Making Communications Buzz

Monday, June 26, 2006

Minimalist Header Brought To You By...

For most of today, The McBuzzBlog featured a stark header with no images behind "Making Communications Buzz", due to the fact that an AT&T t3 line somewhere south of Pittsburgh was out of commission. Images for The McBuzzBlog are hosted at, whose server connects to the Internet via that t3 line.

Some ISPs are more succeptible to outages than others. This is the third time in 12 months that this particular ISP has gone down, crippling the host of Fortunately, is not on the same server, nor (obviously) is The McBuzzBlog itself.

It's always a good idea to have Web, or at least e-mail, hosting from two different suppliers who are not using the same ISP.

The supplier is pair Networks, a host who I have had very good luck with. Their customer service is quite good, although you cannot get them on the phone on the weekend.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Web Standards Solutions Are Not Practical or Helpful

Warning: This is a rant. But if that's not what blog is good for, then...

Dan Cederholm and Jeffrey Zeldman are two of the best in the web development business. Their websites are beacons of cool, standards-based design.* Their books, like Cederholm's Web Standards Solutions: The Markup and Style Handbook and Zeldman's Designing with Web Standards, are best-sellers.

But, when I sat down this morning to start building a new website for a client, I picked up each one and, after a few minutes, put it back on the shelf in frustration.

I want to use a basic, two-column XHTML layout. But it's not in either of these books.

In Web design, XHTML is the way to go, each of these authors proclaim. No question about it. XHTML means designing without the old, outmoded use of tables in a layout. It separates formatting from content. Better accessibility. Loads faster. Makes formatting much easier to modify. Displays better in mobile devices.

Great, right? Books with titles like the above should come with code for a complete two-column layout, and they should explain how it all works.

Unfortunately, what these books come with amounts to a long discussion of how parts of some kinds of two-column layouts work, sort of, except when they don't.

Why? Because there is still (to my knowledge - and definitely not in these books) no standard XHTML two-column layout that works well in most popular browsers.

There are two-column layouts that work well for masters like Cederholm and Zeldman, and their books attempt to explain why these two-column layouts work well. But, as a less skilled developer like me (no slouch, mind you!) finds as soon as he tries to adapt one of these two-column layouts to a particular design - by including (god forbid) a vertical border on one of the columns, say - the layout goes south. In one browser or another, things on the page don't line up. Gaps appear. Etc.

A vertical border is not that much to ask, but using one between two columns calls for coding "hacks" (ad hoc code to make the layout look the same in popular browsers like Internet Explorer and Netscape).

And, if you add something else to the layout after you get your vertical border problems straightened out, well, that could require even more hacks. Meanwhile, your billable hours are wasting away....

Are Cederholm and Zeldman to blame for this state of affairs. Certainly not.

The real problem lies in the fact that browser makers like Microsoft and Mozilla won't agree about how to handle Web coding standards. This rant should really be directed at them.

Cederholm and Zeldman are stars because they have figured out how to use XHTML and make their sites look great in most browsers. I wish they could do more to make my XHTML sites do the same. A tall order, I admit.

*The look and feel of The McBuzzBlog draws heavily from one of several Blogger templates Dan created.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Google vs. Clusty/Vivisimo: Search Done Often vs. Search Done Right

Google is approaching a 60% share of all online search, according to Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch (citing Hitwise).

As I blogged a few weeks ago (Is Google the Only Game in Town for Search?), Google's dominance is something that can't be ignored. But what makes Google so great?

At an Entrepreneur's Growth Conference sponsored by the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center last week, Vivisimo CEO Raul Valdes-Perez spoke to attendees about his search engine company's "search done right" strategy, which aims to exploit a major shortcoming of the Google interface.

A key problem with search results, as Valdes-Perez noted, is limited screen space. A Google results page offers 10 items, plus sponsored links.

How many of these are really what we are looking for? Maybe two or three? Maybe none? How do you find out? You almost always have to click on the links themselves to find out. The text clippings under the headings are rarely all that enlightening.

So you click on a link, wait for a page to load, scan the site... Not what you want? Back to the results page to try again. And so on, ad nauseum. It's far from ideal!

The Vivisimo interface offers a simple but potentially huge improvement: results are listed in categories. The categories appear as folders on the left side of the page. Click on a folder to see results that fall under only that category. Check it out. Vivisimo calls its engine Clusty. There's also a search window on the Vivisimo site itself.

You can 'Clusty' the Web, News, Images, Blogs. The Clusty-powered blog search combines results from several different blog search engines. If you have used any of the blog search sites, you know there is massive room for improvement in this area.

You can also customize Clusty search. This is a topic for a future post.

The more I think about it, the more the superiority of the Clusty results page over the Google results page seems apparent. Why would you want to waste time digging through a mash of (relatively) unorganized search results when you can eliminate whole categories of results in an instant?

The name "Google" sounds far better than "Clusty". Critics say the latter sounds too much like "crusty", "klutzy", the name of a goofy little train engine, etc., etc., as Valdez-Perez acknowledged. But, as far as search results go, who cares about the name? It's not all about branding, is it?

Of course, there's the more serious question of how search engines determine a page's ranking. Are Google's methods far superior to the competition?

It's a question worth considering.

Here's a post from Search Engine Watch ('Search: Thy Name Is Google') that notes "increasing dissatisfaction with the quality of search results" even as Google increases market share.

Vivisimo has focussed much of its marketing and development on enterprise search, creating custom search solutions for large businesses and other organizations like United Press International, RAND Corporation and the US Government (

There are some sponsored listings on their results pages, but nothing to the extent of Google AdWords or Yahoo! Sponsored Search.

I'm very interested to see where Clusty/Vivisimo goes from here. Definitely one to watch. Try Clusty and let me know what you think!