Older blog entries for dorward (starting at number 60)

When SEO fails

I hate most SEO, I really do. Companies are spending too much effort trying to game their position in search results and not enough trying to provide a good user experience.

Take, for example, British Airways.

The use case: I want to find out how much BA will charge to get me to Pisa this summer.

So, I visit a search engine, type in British Airways and skim down the results. Surprisingly, BA doesn’t appear to be number one, or two. The third hit is Google’s standard link off to Google News, then we hit the BA recruitment site.

What is going on? Why aren’t BA showing up?

The answer? They are, and at number one. I’m just overlooking them because they look like spam from a crappy price comparison website.

This is the problem: <title>Book Flights, Hotels, Holidays, Car Rental with British Airways - BA.com</title>

I’m looking for BA, but BA are so concerned with having good search engine positioning for “Flights”, “Hotels” and other keywords that I wouldn’t associate with BA in the first place, that they pump up their title with those keywords instead of making it a useful title. The only bit of actual title (British Airways) is stuffed almost at the very end, and I’ve given up reading by that point.

Do they really want browser tabs to be labeled “Book Flights, Hotels, Holidays…”? Do they really want the default bookmark label to be “Book Flights, Hotels, Holidays…”? Probably not, but they’ve put so much focus on their search engine position that they’ve made the sacrifice.

Even being at that position in the search results isn’t entirely good for them. I actively sought them out, initially overlooked them, and when I dig through their spiced ham camouflage I found myself wanting to see what their competitors had to offer.

Syndicated 2010-01-20 11:37:00 from David Dorward

HSBC don't want me to be their customer

The British are more likely to get divorced than switch their bank, but HSBC are doing a fantastic job of driving me away.

At the start of December I endured the annual round of “There is a possibility your card might have been cloned, we’re going to cancel it and send you a new one — which will take 5–10 working days.”

This was irritating the first time (especially as I had just reached that stage where I had memorised every detail of the card and no longer needed to pull it out to make online transactions).

The second time was just as bad.

This year, they decided to do it just as I was about to start my Christmas shopping.

That was the point where I applied for a new credit card, with a different bank (it was approved today).

Being the end of the year, I thought I had better order myself a season ticket for my rail travel for next year (before the fares are hiked by the rail companies). So, I duly fill out all the forms (including the fun of working out how I’m supposed to enter the photocard id code — hint: The spaces that are printed on the card aren’t in the code you have to type in).

Remember, this is an order for a physical ticket that will be posted to the address where my credit card is registered.

Then I get to the payment page where I enter:

  • Everything on the front of the card
  • Everything on the back of the card
  • My postal address
  • My Masterphish (the Mastercard implementation of 3D secure, aka Phished by Visa) password

At that point, my transaction is declined.

Did I misremember the Masterphish password? What has gone wrong?

My phone starts buzzing, but diverts to voicemail before I remember that I left it on the other side of the room.

Time to hit the “Call last number” button:

You were called by HSBC, no further action is required by yourself, and there is no need to return the call.

That isn’t very helpful.

I dig out the number for card services and call them back anyway. After a lot of rigmarole, where I inevitably wanted the last menu option, and wasn’t allowed to hear the first menu until I had listed to my balance report, I got to speak to a human … who had to transfer me to another department which made me say “Yes, I did spent that money” for every transaction I made in the last two days (quite a lot, I’m preparing for a party) before believing that I really wanted to spend a large sum on money on an annual train ticket.

Then I got to deal with my railway company’s order system again (naturally, I had to start from scratch).

As I wrote this, I received a voice mail (sadly, there is significant lag on the O2 voicemail system):

Good afternoon, my name is something incomprehensible in an accent from another continent and I am calling from the bank HSBC and have a prerecorded message for you.

Oh joy, the human touch. I feel so loved.

The HSBC theme tune

Sorry. I’m not thinking of HSBC as a superhero right now. This theme tune serves only to annoy. Especially as it reminds me of earlier this month when I spent ten minutes listening to it on a loop.

Please urgently call HSBC on …

Excuse me? “Urgently call”? How does that square with “there is no need to return the call”?

HSBC have been my bank for a decade and a half. I have a credit card from a different bank in the post. Next year I shall look around for a new current account.

Syndicated 2009-12-31 17:05:00 from David Dorward

Screen readers and top posting Vs Mutt

Many years ago, my primary email client was a little console tool called mutt. It is small, powerful and has lots of nice features.

One of these features is the ability to identify quoted sections of an email.

It just takes one keypress, (capital) S by default, to skip to the next section of fresh material.

It just takes one keypress, (capital) T by default, to toggle all the quoted material into invisibility.

This is a tiny piece of free software that has had this feature for over half a decade (which is when I discovered the feature).

If Mutt can do it, why can’t screen readers and other email software manage it?

I don’t raise the issue of RFC1855 on accessibility mailing lists. The top posting that is the norm on those technical forums might make it relatively hard for me to follow a thread, and it might be a nightmare when trying to read emails with a dozen quoted signatures and disclaimers over a slow GPRS mobile Internet connection, but I know what happens.

People who depend on screen readers have problems with top posting. Why is they software so shoddy? (And can anybody who uses such software please complain to their vendors!)

Syndicated 2009-11-23 20:20:00 from David Dorward

CMSs that are too much work

Did I mention that my CMS system was too much effort? Yes, I did, and the evidence is in — I wrote a blog post a month ago and it still isn’t on my main website. I’ll have to run an update tonight (which will probably involve manually fixing a parse error I have with some data I’m importing).

Syndicated 2009-11-20 18:44:00 from David Dorward

Three Levels of Expression

Russell said in “In praise of fragments” that “blogging is about momentum and ‘more considered’ makes momentum harder” and I’m with him on that.

I have a system, albeit one suffering from some technical issues (my production CMS was designed to generation static files and never got a decent admin interface) which I hope to resolve soon (I have Catalyst running on my production server, and I have the software almost written to take over a couple of bits of my website).

Tweets are transitory, and short. I have ideas that can’t fit into 140 characters, and I feel guilty if I spill over into multiple tweets.

So, to blogging. Blogging needs a front end, it gets squished into Atom, and squished into webpages and squished into content’s pages. I’ve using Tumblr as an interface between me & my blog. I am going to replace it with some Catalyst (removing the need to boot the laptop which currently hosts my CMS and tell it to suck down from Tumblr, rebuild and push out — the legacy of moving between systems and not investing the time in cleaning up the mess sooner).

Where was I? Oh yes. A front end makes it easy to bash some content out, to let ideas flow, and to stop holding on to thoughts until you can find the time to express them the way you really want.

Then we come to the polish. I want to be able to express some ideas with polish. I want to include example pages. I don’t want the publication date to be considered highly important. I don’t want the content to drift down into the depths just because it was written a long time ago. My documents about basic CSS centring and inheritance account for over a third of the hits to my website by themselves.

Perhaps Twitter is my in and out trays, blogging is my file cabinet and I’m left wanting a bookcase to show off the things I really care about.

And perhaps, just perhaps, I should take a leaf out of “The death of the boring blog post?” and stop being quite so consistent with how I format that stuff which I care about.

As the new CMS takes over, I think I may be looking at alternative ways to handle the articles section of my site.

Syndicated 2009-11-20 17:17:05 from David Dorward

Netbooks are PCs

Tom has just exploded a little bit over an article in El Reg about netbooks.

Give me a command line. Give me Vim. And leave me the hell alone. Versioning? Install Git.

I have to agree. Last Christmas I managed to get a reasonable amount done with vim and git, on a netbook, on a train, with no Internet connection (and I was graphics programming!)

These things may be small, but they are almost as powerful as the workstation I have at the office (and don’t have the overhead of Windows and a chunky persistent virus scanner).

Syndicated 2009-10-20 16:23:05 from David Dorward

Amazon comes through (as usual)

David is holding copies of "SVG Essentials" and "Painting the web"

Any guesses as to which personal project I shall be returning to in that rare thing known as “my free time”?

Syndicated 2009-09-21 19:48:35 from David Dorward

On the dangers of opening one's mouth

I am now the primary maintainer of Catalyst::View::ContentNegotiation::XHTML. This is not one of the things I expected to happen when I woke up yesterday morning.

  1. Every five seconds, someone is wrong on the Internet, and often they are wrong about content negotiation.

  2. A fondness for simple markup rules (as found in XML) combined with a nagging dislike of Appendix C of the XHTML 1.0 specification (which makes the rules complicated again) and an interest in markup validation has led me to find out more than most people about HTTP.

  3. I like Perl and I like Catalyst

When you combine these bits of information, it was almost inevitable that I would get myself involved with getting content negotiation Done Right in Catalyst.

The Perl motto is “There’s more than one way to do it” but, thanks to the CPAN, it could easily be “Someone has already done it for you” and so it is useful to think out loud in the Perl community (or to think into an IRC channel in this case).

Just as I was about to start learning how to write a Catalyst View module from scratch, Tomas Doran pointed me at his module, and it was pretty good.

Nothing is perfect though, so I contributed some tests and patches and it was better.

Time passed. Work continued. It got better without me. I took another look at it and found another possible improvement.

It turned out that providing too much help can be a little dangerous.

15:22 < t0m> Dorward: well volunteered, what was your CPAN id again?
15:23 < Dorward> Eeek
15:23 < Dorward> What have I done?!
15:23 < Penfold> made it better
15:23 < Penfold> be porud
15:23 <+mdk> t0m: nice one ++
15:23 < t0m> Made DORWARD primary maintainer of Catalyst::View::ContentNegotiation::XHTML.
15:23 < t0m> Made DORWARD primary maintainer of Catalyst::View::TT::XHTML.

This wasn’t quite how I planned getting my first CPAN commit, but it has made it through the PAUSE queue and should be available at a mirror near you soon.

Please feel free to take a look, give it a try (give Catalyst a try if you aren’t already), and submit comments and bug reports.

Syndicated 2009-09-18 03:47:13 from David Dorward

CSS Class (a phrase I hate)

I keep seeing the term “CSS Class” crop up, but it doesn’t have any official meaning. It doesn’t even have a consistent unofficial meaning. I’ve seen the phrase “CSS Class” applied to mean all of the following:

Often it is possible to work out what people really mean, but that isn’t always the case. This is an appeal — if you find yourself saying or writing “CSS Class”, please think about what you actually mean.

Syndicated 2009-09-14 14:27:43 from David Dorward

On combining title and alt on images

Henny mentioned the MAMA results of uses of alt and title text on images.

Opera MAMA early results: of a small sample of 5000 URLs Title and Alt used together in same IMG element 720 times. A pet peeve of mine.

When I queried this she responded:

@dorward No to TITLE + ALT, it duplicates info for some screen reader users http://snipr.com/hzpt8 We’ll check for duplication in next crawl

I can’t imagine any circumstance where the alt text should be the same as the title text — since the alt should be an alternative to the image, the title shouldn’t be able to add any information to that which is already expressed by the image.

If there was duplication, then I’d agree with Henny that it is a bad bit of markup; sometimes repetition can help get an important point across but image metadata is not the place to do this.

Hopefully the duplicate text check crawl that she mentioned will not have a high number of matches (my cynical side is telling me that this isn’t a hope I should cling to). I’ll be keeping an eye out for the results of that.

It does raise a question thought — if alt and title were to both appear on the same image, what should they contain?

Let us see what the specifications have to say about title and alt.

Let’s deal with the alt attribute. This is nice and simple.

HTML 4.01 says that alt is for an alternative to an image for when the image is not available (and is mandatory).

The use of alt text seems obvious enough to me, but perhaps that is because I’ve been writing it for years. The HTML5 draft has a detailed collection of use cases with examples should you be interested. The late Alan Flavell wrote an excellent guide to using alt text some years ago; it includes a wondeful set of examples of what not to do.

So, given that alt is relatively simple. What about the title attribute? HTML 4.01 says that title is for advisory information about an element, but is rather short on detail or examples of what that actually means. Let us look to the HTML5 draft for guidance.

It starts out with the basics, and retreads the ground covered in HTML 4.01.

The title attribute represents advisory information for the element, such as would be appropriate for a tooltip.

We then have some specific guidence for different types of elements, including images.

it could be the image credit or a description of the image

I hadn’t considered using it to provide a credit for the image, but it does seem to be a reasonable idea. It allows, for example, credit to be provided for an image that is used decoratively without breaking into the flow of text.

Using it for a description of the image seems a little odd though. We already have the longdesc attribute (even if we see little support for it in browsers). Why would one use the title attribute instead?

A little examination of HTML5 and I find:

There has been some suggestion that the longdesc attribute from HTML4 should be included. This has been considered and rejected in the past, but if new evidence is found showing the attribute to actually help users rather than harm them, it may be reconsidered.

So, it looks like HTML5 is dropping the attribute that allows a description to be expressed in markup (allowing paragraphs, emphasis and so on) for one which allows simple text strings.

I don’t understand how the attribute is harmful; if anyone has a summary of the reasoning behind this decision, then please let me know.

What other advisory information could be provided about an image?

Ian chipped in with the observation:

@dorward I see title overused more often than underused. Have Read guidelines which said an image without alt should have a title. Erm, no.

I can just about see a use case here. If we read “without alt” to mean “with blank alt text”, then I am reminded of several instances where I have read that screen users complained that their software informed them that there was an image but that as it lacked alt text they had no idea if it was important or not. Given that, I can understand the benefits of:

<img src="example.png" alt="" title="This is a decorative image">

I don’t like it though. It feels too much like a crutch to reassure screen reader users that the author isn’t making the mistakes that some other authors make, and it creates tooltips for many other users who are left wondering why they exist.

Syndicated 2009-05-18 20:40:00 from David Dorward

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