Work on what you want week!

It is all too easy to spend all of one’s life working to meet deadlines and catch up with outstanding work.

I’ve just read about a neat idea to allow time to develop those personal projects which are easily often neglected in the day-to-day grind of paying the mortgage and school fees:

“At Trigger.io, work on what you want week (wowyww) happens once a quarter: the idea is we give all our developers free rein to hack on anything they want, so long as it’s somewhat related to one of our products.”

I’m hereby iplementing this idea at Generation X Computers. The first “Work on what you want week!” will take place from the 31st December 2012 until 6th January 2013. As New Year’s Eve is my birthday I can consider it a little birthday present to myself.

Subsequent Work on what you want weeks are scheduled for:

1st – 7th April 2013

1st – 7th July 2013

30th September – 6th October 2013.

Now, back to the day-to-day grind!

WordPress themes that I like

I’m increasingly attracted to the idea of using WordPress as a platform for developing websites which need content management capabilities, but without the degree of complexity that calls for a Joomla imlementation.

I love Joomla, and have been using it since Joomla 1.0, but a number of factors have lately forced me to reconsider it as my de facto content management system. Probably the two biggest factors to contribute to this decision are my disappointment with Virtuemart 2 as an e-Commerce platform and  the complexity of setting up Joomla sites and training users.

The following collection of links, which I intend to add to and use as a reference, are to some of the WordPress themes that I particularly like. Initially they will be mainly design related, as I’m currently in the process of putting together a WordPress site to promote WordPress web design for Shropshire companies.

For me certain themes leap of the screen and feel just right, in terms of design and layout. It seeems I am not alone in this,  so not surprisingly there is a degree of repetition among the themes on the following sites.

Dessign.net offer a selection of very clean and stylish WordPress themes – Modern and Minimal in their words – specifically designed with  illustrators, photographers and graphic designers in mind. Many of their designs are responsive (see my article on Responsive web design) and, I have to admit, really quite lovely.

Skeleton is a simple, responsive, mobile-friendly WordPress theme from from Simple Themes, based on the Skeleton boilerplate1.

In a post from June 2012, WPLift highlight 25 free WordPress themes that are particularly suitable for Photographic Portfolio websites. These tend to fall into two catgories – full screen or grid layout. I personally feel that the appeal of both extends far beyong photographic sites, and am considering using one of them in a product showcase site, perhaps using wp-commerce.

The Pinboard free WordPress theme features a responsive layout and an advanced and flexible grid powered by jQuery Masonry that automatically and smoothly adapts to changes to the viewport of your browser.It combines clean and elegant in a very pretty package.

1 For those not familiar with the concept a boilerplate is a standard set of files used to kick-start the development process. The Skeleton boilerplate, for example,  is a small collection of CSS files that can help rapid development of responsive websites. Other boilerplates include the HTML5 boilerplate, a starting project template for HTML5 development that is designed to be adapted to your needs. Similarly, Twitter Bootstrap is a collection of web creation and development tools including HTML and CSS-based design templates for typography, forms, buttons, charts, navigation and other interface components, as well as optional JavaScript extensions. Newly released at the time of writing, Joomla 3.0 utilises the Twitter Bootstrap. I hope to blog more on this subject soon.

 

When bespoke isn’t best

Wherever possible I have always chosen to develop bespoke designs for my websites, be they static marketing sites or developed using content management systems.

When discussing the design for a new project with a client I tend to suggest looking at a representative sample of sites (usually, but not necessarily) within their industry in order to identify features and design aspects that they like. I then seek to bring together these features, in combination with the client’s existing corporate branding, to develop a best of breed site intended to be greater than the sum of it’s parts.

I do, however,  find template sites to be great sources of inspiration. This is due in part to the fact that they are often instrumental in highlighting emerging technologies and techniques within the design sector.

When it comes to choosing a content management system, however, there are a number of very compelling reasons why bespoke is not best. Content Management Systems broadly fall into one of three major groups.

  1. Open Source Content Management Systems include Joomla!, WordPress and Drupal, each of which can provide different strengths and benefits depending on the nature of the project.
  2. Proprietary Content Management Systems
  3. Bespoke Content Management Systems are created on an ad-hoc basis by in-house development teams, often to meet the specific requirements of a particular company or project.

I would not advocate the use of bespoke systems for a number of reasons.

  1. They are High Risk.
  2. They become quickly dated or obsolete.
  3. Lack of extensibility.

[article still in draft stages]

 

 

 

 

Responsive web design: What goes around…

“Responsive Web Design essentially indicates that a web site is crafted to adapt the layout to the environment that it is being viewed in.”1

At Generation X it has always been a first principle to consider the wide variety of user platforms when designing websites. Cross browser compatibility and varied browser resolutions have always been tested as an inherant part of the design process since I first began designing websites in 2003, so the concept of responsive web design is not new to me.

The term responsive web design, however, first came to my attention last month when I read an article by James Pearce entitled Not a mobile web, merely a 320px-wide one2, orginally written in October 2010 in response to Ethan Marcotte’s seminal article3 on A List Apart.

Proponents of responsive web design seem to fall into two camps – the purists and the adaptives. The distinction lies in whether exactly the same information is presented across all platforms – the purist arguemnt – or whether the design should respond to different platforms by delivering “different content and services altogether – or, at least, a differently prioritized version of the default desktop experience”.2 As is so often the case, both sides of the argument have much to recommend them.

Allied to the concept of responsive web design is that of Mobile First,4 whereby web applications and websites are designed for mobile devices first, rather than the mobile version being adapted from the desktop version. The case for Mobile First is argued in the book of the same title, by Luke Wroblewski.

I should point out that responsive web design principles have (not yet) been applied to this WordPress blog.

1 Responsive Web Design, Wikipedia
2 Not a mobile web, merely a 320px-wide one, by James Pearce
3 Responsive Web Design, by Ethan Marcotte
4 Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski

Object hyperlinking: Meta-objects meets metaphysics

Object hyperlinking is a neologism that usually refers to extending the Internet to objects and locations in the real world, by attaching object tags with URLs as meta-objects to tangible objects or locations which can then be read by a wireless mobile device and information about objects and locations retrieved and displayed.

Object hyperlinking will make it possible to link comprehensive and editable information to any object or location. The opportunities presented by this are vast, although what has emerged so far is a mixture of social and commercial applications.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Object_hyperlinking

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” William Gibson

f-Commerce: The Rise of Social Commerce

It is widely contended that f-Commerce transactions will exceed Amazon’s annual sales over the next 5 years.

f-Commerce, also known as Facebook commerce and f-comm, refers to the buying and selling of goods through Facebook. f-Commerce is a subset of Social Commerce, the use of social network(s) in the context of e-commerce transactions. These transactions can be completed either on the  Facebook, or off-Facebook using their Open Graph Protocol1, which enables the integration of Facebook-enhanced features on external websites or ecommerce shops.

As an f-Commerce developer the first decision to be made is how to deliver products and content within the Facebook environment. f-Commerce pages can be presented using either iFrames or Facebook Apps, each offering advantages and disadvantages.

1 Open Graph apps enable the developer to deeply integrate into the core Facebook experience, including Timeline, News Feed, and Ticker. See http://developers.facebook.com/docs/opengraph/

 

QR codes, mobile tagging and hardlinking

QR code containing VCard contact information for Simon Hibbott

QR code containing VCard contact information for Simon HibbottThe QR code on the left contains my VCard contact information.

QR Codes are a type of matrix (or 2-dimensional optical) code consisting of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background.

QR or Quick Response codes have been around since 1994, having been originally developed as product tracking tools in the automotive industry.  I first came across them a variation of them a decade ago while I was working in the Pharmaceutical Industry, in the form of DataMatrix or Intelligent Product Codes.

There are currently around 70 types of code, mainly used in logistics. However, they have more recently entered the zeitgeist because they can be used by mobile applications, known as mobile tagging. Mobile tagging was developed in 2003 and has since been used in several fields of mobile marketing or advertising.

For mobile tagging the codes are restricted to around a dozen types, many proprietary. QR and Datamatrix codes provide a widely supported open source format and are the most widely used for optical reading using a mobile. QR reader software is freely available for most mobile platforms.

QR codes storing addresses and Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are more frequently appearing in magazines, on signs, on buses, on business cards, or on almost any object about which users might need information. I’ve recently seen them on T-shirts and coffee mugs. Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the telephone’s browser. This act of linking from physical world objects is termed hardlinking or object hyperlinking, which sound delightfully like they come straight off the pages of a William Gibson novel.

I noticed one used as a Twitter avatar a few months ago – something I’ve now duplicated on a couple of business Twitter accounts, and was recently given a business card by a colleague containing his contact details in a QR code.

QR codes can be used for a variety of uses, broadly divided into commercial, public and private tagging. It is their use in mobile tagging across all of these application areas, and in particular commercial tagging, that most catches my imagination.

I’m currently completing a Mobile App project, and will use QR codes to provide a direct link to the Android Market and iTunes store – an example of the kind of enterprise solution which will enable codes to be monetised and customised for business and commercial use. With this in mind I’ve also been looking at the process of branding by adding a logo to QR codes, something which is considered vital by many for commercial tagging.

Joomla! CMS Development Status

Joomla Version 2.5.0 is the second release made within the new six-month release cycle that started with the delivery of Joomla 1.6 in January 2011. Version 2.5 is a long-term-support (LTS) release that will be supported for at least 18 months.

Joomla Version 1.7 reaches end of life on 24 February 2012. All users of version 1.7 are advised to update to version 2.5.0 before that time.

The following list of key dates in the development cycle should prove useful.

Key Dates

Long Term Support Release: Joomla 2.5

General Availability Date: January 24, 2012

End of Long Term Support: December, 2013

This is the culmination of the 1.6/1.7/2.5 series

Long Term Support Release: Joomla! 1.5.25

End of Support: April 2012. Major security fixes will be done until release of 3.0 in September 2012.

Standard Support Release: Joomla 1.7.4

End of Support: February 24 2012

Upcoming Major Release: Joomla! 3.0

Current status: Planning

Expected General Availability Date: September 19, 2012

Joomla 2.5 Stable Released

Joomla! 2.5 - Extra Features! Easy Updates! Too many exclamation marks!

Joomla! 2.5 - Extra Features! Easy Updates! Too many exclamation marks!As of January 24th 2012 Joomla 2.5 was made generally available, in line with Joomla’s six-month release cycle which  started with the delivery of Joomla 1.6 in January 2011 and Joomla 1.7 in July, 2011.

At first glance it seems very similar to the previous version, but “under the hood” there are a number of key enhancements and new features, including:

Automatic notification when a Joomla or extension update is available. This extends on the update functionality already present in previous versions. As a Joomla developer I find this particularly welcome.

A better natural language search engine to the Joomla core, faster and more versatile than the standard search, and offering better functionality such as auto-completion and stemming (for example if you type “running” in a search field you also see run).

Multi-database support, which should make Joomla more attractive to a corporate user-base and improve scalability. Joomla 2.5 offers support for Microsoft SQL Server, with Oracle support promised in the near future. Previous versions of Joomla supported MySQL exclusively. Again, from the perspective of a Joomla developer this is a particularly welcome feature in raising the profile of Joomla amongst prospective clients. Generation X already offer a choice of Linux or Windows-based hosting to our clients, and can now offer Joomla on either platform. However, as an advocate of Open Source software my default setup will remain MySQL-focused.

Joomla 2.5 demonstrates what a truly collaborative community-driven software project Joola is, having been developed with the feedback gathered from more than 2.5 million Joomla forum posts, 540,000 Joomla forum members and data from more than 8,800 Joomla extensions.

However, before widespread adoption can take place wider support for Joomla extensions such as Virtuemart and Community Builder will be needed for Joomla 2.5. I had been hoping to use Joomla 2.5 on a new eCommerce project today, but Virtuemart 2.0 does not yet support this latest version of Joomla, and while support is promised within the next fortnight it seems prudent to develop the site using the Joomla 1.7.4 version, and upgrade to Joomla 2.5 when Virtuemart support becomes available (and stable).

 

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