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Archive for January, 2008

Durham on the map

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Alan Mann writes to tell me that he heard Jon Lord’s Durham Concerto last night, and that it’s a great piece of work! Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I google these names, and find the web site which not only tells me how this piece came about, but also allows me to listen to the music.

My only reservation is the claim that the concerto somehow “puts Durham on the world map”, as if that were necessary. This morning’s Today programme had an item about the Gough map – and the map itself, which was drawn sometime around 1360, shows Durham quite clearly.

I joined Facebook so you don’t have to…

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Part of my job at Cornwell Internet is to keep an eye out for things which might be useful to our clients: ideas, sites, links, graphics. Yes, that’s partly an excuse for me to spend my work time surfing the net, but it’s also how we were able, for example, to set up Michael Jecks’s photo diary within budget: free photo-hosting site Flickr offered the features we needed.

So when I started receiving invitations to join Facebook, I clicked on through to the site to see what all the fuss was about. You can’t, in fact, do that: Facebook is a social networking site in the sense that it provides a facility for existing networks of friends to keep in touch, and you can’t see what it has to offer unles you sign up and start to contact people who are already your friends. I took a deep breath, and did that.

Six weeks later, what’s the verdict? Well, Facebook isn’t for me, and I don’t see any immediate application for our clients, either. I’ve heard people talk about Facebook as MySpace for grown-ups, but Myspace can be used to reach new people, as well as to keep in touch with people you already know; having a MySpace profile can be a form of viral marketing (in a good way!).

Facebook doesn’t do this. Writer Paul Cornell blogs in defence of Facebook, and points out quite fairly that it’s not a question of what Facebook can do for you, but what you can use Facebook to do for yourself. Even so, it’s only useful if a substantial proportion of the people you want to do it with also have Facebook accounts: otherwise, there are probably better ways of reaching them.

Monday’s Guardian carried an article about Facebook, attacking the site on a number of grounds, from the Luddite (“if I want to network with people, I’ll talk to them”) to the perfectly justified (“it’s all about gathering personal data and using it to target advertising”). If I were handing over money to Facebook, I might well be concerned that its founders have radical neoconservative ideas (though there are few big internet businesses whose politics I’d actually endorse). But the reason why I’m withdrawing from Facebook is simply that it has nothing to offer me.

There’s more to life than Internet Explorer

Monday, January 14th, 2008

It still surprises me how many web designers must only look at their pages in Internet Explorer, because when you use other browsers, they can look very odd indeed. For preference, when we are browsing the web, Jean uses Firefox and I use Seamonkey which is from the same Mozilla stable. Both adhere closely to published standards and are growing in popularity: it varies from website to website but, for example, 10% of visitors to Anne Fine’s website now use Firefox and for the Crimewriters’ Association it’s 15%. Other browsers are also out there, in particular Mac users will almost certainly use Safari. The result is that Internet Explorer’s share is dropping. Our most recent figure for the CWA website shows that only 62.3% of visitors were using Internet Explorer.

None of this would matter if Internet Explorer obeyed the rules. Unfortunately Microsoft seem to think they know better and, although the latest version is much closer to the standard, web sites still look different in different browsers. And of course as web designers we cannot go round dictating to people what browser they should use, though some web sites presume to do this! This is why Jean and I look at the sites we design in a variety of browsers, including Internet Explorer 6 and 7, and we use various techniques to ensure our sites are visible and make sense in all of them. Designers who only use Internet Explorer can deter surfers using other browsers and in extreme cases the site may be unusable.

Older but not wiser

Friday, January 4th, 2008

A brief note in yesterday’s Technology Guardian claims that internet users are growing older (or rather, since we are all growing older, the average age of users is rising). Here’s what they say, verbatim: "Over the past year (October 2006 – 07), the average age of the UK internet population has risen from 35.7 to 37.9, according to Nielsen’s research." (and a link follows to their source, Nielsen Online).

Since the average age of Cornwell Internet is even higher than those figures, and the same is probably true of our clients (though I would not be so indiscreet as to ask), I was interested enough to look up the full story.

Nielsen’s press release is available as a document file at It reveals that the site whose users have the lowest average age is MiniClip, an online games site, and the site whose users have the highest is M & S – which is not entirely surprising, especially given that only the hundred most popular online brands were monitored for the press release. In general, younger users visited games, media and social networking sites, and older users visited online shopping and financial sites (and Friends Reunited, which is also social networking).

None of which explains those unexpectedly high average ages; in fact, the closer you look, the odder it gets: the average ages of visitors to the list of youth-oriented sites vary from 28.1 to 34.2, while the older internet users are from 43.2 to 46.5. According to Nielsen’s figures, the average visitor to YouTube is 34.4. Now, I love YouTube. There’s some wonderful archive material there. Cornwell Internet has its own YouTube account, which we use to post videos for clients, from the crimewriters’alliance who call themselves the Murder Squad to the New Rope String Band: but I’m sceptical that visitors over thirty outnumber those in their teens and twenties. So I started to look at where Nielsen’s figures came from.

The press release states "All figures in this release come from NetView – the Nielsen//NetRatings panel of around 45,000 UK Internet users who have opted in to download a meter which records all their PC, online and application usage on a continual and ongoing basis." I would like to think that this is reliable, and that UK internet users really are typically in their thirties; it would give businesses an incentive to design their sites for grown-ups, and to abandon the irritating animations and tiny print! But these figures are so extreme that I fear there is a flaw in the methodology: perhaps Nielsen have failed to recruit a representative proportion of young people to their panel, or perhaps computers bearing their meter are being used by younger family members, as well as the person who signed up for the research.

Or perhaps it’s true, and the silver surfers really are conquering the web.

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