Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Amazon Silk, Yet Another Web Browser

Amazon Silk logo.

Amazon's long-awaited tablet/e-reader was formally announced today, and the conversations about whether or not it will compete the iPad are underway. I don't much care about that. I am far more interested in the web browser that it includes.

Amazon Silk is a new web browser, built on Webkit, and that is really the news of interest here. Add to that Amazon's super-proxy approach to help users get content more quickly and efficiently and you've now got a new pile of potential chaos as a web developer. It's far too early to tell how this will shake out, but in a client meeting today I already had to address it, so I think it warrants a little context for the current state of browsers so we can consider potential developer impact.

Amazon posted a video on its brand new blog to provide an overview of Silk (with an obligatory Geocities reference):

The 400+ comments raise some questions that tend toward a common theme — in the absence of a technical explanation, when can we get our hands on an emulator? Granted, there are plenty of comments about privacy, security, and some wild speculation, but the theme is clear.

As a web developer, I can tell you that we all feel overburdened with the assault of browsers we have out there already. We can champion the ideal of targeting the specs, not the browser, but when the clients call to complain about a rendering difference, not even a problem, on another browser it can get pretty draining. As Silk comes to market we'll need to account for it, its hardware configurations, and its coming release versions (within reason, of course).

For some context about the burden we already have, yesterday Google Chrome developer Paul Irish wrote that, only taking into consideration Internet Explorer for desktop, we're already on track to need to support 76 versions of just Internet Explorer (including version 8) through 2020. There are some broad assumptions in his article regarding how people will use the IE document modes, but the potential is still there. Add to that the new release schedule of many browsers (Firefox has gone from version 5 to 7 in ~90 days), and then pile on the browsers available for mobile devices, and we're already at well beyond the number of variations of browsers that we had to support even in the heyday of the browser wars.

But Silk isn't just a web browser — it's got a super-charged proxy server that will compress images, compile JavaScript into its own machine-readable format, and batch files into a singular, smaller download. While this is nothing new (Opera Mini has done this for some time on mobile devices), Amazon's implementation raises the hairs on the back of my neck when I think about all the years I've had to troubleshoot web applications because proxy servers are caching files, munging JavaScript, brutalizing images, and generally gutting the real-time features that the web had been moving toward more and more. I don't know if this will happen with Amazon Silk, but given my experience with Opera, proxy servers, and users in general, I am filled with apprehension.


Opera responded to the Amazon Silk announcement with its own explanation of how its own "cloud-compression" technology works:

Picture of web pages being process by HAL 9000 and delivered to Borat.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Web Accessibility Sorta-Infographic

WebAIM is a non-profit organization within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. It has a reputation (perhaps only in my head?) or providing resources both to the disabled and to organizations enlightened enough to want to support the disabled (or selfish enough to recognize they will be disabled as they age).

WebAIM makes the point that accessibility should be considered early in a web site's development, all the way back at the design phase (something lost on the Adobe Muse development team). WebAIM made a graphic, with accompanying text alternative, for its post Web Accessibility for Designers. It's not easy for me to be critical of an organization that does work for good (apparently not hard for me, either) but its latest infographic is nothing more than a pretty checklist (see the checklist below the graphic, but read the original post for more detail).

Infographic, abbreviated text immediately following.

Web Accessibility for Designers

  • Plan Heading Structure Early
  • Consider Reading Order
  • Provide Good Contrast
  • Use True Text Whenever Possible
  • Watch the Use of CAPS
  • Use Adequate Font Size
  • Remember Line Length
  • Make Sure Links are Recognizable
  • Design Link Focus Indicators
  • Design a "Skip to Main Content" Link
  • Ensure Link Text Makes Sense on Its Own
  • Use Animation, Video, and Audio Carefully
  • Don't Rely on Color Alone
  • Design Accessible Form Controls

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Social Media Spam Sorta-Infographic

Today's sorta-infographic contains four pie charts, one of which is supposed to show a range, and the other three are ostensibly based on 12 hour clocks. Despite it's clip-art-style graphics, it does provide some pretty interesting factoids and comes with accompanying text to explain the graphics and provide more details. You can read the commentary, and comments, at the original post: Debut Impermium Index Reveals Surprising Trends in Social Web Spam Attacks.

Some of the trends Impermium outlines:

  • Online ID signup fraud.
  • "Sleeper cells" of social web abuse are a ticking time-bomb.
  • Social media exploitation techniques are evolving fast.
  • Uggs was the #1 most exploited brand.
  • Porn got stripped.
  • Mom & Pop are spammers.

Much of this isn't news to many, but it is validating to those of us who wonder if what we are experiencing is in line with current trends. I suggest reading the comments to see some of Impermium's responses to criticism — ok, really just read the comments for the criticism.

Infographic, see original article for text.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Patent Wars Sorta-Infographic

I'm giving in to the cool hip trend of infographics that has been popping up like pinkeye across blogging and tech sites lately. These infographics are typically nothing more than data points (sometimes just narrative) strewn about with mathematically suspect charts or somewhat-related design elements. But they seem to draw traffic, even when there isn't even data to graph (Browsers as Wrestlers "Infographic"). So I am using my lack of shame to power through this long weekend with three posts of three infographics from other sites.

In today's installment I am posting an infographic that has some (imprecise) charts and a couple process maps outlining the current state of patents called Patent Wars: A New Age of Competition. You can find the original image at Business Insurance Quotes site, where it has no accompanying explanation or background.

Image of patent wars, no accompanying text available.
Image of patent wars, no accompanying text available.