Friday, December 19, 2008

Plain Language

Using plain language is not one of my strong points. I like words and I like using the word that best fits my exact tone and meaning. I think in and have a tendency to write complex sentences.

It takes effort to write so that you express the same ideas and emotion using simple language that is easy for everyone to understand. Some pages require jargon, legal text or formal and complicated language, but these pages are best saved as support pages. Your main pages should be designed for a more general audience and should keep things clear and easy to read. Use short sentences of 25 words or less. Break longer sentences into shorter thoughts that are easy to understand. Remove jargon, or explain what it means if you must use it. Use active language and be direct.

Studies have shown that people who can use fewer and simpler words are often considered more intelligent. They also get their point across to more people. On the web you only have a short amount of time to attract someones attention before they are off to the next click. Most people start to lose interest after about 122 words. Help them get the point of what you are trying to express immediately. If they want to know more, they can drill down into your site for more information.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It's a way to publish information so that it can be displayed in a variety of places including other web sites, RSS reader applications and some mobile devices. If your a blog reader, you're probably already familiar with RSS. Blog entries can be re-published in major portals like Google, or displayed on "gadgets" in other blogs or web sites. Entries are usually from the most current to recent past with a set, and usually small number of entries.

So then, what is GeoRSS? GeoRSS is an extension of the RSS format (XML) but includes location information. Good examples of GeoRSS feeds include the USGS earthquake feed. It publishes information about recent earthquakes, including their magnatude, date, place and map coordinates. It can also be used to show current traffic accidents.

There are lots of fun ways to use it too. For those on Twitter, try looking at Twittervision. You may want to display delivery or sales locations, daily appointments locations, where your web site visitors are coming from or other interesting facts from data your collect on your web site.

Maps are fun. Interactive maps can be fascinating!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Artistic Design

Artists use light and dark areas and elements that bridge across gaps in a painting to draw your eye from one important feature to the next. That is part of what draws an emotional response from a viewer. Your web page needs to drawn an emotional response too! You are not just delivering content, you are delivering a feeling with that content. Maybe you just want people to feel good about what you are promoting. But more often, you want to generate a call to action. The colors and design elements are part of that plan. Color sets the tone and can calm or incite, appeal to the common or noble, or create empathy. Design elements can draw the users eyes to what you want them to see.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

KML for maps

I participated in a great GIS Day event yesterday, but it left me pretty exhausted by the time I got home, so no blog entry.

Today, we can talk about KML. KML is a set of data is a specific XML format that represents geographic locations. So, what can you do with it? You can take information from a database, get it geocoded and output it to a KML file. You can then send the file to Google Earth or any other mapping service that understands KML, and all those locations will display on the map. You can map all your group members, customers, offices, work sites or even the location of all your vacation photos. You don't need to buy mapping software or set up your own server. Your data is dynamic, so your map is dynamic. Add a new work order and it shows up on your map.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Still on a GIS kick! I was introduced to GIS several years ago. Not web based maps - those have been around for years, but using GIS to identify and solve real problems. But it is usually best to start simple.

Adding a map or several maps to your web site is incredibly easy. Most of the major map providers like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc. allow you to look up a location and grab a bit of code to add the map to your own web site. Cut and paste, it couldn't be simpler.

But the maps are far from simple. They are usually embedded in an iframe window - literally a web page from the map provider displayed in a little window inside your own web page. These maps are quite powerful and usually have a good sub-set of the features found on the full page maps of the map providers. You can pan around the map and zoom in and out. Links to provide driving directions are available and additional information is often found on the map.

Now, what to do with those maps! Obvious solutions include providing the location(s) of your business or groups meeting place. You can also show all the locations where you've done work, especially if the work is readily visible and you are using them as references. You can show all the places you've been on vacation, played team sports, taken photos or visited geocaches. I've also enjoyed looking at the map of all the visitors to my blog. Thank you for coming by and putting a dot on my map.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

OpenID - Part 2

If your site needs to provide a logon feature, then security is high on my mind. You always need to evaluate how much security something needs. If you are not too concerned, then a single password to access some bit of content is fine. If you want to provide different services to different users, then a user ID and password is nice to implement. If the information on your site includes personal data about the user, or especially financial data, then encryption is a must. But what if you only want to protect the user ID and password? OpenID could be your solution!

I've just added OpenID login to My Family Web Site. I'm still testing the code that I had to modify from it's original source to work on my Shared Hosting service provider. But, it appears to work. Anyone can now log into my home web site with OpenID. Nothing different to see by logging in yet, but I am working on the authorization portion so that different users will have access to different features of the site in the future. Initially this will be for my family, but who knows what I might add later on.

Ok, now on to the next cool item. Several OpenID providers (MyOpenID & Verisign) allow you to create and install Browser Certificates! This means users don't need to log into those sites at all. When users want to log into your site, they submit their OpenID URI, authorize their OpenID provider to supply verification to your site, and they are authenticated! Now you can choose if you consider them logged in and what access they have based on that logon.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stretching Pages

With new monitors available, screen resolution for users is increasing, leaving lots of un-used space on web pages. Web pages that stick to older resolutions can be unsightly. All that wasted space!

Filling the page with content isn't always the way to go either. Reading clear across the screen can be difficult. Content should be kept in easy to read chunks. Use fixed width table cells or CSS width tags to keep a column of text narrow enough for the reader to easily scan and read the text.

So, what design techniques will give that page a finished look? Use design elements like banners and side bars that reach across and down the page. Make your viewer feel good about their fancy screen. A touch of color or design can fill that space, saying that you have thought about how to use it, and leave a "finished" feel with the users.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Los Angeles County GIS Day

For those who are near Los Angeles County, they are hosting a GIS Day event at the Hall of Administration down town. Address is 500 W. Temple St, Los Angeles, CA. While this event is primarily for employees to share their GIS expertise, the public is welcome to come check it out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


With GIS Day coming up, how can you add GIS to your Blog?

I found ClustrMaps today. It functions as a hit counter, but with a GIS twist. It puts a map on your site (or Blog) showing the location of your recent visitors. You and your visitors will find it fascinating to see where everyone is visiting from.

Installation is easy. Sign up for an account on ClustrMaps. On your Blogger site, add an "HTML/Javascript" gadget. Copy the code from ClustrMaps into "content" window of the Blogger gadget and save. When you look at your Blog you will now see a map with dots showing the locations of your recent visitors.

You can also log in to your ClustrMaps account and get hit statistics, so it serves as a hitcounter too. The service is free with the option to upgrade for a small fee of $1.99. If you have a popular site with over 2,500 hits daily, you will need to upgrade in order to track all the visitors correctly.

Monday, November 10, 2008

GIS Day - November 19

GIS Day this year is November 19, 2008.

GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. What most people think of is maps. GIS features include a lot more than just maps.
  • Step by step driving directions is a common GIS feature that is not often thought of as being a GIS function. Maps are helpful, but most mapping sites include the step by step directions to help people get where they want to go.

  • Spacial anlysis is looking at data based on physical location. When it comes to business, you might want to know what areas receive lots of sales, while others are under served. Survey data may need to consider the socio-economic status of those being polled.
  • Proximity is another common GIS task. This helps people locate resources (stores, government buildings, airports) that are near their location.
  • Geolocation is identifying where something is located. Afterwhich, it can be placed on a map or you can then determine proximity.
GIS features on your web site can add an interactive aspect that is not only informative, but can be quite fun too. There are several web based GIS service providers available on the Internet. Many of them provide simple copy and paste of HTML code to add a map to your site. They also provide API's so that you can develop custom applications on your web site as well. Services are often free for limited use. It is also possible to purchase and set up in-house GIS services, which may be especially important if you have proprietary or confidential data to protect.

Think about ways that you can add a GIS feature to your web site.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


This whole Blog thing has re-introduced me to OpenID. I remember reading about OpenID some time ago, and the big controversy that was going on about the big companies trying to take it over and having competing standards. That seems to be resolved now and several major players have been making it available for a while now.

The great thing about OpenID is that is allows for user authentication to your web site without the need for an SSL certificate. Obviously, this level of authentication is not suitable for financial transactions, and nowhere near what's needed for online banking. But, if you want to allow users to log into your web site, this is a great way to go.

Users need only supply their OpenID url. Nothing really secret there. Many users have the same url. The web site contacts the OpenID server through an encrypted connection - only MD5 but much better than having user ID's and passwords in clear text on the Internet. If the user does need to be authenticated, then the OpenID server can use an SSL connection for the user ID and password.

There seems be to quite a few major companies that currently support the OpenID standard, including Google, Yahoo, Sourceforge and OpenId. Look in the directory to see if your favorite sites already support it.

Now I need to figure out how to implement some of this code to make it work on my sites!

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Ok, I managed to get this blog to be associated with a sub-domain name! Sweet!

Web Design

I have created this blog to talk about web design ideas. I plan to post my ideas about web design and application development. Maybe others will provide feedback and it will be a learning experience for all.