Archive for March, 2012


Web Development Frameworks – CodeIgniter

A few moments spent with Google will reveal that a myriad of frameworks exist for content management systems (CMSs) available for use in web development. A lot of which are free to use, open source and highly hackable to specific requirements. Indeed, it would be easy to think that for every plausible project a neatly packaged solution already exists and is merely a search away.

Here at eSterling, we often find ourselves facing a unique project that doesn’t fit neatly in to any of these pre-packaged solutions. Data structures cannot always be altered due to compatibility with client software or procedure, design often doesn’t lend itself to the required templating brief, technologies are not always realistically compatible, and many other underlying requirements can be present which mean we have to start from the ground up.

However, even the most bespoke of web development projects requires a solid foundation, a way to structure growth and distribute key features whist ensuring maintainability. The vast majority of projects, no matter how niche, will require basic features such as page generation, form submission and basic database manipulation. Furthermore, these features need to be implemented in a secure and robust way to ensure the integrity of each project whilst simultaneously minimising loading times, bandwidth usage and other strains on resources.

Enter CodeIgniter. CodeIgniter is an open source, application development framework, designed to kick-start projects with a well-designed core of those basic features most sites require. Due to the fundamental nature of the tools provided it will happily exist on a variety of server configurations and requires virtually no configuration out of the box, saving headaches and that most precious of all assets, time. It is lean, modular and essentially, unlike many CMSs, it provides no front-end templates or theme (aside from an easily-deleted example welcome page) ensuring that the “default install” look is avoided.

Over the next few posts we will have a closer look at the feature-set provided by CodeIgniter, focusing on how it fulfils our needs in terms of functionality and security. There are also some areas, whilst by design, where CodeIgniter fails to address reasonably fundamental features that crop up time and again, namely user authentication and site administration, and we will see how to plug those gaps.

Paying for Search Rankings – Is Everyone Doing It?

Short answer? – YES!!

Whether through Adwords/PPC or organic? – YES!!

Whether ‘off-site or on-Site’? – YES!!

Whether through blogs or satellite sites? – YES!!

Instances of your website reaching the dizzy heights of page one rankings in Google naturally are becoming rarer and rarer. If you don’t pay, you don’t get – this has to be the realistic mantra for achieving great rankings.

Over coming weeks, I will explain the reasons behind this. You may even be shocked by some of the revelations revealed in these articles about the lengths some people will go to get the rankings they want.

Come back to the blog to learn some very harsh realizations of the real world of Google rankings, on which we have all begun to rely.

Education vs. Experience – the great debate…

As every small business knows, finding the right employees is absolutely key to the success of your operation. Staff recruitment can be an expensive affair, and so knowing what you want before you start is really important. Do you need a graduate? Someone who shows dedication to achieving their goals? Or would you be happier with a candidate who has relevant experience but lacks a formal education? ‘Both!’ I hear you cry!

An article in the Guardian Online today examines a government-commissioned report which suggests that all university students should carry out a summer-long internship before they graduate, priming them for life in the world of business. The report recommends that businesses offering paid internships should receive government assistance in the form of grants, or tax credits. It is hoped that this will encourage businesses to offer more of these sought-after positions.

It is also suggested that where internships are unpaid, funds could be diverted from universities to support students who are financially in need.

This initiative aims to increase the employability of graduates, with real, hands-on experience. For many students still in the process of completing their degree, this could be welcome news. So to for employers looking for something more than theoretical knowledge in their employees.

To read the full article for yourself, visit:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/feb/28/students-10-week-summer-internships

New for the iPad – Photoshop Touch

As a Photoshop fan, I was interested to hear that Adobe has now launched an iPad version of their ever-popular image editing software. The software has been around for Android Tablets for a while, but now iPad 2 users can also get their hands (literally) on the Photoshop Touch app.

The iPad app features many of the things Photoshop users are used to, such as working in layers, sophisticated selection tools and re-touching tools. The degree of accuracy these tools will be capable of achieving is yet unknown. Other features include pre-loaded image effects and the ability to use your iPad’s built in camera to fill portions of the image you are working on.

Photoshop Touch is part of Adobe’s upcoming suite of iPad ‘Touch’ Apps, which will be inspired by Adobe’s Creative Suite. The apps include: Adobe Collage, Adobe Debut, Adobe Ideas (similar to Illustrator), Adobe Kuler (color theme manager); and Adobe Proto.

I can’t imagine that professionals will take to this software as they have to regular Photoshop. For a start, an iPad screen is far too small for the precision that professional photo editing demands. However, photography enthusiasts might find quickly fixing an image from the comfort of their sofa very appealing. More so perhaps the teenagers with iPads who insist on re-touching their profile pictures before uploading them to Facebook… (a social media upload facility is another feature of the app).

Priced at just $9.99, it is just a fraction of the price of conventional Photoshop software which retails at around a whopping £500… Maybe this signifies that Adobe is looking into making their software more affordable to the masses. Could this be the beginning of the end of Adobe’s overpriced reign over photographers and designers? I’m hoping so.

Last week a few of the web industry’s movers and shakers got together at a quickly arranged meet-up under the rather grandiose title of the Responsive Summit. They talked about how, in the post-PC world, web agencies can deliver websites for the reality of a multitude of web enabled devices. Aside from minor moaning on Twitter about the perceived elitism of the internet Illuminanti deciding upon the direction we all need to take, the response to the Summit has been positive. And the information I have taken from it is proving very interesting.

The hard truth that agencies like ours are facing is that mobile is not only on the rise, but will become the primary internet platform. This was recognised years ago and people boarded the responsive bandwagon thanks to such now legendary articles as Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design. In tandem with this a small number of people started doing all web design in the browser. The latest movement to pick up steam is Mobile First, whereby sites are designed for phones first and desktops second.

The Responsive Summit was an attempt to view all these developments in light of business realities and offer ideas of how agencies should move forward. So far, one of the major issues discussed is the applicability of the old print design method that has been passed down to the web. In this set-up Photoshop ‘proofs’ are produced for sign-off by clients before being constructed into a website, pixel for pixel. The argument is that this is ridiculous in light of the fact that these sites will now be viewed on screens of massively varying dimensions and resolutions.

Is the answer to produce proofs for a variety of screen widths? This would prove to be exhaustive and expensive work. The suggestion then is to follow what at first glance appears to be a process more in line with that old favourite of developers: agile. This brings the new philosophies together within an iterative development framework with designers working closely with developers to produce working responsive mock-ups for delivery to the client. Using a mobile first mindset and developing primarily in the browser the hope is that we can deliver sites that meet the clients requirements that are workable across the vast swathe of devices on the market.

This would be a large change to the established waterfall development pattern that agencies and clients are used to. Can agencies change their methods so completely? And will the client buy into this?

More information is still coming out of the Responsive Summit and there is a lot to digest, but this is the start of the conversation we all need to have. The future is both exciting and daunting for web developers…

Contact eSterling
48-52 Floodgate Street
Birmingham
West Midlands
B5 5SL
UK
E. enquiries@esterling.co.uk
T. 0121 766 8087