I've used Google's search engine and most of its products for a good few years now. The clean interface and the search results themselves initially drew me in, having previously used Altavista.
Since I studied GCSE IT, I've had a hotmail.com email account - but after receiving an invite to GMail from a fellow Star Wars Galaxies player, my use of hotmail started to decline. My domain email is all sent to my own mailserver, powered by hMailServer but is then downloaded by GMail periodically, as I couldn't find any free and open-source web mail interface that would rival GMail's. Since then 14,000+ emails have made their way into my Inbox. GMail revolutionsed email - no longer did you have to label and organise your email into sub-folders or delete them altogther. It's simply a case of read the email and archive it - letting Google's powerful search functionality retrieve it at a later date, if required.
Bookmarks are handled by Google too - I tried a PHP/MySQL self-hosted solution, but found the UI to be too clunky and the project appeared to be abandoned. With bookmarks, I like the way that Google integrates it into the search results - so that you can instantly see those you've previously starred.
As for Calendar, I have a few entries - but have never been much of a user. The same can be said for Docs.
Then there's Reader. It's a slightly different story - I have 117 subscriptions and often stumble across another RSS feed to subscribe to. I find it an addiction, checking feeds several times a day to ensure I'm up-to-date on the latest.
I also have data in Google Analytics for 10 domains; 1 purchase using Google Checkout; Chrome is synced to my Google Account; Feedburner has burnt 5 of my feeds; and Web History has proved useful in the past - as a better alternative to a Browser's own History.
Then Google went and launched its own Social Network, Google+
I'll admit that I don't use it as much as twitter or facebook - I've found each serves its own purposes. I read somewhere that facebook is for keeping in touch with the people you know, but don't like and twitter is for following the people you don't know but do like. Something along those lines. There's some truth in that - depending on who you follow/are friends with. I find facebook a way of keeping up with people I know: what they're up to and twitter as a way of hearing about the latest before anyone else. Google+ has carved out its own sector - detailed, intelligent technical discussion. Perhaps it's because the majority of the users on there are geeks at the moment, but I find each post on my Stream to be worth reading - all signal, no noise - whereas twitter is more noise than signal, requiring effort to find the gems.
Google+ is here to stay and with more people joining each day, it'll soon rival twitter and facebook for market share.
Then Google went and released Google Music. It wasn't long ago that I was looking for a cloud based music provider, that I could store my 1000's of MP3's on to listen to whilst at work. Previously, I relied on FTP to my server at home, to grab albums I wanted - and then import them into iTunes. This isn't too bad, unless you consider how bad iTunes has become over the years - Apple surprises me with each update, as the software appears to be worsening. As soon as I saw a tweet asking if anyone wanted an invite - I jumped at the chance. During registration, I was told that the Beta was currently US only - but was pleased to find that it worked for me in the UK, using a UK ISP.
I have around 120GB of music on my server here, but after installing Google's Music manager app, to begin uploading MP3s to the service, I started ignoring the shite and picking out the best albums instead. It was refreshing to find that I only actually liked a small portion of the collection - 4374 songs to be precise. Uploading it didn't take long either, thanks to a 50MB down/5MB up Virgin Media connection. The downside is that work's Internet connection is ~4MB at best, shared amongst 25+ users - roughly 164KB each if you think about it. This equates to a stuttery experience, which has meant that I barely use the service. Still, at least I know my music is there, waiting to be played.
I probably use a few more services that Google offers, but the above is the majority of my Google time. However, today I realised that relying on one provider for so many services can be a problem.
Take, for example, the Google Translate API. We use the translateth.is plugin to provide an easy interface into the API for Users to translate websites into their desired language. Google recently decided that people were abusing the API so much, that they are removing it completely by December 1st 2011. And it's not the only Google product to be axed.
Google recently announced that they're restructuring and focusing their priorities on 3 distinct areas of the business. Off the top of my head:
- High traffice services
Search is a given, as it is the core of their business. Advertising is where most of their revenue comes from - which leaves the high traffice services. Anything that doesn't fit into these 3 key areas is being discontinued. APIs that 3rd party developers and businesses rely on; Services that many found essential in their daily lives; and Google Labs - the birthplace of many of these new ideas.
From a business point of view, it makes a lot of sense - they've spent years having fun, creating what they could and testing different markets with new services. But they've now decided to focus on what makes them money.
From a user's point of view, it's worrying. Each time I hear of a new round of cuts - I wonder if a service I count on is going to be discontinued. They've spent time switching the high traffic ones over to the new Google+ style interface, but haven't yet touched upon Bookmarks or Reader to name a few.
There's a saying - don't put all your eggs in one basket. I've pretty much done that with Google.
I recently closed my Yahoo, Flickr and Hotmail accounts - instead using Google Picasa and GMail as alternatives. Today I logged into GMail to find an email from Google Apps, to say that my account had been updated to support all of the non-Apps services. I had setup Google Apps when it was first opened to the public, with the intention being that I would use it for all @slickhouse.com email. However, I didn't like the idea of changing MX Records to point to Google, when GMail was still in its infancy - and the fact that I couldn't use all of Google's products with the same Apps account.
However, as part of the update, Google removed the association of my @slickhouse.com email from my @gmail.com account and placed it with the Google Apps account, without prompting me. After reading the email and realising the problem, I immediately signed into the Apps account and deleted it. The trouble is, the deletion process takes up to 5 days and I cannot re-associate my @slickhouse.com email to my @gmail.com account. It's a minor annoyance, but suggests the whole process and system is flakey - with so many services, Google has created a fragmented account/login solution, which they're only now trying to piece back together.
I'm confident I'll get it back to how I want it - no more stale Apps account, but a single @gmail.com account with my @slickhouse.com email associated with it.
Therein lies another problem - my @gmail.com address was setup in a rush as I wanted to use the invite and try out this new GMail thing. As my domain email was forwarded to it, I never really noticed it - until Google+ came along. Google doesn't offer a way of associating more than one @gmail.com address to another - one feature that hotmail/live does allow for. So if I do decide that I can no longer live with my current @gmail.com address, I'm stuck with having to manually export my data from each of the services that allow it and then import it into the new account. Not all services allow this though - Google+ being one of them.
Maybe this is all the result of Google developing lots of small projects and purchasing startups, without any uniform way of tying them altogether. Now they've realised that they have too many products and not enough focus to move forward - that they're starting to claw back and tighten up integration between each of the products.
I'm not against Google in anyway - I'd even go as far as saying I'm a fan. But I've come to realise that I shouldn't be relying on them for everything - even though their products are reliable, fast and intuitive. At least as a Web Developer, when the time comes - I can develop my own alternative(s).
Today, a Footer is essential to a website. It shows the user that they’ve reach the end of the page and provides them with some additional information/links. Without a Footer, many users may wonder if the page has fully loaded within their browser.
Recent trends in Web Design have expanded on the traditional Footer, which contain a handful of links and perhaps a Copyright notice. These new Footer designs stand out from the norm and can provide a dramatic ending to a user’s scrolling experience.
Although I’m a Web Developer by day, I do have a keen eye for good design on the Web. So the following is a selection of my favourite website Footers.
Firstly, starting with what I consider a bad footer:
In general, Wiggle’s site comes across as cluttered and takes a while for the user to digest and find what they’re looking for. It’s also full-width, so on a larger resolution monitor can appear to have too much whitespace. Admittedly, the Footer does have some valid information, but could be laid out better.
So what makes a good footer?
Apple’s site is clean and crisp throughout, though their Footer is very simple and allows the main content to take centre stage. However, interestingly it contains a breadcrumb of the user’s path to the current page.
The BBC’s recent redesign impressed me, especially the Footer – which provides useful links for the user and uses a neutral colour palette, so that it doesn’t clash with the various pages throughout the site.
PelFusion’s Footer is split into 3 columns with links to Comments; Categories and Archives – distinct Blog features. I’m interested to see how this will look in a year or two – whether or not the extra Archives will spoil the look, or if the owner decides to only display the most recent ones.
Perishable Press has an almost sepia tone to the page, with the Footer echoing this. What inspired me most about this was the 3 sets of images that fit together well and the rollover states display more colourful versions, yet the 3 sets differ in dimensions and location.
Waterstones’ Footer is perhaps the only one here containing an actual photo, rather than the more common illustrated picture. It fits well with the nature of the site, displaying a selection of books on a Web 2.0 style glossy shelf. Below are 2 columns of links, each divided into 2 (totalling 4).
Yodaa’s Footer fits well with the rest of the site, which changes as you scroll down the page – from a blue sky in the header through to the dark earthy feel of the Footer. It contains a contact form that has been designed to fit the illustrated feel of the page very well.
I had to include my own site for reference, purely because at the time of designing it, I believed it reflected the current trend of Footers on the web. I spent a few days researching Footers that I liked the look and feel of – and opted to attempt a cartoony style, with all of the links as pictures rather than text. It’s starting to show its age and in some respects looks fairly plain compared to others on this list in a similar style.
That’s my list of 30 great website footers. Please be aware that these are my personal favourites and have made such an impact that I’ve bookmarked them whilst browsing the Web over the past few months. I can’t pick a favourite of the bunch, but looking through the list there does appear to be a trend in website Footers that I prefer:
- Multiple-columns – 3 and 4 are the more popular choice
- Jammed full of useful links
- Fit well with the rest of the theme
- Big and almost overpowering
And overall, they all provide that important factor – letting the user know they’ve reached the end of the page and providing them with a few more options in the hope of keeping them on the site.
When designing my next version of slickhouse and indeed, any future sites – I’ll be taking these into account, allowing them to influence my design decisions. If you’d like to read more on website Footers, the following Articles are worth a look:
- Themeflash – 50 excellent footer design inspiration
- Smashing Magazine – footers in modern web design
- Six Revisions – 25 stylish website footer designs
- Vandelay Design – blog footers
Let me know if you’ve come across any additional Footers that have inspired you and if you agree with the above choices, or not.
Inspired by the site over at usethis.com, the following is a brief interview between me and, well, me.
Web Developer, Techie
Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Matt, Husband to Anneka and Daddy to Lily (18 months) and Mia (15 weeks to go). By day I'm a Web Developer for IOCEA.com Ltd, the creators of Cshop and by night I develop my own sites and tinker with my servers.
My personal project, SlickCMS is nearing completion for a public release, over a year after embarking on it. I'm still contemplating going Open Source with it, or simply making it freely available.
When I'm not developing for work or my own kicks, I try to improve my measly XBOX 360 Gamer Score; Fallout 3 is proving to be engaging.
What hardware do you use?
At work, a Dell Optiplex 320 with 2GB RAM and an Intel Pentium D. It has lasted me nearly 3 years of development without any problems. It has 2 Sony 17" LCDs connected to it, with a Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 - an older gaming mouse I found to be perfect for me, a lefty.
At home, a Sony VAIO, again with 2GB RAM and an Intel Pentium (M). It runs Windows 7 fine and my only complaint is the loud fan.
I also run several servers in the loft, including a mini-itx Firewall and an AMD Athlon X2 with 6GB RAM as a Virtual Host.
And what software?
My work desktop and laptop run pretty much the same set of software, with the former using Vista and the latter Windows 7. Visual Studio 2008; Microsoft SQL Server 2008; Office 2007; Notepad++ and 7Zip amongst others.
Browser wise, it's Internet Explorer 8 at work, with Google Chrome at home. I prefer the minimalist approach of Chrome for browsing websites and the Web Developer toolbar of IE8 for development purposes.
The Firewall uses Smoothwall and the Virtual Host uses Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, with the VMs a mix of Server 2003/2008.
Lastly, I am a fan of Star Wars, so my Servers are named after planets: Bespin for the Host; Talus, Hoth and Corellia (amongst others) for the VMs and Tatooine for the NAS.
What would be your dream setup?
At work, a 30" Dell monitor, with the Sonys either side would work well - all powered by a Intel Xenon workstation.
Laptop wise, a bleeding-edge Lenovo, Sony or Dell would be good. Maybe a high-end netbook or lightweight laptop for browsing the Internet when not developing too.
My servers could do with an upgrade and consolidation - there's no need to run all 4 of them 24/7, when just the one with a bunch of Virtuals would suffice.
I used to roll with a desktop at home, for PC Gaming and occasional developing - but have since found a laptop to be ideal for sitting on the sofa whilst coding.
Take a look to the right and you'll see 5 lots of Novembers in the Archive:
Which makes this blog 4 years old! A lot has happened in the past 4 years, including 2 jobs (with a slight career change); visiting Africa twice; becoming a Dad; getting married; becoming a Dad again.
Hopefully I'll be looking back in another 4 years stating that slickhouse.com is 8 years old. Over the coming months into 2010, I plan to make a few strategic changes to the site and increase its popularity. I've learnt a wealth of knowledge working as a Web Developer since May 2007, so I'd like to publish a few articles along those lines too. And my side-project SlickCMS has been rolled out to several sites, so I figure it's now time I bite the bullet and switch from WordPress. There's a bit more functionality still to add, such as RSS feeds and Archives - but once they're done Slickhouse will be powered by SlickCMS.
Don't get me wrong: WordPress is a fantastic piece of Web Publishing Software, it's just that after 4 years I feel it's time to put what I've learnt from using it to good use and develop my own. Besides, I'm an ASP.NET/SQL Developer and my PHP knowledge is dwindling in comparison.
Inspired by a few articles I came across recently, namely:
- http://css-tricks.com/images-on-a-subdomain/ (Chris' move to a separate domain)
- http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html#cookie_free (rules for improving performance)
- http://sstatic.net/ (Stackoverflow's static site)
- Increasing the number of simultaneous requests
- Reducing the size of the requests/responses to and from the server(s)
2) is achieved in the same way, by switching off cookies on slickhouse.co.uk - which in turn, can help reduce the request/response sizes and thus the page load times.
My initial testing has shown a noticeable improvement, though I don't have any metrics to share. I used Microsoft's Fiddler tool to profile the load times and was surprised how much external content the site uses, from 3rd parties. The twitter feed on the right is 2 requests alone and the Google Map that was tucked away in the site's footer added a further 20 or so. This gave a sluggish feel to the site as each page loaded.
So I updated the theme files and removed some of the excess requests, to bring it down to ~14 for the homepage. It's still high and could be improved further using CSS sprites. But I'll save that for the next version.
To summarise, splitting your static content from the dynamic pages helps increase page load times. It also allows for future expandability, as the static content could be hosted on a separate server, or even on a cloud/CDN solution.