Tag Archives: online

Adobe Web Apps, Part 2: BrowserLab

Adobe has become more and more aggressive in the field of web applications, producing various services like Photoshop Express and Acrobat.com to complement their shrink-wrapped software. According to Devin Fernandez, Senior Product Manager for Dreamweaver, the company’s “hosted services” strategy takes advantage of the convenience and quick development times inherent in online applications. Shorter production times means that these applications can be developed and improved faster and more often.

Betas for two new online applications were announced recently by Adobe. One is InContext Editing, a streamlined online content editing system that’s handy for Dreamweaver users. The first part of this series comprises an analysis and review of InContext Editing. The other application is BrowserLab, a service that allows website testing for multiple browsers. This practice is essential for any web designer and any tool that makes the process easier deserves a look.

Pain points

Adobe looks for “pain points” when developing products: I’ve heard this phrase more than a few times during various demos and discussions over the years. BrowserLab is Adobe’s response to several of customers’ pain points: speed, convenience, simplicity and productivity. BrowserLab is designed to improve these four points for users. The browser emulator concept is not new—BrowserCam and browsershots.org are two services similar to BrowserLab—but Adobe hopes to improve on the concept.

BrowserLab is currently in limited distribution. Adobe planned to accept only 3,500 users for the initial preview but demand was high enough that this was increased to 8,300. The service is being tweaked and improved in preparation for a full launch, at which point it will become a paid service. For now the development team is focused on improving stability and performance.

The BrowserLab experience

BrowserLab has the same professional black/gray design as most of Adobe’s other web applications. The application is easy to use, though BrowserLab has relatively few functions and doesn’t need much user interface to be effective. There are only three view modes: 1-up, 2-up and onion skin view. Onion skinning overlays one browser image on another, which is a good way to see small differences between browsers. Users can also zoom anywhere from 75% to 200% to get a close view of the results.

Onion skinning overlays one browser result with another—in this example, Designorati.com is being tested with Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7.
Onion skinning overlays one browser result with another—in this example, Designorati.com is being tested with Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7.

I like using BrowserLab, but for a product like this the big question is whether or not it can faithfully test all the browsers you need tested. At this time BrowserLab can emulate four modern browsers and one browser that I consider non-modern:

  • Internet Explorer 6 for Windows
  • Internet Explorer 7 for Windows
  • Firefox 2 for Windows and Mac
  • Firefox 3 for Windows and Mac
  • Safari 3 for Mac
BrowserLab already has most of the browsers I test for, and several others are in the works.
BrowserLab already has most of the browsers I test for, and several others are in the works.

Internet Explorer 8, Safari 4, Opera and Chrome and next up for addition to BrowserLab. I think BrowserLab needs to emulate all these browsers in order to be successful: the ability to test all needed browsers in one application is what will make BrowserLab popular. Fortunately, the BrowserLab team tells me they are working on this right now. For now BrowserLab has a limited browser set, and that’s one reason why I still use bonafide web browsers to test my websites. Dreamweaver’s Live View is also a nice tool for website testing, but it’s not always accurate.

Another reason why I test in actual browsers is because BrowserLab is not a browser emulator: it works by screen-capturing websites in various browsers and displaying the resulting images. These images are not interactive, so you can’t test JavaScript or CSS interactivity and you can’t see Flash or other animations. Flash can also give BrowserLab a false image: in one test, BrowserLab showed a Flash animation’s mask did not work in Firefox 3 for Windows. I checked it out in that browser and learned the browser applied the mask a split-second after rendering the rest of the page. BrowserLab captured the screen too soon to reveal this. Scott Fegette, Technical Product Manager for Dreamweaver tells me the BrowserLab team is looking to actual emulation of browsers in a web application, but for now they are going to stay with screen captures.

Top: A website I designed, tested in BrowserLab. Bottom: The same website viewed with the same browser being tested in BrowserLab. The Flash graphic and headlines (styled with sIFR 3) are not visible in BrowserLab but do work online.
Top: A website I designed, tested in BrowserLab. Bottom: The same website viewed with the same browser being tested in BrowserLab. The Flash graphic and headlines (styled with sIFR 3) are not visible in BrowserLab but do work online.

Top: A website I designed, tested in BrowserLab. Bottom: The same website viewed with the same browser being tested in BrowserLab. The Flash graphic and headlines (styled with sIFR 3) are not visible in BrowserLab but do work online.

Still, BrowserLab is a handy tool if my computer’s unavailable, and it’s online so I can use it anywhere. I want to see more available browsers (such as Internet Explorer 8) and it would be nice to be able to mark a particular capture as a model and have BrowserLab show where other browsers fail to duplicate it, but I think BrowserLab is on its way to becoming a good tool for web designers.

One more thing for Dreamweaver users

Dreamweaver users can leverage BrowserLab even further with an extension that allows screen capturing and testing directly from Dreamweaver CS4. The BrowserLab extension requires Extension Manager 2.1 and comes in two parts, but completing the installation process will add a BrowserLab panel to Dreamweaver CS4. From there users can send a local or server copy of the active page to BrowserLab for viewing. The combination of Dreamweaver’s Live View and BrowserLab allows users to preview dynamic interfaces, including JavaScript and Ajax, and also preview websites from behind a firewall. Other service-based solutions can’t do this.

Adobe Web Apps, Part 1: InContext Editing

Adobe has become more and more aggressive in the field of web applications, producing various services like Photoshop Express and Acrobat.com to complement their shrink-wrapped software. According to Devin Fernandez, Senior Product Manager for Dreamweaver, the company’s “hosted services” strategy takes advantage of the convenience and quick development times inherent in online applications. Shorter production times means that these applications can be developed and improved faster and more often.

Betas for two new online applications were announced recently. One is BrowserLab, a service that allows website testing for multiple browsers. This practice is essential for any web designer and in the second part of this series I analyze and review BrowserLab. The other is InContext Editing, which I first saw last year at Adobe headquarters in San Jose and has since been upgraded to version 1.5 in late April.

InContext Editing

InContext Editing is a streamlined online content editing system deployable by Dreamweaver CS4 or the InContext Editing website, incontextediting.adobe.com. While many content management systems are proprietary and others like Drupal are open source and web-based, InContext Editing is a standalone web application so it doesn’t require extra code or installed software to work—all it requires is a modern browser. The user interface has the same gray design style found in BrowserLab and other Adobe web applications, and it looks good and works well.

Editing with InContext Editing is simple and effective.
Editing with InContext Editing is simple and effective.

InContext Editing has more functionality than BrowserLab but that also creates some weak user interface elements: for example, in order to reconfigure a website’s settings you have to click its Manage Users button, which then takes you a screen where the Configure Site button resides. It makes more sense to have both buttons available from the main window. Another example is the Remove Site button, which I had to use when one of my client’s websites launched and the testing site was no longer valid. It’s possible to remove a site from InContext Editing, but it’s not clear that all users must be deleted and all invitations rescinded before the Remove Site button reveals itself.

Managing users with InContext Editing is easy, but it can be hard sometimes to find what you need to administer users or site settings.
Managing users with InContext Editing is easy, but it can be hard sometimes to find what you need to administer users or site settings.

The other difficulty I had with InContext Editing is some difficulty handling content modified with JavaScript or Ajax. I learned this after using InContext Editing with a website modified with sIFR 3, which replaces text with Flash text so designers can use fonts beyond standard web fonts. InContext Editing was set up to edit a content block with only headings and paragraphs, but it said it could not function because prohibited tags were in the content block. I learned after some troubleshooting that sIFR, which was modifying the headings, caused the fatal error even though the HTML code was not modified. InContext Editing works well for simple webpages running standard HTML code, but scripts and dynamic content can make it incompatible. Adobe hopes to improve InContext Editing’s handling of these components in the future.

Despite these usability issues, and what seems to be a lot of time loading pages and building editing screens, InContext Editing is a handy tool for web designers whose clients have small pages and want to revise some content. I like that it’s simple, quick, and doesn’t require any software installation. It’s supposed to be so easy that anyone can use it, but there’s a learning curve and I had to consult with the help files a few times.

InContext Editing + Contribute?

One thing that excited me about InContext Editing was the possibility of using it in tandem with Contribute. One of my clients in particular already uses Contribute in-house for content management and the combination of Contribute and InContext Editing would have allowed them to edit content inside and outside the office. However, it seems that Contribute CS4 will not allow editing if InContext Editing code is detected on a page. Adobe’s position is that InContext Editing is designed to make simple updates to basic webpages, while Contribute is designed for more sophisticated webpages and workgroups.

Two benefits for Dreamweaver users

Adobe has made both BrowserLab and InContext Editing especially tempting for Dreamweaver CS4 users. InContext Editing is easily deployed by Dreamweaver CS4, with editable and repeating regions available with a click in the InContext Editing panel. You can also manage the CSS classes available to clients with this panel. The code for InContext Editing regions is quite clean, with a single div tag around the editable content:

< div ice:editable="*" > Content here < /div > (spaces added for clarity)

Editable regions can be inserted with Dreamweaver CS4, very much like template editable regions.
Editable regions can be inserted with Dreamweaver CS4, very much like template editable regions.

The asterisk property for the “editable” attribute allows all available HTML formatting in InContext Editing, including strong/em, indenting, creating lists, inserting images and more. The web designer, working with Dreamweaver CS4, can restrict these however he or she chooses. Regions can also be created directly with InContext Editing from the web browser. The other treat for Dreamweaver CS4 users is the ability to set up a keyboard shortcut for invoking InContext Editing within a web browser—however, it involves editing a JavaScript file and looks like anyone with an HTML editor (or a text editor) can hack it. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Open the ice.conf.js file. If you use Dreamweaver to set up a website for InContext Editing, this will be found in includes/ice/ by default.
  2. Rewrite the PC keyboard shortcut (found in line 43) and the Mac keyboard shortcut (found in line 60).

The future of InContext Editing

I’m curious to see how InContext Editing fares in the future, given the many choices available to web designers for editing and managing content. Adobe is currently meeting with InContext Editing customers for feedback for a version 2 to be released in the future, but we’ll see how that turns out. It’s hard to say how much InContext Editing will change from version 1 to version 2, but I think InContext Editing’s simplicity and its browser-based ease of use gives it a lot of potential. More robust editing and management tools will help InContext Editing secure a place in the web designer’s toolkit.

BOOK REVIEW: YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts

youtube

Producing successful online social media is such a conundrum—producing quality content is one thing, but how do you create something that the online community will make viral? The stakes are higher now that marketing vice-presidents have noticed the power of online social media: companies are producing promotional videos for YouTube and Facebook profiles, hoping people will latch onto them and adopt the brand promise.

So how do you capture this kind of viral devotion? In the case of YouTube, it might make sense to buy YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts. It’s written by a YouTube heavyweight (Alan Lastufka, once one of the 100 Most Subscribed Comedians on YouTube) and an expert on do-it-yourself video production and promotion (Michael W. Dean). Lisa Donovan, a “YouTube star” who parlayed her video bits into a short run on MadTV, says this is “the only YouTube book worth getting.” So the pedigree is there for YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to be a true classic, with unique techniques you won’t find anywhere else.

Proven principles for success

The truth, which the book demonstrates very well, is that the path to success is really based on two simple principles: quality content and quality promotion. YouTube: An Insider’s Guide devotes a lot of pages to storytelling, video direction, shooting, editing and the fundamentals of producing a video people will want to watch. The information in this section is solid but I didn’t really learn anything I didn’t know already—readers who are already experienced producers will not be particularly thrilled by this section.

Fortunately, the majority of pages are dedicated to Alan Lastufka’s deconstruction of YouTube and techniques for YouTube-specific promotion. I learned that YouTube has its own culture and community of users, and by adopting the community one can end up being adopted themselves. Key techniques such as commenting, leveraging third-party social media, the YouTube Partner program and video responses are all covered; very few are covered in depth, but there isn’t a whole lot of depth to begin with. Alan says just enough to make readers dangerous with YouTube.

The author’s rants

YouTube: An Insider’s Guide falls short in some respects. I liked Alan’s writing style, which was authoritative yet fairly informal, but Michael Dean sometimes came across as somewhat…odd. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in Chapter 14, “Closing Arguments,” which has almost nothing to do with YouTube and everything to do with Dean’s ramblings about what’s wrong with the Internet, why C-SPAN is better than any news show, what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with “The Man,” and how to life life right among other topics. Now I’m all for personal manifestos, but not in a book like this. The other thing that bothered me a little was the book’s dependence on a handful of YouTube celebrities (Lisa Donovan, Kevin Nalty, Hank Green and a few others) to show the celebrity potential in YouTube. It seems the same seven “celebrities” are discussed over and over, and I had heard of none of them until I read YouTube: An Insider’s Guide. I’m not sure “celebrity” is an accurate word to describe these YouTube users, and it makes me wonder if true fame is achievable within the confines of YouTube.

Conclusion

I recommend YouTube: An Insider’s Guide for anyone looking to start up and promote a YouTube channel with quality content—a casual YouTube user could get some good information by reading this book as well, but it is really written for content creators. There aren’t many books out on the market about YouTube, and this has perhaps the most knowledgeable authors of the bunch so it’s a great buy.

YouTube: An Insider’s Guide to Climbing the Charts
Alan Lastufka and Michael W. Dean
Published by O’Reilly
Rating: 8/10
US$29.99