Mobile Web-Understanding the issues the web developers face in a mobile world

I work in a Medical Library and it has become very apparent that more academic students (especially medical students) are relying on mobile devices such as Ipads, tablets, and smartphones to access information on the web than ever before. Doctors are now using their tablets so much that lab coats are now made with larger pockets so they have a safe place to carry them!

These Mobile devices create a unique set of issues for web developers. For example, mobile devices come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A normal webpage may show up on one device just fine, but wind up terribly truncated and confusing on a smaller one. Furthermore, not all mobile devices support the same type of browser or have the needed amount of bandwidth to upload certain media. All in all, what looks great on someone’s laptop, can be a mess when they try to open it on their Iphone. In his tutorial, Responsive Web Design Demystified (http://www.elated.com/articles/responsive-web-design-demystified/), Matt Doyle describes what steps web developers can do to fix some of the problems that mobile devices create.

“Responsive” Web design (when used to its fullest) allows web builders  to create web pages that “respond” to the device it is being viewed on. Essentially, with each new device, a webpage will adapt its layout, resize images or serve up lower-bandwidth images, simplify page elements, provide larger links and buttons, and detect and respond to other mobile features such as geolocation and device orientation. Doyle doesn’t go into too much detail about some of the more advanced techniques, but his tutorial does show some of the easiest and aesthetically pleasing techniques that web designers can utilize to make their devices more user friendly.

In his article, A User-Centered Approach To Web Design for Mobile Devices, Lyndon Cerejo goes over some of the pros and cons of creating a Mobile website at all. Siting that it might not be worth it at this time for many web designers to make the jump over to mobile web if the website in question is not something that most users would want to actually access through a mobile device in the first place. He suggests taking a hard look at the demographic of the website’s users before making any big changes, “to develop a mobile user experience that aligns to the needs and expectations of your targeted users, you must involve representative users and their feedback throughout the process. Direct input from your users through primary research methods like observing users, contextual interviews and focus groups will give you insights about their mobile behavior, including what they want to do on the mobile Web, and when and how they will use it.”

All in all, there are several things that a web designer must take into account before he creates a web page.  It always comes down to: Who, what, when, where, and how.

Resources

Cerejo, L. (2011). A User-Centered Approach To Web Design for Mobile Devices. Smash Magazine. http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/05/02/a-user-centered-approach-to-mobile-design/#more-98560

Doyle, M. (2011). Responsive Web Design Demystified . Elated.  http://www.elated.com/articles/responsive-web-design-demystified/

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InWorldz: Exploring A Virtual World

Introduction

A few weeks ago, I created an account for InWorlds (http://inworldz.com/) in order to meet up with some of my classmates and take a tour of a Virtual Library.

Creating My Avatar

When you first enter the game, you are given a generic avatar (of your chosen gender) with which you explore the virtual world. Each avatar comes with a full set of clothing, but one of the most fun things to do once you get there is to customize your avatar to fit your personality. There are many free skins to choose from, including some that can change your avatar into an animal, or shrink them into children (a somewhat icky notion considering some of the more “mature content” areas of the site IMHO). I chose something very simple at first, just so I could look different and less “noob-ish,” but I expect that eventually, I will try new things as I become more familiar with the tools.

Here I am, on the left,  sitting (lounging?) in the Virtual Library with our Guide.

Moving Around

The hardest part of InWorldz for me was just trying to walk around without going in circles. It may be that my old laptop just doesn’t support seamless walking and turning, because everything seemed/looked somewhat clunky and awkward and I my avatar would spontaneously de-res sometimes when I would go from one room to another. Given the age and limited capabilities of my laptop, I think I would have a more streamlined experience on a more powerful machine.

Thoughts

Being the shy shut-in type that I am, I initially found the experience a little unsettling. I have never been fond of the immediacy of Instant Message or Chat boxes and the thought of having to ask random strangers (dressed as fairies and elves, no less) for help finding avatar skins, dressing rooms, how to walk up a flight of stairs without falling off, etc.  kind of put my teeth on edge. Basically, I like to figure  things out on my own…

HOWEVER, touring the Virtual Library with my classmates was actually sort of a treat! It was nice to be with people who I was already sort of familiar with, but with whom I had never spoken. It was almost as good as meeting them face to face.

The Library itself is pretty amazing and I have even gone back a few times to check it out since my initial visit. The skill that it must have taken to build the darn thing is totally unfathomable to me (and that’s after having played every version of SIMS ever created!). I was particularly impressed with the artwork that was put on display on the Second Floor (again, the skill that some of the users have is quite vast) and the Steampunk Dirigibles on display outside of the Library are a work of art as well.

I would call my experience a success in almost all regards. I don’t know that I would spend very much time exploring the world on my own, but if I wound up with a group of people I knew (or at least sort of knew), I could see myself using InWorldz as a meeting place in the future.

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Digital Storytelling and Youtube: The Globalization of Amateur Video

The term “digital storytelling” essentially can be described as a variety of media outlets ranging from short movies to podcasts and slide-shows. This form of media is typically created by everyday people (as opposed to advertisers or other companies) in order to share a story or interest with other everyday people.

Perhaps the finest and most recognizable platforms for this type of media is youtube.com. In seven short years, this site has created a world’s worth of videos ranging from makeup tutorials to vlogs (basically video diaries) to extreme stunts by amateur skateboarders and everything in between. Most of these videos are somewhere between 5-10 minutes long and are created by people all over the globe. Because it is so easy to upload, embed, and share between other blog sites or online communities such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, Youtube has become the go-to way to share almost any video on the web. As a result, even most advertisers have a Youtube channel at this point.

Because its global reach, Youtube has also become a way to disseminate information that otherwise might be blocked by large media outlets and news agencies. For example, last year the middle east erupted in riots as thousands of disenfranchised people tried to overthrow their governments. While there was coverage by most news agencies, there were also thousands (if not millions) of Youtube videos uploaded by people living in the city and/participating in the protests (not ironically, many news agencies now utilize Youtube sources in their broadcasts because it is so difficult and dangerous for them to attain their own video footage).

What’s more, as those videos began to go viral (shared by people throughout the internet), there were even more videos posted in response to the violence by people from all over the world. The protests and riots were basically fueled by support from online bloggers and communities such as Facebook and Twitter and all of it was recorded for all to see and share on Youtube.

Given all that, it is rad that Youtube began with this short movie titled:”Me at the Zoo.”

This video is the precursor to a whole new world of possibilities and global communication. Quite a bit has happened to the world since 2005 and it is very apparent the the old poem by Gil Scott-Heron still holds true. The Revolution will NOT be televised. It’s going to be on Youtube.

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Podcasts-Learning a new form of media

As a class assignment, I had to utilize a multimedia device in order to tell a story. In order to avoid issues with copyrite infringement, I chose to create a short podcast about a subject that is very near and dear to my heart; comic books!

The podcast site I decided to try for this experiment is www.podbean.com. I have mixed feelings about the site. Initially, the site seemed very simplistic and easy to navigate, however the more I got into trying to upload my very first podcast, the more problems that I encountered. First, podbean only supports certain file types. My first recording would not upload to the site because it was a .wav file. I had to use a seperate mp3 converter in order to get it to upload. Then I found that after I uploaded the file, I could not figure out how to attach it to an actual post. It took a lot of clicking and searching to finally publish a finished product.

The nerve system for the podbean user is a “dashboard” where all of the backdoor functions happen. Unfortunately, this page can be annoying to get to because the only navigation button for it is on the user profile page. This means that should I choose to view other podcasts or explore the site, I cannot instantly return to my own dashboard without first navigating to my own profile and then scrolling down to the dashboard button.  Other blog sites such as tumblr.com (and to some extent WordPress) have fixed this problem by pinning a dashboard button to the top of all tumblr pages, so that no matter where the user goes, they can immediately navigate back to their own page any time that they want. I wish podbean would do that too.

Tips: I used audacity to make my recording. It does not initially support mp3 conversion and requires a separate plug in before you can export your recording into a mp3 file. Mp3s are really the way to go for uploading because they are so compact, but keep in mind that uploading generally degrades the recording a bit, so make sure that whatever you have is crisp and clear to begin with.

In the end, and after about a dozen takes, I did wind up making a pretty spiffy, little podcast that I could definitely see myself editing in the near future. So I guess the experience was pretty positive overall.

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Library Wikis: Tools of the Trade

Our Library has a staff Wiki that can be accessed by all librarians and support staff. Each department has their own section to manage. We use the wiki for several different reasons. It stores certain important documents, such as manuals, that occasionally need to be updated and reviewed by multiple people in the library. It gives librarians a place to share recent papers or articles. Additionally, it  makes communication between the dozens of staff members possible even though we rarely get to talk to each other on a daily basis, thus fostering a real sense of community that might otherwise be impossible given our various duties. Unlike a blog, a wiki is more for personal use than to spread information to others and I would truly suggest it for any library that isn’t able to have regular staff meetings to check in with all of the departments. It really is a great thing to have.

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Web 3.0: The Next Generation of Internet?

Web 3.0 from Kate Ray on Vimeo.

What is Web 3.0?

The term Web 3.0 has become a recent “buzz” word in many media outlets, but very few people are able to define it clearly because it is not actually a “thing” so much as a fuzzy concept at this point.

The marketing term “Web 2.0” was coined in 2003 by Dale Dougherty, a vice-president at O’Reilly Media.  It isn’t a specific technology per say; rather, it refers to multiple major paradigm shifts in how the internet is currently being used. Where the web 1.0 era was about information. Web 2.0 is all about communication.“User-generated content,” which relates to how individuals interact with the web, is comprised of wikis, blogs, and social networking sites. These sites allow users to shape their portion of the web however they please. “Cloud Computing” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJncFirhjPg) essentially turns the web into its own massive application server making actual hardware and physical servers obsolete.

Web 3.0, theoretically, takes the terms “user-generated content” and “cloud computing” to a whole new level. Essentially, it is the next fundamental change both in how websites are created and, more importantly, how people interact with them. Web 3.0 is thought to be a collection of technologies that consist of the semantic web, which is web where all information is categorized and stored in such a way that a computer can understand it as well as a human (http://www.whatisweb3.com/ ), linked data, natural language processing (NLP), artificial intelligence, mashups, and APIs. Regardless of the specific technology the core idea behind Web 3.0 is that when information is organized you can extract much more meaningful and actionable insight from that information.

How Will Web 3.0 Be Applied Today?

Web 2.0 has always been about connecting, communicating, collaborating, social networking, individual and group publishing, blogging, crowd-sourcing and the transformation of traditional media. In the 2.0 period, we started to see the rise of cyber currency, virtual worlds and virtual or cyber-economics (and valuation of virtual assets). One possible direction for Web 3.0 could be a further “cyberfication” for a lack of a better word, where virtual assets and worlds take on more value and importance. The recent influx of mobile devices, that are able to seamlessly connect to networks, essentially allows users to bring their virtual worlds with them wherever they go.  Having these devices allow users to update and access the web in real time making information even more fluid. Given this ability to instantly shape the web, Web 3.0 could be said to be an evolution of userability. Where Web 2.0 has been about communication, one could say that Web 3.0 is about experience.

What About the Libraries?

Because Web 3.0 is still in its infancy, it is difficult to know just how it will affect libraries at this time. I imagine that in some cases it might require librarians to be able to process and disseminate information in real time as well. The term Librarian itself, may become defunct as a new age of Information Professionals acquire the ability to utilize Web 3.0 technology to better serve the public.  While I doubt that the”building” we call “library” will ever really go away, it may become even more commonplace for patrons to access its services via the web. Still, at this point, it is really too hard to tell.

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On Accessibility

Some Things to Think About

For people without disabilities, technology makes things convenient, whereas for people with disabilities, it makes things possible . . . [this] fact brings with it an enormous responsibility because the reverse is also true. Inaccessible technology can make things absolutely impossible for disabled people, a prospect we must avoid.-Judith Heumann, Former Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education

1.How does accessibility differ from usability?

Accessibility is concerned primarily with making the content and functionality of web sites accessible—within reach—to all users whether they may be hindered by physical handicaps or technical limitations. Universal usability goes one step further, striving to make the content and functionality accessible and usable by all, essentially, making a user’s experience simpler and more intuitive.

2. Why do you need to implement both accessibility and usability?

As a web designer, I must take into consideration my audience. Because I do not know them personally, I have no idea what issues they may face when trying to reach my web page. A web page, after all, is made for viewing. Given that, I could only increase my viewership by making the webpage easier to access and use.

3.What are a few of the issues you need to consider when designing a website to be accessible?

Is my website navigable for those who are either hearing or seeing impaired and/or using assistive technology to view it? Do I have images on my page that are so big that they may not load on a slower computer? Is information easy to find without too much searching for those who may not be tech savvy?

4. Why does culture play a role in Web design and what are some of the things you must consider in your design?

There are quite a few things to be taken into account when building a webpage. As a web designer, I would want to avoid offending or confusing a user by creating a webpage that includes questionable pictures or symbols. In addition to that, I would want to make sure that my page is legible to all users.  Besides a possible language barrier between cultures, a web designer might also take into account eye-tracking (some Asian languages read from right to left instead of left to right) and/or cultural perceptions of color.

5.Bearing in mind the differences between high-context and lowcontext cultures, would you use the same images on your website in Japan as you would in North America? Explain why or why not.

I probably would, however I would first have to know more about my Japanese audience before I made any ultimate decisions. Instead, I think I would strive it use images that are informative, but generic and inoffensive as possible to everybody. I do understand, however that I cannot please everybody and some cultural blunders, no matter how careful I am, are likely to happen. I suppose my main goal would be to be as innocuous as possible.

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