Speaking at Web Innovators on Feb 13th

I’m going to be speaking at the PDX Web Innovators February meeting on Mobile Web and the upcoming mobile tsunami. I’m excited to have the opportunity to share my love for the mobile web and possibilities available for businesses and developers.

Here are the details:

Graciously Hosted by Nemo Design
1875 Se Belmont St
Portland, Oregon
February 13th, 7 pm
PDX Web Innovators

In preparation for this event, I’m going to be starting a series of blog posts talking about the mobile market and how it mirrors the early days of the Internet. These posts are likely going to be posted on Cloud Four’s blog, but I’ll be sure to link to them from here.

NetNewsWire for Free

During CES, NewsGator has released its RSS readers for Mac and PC for free. On the Mac, it means that NetNewsWire, my favorite RSS reader and the tool I’ve relied on every day for years, is now free. For PC users, FeedDemon is now free.

Go download it.

Why a desktop RSS reader? Nick Bradbury does a great job of explaining what you get with a desktop reader instead of web-based one like Google Reader.

One of the great things about the NewsGator products sync their feeds and item status to NewsGator’s online service. You can then check your RSS feeds via the web or through the great iphone interface for NewsGator.

Why do I love NetNewsWire so much? The main reason is the key commands for browsing items. 90% of what you need to do can be done via the arrow keys. Ode to Apple has a great post on how to get the most out of NetNewsWire.

If you’ve been holding out on trying a desktop rss reader, now is a perfect time to give it a try.

Automatically Version CSS and Javascript

The WuFoo guys have a great article on Particletree describing how they are handling automatic versioning of their css and javascript.

This allows you to set your css and javascript expires headers far into the future without worrying about browser caching getting in the way when you need to edit the files.

If you can bear with the confusing way comments are organized on Particletree, there is some good information on alternative methods in the discussion.

Problems with Web Standards: Part II

Part II: Browser Wars are Back

Background: I’ve been reading with great interest the current concern over the W3C process for web standards and the lack of progress being made. Andy Clarke kicked it off by asking the W3C to disband the CSS working group. Alex Russell followed up declaring that the W3C Cannot Save Us. Jeff Croft, playing his usual role of rabble rouser, echoes Alex’s sentiments in an post entitled, “Do We Need a Return to Browser Wars.

I believe a return to browser wars is inevitable and that in some ways we are already there. One of the reasons we haven’t seen a return to the browser wars of old is that as developers we haven’t been struggling against the limitations of browsers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there aren’t features like column support in CSS3 that would make our lives easier. Or that better support of current standards in Internet Explorer wouldn’t save us a lot of time and money.

Instead, I’m saying that when faced with these challenges we can still build compelling sites and applications. We can build multi-column layouts using our current CSS implementations. We can workaround problems in IE. We can build solutions using Flash, Flex or Silverlight if we need something that stretches the paradigm further.

Contrast this to the days of the browser wars when the standards available to us–what few existed–were woefully inadequate for us being able to build businesses and industry around this new technology. The browser specific implementations were welcomed because new formatting options allowed us to build what we otherwise couldn’t accomplish.

When none of the standards available meet the demands of a growing market is when you will start to see browser manufacturers releasing proprietary extensions. And you have to look no further than mobile to see this is in action.

A week before Andy Clarke wrote that the CSS working group needed to be disbanded, Apple published an extension to javascript. This extension provides access to the orientation of the iPhone. DevPhone has a good explanation and example of the code.

Here is what is notable about this extension: it is providing access to something unique to mobile devices that there is no standard way of accomplishing. You can’t get at orientation using Flash, javascript, css or any other technology without this extension.

And orientation of the phone is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some other things that developers are likely to want to do on the mobile web that web standards do not currently provide any access to:

  • Access the location of the phone via gps or cell tower signal strength
  • Quick access to the phone number of the mobile device to speed entry
  • Triggering text messaging applications
  • Taking photos using the phone’s camera

This is a quick list of possible uses. There are many more. Each of the items on the list can be utilized to build powerful web applications. As the mobile web takes off, developers will be clamoring for ways to access these functions on phones.

And when the developers clamor to build exciting applications for mobile devices, the developers of the browsers on those devices will quickly choose to leave behind the standards bodies.

How likely do you think it is that Opera, Apple, Nokia and Microsoft will sit down and come to some agreement about how to implement these features? Given the coming battle for dominance over the mobile web and the size of the potential market (over half the world’s population), the most likely outcome is that we will see a return to proprietary extensions—a replay of the browser wars except on the mobile web.

Problems with Web Standards: Part I

I’ve been reading with great interest the current concern over the W3C process for web standards and the lack of progress being made. Andy Clarke kicked it off by asking the W3C to disband the CSS working group. Alex Russell followed up declaring that the W3C Cannot Save Us. Jeff Croft, playing his usual role of rabble rouser, echoes Alex’s sentiments in an post entitled, “Do We Need a Return to Browser Wars.

I can’t speak to the internal politics in these organizations, but I do have two perspectives on these issues based on my background in standards and mobile development that I haven’t seen discussed yet.

In all three articles, but in particular in a related article by James Bennett, the authors are seeking a new model for standards-setting organizations. In the case of Jeff Croft and Alex Russell, they believe that the standards bodies will never innovate. James Bennett looks for other models and even goes so far as to say:

This brings us to a new question: how do we find the proper balance between the competing interests of Web vendors and Web users/developers? Personally, I think the answer is to look at the available history: the world of web standards is not really breaking new ground in needing to properly strike this sort of balance, and there’s already a long and rich history of groups going through precisely this process, which anyone who’s interested in reforming web standards should be looking at.

Unfortunately, James follows by pointing to open source communities as an example of groups that have been successful. I don’t disagree that there aren’t lessons to be learned from open source groups. I just thought for the first time I was going to hear someone talk about learning how to be successful in standards development by learning from what other standards development groups do.

At my previous job, the biggest challenge we had was marketing to people in standards organizations who didn’t recognize that the standards setting process is unique and there is much to be learned from other standards organizations.

What many in standards organizations lack is the awareness that they are not only professionals within whatever field is their day-to-day jobs, but they also should be looking to others to understand their profession as members of standards organizations.

In this case, those who want to see the W3C do a better job at driving innovation and being more open would be wise to ask questions of Jason GrigsbyPosted on Categories Standards, Web DevelopmentTags

Blurring Lines Between Desktop and Web

I’m enamored with the lines that are blurring between the desktop and the web. Adobe’s AIR application is a great example of this mixture of desktop code and web code. Now both Safari and Firefox are supporting Simple DB as a way to provide offline access to web applications and then later syncing them back to the web.

Another example of this trend is the creation of application specific browsers. This doesn’t mean you have a browser that will only run one web site. Instead, it means that if you use a web site on a regular basis, it may make sense to have that web site running in a browser that isn’t your primary browser so that it is isolated from your other browsing.

Why would it make sense to have it isolated? Say you’re a web developer who spends a lot of time using Basecamp. You have Basecamp in a tab while you’re working in another tab. If the content of one of the other tabs crashes your browser, you lose your work. In addition, you have to dig through the tabs to find the tab that matters to you.

If Basecamp were in a separate application, you could simply switch to that application and have that application isolated from your other web browsing.

Here are two programs designed to allow you to create web site specific applications quickly:

Both beta applications and neither require you to know anything about creating a web site to use them.

Steve Souders to Join Google

Steve Souders, Yahoo’s Chief Performance Officer and the author of High Performance Web Sites, is leaving Yahoo to join Google.

Most of the media coverage of his announcement has focused on a narrative of Yahoo’s demise. The Information Week article that I linked to above is probably the most neutral article I could find, and it still slants towards making a bigger deal of this change than it probably is.

I’m not much interested in whether or not this represents a larger trend for Yahoo. What matters for those who are concerned about site performance is that Steve has been publishing some of the best research recently on these topics. I hope he will continue to be able to publish new research and techniques while at Google.

Mobile Updates Part II – The iPhone Edition

It’s been only three weeks since I got my iPhone. There are many things that I wish it did better, but despite those items, I couldn’t be happier.

The iPhone is a mobile device in the truest sense of the word. It is a joy to use. The iPhone truly lets you see what is possible with an Internet connection that is available to you 24/7 no matter where you are.

I follow the news about the iPhone not simply because I own one, but also because I believe the usage patterns of the iPhone are much more typical of what we are going to see in the future of the mobile web than if we look at the past usage of mobile devices. Trying to draw conclusions about the future of mobile devices by looking at statistics before the iPhone is like trying to draw conclusions about the future of web browsers by looking at the usage of gopher after Mosiac had been released.

Here are some recent updates on the iPhone that are of interest:

  • iPhone browsing marketshare closes in on .1% — This doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is amazing for only being available for five months. In addition, Windows Mobile which has several times the number of devices in the world, but only represents 66% of the browser share of the iPhone. This is the difference between the web done well on a mobile device (iPhone) and done poorly (Windows Mobile). Too often people draw conclusions from the poor implementations that people don’t really use the Internet on their mobile devices. In truth, people don’t use them because they don’t measure up.
  • iPhone Q3 US sales top all Windows Mobile smartphones — More iPhones were sold in Q3 than any other smart phone than the blackberry.
  • iPhone Tops Google’s List of Fastest Growing Search Terms in 2007 — This shows the interest in the iPhone is wide spread. It truly has mass market appeal. People have taken notice.

Mobile Updates Part I

Some significant mobile updates over the past few weeks: