a urinal with a view.



the other day christopher robbins of webactivism.org linked up, fumbling my name in the process. mr. robbins recovered gracefully by correcting the error and following up with a series of redundant links back to this site. chris then dove back in to the festivities of typography week at webactivism.org.

typography week, which for many people heralds the arrival of spring, culminates on saturday with the traditional parade of fonts. here's a little sneak preview for those who just can't wait.

{a} {b} {c} {d} {e} {f} {g} {h} {i} {j} {k} {l} {m}
{n} {o} {p} {q} {r} {s} {t} {u} {v} {w} {x} {y} {z}

of course if you live around here, you would Know that this is not spring; no, this is canada and yes, it is snowing outside.

church v. google at microcontent.



after over twenty years of devoted service, my melitta “aroma-plus” automatic drip coffee maker announced this morning it's permanent reitirement with a series of blue sparks and a small puff of acrid smoke. it shall be sorely missed.

hmmm... more crayons. being somewhat inept with colours, i'm not sure if this good or bad. regardless, kirk franklin has produced and made available this fine set of tools to aid web designers in selecting colours from the 4,096 colour web-smart palette.

“what we see when we look at the piles on our desks is, in a sense, the contents of our brains.”

malcolm gladwell at the new yorker examines the social life of paper. the main focus is on the ideas expounded in abigail sellen and richard harper's investigation into the myth of the paperless office from mit press. sellen, a senior research scientist at hp labs in bristol also co-authored this web users experience study, while harper, director of the digital world research centre at the university of surrey, has a number of interesting looking papers available in pdf format from this page.

for future reference (stuff to read when i have the time), the march edition of jodi is out; includes two award winning papers from the hypertext '01 conference: linking in context and hypertext structure as the event of connection.



over at webactivism, chris robbins is sharing his notes on robert bringhurst’s the elements of typographic style. webactivism is now available in an assortment of flavours by dint of xhtml+css+php. robbins was interviewed at netdriver not too long ago.

some more recent reads:

boxes and arrows is a new online journal which discusses ideas of architecture and design in the digital millieux and covers the often overlapping fields of information architecture, information design, interaction design and interface design.

i especially liked the article on charles and ray eames’ powers of ten, a work i have enjoyed as a film, a book and a website. also of particular interest to me was the article when the show must go on, it’s time to collaborate or die by whitney quesenbery, which looks at the collaborative process of creating user interfaces via the perspective gained through her experience as a lighting designer working in the realm of theatre.



people want to know: how did the little portal site i built for my team at work become the number one search result for residence clerk at google ?

let's get a couple of things straight from the get-go. for one, the uwo residence clerk team site is rather unique. I have not found anything similar to it anywhere on the web. And it may be the only site in the world that has any(albeit fewer than six and all but one of them here on this site) inbound links containing the text “residence clerk.”

i also want it to be clear that i am no expert on search engine technology and that much of what follows is simply my best guess at what works based on my experience with my site and helping a few friends with theirs.

while it was my hope that i could get the clerk site to come up fairly high, i didn't think the number one spot was going to be possible. about a month after the initial launch last fall, the googlebots found the site and it started showing up in the search results — somewhere in the high twentys, or in other words nearly invisible at the bottom of the third page of search results. perhaps just as well, for it was brutally ugly and poorly designed; not necessarily the kind of thing you want the world to see.

dazzled by the hype surrounding google's technology, i believed this was probably the best i could do. pagerank would doom the site to a low level as there was not much chance anyone would be intersted in linking to the site. it was really meant to be a simple tool for the for the clerk team and would be of little interest to anyone else.

in december of last year, i redid the style sheets for the site to give it a different look for a special link and think world aids day edition. so on dec 1, the site was all black and grey. this also meant ditching the graphic logos and just using heading tags for the site name and page titles. after dec 1, the site was returned to its previous colour scheme and, thinking that a total redesign was in order, i decided to leave the titles as text and didn't bother to put the graphic logos back in place.

this left the site looking even worse and to my surprise caused the site to jump to the number nine spot. perhaps the link to the site from the link and think directory of participants had helped, but it seemed to me something else might be at play here. scratching my head i went back to google and read what little information there was about the technology involved.

Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don't match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page's content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it's a good match for your query.

hmmm... text. this was something i could work with.

with all the hype around pagerank and the current fad of googlebombing, it can be easy to forget about this more fundamental aspect of our sites.

if you've ever wondered what your pages might look like to a robot that's interested in text, take your page and strip it of all the html tags(something a good text editor should be able to do for you automatically) and examine what you're left with. this is likely what the search engine robots and indexers are going to be working with as they count the number of times a term appears and examine other aspects of your site's content.

graphic logos, alt text, meta tags and keywords — all gone. just the text is left. here is what the current version of the front page of the residence clerk site looks like when stripped down to the text.

google's robots do find and index alt text for images, so if you do use graphic logos be sure to use meaningful alt text. use the keywords your customers will be looking for and not something generic like “graphic logo.” this is very important as the alt text for your graphic logo may be the first text in your document and will thus be given greater weighting by the indexing mechanisms.

with the latest redesign of the site i have changed the content of the <title> tags so that i now have a consistent set of titles. the body of each page also has the site title, “uwo residence clerk team,” as the first bit of text. on the front page, i try to incorporate three to five more instances of the phrase “residence clerk.” this makes for dull reading, but i believe it helps with the page ranking.

this behaviour is something i have noticed not just with my pages, but with many of the thousands of pages i have found using google searches. pages that contain the terms you are searching for in the <title> tag and early in the body of the page get ranked higher. pagerank is important but it is only part of the story. the content, more specifically the text content of your pages has a significant impact on how google and other search engines rank your sites.

by making a few small changes to my site, i have seen a dramatic change in where the site shows up in search results. and not just at google — here's ask jeeves, teoma and alltheweb. in the meantime, i have not bothered to submit my site to any search engines, nor are these changes dependent on someone else's links to my site.



world's biggest web hack: quirks mode.


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