Two great agencies have become one! Henry Russell Bruce (HRB) and ME&V Advertising have merged to create a combined company of more than 50 people with offices in Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Quad Cities. The combined agency represents more than 200 clients across 10 states and offers branding, marketing, public relations, and advertising services in healthcare, higher education and banking, corporate communications and nonprofit fundraising. Take a look around →
No invitations needed to try out Google Maps new web app design. Multiple added features makes Google Maps even better as it tailors to your searching needs. View it with Google Chrome for a fully 3D satellite view!
I’m not sure how, but the first thing I ever saw of GitHub was their mascot, Octocat. Now it’s a face I, and many other developers, see quite regularly.
At its core, GitHub is a place where people share code & collaborate with others. It is currently the largest code host in the world. I personally have the Smart Web App Banner project I’ve written about on there, and contribute to ThinkUp among other projects.
GitHub also functions as a version control system, issue tracker, and discussion platform. I won’t go into too much detail, but these features are amazingly powerful on their own. Some projects have chosen to be private to protect their work & assets while enjoying these features.
Meanwhile, you will find countless projects that are 100% publicly visible (every line of code, every image, etc.), open to outside contributions, and allow people to fork their work to be customized in a way that someone else will be responsible for managing that version of that project (read more about forking here). Code merging can be done if the work done to a fork (big or small) is worth adding back to the main project.
If you’re a programmer, you should definitely browse & search through some of the great work on GitHub (some of these great tools come directly from Facebook, Twitter, etc.) Then you know that project you’re using is open to being improved by you whenever you happen to find a bug or want a new feature to be added. That freedom is valuable to have.
Augmented reality (Wikipedia) has been around for a while now, and I even touched on it briefly in an article of mine a few years ago. Technologies that are as eye-catching as this are begging for a home so we decided to evaluate the idea of an augmented realty business card. Is giving one of these business cards to someone who has all of their contacts saved & managed on their phone or computer as helpful as it could be? We gave it a quick look to see if it’s a good fit.
Finding the right tools
The first step was seeing what tools were available to aid in the process of creating our augmented reality business card. We found that Layar was a low-cost/ad-supported option with creation tools that are right in your web browser. It isn’t going to create anything too extravagant on its own, but the effect is there and it has some nice built-in widgets (video, buttons, etc.).
Creating the augmented card
From there, you upload the original file or a photo of the thing you want to have augmented (both sides of a business card, in this case). Then you position and size the various elements on the reference that you provided. We went with overlaying a “call me” button over the phone number, an “email me” over the email address, a link to our website, and a “save contact” that saves the full contact info to the phone. Our next step was to test, ensure it’s set up the way we want and then press “publish.”
What we found
This exercise showed that the biggest caveat in practice was, like with QR codes, the person receiving the card needs to have an app (such as the one for Layar) installed on their phone in order to view it. Also, the person using this app needs to know that they can scan a business card (and that it’s appealing enough that they do). That said, augmented reality is more beneficial than QR codes since the original item doesn’t need to be changed to include something that resembles a shipping bar code, which takes up valuable space.
We also found that the technology is rather impressive in how stable the augmented elements can be, given the right environment. However, a background that doesn’t have a good contrast or otherwise well-defined elements will lack the reference points the app needs to help stabilize the overlay (Layar actually rejects references it determines to be insufficient).
Similarly, having it display different augmented content based on slight variations may cause problems. For example, the overlay didn’t always display the correct name when we used an overlay that changed to accommodate a different name on a business card from the same company. Using a general purpose overlay can be an acceptable compromise. Also, using different cards will help prevent alleviate that problem in person-specific overlays.
Despite the idiosyncrasies, augmented reality business cards can make quite an impression.
Google recently released Chrome for iOS (free) during their developer conference, Google I/O, so iPhone and iPad owners can try out the popular web browser today. Chrome isn’t new to mobile devices as it has been available on select Android devices since February this year.
The big difference for those that have used Chrome for Android isn’t visual. The difference is the fact that it’s actually using the same web rendering and processing that all other iOS apps have access to rather than Google’s own engine (due to Apple’s App Store policies). This isn’t too big of a drawback, because Chrome seems to perform well for typical use and they both share WebKit as the core of their rendering engine anyway (web designers don’t need to worry).
Data syncing across Chrome browsers using the same Google account makes an appearance. There aren’t any extensions or apps to sync, but it does sync bookmarks and allows users to access tabs from browsers they might have opened on their other devices and computers.
Initial impression is that it’s worth checking out even though Chrome for iOS is mostly a wrapper around the same web view as other iOS apps, and people that already use Chrome as their primary browser will see more of a benefit to switching.
I’m going to kick off this article by sharing what sparked my interest to write this article about HTML5 video useage. I recently went to boxee’s website (a company that offers Internet-based TV products and services), and I was happily surprised by the clever intro they’ve added to their site. It takes advantage of HTML5 video so people using web browsers not yet capable of HTML5 will have to see it second-hand, or you can (as always) choose to download Google Chrome or Safari to take a peek at it yourself. I’ve embedded a screen recording of the HTML5 version below so you can take a look (screen recording makes it look choppier than it really is).
Did you see the intro? You can skip this paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet, because I’m going to proceed to break-down what about this intro made me instantly know it was done with HTML5 video (honestly, the first thing I did after seeing it was look at the site’s code to verify my thought that it was indeed HTML5). The first thing that tipped me off was how fast it loaded. Flash videos take time to load up the Flash plugin instance (commonly causing a splash of color/white to be shown for a split second where the plugin will appear) and load the video player/skin portion of the Flash file (since Flash requires a “helper” file alongside the actual video file in order to display it) in addition to loading the video itself. Instead of requiring that whole process, the only thing that needs to be loaded using HTML5 is the video itself, and that means videos can start to play in less than a second. Another thing I noticed was how responsive my browser was even though it was playing a rather large video. Flash videos of that size typically cause my scrolling to become more choppy and are more CPU intensive than what was seen on this HTML5 version. Another, less obvious, thing I noticed was how well integrated the video was into the website design. The tabs at the bottom have a nice translucent look to them and there’s various pieces of the page such as their logo and login form in which part of the video takes place behind (this is something that is commonly problematic when using the Flash plugin), and the video compensates for the dynamic width of the browser really well.
HTML5 Video Usage as of October 2010. Courtesy of Mefeedia.com
With all of that whizzbang out of the way, we can now start to cover how the landscape of the Web has changed now that people are adopting the use of the HTML5 video standard. Part of the recent announcements was that Boxee has embraced HTML5 and switched over to using Webkit for it’s built-in web browser functionality. This definitely seems to the the trend since Boxee isn’t the first or the only company to switch over to the Webkit engine (most commonly known for it being what powers the Google Chrome and Safari web browsers) in an effort to provide the best support possible for the latest Web standards. Mefeedia (a video search engine) said in lastt October that 54% of web video is now available in HTML5 (doubled in 5 months), and they attribute the growing market of “smart” mobile devices as being the primary driving factor. These numbers are a good sign, but I still can’t believe the fact that bands and restaurants continue to use sites built for the Flash plugin even though their websites are most commonly accessed on a mobile device by people looking for a place to go while they’re out and about (costing them potential attendees/business with no real benefit as a trade-off).
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It’s not all perfect though, because one thing that many people are still anxious to see the result of is if copyright-protected video providers decide to switch over to HTML5 or not. Currently, sites like Hulu and Netflix use Flash as it provides an encryption method that prevents people from ripping the video directly from the service. I personally think that’s actually a non-issue considering the people that want the content for free already have multiple avenues for acquiring the content (download via bittorrent, use a screen capture program [such as the one I used for the video embedded above] as a loophole around any protection the site might have, etc) and the protection methods that are available to be used in conjunction with HTML5 are actually enough to thwart off anyone looking to get the content from that particular website. A sticking point that affects web developers is the lack of agreement on which video codec is the official standard for HTML5 video, and this means that they need to offer multiple video files for various browsers (Firefox is looking for an open-source OGG video, Webkit is looking for a higher-quality H.264 video, and some are hoping WebM catches on as the official format). These issues can all be agreed upon eventually, and websites will continue to switch over to using HTML5 video so the future is looking pretty bright for a web video standard.
Adobe® is one of the few companies that provides great software tools to professionals spanning multiple career fields. They’re definitely being watched under a microscope lately as details emerge regarding the future of Flash now that it’s no longer the only technology capable of providing rich, interactive, online content. Flash has established a prolific user-base, but these latest developments have both users and developers questioning if they should be learning and building Flash-based software instead of the emerging open standard.
There’s no denying that Apple has given them quite a headache by not supporting Flash on their iPhones®, iPods® and iPads®. Apple® has valid reasoning that the battery life suffers immensely while users browse sites that contain Flash content (something that people have become used to being able to do without having to worry about battery life consumption). It also leaves the door open for security issues and crashing (for example, Apple just released version 10.6.5 of their computer operating system where 134 CVE IDs are included as fixes to vulnerabilities; 55 of those are for Flash Player alone).
Last month, Apple reported that they have sold over 120,000,000 iOS devices to date, and most of the functionality of those devices is derived from the fact that they have access to the Internet. Everyone was left wondering how Adobe would respond to Apple standing their ground. Many people forget that Adobe is actually in business as a communication company first and a company of their products second. This means that they change their product line-up to suit the most appropriate communication technologies rather than getting into a legal war to try and force us into keeping Flash alive against the will of other businesses and many of their customers. This isn’t the first time I wrote about Adobe embracing HTML5 either. Kudos to Adobe for how they’re handling this situation.
Previous versions of Flash Professional (the tool used by web designers to create Flash apps/animations) used to be able to export out to Java, but the demand for Java has declined over the years so it was removed. The rise in demand for the new open HTML5 standard has Adobe coming up with ways to utilize it. A recent blog article by an Adobe employee gives a video preview of this new tool that converts projects made with Flash into HTML5 and also provides some great insight into some of Adobe’s problems and philosophies. People that learned Flash are not left in the dust simply because the industry moved on, but rather empowered to use what they know best to create things using the latest standards and Web service technologies.
There’s potential limitations to exporting from a program built with the intention of using a different technology, so Adobe has recently posted a video preview of their new program that’s built from the ground up with the intention of using HTML5 as the primary technology. Watching the video reveals that it’s very reminiscent of Flash Professional, but with subtle changes based on the various things that they’ve learned over the years (changing the interface of a well established application is much more of a headache than implementing the new/improved interface as a whole in a new program).
Adobe has been presented with the problem of their customers having to decide: whether or not to use Flash due to it not being able to run on over 120 million (otherwise very capable) Internet-enabled devices; whether or not to use the HTML5 standard to create something just as good as what is capable through Flash; or whether they can create both (if the client is willing to pay for the two versions). Their philosophy that “Adobe lives or dies by its ability to help customers solve real problems” seems to hold true with their latest announcements. When these tools are released, clients will be able to get what they want and the developers will be able to use the latest tools for the job to create it so that it’s viewable by as many people as possible.
Google Instant® launched over a month ago and some of us have become quite acquainted with the new Google search page. For those that haven’t noticed the change, Google has updated their search page to give you “instant” search results even before you press the search button. (It’s somewhat like their auto-complete/suggest feature, but it’s been expanded upon.)
For some Internet users this change was disorienting, not to mention that Google Instant has also put a heavier load on Google’s servers. Why would they want to do this? Speed.
Speed is something that Google has been focusing on quite heavily lately. Google has sped their site up to be as fast as the user’s Internet connection can handle. They’ve removed all distractions from the search page and now they’ve realized that they can provide the full results page even before the user has finished typing in their search terms. Google is claiming that users save 2-5 seconds on each search they make using Google Instant.
Google also mentioned that they’re trying to learn the user’s intent as an effort to allow the user to get back to what they want to do instead of spending their time attempting different searches. This might seem counter-intuitive, but more accurate search results also means more accurate advertising (which is their bread & butter) will be provided on that same results page.
One aspect that helps make the results accurate is the personalization of the search results. This introduces the concept that there’s no longer a set list of results for a term, and instead the results vary from one person to another. Google is constantly changing the landscape of search engine optimization, and this is something that we have been very keen on keeping track of at HRB.
Google isn’t the only successful company that’s been focusing on intent in an effort to improve their service or product. As the CEO of Apple® once said, “If we’d given customers what they said they wanted, we’d have built a computer they’d have been happy with a year after we spoke to them – not something they’d want now.” This is a goal that many businesses strive for as it positions them in a way that provides longevity in their brand as well as what they’re trying to sell.
There has been a surge of new devices coming out with a wide variety of form factors and intended functionality. There was the boom of the netbook form factor and GPS/in-car systems, followed by the iPhone® and other touchscreen mobile devices. Now companies are looking into providing more options for the touchscreen tablet-sized device and the HDTV screens that people already own (with the help of GoogleTV®, AppleTV®, and Boxee®). These all are accompanying desktop computers, laptops and modern game consoles in the fact that they are all capable of being (if not already) Internet-enabled.
When people realize that the device that they’re using is Internet-enabled, they don’t want to have arbitrary limitations on what they can access considering that all of these devices have the screens and input methods that are necessary to access and navigate around a website or Web application that they can use on their computer. They’re all using the one-and-only Internet (or at least that’s how we’d like to keep it), so they should (in theory) be able to access the same content.
Many devices follow this rule of thumb by giving users access to a Web browser of some kind and this trend is becoming more prevalent among device manufacturers. This leaves website designers with a new issue since most of the websites on the Internet were designed for computers with screen sizes ranging from around 13 to 24 inches with a mouse and keyboard. For example, needing to zoom and pan across a website that was designed for a desktop computer while using a mobile device is not the optimal experience.
It’s possible to take the same content on the site, detect the screen size of the device being used and display it in a way that best fits the device. The screen size detection is near instantaneous so it really comes down to the developers dedicating their time toward designing the new way that the content is displayed on the varying screen sizes. They can use a standard set of “Mobile,” “Computer” and “Projector/TV” options to limit the number of designs that need to be created (they might also choose to include a “Tablet” design). This still remains within the standardized capabilities of a website so the user is still simply accessing it via their Web browser of choice without needing to download an application or plug-in. (Although the developers might choose to offer an app simply due to the fact that it’s easier to access an application than to memorize and type in the URL on most devices.)
jQuery Mobile’s Testing Lab
There’s a bunch of user interface libraries that developers can implement on their websites that help speed up the process of designing, as well as standardize an expected look and interactivity between websites that were developed by people who hold no relation (other than the fact that they used the same user interface library). Here’s a few that have sparked some interest in the developer community:
I would have included Cappuccino on that list, but 280 North (developers of Cappuccino) was recently acquired by Motorola so that they can continue their efforts for Motorola devices and software.
Still, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened—Palm was also recently acquired by HP® and their efforts with WebOS (Web Operating System) will live on in HP’s future offerings. HP has already confirmed that their touchscreen tablet device coming “early in 2011” will be using WebOS instead of Windows 7 Tablet®. Apple® and Google (numerous hardware manufacturers are using Google’s software) already have a strong standing in this area and it’s reassuring to see that Motorola and HP are also making their commitment. The end result is being able to provide a centralized, yet completely open and free of corporate interests, access-point with content that’s custom-tailored to best fit the device that you are using.
It is important that we fight for this, because we don’t want our efforts of forming a centralized communication network to become overrun by large corporations that then will be able to influence what is sent over the network.
When I think about my experiences and relationships with HRB and the people here, it’s incredible to believe I won’t be around them every day come fall. My internship has given me numerous programming projects but they’ve also supported my nonprofit organization. They’ve worked around my finals, trips, dance rehearsals and plays. They’ve taught me about advertising, programming, people and life.
Here are the top 5 lessons HRB has taught me:
1. Communication is key. Our conference room has glass walls. Nothing is hidden behind closed doors and the entire company participates in every staff meeting. Everyone has a voice.
2. An office atmosphere can make or break productivity. Laughter and camaraderie are some of the best tools for creativity.
3. Teamwork should be automatic. It shouldn’t be a forced “group project.” Collaboration should simply happen because of coworkers’ varying levels of expertise.
4. Advertising is about people and feelings and finding what is truly above and beyond about a product. It isn’t about manipulating facts.
5. Blog ideas are unlimited and ubiquitous. All you have to know is how to come at that can of Mountain Dew or a squirming baby.
The thing about HRB that’s so different from other companies is the aura of flexibility and responsibility. As an intern, I am entrusted with tasks of importance to the company and expected to blog about my experiences on the company Website. With this responsibility comes freedom to explore and create what I envision. It also, however, comes with a duty to perform and be willing to change my vision based on others’ input. I am encouraged to develop my ideas and to consistently use creativity to better my portfolio.
As advertisers, we know that limited time offers bring in better sales. As humans, we know that not having enough time can sweeten the time we’re given.
I wrote an article in May called “What’s the Right Way to Update?” that covered the updating procedure for various software and how it can be improved so that users have the latest version.
Having the latest version of software can be very important due to the fact that technology is updated at a fairly fast rate. Using a copy of software from six or so years ago can mean a lot in terms of what it can do and how you interact with it.
For website developers, the target audience could very well be using a range of Web browsers that were last updated as far back as 9 years ago or as recently as an hour ago.
This is where the concepts of “graceful degradation” and “progressive enhancement” come in.
What is “Graceful Degradation?”
Graceful degradation is a development term that means a site is built to the latest standards, yet it still works for anyone using an old Web browser. Not everything will work exactly the same in the old Web browser, but nothing will be broken. This means that those users with the latest Web browsers will get to utilize all of the site’s features, whereas those using a less capable browser will see a simplified version.
What is “Progressive Enhancement?”
Progressive enhancement is essentially the same as graceful degradation, but the developer starts by creating the base-level functionality that works in every browser. Then they add features to provide a little more for anyone using a modern Web browser. Graceful degradation and progressive enhancement provide the same benefits, but it’s just a matter of the developer’s preference as to what they want to use as their starting point.
Now that I understand the lingo, why do these terms matter?
The modern idea of providing a better website for users with capable browsers is in hopes that people using old Web browsers see some benefit in updating them, which would allow innovation to commence in the mainstream user base. I mean, a group of Web developers actually held a funeral for Internet Explorer 6® when Google® announced that they no longer supported it (Microsoft® even sent flowers)!
In the meantime, there still needs to be some ambition by developers that leads the way to the latest and greatest features and functionality.