Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On the Mis-Named Mobilegeddon

If you are a web pro then it is likely that you heard that Google's search results were going to change based on how mobile-friendly a site is (you probably heard a couple months ago even). This change took effect yesterday.

As with almost all things in the tech world that affect clients, the press hit yesterday as well, and today clients are looking for more information. Conveniently, our clients are golden as we went all-responsive years ago.

If you already built sites to be responsive, ideally mobile-first, then you needn't worry. Your clients have probably already noticed that the text "mobile-friendly" appears in front of the results for their sites in Google and have been comforted as a result.

If you have not built sites to be responsive, or have had no mobile strategy whatsoever, then you may be among those calling it, or seeing it referred to as, mobilegeddon. A terrible name that clearly comes from FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).

If you are someone who relies on a firm to build and/or manage your site, then you should also beware the SEO snake oil salesman who may knock on your door and build on that very FUD to sell you things you don't need.

From Google Webmaster Central

For that latter two cases, I have pulled the first three points from Google's notes on the mobile-friendly (a much better term) update. I recommend reading the whole thing, of course.

1. Will desktop and/or tablet ranking also be affected by this change?

No, this update has no effect on searches from tablets or desktops. It affects searches from mobile devices across all languages and locations.

2. Is it a page-level or site-level mobile ranking boost?

It’s a page-level change. For instance, if ten of your site’s pages are mobile-friendly, but the rest of your pages aren’t, only the ten mobile-friendly pages can be positively impacted.

3. How do I know if Google thinks a page on my site is mobile-friendly?

Individual pages can be tested for “mobile-friendliness” using the Mobile-Friendly Test.

From Aaron Gustafson

Aaron Gustafson put together a simple list of four things you as a web developer can do to mitigate the effects of Google's changes, though the simplicity belies the depth of effort that may be needed for some sites. I've collected the list, but his post has the details for how to approach each step:

  1. Embrace mobile-first CSS
  2. Focus on key tasks
  3. Get smarter about images
  4. Embrace the continuum

What Is Your Mobile Traffic?

I've been asked how to find out how much traffic to a site is from mobile users. In Google Analytics this is pretty easy:

  1. Choose Audience from the left menu.
  2. Choose Mobile once Audience has expanded.

Bear in mind that this just tells you where you are today. If that number drops then it may be a sign that your mobile strategy isn't working. At the same time, if that number is already low then it may not drop any further owing to unintentional selection bias in how your pages are coded.

Oh, By the Way

Google isn't the only search engine. When I mentioned that on this blog before, Google had 66.4% of the U.S. search market. As of January 2015, that's down to 64.4%. Bing is up from 15.9% to 19.7%.

Google Sites led the U.S. explicit core search market in January with 64.4 percent market share, followed by Microsoft Sites with 19.7 percent and Yahoo Sites with 13.0 percent (up 1.0 percentage point). Ask Network accounted for 1.8 percent of explicit core searches, followed by AOL, Inc. with 1.1 percent.

While I Have Your Attention

Two days after the initial announcement of this change, word also came that Google is working on a method to rank pages not by inbound links, but by trustworthiness, in essence by facts.

When this finally hits, pay attention to those who refer to the change as Truthigeddon. Be wary of them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Alt Text Bot Image Descriptions FTW

This weekend I saw a tweet in Marcy Sutton's timeline that appeared to be an image description generated by a piece of software.

Given my recent missives on the inherent inaccessibility of images without descriptions (even if Twitter accidentally gave us more options), coupled with rise in people tweeting images of text to get around character limits, I was intrigued.

It turns out the Alt Text Bot is a project from Cameron Cundiff that he submitted to the NYU ABILITY Technology Hackathon, where it also won first place this weekend. He has written a little bit of background on the bot.

Alt_Text_Bot uses an API from CloudSight to help describe images submitted in tweets. Users simply need to mention @alt_text_bot in a tweet with an image (the tweet must be part of the image, not in a Twitter card or via a link) and Alt Text Bot will respond with a description.

I've been feeding my own test images, but Steve Faulkner has been testing its ability to read CAPTCHAs and recognize faces of personalities (though not all).

It has some limitations. The biggest is the character limit within Twitter. Converting a chart to text, for example, is a great idea, but the character limit of Twitter precludes you from getting much value and descriptions can be truncated.

Another is probably from the CloudSight API. If an image is tweeted twice (such as a retweet), you might get two different descriptions (as this first one demonstrates, and then this second one). On top of this, not all images are very clear and context is hard to convey, as in this one showing wheelchair demonstrators in Seoul.

Regardless, given the current state of accessible images on Twitter, this tool is awesome. As I write this I see more and more people testing Alt Text Bot, so I expect that, even if this is just a proof of concept, more good things will come as a result.

The next image is me being excited about this, along with both descriptions that Alt Text Bot provided.

Me at Buffalo Unconference throwing some finger guns.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Selfish Accessibility at Buffalo Unconference

Buffalo Unconference

Yesterday I presented a stripped-down version of my Selfish Accessibility talk at Buffalo Unconference. With an unknown audience and a 20 minute timeline, I gutted most of the technical bits and focused on my thesis. I think it was well received.

At the end of the talk, I pointed people to the version of this talk I gave for Avega Group last month in Stockholm, as it has (many more) slides (with more detail) and video of me rambling. That longer talk is a bit of a disservice to those who don't want to hear me drone on for an hour and a half as well for those who aren't technical.

With that, here are the slides from yesterday in all their concise glory.

The conference produced just one tweet to satisfy my ego:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Twitter (Accidentally) Takes Step Toward Accessible Images

Video showing how tweet quoting works. See original tweet from which I swiped the video.

Twitter has officially released its new-ish tweet quoting feature. Since at least last June, if a user included the URL of a tweet within a new tweet, it would present viewers with the full body (albeit smaller) of the referenced tweet within the new tweet.

Now that feature has been formalized. Users should see it when retweeting a tweet as the option to quote a tweet (which previously would just wrap the original tweet in quotes).

This can be a boon to Twitter image accessibility, allowing alternative text to wrap an image tweet (see my post on existing techniques). Except for a few points:

  • Twitter's (current*) prohibition on retweeting oneself means that users cannot easily quote their own tweets to add alternative text — at least not in the Android app nor on the web. TweetDeck allows it, so perhaps we'll see it in the app or web site.
  • Because a quoted tweet is not a reply, it doesn't show up in the list of replies when viewing the original image tweet. This means a missed opportunity to be associated with the alternative text when viewed on its own.
  • When viewing the tweet providing the alternative text (as a standalone tweet, not in the timeline) in the Android app, the image within the quoted tweet is not displayed.
  • Embedding a tweet that acts as alternative text doesn't show the original quoted tweet (nor its image). There isn't an option to embed media, so web page authors will likely embed the original image tweet instead of the alternative text tweet. You can see this example below.
  • Twitter is missing an opportunity to provide an interface that prompts users to provide alternative text. This might help stem the inconsistent efforts from those who want to provide accessibility (such as 18F's noble but under-informed efforts).
Image 1 Image 2
The first image shows a tweet quoting an image tweet when viewed in the timeline (the quoted tweet's content is visible). The second image shows a tweet quoting another when viewed on its own, demonstrating that the quoted tweet's content isn't displayed at all. Note in both views that I cannot retweet my own tweet (the option is disabled).
Sample tweet that quotes an image tweet, but does not show the quoted tweet.

* From the Twitter page explaining the feature, Note: You cannot Retweet your own quote Tweet.