One of the best parts about the comical genius at The Onion is that sometimes their satire hits a little too close to home. Their recent video about Facebook being a CIA surveillance tool is funny but there’s likely a hint of reality in what they’re saying in it.
“Congress today reauthorized funding for Facebook, the massive online surveillance program run by the CIA,” said Onion Factzone anchor Brooke Alvarez.
The sheer mass of data that people willingly display about themselves publicly is very, very likely being used by both the US government and foreign governments around the world to gather information about people of interest as well as to understand trends in the overall direction the world is heading. They can see political tendencies that could lead to actions and they can place associations between people through the network.
Is Mark Zuckerberg really a CIA agent, codename “The Overlord”? One never knows.
There is an inherent problem with the “daily deals” concept. At what point does saving money on items get trumped by buying too many items that we don’t need? The lure of getting a killer deal on something is too strong for many to fight, but is it really saving if we end up buying more things that we normally would never had purchased if they weren’t on sale.
Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial will likely remain popular for at least a couple of years, but the real winners in this industry will be the niche markets. Those who can stay focused and attract a smaller but passionate following are the ones that have the highest-potential staying power. Take our friends at Mighty Deals, for example. The concept is very simple: offer web professionals a daily deals venue. It’s centered around the type of demographic that is in constant need of products, literature, and software. Unlike general sales sites like Groupon, Mighty Deals has less novelty appeal but much more practical appeal.
Another extremely interesting concept takes the group-buying component of daily deals sites and applies it to business advancement. Dealers United allows those in the automotive industry to have deals negotiated for them as if they were one of the super groups. There are corporations in the automotive industry that have hundreds of dealer rooftops under their belt and are able to negotiate with companies like AutoTrader to receive a discount by putting all of the dealerships into one pot. That’s the concept that Dealers United is focused on: giving the group buying power to individual dealerships and small dealer groups. Their first offering launches later this month as Dealers United SEO.
These deals will not be daily as they are often large-expenditures that aren’t part of the “flash sale” concept inherent with daily deals. Instead, there will be a window of a few weeks when dealers can examine the deal and decide if it’s for them. Once the deal is over, the next one will become available filling a different need for dealers.
In this graphic by GPlus, they ask the question of whether the daily deals industry as a whole has a future or if it’s simply a trend. We think it’s here to stay, just not necessarily in the form that it’s currently manifested.
As social photo and video sharing site Pinterest continues to dominate social media blogs for good reasons and bad, its growth has brought it under the scrutiny of bloggers and users alike. Friday, they made 4 major changes to their terms of service that address two major known issues and that preempt two potential issues in the future.
Their biggest challenge of late is addressing the speculation that they’re a copyright- and trademark-infringement haven. They have attempted to head in the right direction by making the tools and ability to report allegedly-infringing content more easily. How they handle reports will determine if this will be enough to stave off the wolves, but it’s a step in the right direction.
The second big conspiracy has surrounded the language with which they claimed the right to sell the content that users post on the site. This was not uncommon but was considered by some to be exceptionally absolute, in essence taking the ability to profit from the site under their own blanket. They have removed this portion from their TOS altogether.
In what can be called the “Tumblr Rule” they have cut off a challenge that Tumblr and Facebook have faced by cutting off the allowance of pins that show or encourage self-harm or abuse. Tumblr had to address this issue last month and some speculated that Pinterest would end up collecting the refugees.
Lastly, they added language that would allow advancement of the site’s potential by paving the way for API development and private boards.
As with nearly any news that is posted on a Friday, this was intended to quietly roll out so as to not draw too much attention to their previous shortcomings. This was a mistake; they should be proud of growing up as a social media site and addressing concerns publicly and boldly. This should have been rolled out on Monday or Tuesday when it would have received bids of confidence from more tech blogs.
Either way, these are all good moves and good signs for the future of the site.
The high-resolution retina display iPad has one downside — normal resolution images look worse than on lower resolution displays. On the web that means that text looks just fine, as does any CSS-based art, but photographs look worse, sometimes even when they’re actually high-resolution images.
Pro photographer Duncan Davidson was experimenting with serving high-resolution images to the iPad 3 when he ran up against what seemed to be a limit to the resolution of JPG images in WebKit. Serving small high-resolution images — in the sub-2000px range — works great, but replacing 1000px wide photographs with 2000px wide photos actually looks worse due to downsampling.
The solution (turns out) is to go back to something you probably haven’t used in quite a while — progressive JPGs. It’s a clever solution to a little quirk in Mobile Safari’s resource limitations. Read Davidson’s follow-up post for more details, and be sure to look at the example image if you’ve got a new iPad because more than just a clever solution, this is what the future of images on web will look like.
As Davidson says:
For the first time, I’m looking at a photograph I’ve made on a screen that has the same sort of visceral appeal as a print. Or maybe a transparency laying on a lightbox. Ok, maybe not quite that good, but it’s pretty incredible. In fact, I really shouldn’t be comparing it to a print or a transparency at all. Really, it’s its own very unique experience.
But how could you go about serving the higher res image to just those screens with high enough resolution and fast enough connections to warrant it?
So what’s a web developer with high-res images to show off supposed to do? Well, right now you’re going to have to decide between all or nothing. Or you can use a hack like one of the less-than-ideal responsive image solutions we’ve covered before.
The high-res future is coming fast and the web needs to evolve just as fast.
In the long run that means the web is going to need a real responsive image solution; something that’s part of HTML itself. An new HTML element like the proposed <picture> tag is one possible solution. The picture element would work much like the video tag, with code that looks something like this:
The browser uses this code to choose which image to load based on the current screen width.
The picture element would solve one part of the larger problem, namely serving the appropriate image to the appropriate screen resolution. But screen size isn’t the only consideration; we also need a way to measure the bandwidth available.
At home on my Wi-Fi connection I’d love to get Davidson’s high-res images on my iPad. When I’m out and about using a 3G connection it would be better to skip that extra overhead in favor of faster page load times.
Ideally browsers would send more information about the user’s environment along with each HTTP request. Think screen size, pixel density and network connection speed. Developers could then use that information to make a better-informed guess about which images it to serve. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely we’ll get such tools standardized and widely supported before the high-res world overtakes the web. With any server-side solution to the bandwidth problem still far off on the horizon, navigator.connection will become even more valuable in the mean time.
Further complicating the problem are two additional factors, data caps on mobile connections and technologies like Apple’s AirPlay. The former means that even if I have a fast LTE connection and a high-resolution screen I still might not want to use my limited data allotment to download high-res images.
AirPlay means I can browse to a site with my phone — which would likely trigger smaller images and videos since it’s a smaller screen — but then project the result on a huge HD TV screen. This is not even a hypothetical problem, you can experience it today with PBS’s iPhone app and AirPlay.
Want to help figure out how the web needs to evolve and what new tools we’re going to need? Keep an eye on the W3C’s Responsive Images community group, join the mailing list and don’t be shy about contributing. Post your experiments on the web and document your findings like Davidson and countless others are already doing.
It’s not going to happen overnight, but eventually the standards bodies and the browser makers are going to start implementing solutions and the more test cases that are out there, the more experimenting web developers have done, the better those solutions will be. It’s your web after all, so make it better.
It’s been just over a year since Adobe first announced its CSS Regions proposal for flowing text around and into irregular shapes. Since then, as the CSS Regions proposal has worked its way through the W3C standardization process it’s been simplified somewhat and brought into line with other, similar proposals.
The short — and disappointing — answer is that CSS Regions is still not ready for prime time. Browser support is limited and even where it exists the spec is still a moving target and will likely change before it’s finalized. In other words, it’s still too soon to use CSS Regions in production.
That said, if you’d like to experiment with CSS Regions, Chrome 17+, the latest Safari nightly builds and Internet Explorer 10 all support the current draft version.
The best way to understand what CSS Regions are and how they will (hopefully) one day change the way we lay out content on the web is to see them in action. Google Chrome developer Paul Irish demonstrated CSS Regions during a SXSW lightning talk earlier this month (note that if you’re using the YouTube HTML5 video player you’ll need to manually skip to the 1:50:00 mark or follow the link to YouTube):
As part of the standardization process the CSS Regions proposal now specifically refers to a set of rules to control how text flows across defined regions. The canonical example being the sort of multi-column text layout — complete with column-spanning images — such as you might find in a print magazine.
In addition to Regions there are two other related proposals to handle different layout situations. The CSS Exclusions proposal describes how to flow content around shapes (as in the example at the top of this post) or into shapes, such as text inside a pie chart. The third piece in the Regions layout puzzle is the CSS Fragmentation proposal which defines how content breaks across columns and other regions.
With the exception of the Multi-column Layout Module which works in Firefox 2+, Opera 11.1+, Safari 3.1+, Chrome 4+ and IE 10+, none of the proposals are ready for production use. And even Multi-column isn’t going to work in current versions of IE, so it’s best limited to personal sites and experiments. But as with all things new and shiny, it’s in this experimental stage that we’ll start to see what sort of exciting new possibilities these layout tools will inspire. Webmonkey is starting to catalog these early efforts, so if you’ve built something that uses CSS Regions be sure to let me know in the comments below.
Microsoft has developed a penchant for self-mockery when it comes to the company’s much-maligned Internet Explorer web browser. Microsoft previously put up a website dedicated to eradicating IE6 from the web, and now it’s promoting IE9 by mocking its predecessors.
As the protagonist of the video above — part of Microsoft’s The Browser You Loved to Hate promotional campaign — says, old versions of IE were good for only one thing: “downloading another browser.” That’s a sentiment echoed by countless Webmonkey commenters over the years. That said, IE is getting better.
Of course we’d be more behind the ideas in the video — that IE is actually pretty good — if it were referring to IE10, which, even in its current preview release stage is a fine browser with web standards support on par with its peers. But that’s not what the “browser you loved to hate” promotional campaign is pushing, it’s still focused on IE9.
While IE9 is faster and offers much better web standards support than previous releases, it still lags behind what you’ll find in other browsers like Chrome and Firefox when it comes to supporting the latest and greatest features on the web.
IE10 catches up with Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera, and in a few cases even surpasses some of them. IE10 really is a good browser. Seriously. Try it. But IE9? Not so much. It’s too bad Microsoft couldn’t hold off with this promo until it really did have a great browser to show off.