Friday, May 8, 2009

Low Tech!

I've found sometimes in order to appreciate what we have in this world of technology, that it's good to go low-tech from time to time. I'm very lucky to live in Northern Virginia, not because it's a fantastic place, but because it has a lot of history. I've made it a point to get out and visit several of the historic houses in the area, to see what people did, try to imagine sitting in these houses of luxury with no air conditioning, no electricity, no cellphones, and no internet (shudder).

I recently visited George Mason's house in Lorton Virginia. It isn't the best of the historic mansions (it is very nice though and in a beautiful area), but George Mason was an important part of US history (His Virginia Constitution was the basis of the US Constitution). In looking at his house it was interesting to realize the bricks were made locally (on site actually), the wood work was done by hand, work was done by master and apprentice (this is an interesting concept that is somewhat lost lately, well unless you get a good manager who can tutor you). In the case of Mason's house the woodwork was done by an indentured servant. It was great to see how the houses were built to allow ventilation, how extra bedrooms existed for surprise visitors (you could have a visitor for a dinner that gets stuck there due to weather or dark, these people didn't travel by car, it was either by horse, foot or boat).

I enjoy seeing these places, in the past year I've been to the Sully Plantation, Stratford Plantation, Kenmore Plantation, etc... All have been fantastic and show how people lived without technology. Even more interesting is what people of those days considered as high tech.

I also enjoy going to places where I don't need technology (or more importantly, CAN'T use technology). When I went to Boulder Utah it was fantastic, no cell service, no internet, nothing but outside, very nice. I was able to turn everything off (I haven't been for years, I hope they haven't "fixed" it). What's funny is the second I turned my phone on (because I could get coverage) it rang. I enjoyed going to Zambia, Africa for the same reason. I could get internet access in Zambia, but it wasn't consistent and sometimes it was more of a trouble to get things connected than it was to live in no technology bliss.

I suggest that while all this technology is fantastic, fun to play with, excellent to take apart, etc... That people take time to experience life without technology. It'll open your eyes, either show you how lucky you are, or possibly help you find a work around to an every day issue that you have been ignoring due to your technology crutch. If nothing else it will definitely help you change your perspective of what you have in your everyday world.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Google or Government and Privacy

Everyone is concerned about the Government, Credit Agencies, Spammers, Phishers, etc.. gaining too much information on their personal behavior, but very few seem to be too concerned about Google gaining too much information about them. Google is in a strange business of trading information for services for cash. How they do it is they give you fantastic free services, such as:

1) Gmail
2) Google Analytics
3) Google Voice
4) Blogger
5) Medical Records
6) Google Maps
7) WiFi Service
8) The list goes on and on

Now they are getting into Phones and recently I heard they want to outfit houses with meter readers. They must have been foaming at the mouth to get Twitter, but I understand Twitter has dumped them (now Apple is courting Twitter, I hope it doesn't go to Apple, they build great machines and OS, but seem to have lousy user applications).

Google monetizes this by selling the information for their advertising network, with more information they will become a warehouse for all info on everyone. I'm sure they obfuscate the information, so it's difficult to determine where it came from, but I'm also sure somewhere in the bowels of Google's empire is EVERY email that I've sent via GMail that has ALL my information in it.

There are a few concerns I have about all this information being centralized. The first is what sort of security measures are there around my information. This leads to, what does Google do with this information, they might not sell it now, but will they in the future. Google stores ALL of your information, including emails and websites visited. To me this is somewhat scary. Everyone looks at Microsoft as being evil, but Microsoft isn't into gathering all kinds of information on people, they want to dominate software and operating systems, I see Google as being the company to keep an eye on.

Now having said that, I do use plenty of Google properties for my online work. Why? Well because they are good, Google understands how to develop a good web application (or purchase established web applications). I'm getting careful about what I give Google, but as Google grows I'm not sure I'll be able to continue this.

Monday, May 4, 2009

SEO/Accessibility Convergence

A few months ago I was studying Accessibility (508 Compliance) for a series of websites, it was a real eye opener (no pun intended), many of the assumptions that I've made over the years regarding websites and their usage by people who are visually impaired were mostly incorrect, much of this was wiped out by watching one person use JAWS on a website. Many of the DIV elements and CSS that have been applied have been all for the visual gratification. I took a website and removed the styles, removed the images and JavaScript and was left with a site that was unusable. This is how a screen reader sees the site, without all the bells and whistles, to give the screen reader clues as to what is going on, you need to have Headings (h1, h2, h3, .....), yeah I know these elements have default styles associated with them, well remove the default styles with CSS, and apply new styles. More can be found about accessibilty on the W3C website.

Now you're asking, well that's cool, what does this have to do with SEO, well it seems that spiders, such as googlebot, are also blind, they can't determine hierarchy or importance from styles, they need hierarchy placed in the data to help determine what is going on in the data. If you code your sites for Accessibility, you'll most likely do very well in SEO scores. For SEO there are other items you'll want to add to your data, items such as meta tagging for description and keywords.

Be careful though not to try to use what are called "black hat" tactics with your website, this would be using keyword stuffing and link aggregation to help improve your scores, this will most likely cause your sites to be removed from the search index. Anything that you can read behind the scenes should also be visible one the page. If you have audio or video, then descriptions of the video and audio will help your score and your accessibility.

Overall both can be achieved with common sense, they aren't that difficult, they don't need experts, they do need planning and some marketing sense for your websites. Any developer can handle the technical pieces (it isn't that technical at all). If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.