The importance of being distracted…

Of course, as soon as I start on a series of chats about a particular thing, something else comes along to take my attention away. But this is well worthy of commenting on – Kevin Hale discusses RSS.

This is a very interesting look at the present and possible future for the RSS format, and while I’m not sure that RSS will replace search – after all, to read an RSS feed about a particular subject you have to find it first – I do think that Google, and probably other search engine companies as well, are realising they can augment their search results with the added spice of RSS. Part of that spice is that the results are, as Kevin rightly says:

…clean data, good data and thanks to wide-spread adoption by companies and the major blog software entities, lots of it.

Perfect for a search engine to use, I think you’ll agree. Plus it comes with that added bonus of being reputable, human-created data. That is until the spammers realise what they can do with it. And, as if all that were not enough, it can even include advertisements, Google are currently working on an RSS feed version of its AdSense system. Hopefully it will be handled in a sensitive manner – after all, one of the advantages of reading a feed rather than visiting a website is you can don’t have to view the ads.

The one thing Kevin didn’t mention (unless I missed it) was about the new Google XML format site map technology. To my mind there seems to be too much in common between RSS and this new site map XML format, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a convergence (there’s that word again) of these formats in the near future. It certainly makes sense – site maps are, after all, selective; there are some pages that we webmasters don’t want people to find. And RSS is flexible, allowing different types of content to be saved into one single file. And both are XML and freely available. You see the corollary?

Anyway, go read the essay, it’s very good. Hopefully I’ll have time to tackle the next part (CSS) of my 5-part look at the web development world soon.

Big Web Five, No. 1: HTML…

HTML is where it all started, and where it all ends. There is no web page without HTML (or some variant of it, such as XHTML). Flash designers may disagree, but that clever Flash movie still needs wrapping in an HTML document to display in a browser. HTML code is the bread and butter of web developers, and I love it.

There’s not much to say, really. I’m not going to get in to the whole XHTML or just plain ‘ol HTML thing because, frankly, I don’t understand it. All I will say is that anyone who says they are a web developer, but does not have a very good grasp of HTML is kidding themselves.

Everything we do as web developers has to have its output in HTML (yes, I know, a generalisation), but, of course, that HTML can be generated by anything you want, and manipulated however you want … and that’s where the magical combination of your web server, server-side scripting language, CSS and JavaScript come in.

So you can use your web server and server-side scripting language to create pretty much whatever you want – lists from databases, output of remote XML files, the latest comments made on a forum. However the important thing is that, no matter how you generate it, your HTML code must be semantic and valid.

I realise I’ve not said much in this post, but it’s important to understand just how important HTML is, and thank the efforts of the many developers who have brought us this fantastic language.

Five go Mad on the Web…

Reading through Staurt Langridge’s new book: DHTML Utopia: Modern Web Design Using JavaScript & DOM from sitepoint.com I was struck by this line in the opening paragraph of the first chapter:

DHTML is actually a combination of proper HTML for your content, Cascading Style Sheets for your design, and JavaScript for interactivity.

Which is correct, of course. Websites – and in particular DHTML websites – rely heavily on those three technologies.

However there are two more areas that Stuart didn’t mention that are just as crucial when talking about web applications. Those are server-side scripting and the web server itself. As you may have picked up, if you’re a regular reader, I spend most of my time doing server-side scripting, leveraging the power of a web server to manipulate, create, interact with and administer data, then output it using HTML, CSS and JavaScript to the client (a web browser).

Talking of the three “visible” technologies – the bits of code we can see in our browsers – but not aknowledging the power of the two “invisible” technologies means we are missing out on many opportunities the web is offering us. However let’s go a stage further, and realise that it’s only through the collaboration of these five areas, the symbiosis of their complementary capabilities, that we can truly take advantage of this new development platform.

So, over the next few days, I’m going to be looking at all five areas – (X)HTML, CSS, JavaScript, server-side scripting and the web server – and sharing my thoughts about how all these can fit together, with a few examples to help illustrate the point. I’ll also touch on databases, XML, and the browser itself – the canvas for our art.

More experimentation…

I’ve been at it again, slaving over a hot monitor, and I can now provide you with a simple method to check your web server, to see if it supports the wondrous Apache module mod_rewrite. If this makes sense to you then great, please take a look, if not then go back to your business and try to forget I said anything.