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Blog (January 2009)

Showing blog entries 1-5 of 6.

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Let's (not) make some forms

Published | 16.15, 23rd of January 2009, by Jay Vincent | Technical

One of the most unenjoyable tasks I often have to undertake is the creation of forms - simple web-to-email forms. Therefore, I've decided to create a little wizard-like application to allow non-webbies to create them, so I don't have to. A few points to consider for anyone doing this are as follows:

  1. The PHP page which will process the form will need to be generic, and able to handle any input type thrown at it - a checkbox group is read as an array, where as radio button values are simply strings.
  2. The PHP proccessing page will need to recognise which fields are marked as required fields.
  3. If required fields are left blank, the PHP processing page will need to send the user back to the form, with values the user has already inputted preserved.
  4. Inputted values will run through a PHP regular expressions function which will allow only white-listed characters. This security measure will prevent form hi-jacking.
  5. The PHP processing page will need to verify it is receiving data from its own website. This is done by checking the $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'] variable.
  6. The recipients email address will be cross-referenced in a database table by a unique ID. This ID is what will be specified on the form page. This security measure means a hacker can't alter the recipient email address.
  7. The form will need to specify a redirect page the user will be sent to upon successful submission.

The creation of the form itself will be wizard-like - WYSIWYG almost, with the user specifying which type of input, its possible values, required fields, etc. Each form and its contents will be stored in a mySQL database table.

This will be a fun little mini-project for me to work on, and when its done it will either be attached onto Arena (our custom CMS) and/or sold here on our website!

No comments | Make a comment (Average rating | 4.33 / 5)

In Flash Replacement - Controlling fonts and text-smoothing (anti-aliasing)

Published | 16.23, 15th of January 2009, by Jay Vincent | Technical

I'm coming across more and more websites using this technique, buzzwordly-named IFR (Inman Flash Replacement)

IFR is displaying text through flash - dynamically feeding a text string into a SWF file, which in turn displays the string in a font style specified by the SWF. Doing this ensures text is always displayed in a smooth anti-aliased fashion, and allows for non-web fonts to be used on web pages.

The most desirable application of the IFR technique is for text in header tags (h1, h2, h3, etc), but these tags are very important to search engine spiders and contribute quite heavily to how the page is read, so replacing them with flash files is a big no-no. Search engine's don't read text within flash (or images for that matter).

The solution is a clever mix of javascript and css:

  1. h1, h2, h3, etc. tags are set to display: none by default.
  2. Once the DOM (document object model) has loaded, a javascript function is triggered which reads the text in these tags, and inserts the SWF file into the tag with the text as a parameter.
  3. The original text is then wrapped in a span tag.
  4. The h1, h2, h3, etc tags are set to display: block, and span tags within these tags are set to display: none;

Thats how I think I'd do it anyway... although setting h1 tags to display: none by default scares me a little, perhaps visibility: hidden would be better. There would also need to be flash detection at stage 2...

Example - - Uses IFR quite extensively on the homepage, but select 'no styles' and you'll see the text as normal web text - readable to us and search engines.

Personally, I'm not too keen on this technique although I can see its purpose. I'd prefer to use PHP's GD library and the freetype library because I feel dynamic content should be handled and processed at the server, not the client. Doing this eliminates the need to test the client machine environment for flash, activeX, browser, etc...

No comments | Make a comment (Average rating | 5.00 / 5)

Design a key factor for company stability

Published | 12.43, 15th of January 2009, by Chris van Aurich | Design

As I have said many times on this blog, the use of design can have a dramatic impact on a business and how well it fairs in its market place. The design council have published research that only enforces that argument:

 When times are tough and revenues are falling there may be a temptation for business to cut ‘discretionary’ budgets - money allocated to activities such as design, perhaps.

But design is a powerful tool in a downturn.
Our research shows that more than half of the UK’s businesses:

.... are looking to design their way out of downturn

Over half (54%) of the firms in our survey thought design would contribute to a large or great extent in helping maintain their competitive edge in the current economic climate.

.... think design is more important now
Similarly, 53% thought that design had become more important in helping the firm to achieve its business objectives over the last three years.

.... think design is integral to the economic performance of the UK
The same number agreed or strongly agreed that design is integral to the country’s future economic performance.

read the full article here

The use of design can be critical in giving you the edge over your competitors.

No comments | Make a comment (Average rating | 3.50 / 5)

Arena CMS - progress

Published | 13.21, 8th of January 2009, by Jay Vincent | Technical

For about a month now, I've been developing a custom content management system, which I've have named 'Arena', and I thought I would share my progress.

In a nutshell, its a multi-user, multiple-permissions, multi-function, ajax-based content management system. It consists of various modules which behave independently of each other, so only relevant modules need be included at configuration. These modules are:

  1. Arena Access
    This module manages the users of the arena system and their permissions
  2. Asset Management
    Handles the upload and management of user-uploaded images, videos, audio and documents. Can also dynamically resize images.
  3. News
    This module manages the posting of news articles.
  4. Case Studies
    This module manages the posting and ordering of case studies.
  5. Pages
    The most in depth module, this manages the creation of, editing of and deleting of static pages, aswell as the structure of the website navigation.

I have other modules planned (like ecommerce and statistics modules) but for now, I think I've got enough to work on.

Arena's first deployment will be the re-launch of software company website, who's web editors are currently struggling to cope with the wordpress system installed. The relaunch will happen Spring 2009.

No comments | Make a comment (Average rating | 4.40 / 5)

Search engine optimisation, education is key

Published | 20.45, 7th of January 2009, by Chris van Aurich | SEO

Search engine optimisation (SEO), can be  a baffling subject at first. What is true is that there are many aspects to an SEO campaign and the success, ROI you can receive,

So what is SEO: Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via "natural" ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results for targeted keywords. Usually, the earlier a site is presented in the search results or the higher it "ranks", the more searchers will visit that site.

Why is education so important? For us the most important part of any discussion with a client regarding SEO, is that they understand what they should be getting for their investment. All the technical terms such as On Page SEO, Off Page SEO, Keyword Efficiency Indexing (KEI), Latent Semantic Indexing & Link Building Campaigns,  etc, should be explained so you have a a full understanding of what we do and why we do it. Even if a client decides not to use us, we are happy in the knowledge that you understand its purpose and what you should be getting when discussing these kind of projects with professionals.

No comments | Make a comment (Average rating | 4.00 / 5)

Showing blog entries 1-5 of 6.

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