Tag Archives: book

Dom Sagolla’s 140 Characters: Fragmented Writing Creates A Difficult Book

140characters

The thought of reviewing 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form excited me in several ways. Author Dom Sagolla is not only a respected Twitter user (almost 10,000 users) but he was one of the engineers on the original “twttr” project, so he has a trove of stories and insight into the creation of this brilliant media. I later learned he’s “an English major at heart,” having a writing degree from Swarthmore College. Besides these points, being a writer myself I was intrigued by the notion of “a style guide for the short form,” thinking this book could have something in common with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, one of the great rulebooks for great writing. 140 Characters could have been another timeless book….

Writing style breaks the book

…But I found 140 Characters to be ultimately a disappointment, a difficult book to read—too many random thoughts, not enough organization, and difficult to digest. I felt like I was reading a collection of quotations or sentences, each one making sense and seeming to be a valuable bit of insight, but not gelling together into a well-structured book. I wasn’t sure why I felt this way, but began to suspect that perhaps the book was rushed to publication. I later learned from Dom that this was true: in a direct message on Twitter, he told me he “wrote it from a sense of responsibility, in 3 months.” He also confirms this on page 68 of the book. 140 Characters could have benefited greatly from an extra three months of writing time.

But the book, despite its short writing time, suffers from something worse: the fragmented writing style itself. Only a sentence or two is devoted to an idea at any one time. It reminds me of the “stream of consciousness” method of writing, which can work well in fiction and drama but doesn’t do well with non-fiction and guides like 140 Characters. On page 68 Dom admitted to not just the short writing period but also some writer’s block, and described how he adopted a fragmented writing style (as he declared on Twitter):

“Fragment. Then there is a sentence. Sentences become paragraphs. Inch by inch, a book is written.”

It’s an interesting theory of writing but 140 Characters is a weaker book because of it. Some sections of the book are fully fleshed out in paragraph form, but most is a series of thoughts on a variety of Twitter topics: followers, retweeting, tweeting frequency, capital letters, “small society,” and a hundred other topics including writing for the short form, which is what the book is supposed to be about. Chapter 10 is about the only consistent coverage of this last topic, and it’s an interesting read, but the rest is a melange of random thoughts on related topics.

Other annoyances

There were a couple other aspects of 140 Characters I found annoying:

  • Sometimes a tweet is placed beside a paragraph, as if it is supporting the point, but the connection isn’t clear:

    “Someone is always there to read and listen. There is always an audience for anything. Never doubt that.”

    ((supporting_tweet)) Shut up, or I’ll blog you.

    or:

    “@DarthVader is the original gangster.”

    ((supporting_tweet)) “Away for a few days & when return I have 50K+ followers. Pretty meh for a backwater world. On Coruscant I’ve got 1.2 trillion.”

    I’m sure the connection is clear to Dom, but not necessarily to me or other readers.

  • 140 Characters is structured around chapters and sections titled with single words. “Value”. “Master”. “Branch”. “Iterate”. They are terms Dom uses for particular methods or actions, but they are not explained very well and are confusing. Sometimes the meaning is clear enough but the chapter doesn’t match the title. Chapter 17, “Iterate,” is a particularly weird example: the first couple paragraphs illustrate the meaning of “iterate” (which I think is a good process for any kind of improvement) but the rest of the chapter has nothing to do with improvements through iteration, focusing on unrelated topics as where to write, casual gaming, Threadless Twitter Tees, referencing one’s home state, and “being the change you want to see in the world.” And I had been looking forward to this chapter on iteration.

What I like about the book

I haven’t said much yet in favor of 140 Characters, but there are many small gems to be found in the text. They won’t always help you with Twitter (“Don’t lie”? “Exercise”?!) but some will make you think about what you use Twitter for, and may spark some personal insights. I am also glad to see a book in the field that attempts to look at Twitter from the writer’s perspective, because I do think there is something about the 140-character medium that has sparked some stellar online writing. I think Dom could have found far better examples to use throughout the book: several are tech bloggers or Dom’s friends from Twitter, and almost none of them approached poetry.

The fact that Dom has connections within Twitter also makes 140 Characters an interesting read, at least in the beginning where he devotes the introduction to a retelling of the creation of Twitter. This was a highlight of the book and describes in vivid detail how the social media phenomenon was created and engineered. Stories like these are always enjoyable for those who use the technology or make their living off of it. I’m reviewing another book right now, BlackBerry Planet, and the fact that I use a BlackBerry makes it very interesting for me. Twitter fanatics will want to pick up a copy of 140 Characters just for the Twitter connection.

Conclusion

140 Characters is a unique book: the subject material and the ambition is well-placed but the unorthodox execution weakened the book, making it an interesting collection of thoughts and meanderings on Twitter but not the well-organized style guide I was hoping for. If you take it for what it is, 140 Characters can be an interesting read, but I wouldn’t expect it to become the “Strunk and White” of social media writers. I would recommend it for Twitter aficionados who love the medium. For those who want to get more out of their Twitter account, 140 Characters may or may not spur some insights.

140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form
Dom Sagolla
Published by Wiley
Rating: 6/10

BOOK REVIEW: The New Community Rules

newcomm-large

The Twitter Book and The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web, though they were both written for social media users, could not be more different. While The Twitter Book focused on the everyday use of Twitter, The New Community Rules approaches social media in general from a marketing and communication point of view, studying its usefulness in building brands and online communities while explaining how to leverage its power every day. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and the low price makes it a bargain.

Case studies

Author Tamar Weinberg was smart to include detailed case studies, the ammunition of all marketing debates and discussions. Most books cite examples that support the points they are making, but I thought the case studies in The New Community Rules stood out by the amount of ink devoted to them and the insight each one provided. The “Motrin Moms” campaign cited on page 48 stands out in my mind because not only is it a detailed case study but it’s actually an example of a company making a mistake in cultivating social goodwill. I’m glad such mistakes are brought to readers’ attention so they can learn from them. In contrast, some books not only focus on successes but focus on their own successes (Conversational Capital is a prime example) and make the book a self-serving advertisement more than a learning experience.

But is it right?

It’s hard to judge if the new community rules found in The New Community Rules will work for everyone. The rules are thorough: Tamar covers bookmarking, blogging and microblogging, social media and regular media (video and pictures) among other things. The rules are also backed with evidence as detailed above, and that above all things gives The New Community Rules an authoritative voice. I don’t think these rules will work for everyone in all situations, since such a broad and subjective field is hard to pin down. Some social marketing impresarios may debate some things said in this book. But I wholeheartedly recommend it for marketing professionals who want to gain a better grasp of the gears powering online communities and social media.

Conclusion

The New Community Rules is a substantial book: almost 350 pages, black and white with a great deal of text. This is not a fun-looking book with a lot of color pictures (which is what The Twitter Book is). But it can be an excellent read for marketing professionals or budding social media mavens who want to grasp the impulses behind the social Web and need the hard evidence to back it up.

The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web
Tamar Weinberg
Published by O’Reilly
US$24.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: The DAM Book, Second Edition

dambook

Peter Krogh‘s The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers, Second Edition is a fabulous resource: 500 pages encompassing all aspects of digital asset management (DAM) for photographers. Software products like Lightroom serve to control most aspects of DAM (and, in Lightroom’s case, publish digital photos as well) and many Lightroom books I’ve reviewed are surveys of digital asset management options. However, The DAM Book stands out because of its depth, knowledgeable author and full coverage.

Sorely needed and still relevant

Digital photography has changed radically in the last five years and a book like The DAM Book needs a new edition now and then to stay relevant. The second edition has several important changes in its content and Peter does a good job of drawing attention to revised recommendations and techniques. Digital photography has changed enough in the last few years that I would recommend buying The DAM Book even if you already own a copy of the first edition.

It’s also refreshing to note that The DAM Book has several chapters that remain timeless and rooted in the fundamentals of digital asset management. Topics like image storage, backup and validation, cataloging and data migration change very little no matter what hot gear is in the latest issue of your photo store catalog. I’m a reviewer who has a lot of stale and outdated books on his shelf, everything from two-year-old Lightroom books to Photoshop 7 Down & Dirty Tricks, and I appreciate the books that earn a place of the shelf every year.

Good visuals and writing

The DAM Book nails the three crucial elements of photography book design: good writing, good photography and good graphic design. I was pleasantly surprised that there are many diagrams in The DAM Book: file organization, photo workflows, archive systems, RAID, hard drive backup systems and more are all charted clearly and supported by Peter’s clear writing style. I referred to these diagrams often when I was developing my own backup strategy and system.

The DAM Book is a little out of the ordinary in that Peter’s photography is not emphasized in favor of prolific text and charts. This goes against the usual strategy of publishing large photos in photography books—Scott Kelby’s books often cover the majority of its pages with photos and screenshots. But I’m very happy that Peter made the writing the primary content: his photos are beautiful and he lists the keywords catalogued with each photo, but the written content is properly emphasized. And while not everyone will find his recommendations to their liking, Peter makes sure to list as many options as possible and explain the pros and cons of each one.

Conclusion

The DAM Book is a timeless resource—I’d put it on par with Dan Margulis’ Professional Photoshop for its depth, its breadth (almost 500 pages long) and thorough assessment of digital asset management techniques. This is the book I’ve used to help catalog my own digital photos, and I will be going through the book again to refine my system. It’s an excellent buy for any professional digital photographer.

The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers, Second Edition
Peter Krogh
Published by O’Reilly
US$49.99
Rating: 10/10

Cederholm’s “Handcrafted CSS” Is An Enjoyable Read

handcraftedcss

I never did get a chance to review Dan Cederholm‘s Bulletproof Web Design, but I know the reputation it has in the web design community. That’s why I was excited to grab a copy of his newest book, Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design. Handcrafted CSS is a very good book: well-designed, full of both hands-on projects and commentary, and also well-written.

New techniques require new books

Handcrafted CSS is really a book about a handful of new CSS techniques that weren’t feasible when Bulletproof Web Design was written. A new batch of modern browsers and some designer ingenuity have given Dan new cutting-edge techniques to write about, including new methods for creating rounded corners, parallax scrolling, improved floats and more. Ethan Marcotte also writes a chapter on his own contribution, a fluid grid-based layout.

Some of these techniques are browser-specific: modern browsers like Firefox and Safari make several of Dan’s techniques possible, but old version of Internet Explorer ignore the code because the browser is just plain lousy. Dan advocates progressive enhancement, adding the improvements for those who can enjoy them and allowing the site to degrade—but still work—for everyone else. Handcrafted CSS even has a chapter on this topic (“Do Websites Need to Look Exactly the Same in Every Browser?”). A few years ago, most of my clients would have answered “yes” to this question; today, my clients seem to understand that Internet Explorer doesn’t allow them the web’s full potential.

Leaves you wanting more

Handcrafted CSS lacks a larger perspective that I hoped would be included. For example, in Chapter 2 Dan explores two vendor-specific extensions: -webkit-border-radius and -moz-border-radius. These extensions allow CSS to apply and control rounded corners in Mozilla and Safari browsers. Chapter 2 is a wonderful read and makes the popular “rounded corner” design easy to execute, but it left me wanting to read more about vendor-specific extensions. Handcrafted CSS is focused on specific projects and techniques to the detriment of the broader theory and techniques, and I think some of “the big picture” could have been included without making the book much larger or expensive. It would have also made the book more accessible to beginners, though a book on advanced CSS techniques is not a bad thing for advanced users. This all is a minor complaint though, because the material is so good.

The cutting edge

I would recommend Handcrafted CSS for any experienced web designer working with CSS today. Like Dan says in the book, the cutting edge continues to move forward and new techniques must be learned to stay current and maintain true craftsmanship. I really like the “craftsmanship” angle that Dan sticks to throughout the book, and the DVD (available separately or together) and companion website (used in all chapters and exercises) make this a very hands-on book as well as a good read without them.

I also think that beginner and intermediate designers will benefit from Handcrafted CSS, though this is not a book from which to learn CSS. It’s written to expand your knowledge of the cutting edge and employ new CSS techniques that weren’t practical just a few years ago. I’m already looking forward to Dan’s next book, which will surely be needed just a few years from now.

Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design
Dan Cederholm with Ethan Marcotte
Published by New Riders
US$39.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: Even Faster Web Sites

soudersbook

It’s rare for a book to catch me off-guard with unique techniques, but Even Faster Web Sites seems to have done it. The book is written about the topic of website performance and optimization, which grants users a faster, leaner browser experience and less hassle with slow-loading pages and images. I had always known about image optimization tools in Photoshop and coding techniques that help make pages smaller and faster but Even Faster Web Sites surprised me with tactics and techniques that are a level above.

First, a strong pedigree

The book’s stable of authors is enough to make web designers take notice. The main author is Steve Souders, who works on web performance at Google and created the Firebug extension YSlow. Some chapters are written by other authors including:

This is a large group of authors from some of the most recognizable companies in the web technology industry. The books such authors put out often stand out, such as Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski. The writing is solid and the grasp of the web technology is really top-notch.

Magic behind the curtain

I was surprised at how much Even Faster Web Sites revealed to even an experienced web designer like myself. The chapter on image optimization offers several techniques such as PNG crushing and optimized sprites that only experienced web designers will already know about. I think some parts of the book are less helpful for designers than developers and programmers, but all designers working with HTML, CSS and JavaScript are programmers by definition and those chapters might be dense but are definitely helpful.

One of the most impressive aspects of Even Faster Web Sites is the testing and research produced by the authors. Some books get away with stating rules and best practices, but this one provides evidence to support what it recommends. The charts and tables convinced me that I have some room to improve my own website-building practices for my clients, and I’m excited to provide even better service thanks to this book.

Even Better Web Sites is an outstanding book, and a rare book that’s a good read for designers and developers of every skill level. The only designers who don’t need this book are those who know everything about web design already. Some of the techniques explained in this book seem to border on magic. I recommend you pick up a copy and learn how your websites can move even faster.

Even Faster Web Sites
Steve Souders
Published by O’Reilly
US$34.99
Rating: 10/10

BOOK REVIEW: From Design Into Print

Cover image
Cover image

I’ve seen Sandee Cohen’s writing many times over the years in InDesign Magazine and heard her speak at The InDesign Conference a few years ago, but From Design Into Print is the first book of hers I’ve reviewed. It’s a good book with Sandee’s usual wit and comprehensive knowledge of the industry, and it’s well-written and well-designed.

Great for newcomers

I was struck by how useful From Design Into Print would have been for me in 1999, when I started my career at a local newspaper. The company gave me a copy of Newspaper Ads That Make Sales Jump: A How-to Guide but From Design Into Print would have been much more pertinent to my everyday work preparing images and layouts for printing. There are also projects and quizzes at the end of every chapter, but I found the projects so broad and intensive that they didn’t hold my interest. One project asks the reader to pick up a magazine and study the dot patterns in printed images, but why not just print some pattern close-ups right there and explain their qualities? Fortunately, project topics are usually explored elsewhere in the book.

Comprehensive

One difference between From Design Into Print and a similar production guide from ten years ago is the inclusion of chapters on image sources (digital photography, stock photos and clip art) and some new technologies (PDF, Acrobat and other applications). This book shouldn’t be considered just a book on printing: it encompasses the full production workflow, which I think it vital since designers are called to do much more today than in the past. The only things I think could have been expanded were the sections on PDF/X specifications, which can demystify the whole PDF export process, and color correction, which is vital to print production but is not really discussed in From Design Into Print.

A few mistakes

The information and techniques in From Design Into Print is pretty much free of errors, but there were enough spelling mistakes to make me notice. Ironically, three of them are on page 261 in the paragraphs about errata and fixing spelling mistakes after printing. Sandee tells me one is intentional (read the passage and you’ll know why). I’m not too bothered by harmless typos but there are also a couple product names that are misspelled, and that is more serious. The worst is Apple Aperture, misspelled “Apperture” twice in the same section.

Despite these flubs, From Design Into Print is an excellent book overall—one I would give to any designer new in the field. The tools for print production are available to everyone today but there’s still craft and skill involved in printing the dots and vectors that make up the printed page. From Design Into Print teaches the craft very well.

From Design Into Print: Preparing Graphics and Text for Professional Printing
Sandee Cohen
Published by Peachpit Press
US$34.99
Rating: 8/10

Reviewing An Old Favorite: Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think

Don't Make Me Think
Don't Make Me Think

Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think left a big impact on me when I first read it several years ago. I knew the basics of writing and designing for web usability but Don’t Make Me Think crystallized the subject in a way that appealed to both web designers and users who didn’t know HTML but did know a bad website when they saw one.

The second edition, which was published in 2006, offers a few new chapters on accessibility and user “goodwill” but leaves out some of the chapters on user testing (though they can be found online at www.sensible.com/secondedition). I re-read the book recently and was surprised by the experience: Don’t Make Me Think is still a great book, still a classic, but it is beginning to look dated.

Many of the examples shown are either ancient (see Yahoo!, circa 1999, on page 27) or no longer exist (Productopia.com, which is studied in detail on page 118–121). This is bound to happen to any book, but Don’t Make Me Think is four years old in its current edition and the first edition was published way back in 2000. Web design has changed so much since then and it’s time for Steve to revise Don’t Make Me Think to acknowledge the changing landscape.

Don’t Make Me Think also makes assumptions about average users that I think could be revisited. I think Steve is still mostly correct in describing users’ behaviors as comparable to firemen making snap decisions, but some more specific behaviors and assumptions deserve another look. One is the notion that users don’t expect to reach a homepage by clicking on the logo at the top of a page. Another is the assumption that pull-down menus are bad for usability: I personally agree with this one but they are often effective for quick access when users don’t need to scan a long navigation. I’d be very interested in seeing a third edition of this book that takes another look at users’ “default” behaviors.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy
Rocket Surgery Made Easy

Don’t Make Me Think is still a valuable book for any web designer, and years later I still find myself using Steve’s ideas to describe web usability to clients. I hear Steve plans to have a new book out before year’s end, Rocket Surgery Made Easy. It’s listed as a “do-it-yourself guide to finding and fixing usability problems,” and might incorporate some of the user testing chapters pulled from Don’t Make Me Think. Perhaps it will address some of the new possibilities and pitfalls in web usability that have developed in the last decade.

BOOK REVIEW: Three Books On After Effects CS4

I usually review books separately, but today I’m reviewing three books that cover Adobe After Effects, the video compositing software that’s popular for both special effects and web animations. It’s very rare to find a book that’s suitable for novices and experts alike, and for a complicated application like After Effects it’s best to learn with a variety of training sources. Here we look at three, all from Adobe Press:

Classroom in a Book

aeclass

The “Classroom in a Book” series is project-oriented and suitable for novices and intermediate users. I found this to be true in ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom in a Book and it also applies to Adobe After Effects CS4 Classroom in a Book. Knowing the fundamentals of working in After Effects CS4 is helpful, though the book covers some of the basics in its first pages.

I was surprised to see some advanced topics covered in Classroom in a Book, such as 3D, motion stabilization, Mocha, particle systems and Timewarp. This is only a sample of advanced After Effects topics, but that is enough to challenge some readers and entice them to some more advanced books. One of the strengths of Classroom in a Book is its broad appeal to readers with a variety of skill levels.

Classroom in a Book is well-designed and the projects are interesting: a couple use illustrations from professional illustrator Gordon Studer, giving the projects a professional feel not always offered in training projects. If you are just getting into After Effects, or have been using it for awhile and want to fill in the gaps in your training, Classroom in a Book is a good selection.

Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques

aevec

This book has been around for years and is updated whenever a new version of After Effects is released—the current author, Mark Christiansen, has written the last four editions. Studio Techniques is a more advanced book that focuses on visual effects and compositing techniques, so it is more specialized than Classroom in a Book and applicable for some industries (video, TV, special effects) than others (web design, multimedia). You could go through your entire After Effects career and never need to know color keying or morphing, though these techniques certainly make for more interesting results and for some industries they are essential.

Just like Classroom in a Book, Studio Techniques is well-designed. The included CD-ROM has two extra chapters on scripting and JavaScript, both of which are valuable for advanced users. There are some example projects on the CD, which are walked through in the book, but it’s important to know that this book is not really project-based like Classroom in a Book. The projects are there for illustration but a lot of the knowledge is to be gained simply by reading. Some scripts and trial software complete the CD, but there’s no index for the scripts so you have to read the book to know what they do.

Despite some of these little quibbles, Studio Techniques is a great book that has filled an important niche for years. Mark’s writing style is very good and the content is excellent. Pick it up if you want to get into visual effects with After Effects or expand your general After Effects skills.

After Effects for Flash

aefl

Studio Techniques serves a niche, and a large niche at that. After Effects for Flash/Flash for After Effects serves a smaller niche, the intersection of After Effects video with Flash animation and ActionScript. But it’s an important niche, and even more important now that Adobe sells both products and has made integration a key factor of CS4. I’m very excited to see this book in the marketplace, and it’s written by Richard Harrington and Marcus Geduld who are both familiar to readers of Layers Magazine.

After Effects for Flash was written for both After Effects and Flash users, and the authors naturally could not guess what skill levels their readers would have with both applications, so the first 90 pages comprise a general introduction to both applications. This is fine but it also means a quarter of the book is beginner’s material. However, the rest of the book makes up for it with some very nice projects for intermediate and advanced users. After Effects for Flash focuses more on projects than Studio Techniques does. The projects provide a mix of Flash and After Effects projects, but overall they seem to skew more toward After Effects projects that produce content or improve upon SWF or FLV output. This makes the book ideal for multimedia artists and web designers.

Conclusion

All three books are well done and have a place in the After Effects user’s bookshelf. Each one serves a specific audience and covers aspects of After Effects and Flash, so I leave it up to the reader to decide what books he/she needs. After Effects for Flash is a special case because it has such a specialized focus that it seems to be applicable to all skill levels but only to those working with an integrated After Effects/Flash workflow.

Adobe After Effects CS4 Classroom in a Book
Adobe Press
US$54.99
Rating: 9/10

Adobe After Effects CS4 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques
Adobe Press
US$59.99
Rating: 9/10

After Effects for Flash/Flash for After Effects
Adobe Press
US$54.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: ActionScript 3.0 Classroom In A Book

as3-classroom

Remember “Training From The Source”? This was the name of Macromedia‘s official line of training books for Dreamweaver, Flash and other design applications. When ActionScript 2.0 was released I bought the book Flash MX 2004 ActionScript Training From The Source to learn that new version of the Flash programming language. I carried that large book through many airports and conferences, chipping away at its pages over the course of a few years.

By the time I was finished with that book, ActionScript had moved forward again to version 3.0, Macromedia was no more (having been acquired by Adobe) and “Training From The Source” was folded into Adobe’s own “Classroom In A Book” series. I thought it fitting to review the series recently with a look at ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom In A Book.

Small, compact, solid

Compared to the Training From The Source book, which was a large book in both page count and size, Classroom In A Book is smaller in both respects. I actually appreciate the smaller size because it increases portability. The book design is sharp, with a matte finish cover that is easier to handle and a clear layout design that aids learning. I was surprised the author, Chris Florio, had a laid-back, informal writing style—one would expect a workbook like this to have a no-nonsense tone—but I could appreciate a bit of levity after working on the exercises for hours at a time.

A different approach to ActionScript training

Classroom In A Book has roughly half the pages of its Training From The Source predecessor, so either ActionScript 3.0 is less complex than version 2.0 or the book doesn’t cover everything. It’s actually a combination of three things:

  • ActionScript 3.0 really is less complex than ActionScript 2.0, though it’s more verbose; the distinction is comparable to HTML and the more strict XHTML. Syntax is streamlined and coding skills apply to everything in a more uniform way.
  • Classroom In A Book doesn’t cover everything. Some topics such as CSS aren’t covered at all, while others (like classes) aren’t covered in their entirety. That might be a good thing, since ActionScript has always been a large language with many classes and elements. It seems this book is designed to teach essential ActionScript skills and leave minutiae to other resources.
  • Classroom In A Book is project-oriented, while Training From The Source was skill-oriented. Both books have projects to work on (and ship with a CD-ROM full of good project materials) but Training From The Source focused on skills such as handling text fields, XML, conditional logic, debugging and so on. Classroom In A Book thinks more in terms of building preloaders, loading content, creating quizzes and working with XML and video. Both approaches are good and Classroom In A Book teaches a great deal if one completes the exercises, but it’s not necessarily a compendium of ActionScript knowledge like Training From The Source was. It complements other sources such as the ActionScript 3.0 reference files, accessible directly from Flash.

Conclusion

ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom In A Book is worth buying, and particularly helpful for new Flash users who don’t know ActionScript or experienced Flash users who have not yet upgraded their skills to include ActionScript 3.0. The language really has made a sea change from ActionScript 2.0 and learning it requires training. Classroom In A Book is a good place to start.

ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash CS4 Professional Classroom In A Book
Published by Adobe Press
US$54.99
Rating: 9/10

BOOK REVIEW: Search Engine Optimization for Flash

seo-flash

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Flash was the red-hot new technology for the Web. Designers were building user-unfriendly splash screens and sometimes building complete websites all in Flash. Eventually a counter-movement developed that steered designers back toward semantic HTML markup, web standards and other lean, user-friendly web design methods.

One of the claims made against 100% Flash websites was that they are not indexed by search engines, since they cannot read text set in Flash. This never made sense to me because my own website at jeremyschultz.com is 100% Flash and it is indexed very well—some of the work in my client portfolio actually scores higher than my clients’ websites or names. One can only conclude that Flash can co-exist with a well-optimized website, and Todd Perkins‘ book Search Engine Optimization for Flash explains why.

Working with Flash

SEO for Flash had a lot of great information I didn’t know about—for example, Adobe has given Google and Yahoo! a special version of Flash Player that allows those search engines to index Flash text and links with no problem. Flash applications and movies can be optimized for search engines just like a regular HTML page—it’s just done differently, and it gets more complicated with JavaScript, AJAX and dynamic content are thrown into the equation. SEO for Flash details all the techniques needed to maximize search engine optimization for a variety of Flash projects. It goes even farther by including a chapter on optimizing Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) built with Flex, an application development program that uses the same ActionScript as Flash. This was an unexpected inclusion.

What brings the book together is the final chapter on optimizing a Flash website. Over 40 pages were devoted to this chapter and it tackles real-world examples, so it may be the most useful segment of the whole book. Some books make the mistake of teaching guidelines and techniques without applying them—which then requires the reader to practice and figure out how it’s done. SEO for Flash gives the reader more insight into this critical step of the process, such as focusing optimization efforts on searchable text, deep links and shared data sources.

Where’s the files?

I really love this book—it debunks several myths, does a great job teaching its readers and focuses on a neglected segment of web design. However, there is one glaring flaw: there are several exercises throughout the book that refer to Flash, HTML and XML files. Unfortunately, these files are quite hard to find. The book does not come with a disk and the online version (available at safari.oreilly.com) does not link to them. The files are actually found on the book’s page in O’Reilly’s online catalog under the term “Examples.” The download is a large ZIP file, which makes me wonder why the publisher doesn’t break the exercises down into smaller packets for easy access and hyperlinking.

Despite this, Search Engine Optimization for Flash is a great resource for Flash designers building projects for the Web. Todd does a fine job explaining all the important techniques for optimizing Flash content for search engines, and given Flash’s evolution from a cool animation tool to a content delivery application I think it’s important for all Flash designers to understand how to maximize search engine optimization for their projects.

Search Engine Optimization for Flash
Todd Perkins
Published by O’Reilly
US$29.99
Rating: 9/10