Matthew Daly's Blog

I'm a web developer in Norfolk. This is my blog...

20th June 2010 8:11 pm

Should You Have Adverts on Your Website?

When I set up this blog, I was torn over the decision whether to include adverts or not. On the one hand, the hosting costs, while not unreasonable, are still fairly substantial at around £10 a month, and any help in paying that would be very welcome. On the other hand, I was very concerned that adverts would drive away potential readers, and make me seem like one of the self-appointed “social media experts” that haunt Twitter, which isn’t my intention at all.

I’m an Adblock and Flashblock user myself, so I would never, ever consider the kind of nasty, intrusive adverts you see on many sites, either videos, images or Flash animations. The one kind of advert I don’t have a problem with is simple text ads, like you see on Google search results, and at a stretch, simple image-based ones. As long as adverts are simple, unobtrusive, relevant and don’t affect the visitor’s experience, then I don’t have too much of a problem with them in theory. The trouble is, few are.

Now, I had no realistic expectations that I would get rich from this blog, nor was I expecting that I would be likely to earn any money at all from it. I was simply hoping to offset some of the costs of hosting. I paid for web hosting because I was fed up with the limits of hosted blogging, and wanted to have the flexibility of blogging on my own domain, and I accepted the costs of hosting as necessary for that. I decided in the end that adverts were likely to be detrimental to this site’s health, would be disliked and wouldn’t earn much money, so I chose not to add them. I might consider using an affiliate program (such as linking to books or albums I like and would recommend), but otherwise my site is an advertisement-free zone, and for the foreseeable future I intend it to remain so.

What’s your opinion on advertisements on websites? What criteria do you apply when deciding whether to include advertisements or not, and what advertisements to include?

18th June 2010 10:12 pm

Why Is Chrome So Popular All of a Sudden?

I don’t know how or when it happened, but suddenly I’ve noticed that a hell of a lot of people I wouldn’t normally expect to pay much attention when someone nags them to update their web browser are using Google Chrome. Non computer-savvy work colleagues are using it, and even my father has dumped Internet Explorer 8 in favour of Chrome - yet he wouldn’t consider Firefox despite my years of virtually begging him to switch!

In May 2010, the statistics on W3Schools.com are quite telling. Google Chrome makes up 14.5% of the hits on the site, which is higher than either IE6 or IE7 - IE8 is the only version of Internet Explorer that’s still ahead. Chrome is still behind Firefox, which takes up a huge 46.9% of the hits, but it’s not bad for a browser that’s been out for less than two years. More notably, Chrome has increased its market share by around 5% in the last six months, while IE6 has declined by a little over 3%. Granted, W3Schools is likely to be frequented mostly by web professionals who use more modern browsers, but in terms of the decline of IE6 at least, they’re backed up by Statcounter, who have reported that IE6 usage has fallen below 5% for the first time.

This can’t be a bad thing - Chrome’s one of the fastest and most standards-compliant browsers around and has some of the best support for HTML5 and CSS3, as well as fast and efficient execution of JavaScript. It also has one of the best security records of any modern web browser - it’s consistently been the only desktop web browser to survive the Pwn2Own contest unscathed.

But why is this happening? Accepted wisdom for some time has been that non-technical users just use whatever browser comes with their computer, thus giving IE a huge advantage, but the increasing popularity of Chrome runs counter to this, so it’s clearly more complex than that. So much of its growth has been very recent that I don’t think it’s likely to be technically adept users, many of whom are already attached to Firefox or Safari (I still use Firefox sometimes myself, although for most things I’ve switched to Chrome).

I think part of the reason is the fact that Google are dropping IE6 support on their sites, particularly YouTube, which is a hugely popular site, thus forcing people to ditch IE6 for something else. Naturally, Google provide links to download Chrome on the site, so maybe people are just going for the first alternative they see that will work.

Have you noticed this? Why do you think some non-technical users are switching to Chrome when they wouldn’t switch to Firefox?

8th June 2010 10:24 pm

First Steps With PHP

I’m currently working on my very first website for anyone other than myself. It’s a simple brochure-style website advertising a friend’s chalet at a seaside resort, which she wants to be able to rent out, and includes a simple contact form so that people can get in touch to ask questions or make a booking enquiry. Now, at present Python is the only programming language I know at all well that’s useful for server-side scripting, but I decided to have a bash at building it using PHP, since that’s pretty well supported and there’s loads of tutorials and resources for teaching PHP to newbies, as well as innumerable third-party scripts and libraries. Also, PHP’s such a popular language that you can’t really get away from it if you want to get into web development - I see loads of PHP jobs advertised but very few Python ones. So I figured it’ll be useful to have picked up a little PHP.

I got the form working, and I’ve added reCAPTCHA support to it to help prevent spam. All in all the form is working well, and it didn’t take a great deal of PHP knowledge to write the script. I’m already pretty confident that it’s a language I can work with in future, possibly even on a professional basis. That said, I can already tell that I will never like working with PHP as much as I like working with Python - the syntax is far less elegant than that of Python, and the object-orientation looks and feels much more clumsy to me.

There’s plenty of things I’d like to be able to do that require PHP, so I will be learning it thoroughly at some point, although I have no plans to do so immediately - I’m about to do my JavaScript Fundamentals exam later this month, and after that I’ve got to learn Perl, so it’s not till I get that done that I’ll be learning PHP properly. In particular, I’m really interested in Wordpress theme development - I want to build a theme of my own for this blog since that’ll say more about my abilities than an off-the-shelf theme, and it also happens to be an increasingly marketable skill.

15th May 2010 5:27 pm

Is Dreamweaver the Best Choice for Developing Your First Website?

If someone asks you to name an application for creating web pages, the chances are that one of the first things you’ll think of is Adobe Dreamweaver. While it may not have quite as much mindshare as its Creative Suite stablemate Photoshop, it’s still regarded as the premier application for creating web pages.

However, that status leads to many novice developers, or ordinary people who just want to set up one website, thinking that they need to use it, and that’s completely wrong. At work we have an intranet with a discussion forum, and someone with no experience of creating web pages was asking for advice on the best application to use to create a website, and of course someone suggested Dreamweaver, something I strongly disagree with.

So, if you’re wanting to build a basic website, and are thinking Dreamweaver might be the way forward, you might want to bear these points in mind:

  1. HTML was intended right from the start to be reasonably easy to use, so why not just write HTML? I learned the basics in a weekend, and there’s plenty of good resources around, so rather than shell out for a copy of Dreamweaver, just get a book about it and work through that. It’s a useful skill to know and it costs a lot less, and the resulting web page will be easy to maintain. Granted it may not be that impressive to start with, but there’s nothing stopping you refining it over time.

  2. You probably don’t need to mark up web pages yourself at all. There are many excellent content management systems that make it easy to build a website yourself without having to write any HTML or CSS at all. Wordpress is capable of static pages and blogs, is easy to theme, and can be extended with plugins. Drupal or Joomla are also possibilities, so the chances are it’s not necessary to hand-code the page at all.

  3. If you’re only after a basic site and you don’t have any interest in creating any other web pages, but you want something that looks professional, then forget Dreamweaver and hire a freelance web designer to create the page for you. For a small site they’ll probably cost less than buying a copy of Dreamweaver, they’ll be able to create a much more professional-looking result and they’ll be able to help you with other issues that arise.

  4. Is it the most cost-effective WYSIWYG editor for what you want? The world is full of WYSIWYG HTML editors, many of which are free, others of which are a lot cheaper than Dreamweaver. Okay, you could just use a trial version of Dreamweaver for free, but what about if you want to edit your site later on after your trial has expired? And yes, you probably could use a pirate copy, but is it really worth the bother when something else will probably do the trick? Some great alternative HTML editors include:

There are many more cheap or free HTML editors around, which make great alternatives to Dreamweaver for inexperienced users.

  1. Dreamweaver is a powerful tool, but it’s not a magic bullet - it won’t make you able to create a great website, any more than a copy of Microsoft Word will make you a great writer. Dreamweaver’s a professional application, with a price tag to match, and it takes experience to use it properly. In the hands of an experienced web professional, Dreamweaver can create a great website, but in unskilled hands the results are going to be less than satisfactory.

What do you think? Is Dreamweaver a good choice for making your first (or indeed only) website, or not?

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About me

I'm a web and mobile app developer based in Norfolk. My skillset includes Python, PHP and Javascript, and I have extensive experience working with CodeIgniter, Laravel, Zend Framework, Django, Phonegap and React.js.