mails. They are so easy to spot. They are so easy to check out (try Hoax Slayer. But still some gullible individual passes it on. Hoax e-mails are often benign, but there are other more malicious scams circulating. Many people think in terms of viruses and worms propagating through e-mail and via malicious websites. But there has been an upsurge in Phishing.

In my personal view there are also those who are still making money out of other's lack of IT competency. Too often I see websites that are over designed and over-engineered. I see websites where people are offering services at a fee e.g. search engine registration, when those same services are either of dubious worth or can be done by the website owner at no cost.

We all owe it to our fellow Netizens to maintain our technical literacy. But more than that, improved technical literacy will prevent you from falling prey to opportunists who "talk a good game" but who will use any means to assist with curing you of "fat wallet syndrome".

The Naked Web Developer will not do for you what you can or want to do for yourself. I will try to pass on to you the lessons I have learned so you can have an effective website that does not cost you unnecessarily.


Web Etiquette

Added 25th July 2009

Your Workstation is Your Workstation. My Website is My Website

As a website developer I don't think it is my place to tell my visitors what operating system, what browser, or what screen resolution they must use to access my site. Unfortunately not all web developers think like that.

I have just been doing battle with a website (the owner of which will remain nameless) that requires visitors to install Flash Player. Now, I don't mind if a website uses a bit of Flash to jazz things up a bit to "impress the punters". I use Flash blocker in Firefox so I can choose what Flash I download. But when the corporate browser is Internet Explorer and when you see articles like this New attacks exploit vuln in (fully-patched) Adobe Flash letting Flash Player have free rein on your systems tends to cause seasoned IT veterans to shudder.

The website I am doing battle with could provide all the features and functionality with server-side scripting. It does not need to send a little application across the Internet to the client's browser to let users access the database. I am perplexed as to why they have done so. But because I have a small group of users who need to use this website, I have to open my network to Flash vulnerabilities - maybe not from the website in particular, but from less scrupulous websites.

To my way of thinking the Internet should be "open". You should be able to browse the Internet with whatever device you like, with whatever browser you prefer and at whatever screen resolution you choose. Putting barriers in the way of people such as having to download and install a utility seems like elitism.

Sometimes it is hard to make a website completely device, browser or application independent. But developers owe it to Internet users to make the effort to keep the Internet open.

If you are considering using a web developer and they start talking about visitors requiring a download to view information on your website, you need to think really hard if you want to put users to that trouble. Check out the security and vulnerabilities to which you are possibly recommending visitors expose their systems. Would you be prepared to indemnify visitors for attacks from third parties who exploit vulnerabilities in a particular browser add-on?


My Philosophy

Added 13th June 2009

Content is King

When I first realised that a website is just a bunch of formatted text files it was somewhat of a revelation. It demystified the whole thing for me. I was used to programming where complex code or subroutines and logic was compiled into an incomprehensible binary file. Websites are not like that.

It is like the moment that everyone reaches when they stop being impressed by PowerPoint® presentations. That moment is usually when they see their 9 year old putting together a presentation with a different transition for every slide, hoping that their classmates don't notice that their homework is totally devoid of content.

Maybe I am just a bit too cynical, but a conclusion I reached a long time ago. 90% of presentations I see in the workplace are put together by someone who doesn't have a lot to say and is too embarrassed to admit it. They hope that their apparent mastery of technology will impress and deflect from their personal unimpressiveness.

I think that is a lot how websites work as well. Some people get too hung up on the technology and forget the message they are trying to get across. In my opinion, the technology can distract the audience, and detract from the message.

Keeping the structure of a website simple is one way to focus the audience on the message. Thanks for reading all this way. Congratulations for your persistence. But have you noticed that this website makes scant use of graphics. This is deliberate. Because content is king.