Thursday, February 23, 2006


Web Site Dynamics Advice

A young entrepreneur asked me for some advice on web site design, tools and technology, and hosting, a couple of days ago. It started with "are there open source tools for writing a Flash site?" I don't know of any, but I've not looked for any: I don't feel the need to write a Flash site. As it happens, I encountered a couple of Flash sites this morning, with very different user experiences; if one knows what they are doing, Flash can be very useful, but if one doesn't it can be obnoxious.

First, the good site. A company has developed a Flash toolkit for trade fair visit planning (at I was presented a floorplan of a large trade fair, with an interactive panel for finding the stands of interest to me (by name or by category), information (in pop-up) about each stand, and the option to add the stand to my visit. When I have finished my list, it produced a pdf file (to save, print or both) with my stands highlighted, the stand name listed, and information on hours, registration, and access.

Now, the less liked site. A link to information about a concert venue opened a new window in which, below the picture, it wrote that I needed Flash to visit this site, and provided a link to download Flash. Since I had just finished preparing my trade fair visit with Flash, this seemed wrong to me. I tried to proceed: I clicked on the little arrow under the picture, since the cursor turned into a hand when over it indicating a link or button of some sort. The good news--it reacted. The bad news--yuck, it tried to open a pop-up window and Firefox blocked it. I told Firefox to go ahead and show me the content intended for the pop-up. By default, the music began; I did eventually notice I could turn it off, or choose among jazz, funk, and rock. Overall, the Flash is well done, the visit navigation is clear and friendly. I just dislike pop-ups, music on by default (no warning, even!), and being told to install software I already have.

Another concert venue had a much cleaner site which I liked, although I don't understand the Swiss text (no French or English version seems to be available): Kreuz Nidau. What's good:
About the only thing that I think could be improved (other than translation) is replacing the use of images for the menu and submenu labels (slightly more data to load), rather than doing it with styles; but, I haven't tried nor succeeded in producing the same experience without images.

Another site I like is knowgravity, another Swiss design. Could do better:

One more Swiss site design I liked is Esther Brunner's, developed with Dokuwiki, a php flatfile (i.e. no need for MySQL, etc.) wiki. She develops plug-ins for Dokuwiki, too, and has a very good mastery of it. Her left-side-menubar is not part of the standard Dokuwiki distribution, but I wish it were (at least as an option). Overall, this site is a very good example of what one can do with *just* php.

Speaking of *just* php and flatfile content storage, consider too GuppY. At first, it does look pretty *busy*. The banner ad at the top, the dynamic smiley...They claim that you don't need to know html, php, or sql. When I tried it a year or two ago, that was not quite true: I had to rewrite a fair amount of php because I got a lot of error messages and warnings (no, I don't want to just turn them off, I want to run correct code). It does, compared to most wikis, have more versatile content presentation; you can use the "forum" as a blog, for instance. You can remove (easily, as I recall) any boxes you don't want (left and right columns). Nevertheless, I would not recommend it over Dokuwiki, and certainly not before checking that its code has improved.


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