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April 2010 Posts

4/1/2010 9:54:53 AM

Building confidence through structured testing

The time and money invested creating a website makes testing it properly essential. Last month we tested a site for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). We checked its accessibility, standards compliance, functionality, branding and content across a range of browser.

Before testing any project we draw up a test plan from original project documentation. This can include specifications, statements of requirement, standards the site is designed to comply with and branding guidelines. Without a plan there is a danger that testers will miss areas of a site or functionality that need testing.

When we draw up a test plan we included a number of separate, independent tests that can be performed. Each test confirms if the site complies with one requirement from the specification. Some tests, such as compliance with html standards, are independent of web browsers. Others, like testing site navigation works, need to be carried out across a range of browsers to ensure a feature is available to all visitors. Some are best carried out by testers with specialist expertise, such as a designer checking a site’s styling complies with branding guidelines.

Once we have a test plan testers can carry out the testing. A Pass or Fail is recorded for every test to ensure that every test is run at least once. While carrying out the test plan testers record any issues outside the test plan they comes across. A written explanation for each failure or issue explains what is wrong.

With a detailed audit trail recording outcomes and who carried out each test we can support the conclusions of our testing. This is important as it builds confidence for the client we are testing for and for the site’s creators. A summary list of failures would be quicker to produce and provides a list of issues requiring attention. A summary list doesn’t build confidence in the effectiveness of the testing.

The DCLG testing was based on the site specification and branding guidelines. A list of web browsers the site had to work with was identified by the DCLG. We drew up the list of tests and identified which tests needed to be carried out across different browsers and which were independent of the browsers. The test plan included over 500 separate tests.

With the test plan written we went through it step by step. For each test we decided if the site passed or failed and recorded the outcome. A summary and a report of the test results was compiled and sent to the DCLG the next day.

4/14/2010 10:21:07 AM

Buzz lightyears behind

Google Buzz has been out for a few months now and has settled down after its dramatic and explosive launch. Its introduction was met with various user privacy issues, none more than the highly worrying ‘auto follow’ feature, where Buzz ‘auto followed’ your most emailed contacts and thus allowing others to understand your email usage (this has since been removed).

The other door Buzz faced on launch was the more obvious one, Why do I need yet another social media network? If you already use Twitter and Facebook for communication to your audiences, where would Buzz fit into all this? That is before you start with all the other Social Networks that people may use (MySpace, Digg, Bebo, Last.FM, LinkedIn). Okay, these other networks might be used for other functions such as music, photos and news, but they do account for a user’s time.

So was it Google’s answer to Twitter? Or had they missed the bus?

Buzz is similar to Twitter and Facebook as it is another mechanism to communicate with users via the web; trade statuses, links, images and videos but there are differences. Here are the pros and cons of Google Buzz.

The Pros

Find and follow your contacts

Due to the fact that Google Buzz is integrated into Google Mail, you instantly have your friends to follow in your Google Mail contacts list. They will be able to view your buzzes and vice versa. No need to be introduced or search for your friends using a search mechanism, its automatic.

Social Networks Connection

Google Buzz allows you to import your activity with other social networks automatically. Buzz feeds in your latest photos from Flickr or Picasa, your latest tweets from Twitter, your latest videos from YouTube and your news feeds from Google Reader.

No Character limitation

Where you are limited with Twitter to the 140 Character restriction, Buzz allows for unlimited-length posts.

YouTube auto embedding

Similar to Google Chat, all YouTube videos are automatically embedded into Google Buzz, avoiding you from having to click through to YouTube, thus enabling commenting on a video collaboratively within Buzz.

Conversation Streams

As previously mentioned, Google Buzz allows for the ability to follow communication between individuals and groups of individuals rather than individual posts. This allows for collaboration and conversations to grow, which is especially useful when you consider the ability to embed video, pictures and links.

Google Buzz Map

This is my personal favourite. The Google Buzz Map is viewable to all mobile phones (except Blackberry) via the Google Buzz layer on Google Maps for Mobile. When using a mobile device with a GPS, you can geotag your Buzzes with your current location. This is displayed in Google Maps with the Buzz layer, enabling you to view Buzzes from a location point of view; a new feature to social networking.

The Cons

Now the Cons. in addition to the previously mentioned, privacy issues and the need to interact with yet another social network:

Google Mail Account

This has got to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the product. If you already use Google Mail then great, if you don’t then you require one to use Buzz. As well as the issue of most usernames having gone, why would a user require yet another email account to the one they currently use? Simple, they wouldn’t.

Twitter Integration Delay

There is a significant delay in Twitter feeds feeding into your Buzz Account, this negates the whole real-time communication issue.

Overcrowded Buzz streams

If you have a Buzz stream where you are following a ‘Buzzer’ who comments quite regularly, then this can tend to overcrowd your Buzz stream, similar to having a Tweeter who tweets too much. But add to this the fact that they may have lots of followers who then comment on their buzzes, and your stream then becomes theirs very quickly.

Finding Buzzers

Whereas Facebook and Twitter have many different ways to find people you may wish to follow, either by similar interest or subject, Buzz fails to assist in this matter.

Conclusion.

I was lucky enough to be a Gmail user, so the integration of Google Buzz was seamless apart from the fact that it does tend to overcrowd my mail box on some days. After linking in my Twitter account, I really found no need to use Buzz on a regular basis. I do however like the Google Buzz map overlay on Google Maps and use this to view Buzzers who are located nearby.

So overall, Google Buzz is currently only offering technology that is already out there. Its integration with Google Maps for Mobile is its strongest selling point, but Google really needs to come up with the killer innovation that will help Google Buzz stand its ground against the social media big-hitters like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and newcomers like Foursquare.

4/21/2010 2:14:18 PM

Keeping Up Standards – HTML 5 and CSS 3

“The nicest thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.”

Andrew S. Tannenbaum

…and nowhere is the above quote truer than in the world of web design and development. The open source and democratic nature of the web means that it is a rapidly changing environment with new technologies and standards vying for attention all the time. Barely has one technology become established and supported by software and browsers when the next is already on the horizon and of course this is what makes the web so exciting and vital. These rapid developments fuel the exponential growth and use of the web. The downside of this however is that developers and designers have to be constantly aware of the limitations of the old technologies and conversely careful not to implement code that is too cutting edge and is not widely enough supported, a difficult balancing act perhaps, but one that is absolutely vital to the success of their client’s sites.

The newest kids on the block as far as standards are concerned are HTML 5 (opens new window) and CSS 3 (opens new window) and the hope is that in the next few years they will form the bedrock for web design and mark up. Both have been in development for some years and are only now starting to mature. They could be the perfect pairing, HTML 5 for the content and CSS 3 for presentation, allowing coders to build more stable, faster loading and widely supported sites and designers to create visually rich layouts without clunky workarounds. The key to this of course will be browsers adopting these two standards and users taking up the new versions.

Together these two represent a considerable step forward for the web and above all a potentially significant improvement in the user’s experience.