Launch of ReallyNotALeader.ca

I began work on this site late last week, and am launching it today, with a bit less content than I had hoped, but with a decent start.

Stephen Harper is REALLY not a leader
Stephen Harper is REALLY not a leader

ReallyNotALeader aims to make plain the many ways in which Stephen Harper fails to live up to his own rhetoric: the central premise of this blog is that Canada deserves better a better leader than Stephen Harper. With this blog, I hope contribute to the efforts of many Canadians to raise the bar of professionalism for political debate and campaigning.

Slavoj Zizek: McCain is Bush with lipstick

The true message to American voters from the Republican Party, says Zizek, is: “you have the right not to understand. We will sell you this rhetoric about populist revolt and fighting Washington, but really you know we have the backroom boys like Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and so on, who will take care of things, and it’s better you don’t know about that stuff.”

Zizek, in this interview with Open Source Radio‘s Christopher Lydon, is insightful and entertaining as always.

One of the points Zizek touches on repeatedly is the “totally new” phenomenon of authoritarian capitalism, citing both China and some tendencies in Russia under Putin’s leadership. Contrary to his point that September 11th symbolized the fundamental incorrectness of Francis Fukuyama’s argument in The End of History and the Last Man, it is rather the possibility of authoritarian capitalism that threatens the liberal-democratic-capitalism hegemony. September 11th is completely interpretable from within Fukuyama’s narrative of the direction of history, and in the next fifty years the true test of this narrative will come, as Fukuyama himself suggested it would, from the potentially viable option of non-democratic capitalism.

Google’s confusing and questionable advice on URL rewriting

Kudos to the Google Webmaster Central Blog for what seems like a conscious effort to try to address head-on the concerns of the community over common problem areas like duplicate content and 404s. But their most recent effort, which examines the pros and cons of statics vs. dynamic URLs from Google’s point of view, seem to have resulted in more heat than light, with a number of confused commenters responding to the post.

The gist of the entry was that you should probably leave your dynamic URLs as-is, because Google has no problem crawling them; re-writing them, if done improperly, can increase the difficulty of crawling your site, and is also hard to maintain.

I think Google seems to think that doing URL rewrites is more difficult than it is. I would like to think that most websites are either using a CMS that can adequately handle this (as is the case with WordPress, Drupal and Joomla! for instance), or are being run by someone who has the technical expertise to ensure that this is done appropriately and straightforwardly.

But even if that isn’t the case, Google’s advice here runs counter to the more reasonable advice provded in Tim Berners-Lee‘s W3C Style article, Cool URIs Don’t Change.

There are many reasons for using “cool URIs”, including the fact that they are easier to type, recognize and remember for people. One of the best reasons offered in this article, though, is that if you have a bunch of technology-dependent cruft in your URL, then you decide to switch the underlying technology, you’re going to end up with an entirely different URL structure, thus breaking all the bookmarks and links that have ever been made to your site.

I think the advantages of cool URIs outweigh the risks associated with mapping your dynamic URLs to static URLs, and it is kind of narrow-minded for Google to look at this only as a search engine crawling problem, rather than seeing it in a larger context.

UPDATE

There’s a good post over at SEOmoz on the same topic that lists a bunch of other reasons why, on balance, rewriting your dynamic URLs is still a good idea.

Fido.ca’s usability sin

There are few things that universally qualify as web design FAILs. The esteemed Jakob Nielsen has a list of Top-10 Web Design Mistakes from 1999 which, in web years, is a long time. Long enough that you think people would have learned.

Arguably, most of the ten mistakes he lists are not so hard and dry. For instance, it is not too hard to imagine situations in which opening a new browser window (mistake #2) is not a clear cut screw-up. And some of the mistakes are less serious than the others, e.g. #8, “jumping at the latest internet buzzword.”

But there is one holiest of holies that you just don’t mess with: breaking the “back” button. The back button is the second most used browser action, right after clicking a link to follow it. Breaking the back button is a clear signal that you haven’t thought, or don’t care, about your users.

So why does Fido.ca’s Phones & Accessories store think they’re above this? It’s aesthetically pleasing, but trying to compare phones on their website was easily the most frustrating web browsing experience I’ve had in a long time. While I usually think it’s not very helpful or informative to be so flippant, in this case I call: user experience FAIL.

ThoughtWorks in Toronto: Forging a new alliance between business and IT

I attended this morning’s Toronto edition of ThoughtWorks‘ new Quarterly Technology Briefing, on the subject of Forging a New Alliance: Cutting-edge software to power the Business/IT relationship. I was a bit turned off by the title, which sounds kind of “marketing speak”ish, but was convinced by the fact that Martin Fowler, ThoughtWorks’ Chief Scientist, would be presenting — not that I know much about Fowler, but I’m familiar with some of his ideas, and am always eager for free opportunities to be intellectually stimulated (and to enjoy some good continental breakfast).

What presenters Fowler and Scott Shaw, Director of Services for ThoughtWorks Australia, were talking about was essentially the inefficiencies and poor communication fostered by traditional IT-business relationships, and how we should, in the words of Fowler, “get rid of IT” — a trend he says is already underway. The way to thrive in such an atmosphere, says Fowler, is to move IT closer to the business people.

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