Self taught lessons in publishing for the web

Of the many first-impression reactions I received from friends, acquaintances and even total strangers, many commented on the presentation aspects of this blog. The writing, I understand is not everybody’s cup of tea. I was pleased to receive positive feedback on the presentation because over many years I have been drawn towards the many intriguing aspects of publishing. Perusing typefaces endlessly, studying character spacing, word spacing, line spacing and paragraph spacing. I also had a weak spot for publications that lay out it’s text and images on sublime background colours and images, creating just the perfect contrast that makes it both eye catching as well as readable. Some of the better one’s like Wired had a spread that could match even the best buffet layout in getting the drool going. So, when I decided to publish my blog it was only natural that the layout be satisfying to the senses.

Publishing for the web has it’s own challenges. It’s ironic that the very same technology that enabled mass adoption of many unique publishing techniques for the print are unavailable for web publishing. The reasoning is easy to follow if you know the history of web; but that history is monstrously complex for me to attempt and simplify at the moment. The availability of fonts are limited; the best options among the serif types are Times New Roman and Georgia. Among sans-serif it’s Arial and Helvetica. Without the proper sizing and background some fonts come out looking disturbingly anorexic. And if you would like to layout the text so that it flows around the outline of an image of Coke bottle the challenges are just too much to even make it worthwhile. That is why the creative talent at most magazines find their product’s online avatar embarrassing, and rightly so.

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Google – Little evil is healthy

Google’s initial spell on an uninitiated user during it’s toddler years of early 2000’s was one of freshness. Freshness in presentation, freshness in efficiency and economy, freshness even in it’s ideology. It’s efficiency in delivering super-fast results and it’s boldness in thought at organizing and prioritizing search results was an instant hit. No other search engine of the time came close to churning relevant data to the top like Google. Google’s ideology, even though not something that was stage managed by the corporate, was perhaps the most impressionable aspect. Especially to us working in IT at the time.

Google’s loyalty to it’s official motto “Organize worlds information and make it accessible” was transparent to most of it’s consumers. Without any real ideas about how to monetize this incredible platform which was attracting users by the millisecond, Google’s unofficial motto “Do no evil” was also easily accepted by the world. Even during the months on either side of it’s IPO, Google continued to maintain it’s reputation, although by then they had solved the problem of monetization. By successfully mimicking what had figured out initially, it started selling ad-space based on words. In it’s subsequent and unrestrained thirst for profits it created other innovative avenues to sell ad space. Through an idea ingested by corporate acquisition, it launched the Adsense service which could be embedded in any site’s content where it would display a text-only advertisement that was also relevant to the content of that page. With this innovation in marketing, the landscape for digital billboards became limitless.

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Creepy internet marketing

Ever wondered when you receive a new spam in your email account about how the spammers got a hold of your email? Well, I do, and not just because I have too much time on my hands. I am also cautious with all the sites where I use my primary email account. Gmail does a pretty good job protecting your email account by providing HTTPS access, which means that any data you enter in your browser on this channel is encrypted, hence secure. All other sites where I register this email account as my contact information are all either banking sites, amazon, ebay or other such reputed sites. All employ the standard practice of using HTTPS to secure my information from being sniffed. So when I began receiving a daily email from (employment site) it really bugged me. More so because I had browsed their site just a few days before being turned into an unwilling recipient of their literature. This could not be explained away as pure coincidence.

The only other site where I used my email address in recent times was with this website’s hosting provider. Whenever I have an issue with my blog, I enter my name and email address on a unsecured web page before I am allowed to proceed with a live chat with one of their technical support persons. Such casual use could have allowed any piece of software sitting between my computer and the server to capture my email address as well as any other data that was being transferred. A similar piece of software can very easily track all the website addresses that I visit. Connecting a user’s browsing pattern to their email address is even easier to accomplish. You see, every networking device is tagged with a unique identifier that is necessary for the communication protocol to work. This is called the MAC address. Besides the MAC address, there is also the IP address that is assigned to these devices. Collating information based on a common MAC address or IP address is one of the simplest software programs to write. It all seemed plausible in theory. But needing some more proof, I rested this theory for the time being.

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Bye Bye Microsoft

My first impression of Microsoft software was, well, green on black. The monitors then were monochromatic with a large blinking block for a cursor. Learning to transform this blinking block in to a blinking underscore was one of the first commands I looked up. Since then I had always admired Microsoft software and Bill Gates. Back then in Mumbai, the only readily accessible computers came with Microsoft DOS and many of us owe much of what we achieved later in life to Microsoft. Without access to desktop PC’s running Microsoft software, things would have been undoubtedly different now. The Windows 3.1 workgroup, Windows NT, 95 until Windows Vista had all succeeded in getting it’s hooks in me. However, in the recent versions of their software I noticed features which were only useful for newer untrained folks. Microsoft’s antipathy towards it’s veteran users in favour of courting newer ones has aggrieved many. The dreadful animated paper clip of Microsoft Office was as annoying as it was demeaning. I had had enough of Microsoft. Now I have mad my escape.

About 2 years ago, when I purchased my current laptop – a Tablet PC – Windows XP was not really an option. Vista had better integration of Tablet PC features. I opted for Vista knowing well the risks of the burden of an unpopular OS. Adopting a new system has it’s share of heartbreaks about features lost and frustrations about yet to be learned tweaks. Vista had it’s share…and more. But it’s even before Vista that I had begun planning my jump off of the burning ship of Microsoft. It happened after I moved past my days of developing software for Microsoft platforms to developing for the Java platform.

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