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Geotagging

August 31

Flickr added the ability to geotag your photos the other day. Being a big time map geek, I'm all over this one.

Two nights and 900 photos later, all but a few are now mapped. (As with all things Flickr, they made it easy enough to become a compulsion.) I have a few notes and a couple of suggestions.

First off, though this was perhaps an obvious move to many, I'm still thrilled that it's here. Flickr's implementation is nice and intuitive, and works mostly the way I'd have hoped. Mapped out photo locations is nice extra bit of metadata that will no doubt change how I view my photo archives.

Integrating Yahoo Maps was an obvious move, given the corporate overlord just happened to have a ready-to-go mapping tool on hand. But less-obviously, it's a move that will get Flickr's users more familiar with Yahoo's map offering, which is a nice win for the company. The problem is, compared to Google Maps, I just don't feel the love yet. Google is faster and feels more responsive, its keyboard shortcuts work better, and its data feels more complete. The data issue is a relative one, as Yahoo is more broadly comprehensive with at least major highways showing up for most countries, but it falls down on the fine details. (No street maps of London, for heaven's sake.) Over time this is sure to change, but in stark contrast with Google Maps, Yahoo maps is a tad frustrating. (To be fair, they acknowlege it themselves.)

Then there's the privacy issue. Sure, before allowing you to geotag your own photos, Flickr gives you a nice little warning that you're about to do something that could have repercussions. But that only helps you avoid do something silly like give away your street address by posting a cluster of photos from inside your apartment. What about other people using your name as a tag on geotagged photos? There are some huge implications here that are going to make a lot of people uncomfortable. The immediate saving grace is that this is in no way realtime, but we're bound to see some interesting discussion about this as people catch on.

The only thing that's really bugging me though, is the way photos have been paged. A widget lives up in the top left corner that allows you to navigate through various "pages" of location-mapped photos. There are a few things going on here that might be a little subtle, and I'm going to make a few assumptions, so bear with me.

Let's take it for granted that there are simply too many results to show on the map at any given time. This may be more true for some places than others, but in general, with 2+ million geotagged photos so far, we'll assume it's an issue. Representing that many photos on a map of the earth just isn't going to work, you have to break it down into chunks.

Flickr chronological photo stream next to map view

A Flickr photostream runs in reverse chronological order, with newest photos at the top. A Flickr map's pages work in a similar order, but the experience is not the same.

The solution they've hit on is to break down the photos chronologically into separate "pages", almost exactly the same way your average photostream is broken down. But the disconnect comes with the fact that dots on a map don't indicate chronology the same way photos in a linear stream do. It took me a lot of second-guessing to figure out quite what was going on here, and even now that I know, I still feel a sense of disorientation when I know there are many more photos in a location than are currently being shown. The load time in between when I click on the pager control and when the map actually updates isn't helping matters either.

Recognizing the need to break photos down into more digestible chunks, I can see two possible ways of coming at this problem. The first is the way they've already done it. The second takes into account other inherent metadata that's not immediately obvious, the cluster phenomenon. Popular places will contain clusters of photos, whereas more pedestrian places will have only a scattering of individual pictures here and there.

Instead of filtering by time the photos were taken, I suspect a more useful filter would be a popularity threshold where the default behaviour is to only show locations with large amounts of photos (large relative to the total number of photos within that area), but allow the user to manually change that filter. At a glance, I'd be able to tell which spots are hottest, and if I wish I can filter out those and look for the less-travelled paths. And the data that would drive this already exists, given that these number show up on the map as-is, they're just not the main driving force behind the existing filtration method.

Here's a pair of sequences, this first one showing a few pages of the chronological breakdown as it exists at the moment.

Map breakdown by chronology

This other one is a mockup for how a cluster breakdown might look. The latter is just my own thinking, but I sure hope to see something similar in the future.

Map breakdown by filtration

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SEO Excuses

August 28

While I tend to write off the Search Engine Optimization field as an ethical quagmire where the bad are out to pollute the common waters for their own gain, and the good are little more than technically-savvy marketers, there's clearly an amount of science and depth to it that I don't understand.

Case in point, a recent demonstration of its effectiveness by hijacking the top 5 search results in Google for the term "five seo excuses" to form a top 5 list. And because the order is so precise, the URLs spell out an extra little message. The buzz it's generating means you're too late to observe the effects first-hand, but I can vouch for the accuracy of the screen shot in the prior-linked post.

Impressive demo to be sure. It shows that SEO techniques have evolved into a formidable tool that's of obvious value to many businesses. (I'm still glad that's not what I do to put food on the table, though.)

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Mighty Mouse Reviewed

August 24

New Headaches?

August 23

Over on the IE Blog today, Markus Mielke summarizes the CSS changes made for Internet Explorer 7. We've known about most of these for a while now, but there were a couple of surprises to me - 1px dotted borders at last, as an example.

What I'm experiencing in testing these days is much along the lines of what I've been hoping; namely that after I finish creating my page in a Gecko-based browser, loading it in IE7 for the first time isn't a horrible mess. It's actually quite close to being perfect in many instances. IE6 is another matter entirely, which is no great surprise.

But I'm curious. Despite these upgrades, surely there must be some things that don't quite work properly. What strange new behaviour do we have to look out for in IE7? Are there things that work as expected in IE6 that don't in IE7? With all these steps forward, how many have been made back?

I've uncovered one so far, anyway. Using the overflow: auto easy clearing method, IE7 can act a little strangely. Compare this test page in IE7, and then in IE6 and any other browser. Only IE7 gets it wrong. (The code may seem a touch redundant, but I assure you this came about in a real world scenario).

Any others you're aware of? It'll be interesting to see what else falls out of the tree once we start seriously shaking it.

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Virtual Machine Tips

August 15

A quick follow up to yesterday's post about Parallels. When you create a virtual install of Windows on your Mac, Parallels creates a file. Your OS, applications, and data all live within this file.

Upon installing (and activating) a fresh copy of Windows and all your various applications, make a duplicate of this file. It'll be a gigabyte or two in size, depending on how much you've added, but you can easily store it on a backup drive or DVD.

There are a few reasons to do this. If you're worried about exposing your Mac to Windows worms and virii, you now have a backup you can restore from at any point. Just move any important data out of the corrupted Windows install, delete it, and make a clone of the backup. Whether that's easier or harder than maintaining anti-virus software on your copy of Windows entirely depends on how you use it. It's easier for me, anyway, since my data lives on the Mac portion of my hard drive.

Or if you take the IE team's advice to heart and decide to maintain multiple versions of Windows for the purposes of testing multiple versions of IE (something I've yet to be convinced is necessary, by the way), you can simply clone a few copies of your backup and vary your IE installs between them.

This is all possible with Virtual PC as well, incidentally. The files are much larger, though.

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Parallels

August 14

Browser-testing in Windows, on a G5 Mac using VirtualPC:

  1. Save your latest change.
  2. Cmd + Tab to switch to VirtualPC
  3. Go get a coffee while waiting for a response from your virtualized copy of Windows.
  4. Hit Refresh in the top-most browser.
  5. Go get another coffee while waiting for your virtualized copy of Internet Explorer to render the page. Take your time, you've got plenty to spare.
  6. Come back and check the results. Didn't do what you expected, did it? That's IE for you.
  7. Figure out what to change in your code, then go back to 1 and start again.

Net time: an ice age or two.

Brower-testing in Windows, on an Intel-based Mac using Parallels Desktop for Mac:

  1. Save your latest change.
  2. Cmd + Tab to switch to Parallels instantaneously.
  3. Hit Refresh in the top-most browser.
  4. Come back and check the results. Didn't do what you expected, did it? That's IE for you.
  5. Figure out what to change in your code, then go back to 1 and start again.

Net time: a blink of an eye for the refresh, but the bug-hunting still takes just as long as ever.

Because the second list still contains a few steps, it's very difficult to convey to you just how fast Parallels runs. Click through to this YouTube demo for an example, though you'll need extra software in the form of Virtual Desktop Manager or similar for the same effect.

Windowed or full-screen however, Parallels allows you to switch to Windows, refresh the browser, and get back to your actual work all within the space of a thought. Testing for Windows used to be drudgery under VirtualPC; with the sheer speed of Parallels, I'm actually enjoying browser-testing right now (though the novelty will die off soon, no doubt).

I'm becoming more and more convinced that the new Intel-based Macs are the ultimate web designer's companion, and I'm clearly not alone in my thinking. Unix, OS X, and Windows all together in a convenient glossy white plastic finish? Sign me up.

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Geek Etymology

August 9

An interesting question came up the other day—why do I name my hard drives the way I do? I currently run two partitions on all my machines (and name them consistently), and a pair of backup Firewire drives:

Sparkle
The main OS & applications partition
Shine
A secondary partition to store any personal data, a system which I vastly prefer over the default of dumping all my files into my user folder.
Gloss
The main backup drive.
Glitter
The secondary backup drive.

You may see a thread here—I operate under the business name of Bright Creative, so the drive names are alliterative synonyms derived from "Bright". (With the [questionable] added bonus that Sparkle & Shine was a hit by a local band in the 90's.)

I suspect drive names, and the reasons why people come up with them, could be a fascinating conversation. Let's get it started. Tell me what you call your drives, and why.

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ClearerType

August 7

A nice new feature of IE7 I noticed last week: ClearType is now a browser-specific feature.

ClearType in IE7, overlaying pixellated text in IE6

When Windows XP was released in 2001, Microsoft launched ClearType as a way of smoothing on-screen fonts. Great, except for some reason, it was off by default. Most users never found the setting to enable it, so for the past 5 years, we've still had to assume users are seeing ugly pixellated fonts on the web.

But Vista aside, even in the forthcoming IE7 for XP, ClearType is a browser-specific setting and it's enabled by default. Combine this with IE7's presumed quick march onto user's systems, and we're going to see a whole lot of ClearType in the near future.

Preferences dialogue window highlighting ClearType switched on

Nicely done, IE team.

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