Tuesday, December 06, 2005

BBC News Embraces the Blog

Another Step Toward Tech

It appears that the BBC has decided to try out blogging using Nick Robinson as their guinea pig. Probably not a bad idea really, since Robinson wrote his Newslog for quite some time, so he has some experience in this sort of thing. They are starting out with one blog, but say that this is only a trial and that more will be added. The seem to be using Typepad, and it is being hosted by the folks over at Six Apart.

So far, looking at that amount of comments they are getting, it seems to be working out well. It is good to see the BBC getting on the blogging bandwagon. MSNBC already has been sucessfully blogging for some time now. That I am aware of, CNN isn't blogging, except for a couple of major events they did back in the 2004 elections. Fox News has a rather small selection of blogs that they run. Of those, the Gretawire, the blog of Greta Van Susteren who is the anchor for the On the Record show, seems to be the most active.

Overall, a small step but good step for the BBC. I like the increased interaction between the news people and the community, and I think that there could be some real feedback that comes from it.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

When Design is an Issue

The Coders Challenge - Good Design

I have to admit that when it comes to actual design, I often find myself at a loss. I can certainly look at a website and spot good design when I see it, but alas, when it comes to doing it for my own sites I tend to hit a brick wall.

I can very easily admit that I've never been the most creative or artistic of people, but I personally find it very frustrating to not have that ability to gain those moments of 'insight' into design elements. More often than not, what begins as a simple design ends up becoming more and more complex until I no longer like it. Somewhere along the line I lose that element of simplicity that I find so appealing in other sites.

So, I find myself wondering how it is that people with this particular limitation can change that. I am most assuredly, a coder - not a designer. While I understand that statement is considered the universal excuse for poor design, it became that for a reason. I know I'm not the only one who has this issue. So, where to begin with that good design?

In business, I prefer to work with designers who will create a layout for me, and simply make the code work marvelously for those sites. A bit of a stubborn streak on my end is intent upon designing my own sites myself. However, having just revamped the design of this blog and my website, I find that I am already displeased with it and feeling the urge to redesign again.

All that really tells me is that I either felt it was 'good' because I'd finally finished wrangling with it but that it never really was, or that I simply have one of the most short-term interest levels in the world. I'd prefer to lean toward the latter, because the former is definitely one that rings more true but is also a reflection of what I would consider a consistent issue of design failure.

So, here I sit this morning, browsing through some various designs and trying to find that 'flash' of inspiration. A design that I will like for more than a couple of weeks. I'm certain that somewhere in the midst of all the coding languages floating around in my mind, there are a few creative brain cells somewhere. Perhaps they just like to sleep in late in the morning.


Friday, December 02, 2005

CSS - When To Embed

Addressing a Common Problem

One of the questions that I have been asked a lot lately is: "How do I know when it's appropriate to use embedded or inline styles?" The answer is one that I will give from my perspective and experience.

In an ideal world, I'd love to see everyone use external style sheets exclusively so that the complete separation between the content and style is truly enforced. However, practicality often comes crashing through that dreamy ideal.

There are a lot of web programmers out there who have many projects to handle, or maintain very large sites. Each of those has unique aspects, and not all fit the 'ideal' mold for fully extenal style sheet use. Keeping this in mind, I'm going to draw the line very clearly and simply. This is when I think you can use an embedded and inline style:

You can use an embedded style when you are adding a style element to a page that will not exist on any other page on the website. If it is used on other pages, it is more appropriate to use an external style. I don't think it is ever truly acceptable to use inline styles. Any inline style should fit the criteria for when it is acceptable to use an embedded style. I think that inline styles are better placed in an embedded style.

Now, you can surely do anything using external style sheets. However, when handling a website that has many many pages, the concept of having to manage a style sheet that contains hundreds (if not thousands) of lines of various style rules can seem daunting. There is another alternative.

A common solution to dealing with a website project that contains periodic changes throughout is to create a secondary style sheet that is for the 'special' exceptions that take place in your pages. For instance, let's say that all of your pages have the same layout - well, then you can put all of that style information into one css file (ex: base.css). However, let's say that you have various small style rules. Perhaps it is red text for the word 'New' on the products page, or something similar.

Now, an acceptable thing to do is to make a secondary style sheet that holds all of the extra styles that you use infrequently on your website (ex: extra.css). On those pages, you would call both style sheets, but remember to list the link to the secondary style sheet after after the style sheet that holds all your primary formatting. Example:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="base.css" type="text/css" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="extra.css" type="text/css" />

Following the rules of the cascade, the second style sheet will override any rules of the first one. That is one alternative to using an embedded sheet if you have a lot of random extra styles. However, overall, only use embedded styles when it only applies to a rare instance. If you have a lot of those single instances, you can choose to put them all together in an extra style sheet to make them easier to maintain.