Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Follow me elsewhere

This blog is no longer active as I have left ABB.

You can follow my public tweets - mainly about social media - at http://www.twitter.com/webheading or on a Facebook page that displays these tweet.

I'm also available on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Speeding up www.abb.com

Click to see the pingdom November report for www.abb.comToday we launched a new version of www.abb.com and all our 58 country sites. The sites are now optimized for screen width 1024 pixels rather than 800, but the biggest change is in performance. Since we started working with optimization back in March/April this year, load time for the home page has been reduced to a third of what it was. A big benefit for users!

You may think this has been achieved by stripping the page of images and functionality, but no, quite to the contrary images are larger than before and all content and functionality is still there. Instead we have made a lot of improvements behind the scene.

I'll give most of the credit to a tool called YSlow that I have written about in a previous post. that is very helpful in guiding us in our work. This is an add-on to the Firefox browser that analyzes your page and scores all elements.

It may come as a surprise to many that the amount of content is only of marginal importance, it is all the overhead that slows down loading, especially the number of elements in a page.

When we started optimizing we had 64 elements in the home page, this is now down to 18.

A tool that can help you understand this better is pingdom. Here are links to our reports for March and November respectively, showing the improvements that we have made. A great feature with pingdom is that it saves your results so you can make comparisons over time.

When we started out YSlow gave the homepage a score of F (56/100), now the score is A (96/100). But we're still not at the end of the road. Our main focus so far has been on the top pages as they receive the most traffic. The pages further down the hierarchy have also benefited from these improvements, but is addition they have their own issues that require further investigation.

When we install new hardware later this year we will also start gzipping more content than now, as we have been holding back some elements for fear of putting too much load on the servers.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The challenge of translations

courtesy of news.bbc.co.ukWe have 28 languages on ABB's web site, and sometimes I wonder if translations are correct or not. Hopefully we're not doing as badly as the Swansea council in this example. When they sent the English text for translation they got a prompt reply.

Unfortunately, the e-mail response said in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated".

Screen resolution - an eternal dilemma

Those of you who have been visiting ABB's web site recently may have noticed that it is still in 800x600 pixels. And so is this blog by the way, that is the standard width for all Google-hosted blogs.

But many sites have moved a step up the ladder to 1024 px width. My favorite news site http://news.bbc.co.uk/ changed a while ago, and I've noticed Facebook recently followed suit.

Only 3 % of our users still have screen size 800x600 and the number keeps falling.

But that is not the whole picture. Many users with better screens do not maximize their browser, so the active window is actually smaller than it could be. I've seen recent statistics (I've lost the link, sorry!) indicating that about 20 % have an active window that is less than 1024.

We know from all user testing that people hate horizontal scrolling, and they will certainly not do it just to see what is outside their current screen. When you have millions of users, one in five makes for a lot of people!

But at the same time we're facing a challenge from the opposite side and that is the dilemma; more than 50% of our users have a screen wider than 1024 px.

I've noticed that many use "screen size" and "screen resolution" as if they were synonyms, but they're not. Some years ago a 14" screen would be 800 pixels wide, today it is often 1400 px. As a consequence all elements shrink with the site itself, making it difficult to read on a more "modern" screen. A 9 pt font that looks okay on an 800 screen looks like a 5 pt font on a state-of-the-art laptop. Hopelessly small! So over time you need to increase the font size to accommodate these users.

In the end we have decided to increase the site to 1024 px, despite all the work it takes to redo a site with more than a hundred thousand pages. But what tipped the scale may have been something else; 800 px has started looking old fashioned. It's not about vanity, it's about making the right first impression to users; if the design looks outdated, users may believe the content is outdated as well.

Next weekend we plan to launch the new design. And as we make the change we have also used to opportunity to refresh the use of images as well as optimizing performance and improving usability in different ways. I hope to get back to that once we have launched.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The importance of critical mass in social networking

I came across this graph on the preferred use of social networking sites from Le Monde, courtesy of O'Reilly Radar. You probably need to click on the image to see it in full size to be able to read it, but it shows which networking sites are the biggest in different countries.

MySpace is the biggest in the US, Venezuela and Italy, while Hi5 is the most popular in Central America, Portugal and Mongolia. Like most Norwegians I prefer Facebook and so do the Canadians and the Egyptians. Orkut is most popular in India and Brazil, while Bebo is most popular in Ireland and New Zealand

In most cases there is no pattern, like language, connecting the countries with similar preferences. In stead I suspect it is all about being the first to reach critical mass. When you consider which social network to join you are obviously most likely to join the ones where you friends already are, creating a snowball effect that benefit first movers in the area.

I believe there is a lesson in this for us as well; if we want to succeed in building something similar inside a company, you need to get the snowball rolling...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Time for a performance check-up again

Click on image to enlargeIn my view performance is one of the – if not the – most important "feature" of any web site. It's something you must have at the back of your head whenever you make a change, but I still find that every now and then you need to step back and look at performance as such. The small "improvements" you make in every release may still add up to damaging the users experience over time. The content itself is rarely an issue, that's most often only 5–20 per cent of the total, it's all the overhead it generates that really matters.

While working on this lately I've come across a very useful tool that I'd like to share. It's a Firefox add-on called YSlow, developed by Yahoo. Once installed (You have to install Firebug first.) it gives you a very good overview of issues that affects performance for the end user. Just go to the page you want to look at, open Firebug, then Yslow, and you see an analysis of all elements on the page.

In one view it displays a long list of action that could improve performance of the site, including advice on moving CSS and JS in the page, elements that would benefit from using a Content delivery network (CDN), components that lack expiry header and page parts that could be gzipped.

The Yslow application also references the Best practices for speeding up your web site from the Yahoo developers network, and I wish I had found it sooner. In one glance it sums up many of the issues we've spent weeks and months figuring out. It also taught me quite a few things I was not aware of...

Friday, March 28, 2008

First pilot takes to the air!

On 19 March, ABB in Norway kicked off the migration of ABB's intranet.

The migration went smoothly and intranet users in Norway are now able to comment on all pages on inside/no (both News and other pages) and rate each page on a scale from 1 to 5.

Since the launch, there have been more than 18.000 visits to the Norwegian intranet, 200 ratings have been recorded, and roughly 15 comments have been submitted.

-Posting comments live on the intranet may seem like a daring thing to do, so I think the readers will need some time to get used to that functionality, says Helene Gunther Merg, head of Corporate Communications in Norway. -But quite a few of our pages have already been rated by many of our users, and we are happy to receive any feedback, good or bad.

Read more about how the pilot was received in this article on inside.abb.com (requires intranet access).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ready for piloting

After several weeks of testing we are now ready to launch our first pilot of ABB's migrated intranet. If all goes according to plan and the last showstopping bugs are dealt with, inside.abb.com/no will be switched to the new platform on Saturday 15 March.

Our next pilot will be inside.abb.com/de, scheduled for launch in April.

If everything goes well with the pilots, one country site after another will be switched to the new platform. Country site managers will receive guidance about this in due time.

Update yourself on the project on Webcenter (intranet access only).

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Jacob Nielsen: User skills improving, but not much...

I've recommended subscribing to Jacob Nielsen's Alertbox before, but I would still like to recommend this months issue on web user skills.

Nielsen refutes the claim that users have now learned how to use advanced websites, so that simplicity isn't a requirement anymore. When testing he finds that users now do basic operations with confidence and perform with skill on sites they use often. But when users try new sites, well-known usability problems still cause failures.

Read the full article here. You can subscribe to e-mail alert to new issues of his Alertbox here.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Web 2.0; a Pandora's box of new security issues

The use of Web 2.0 technologies opens up a whole new range of security issues. Our focus on the intranet offers some consolation, but the issues are still there. The use of Ajax -which is central to most web 2.0 solutions - does not only offer the average user new possibilities, but also provides hackers with new, enhanced options!

I came across a recent book on the subject; "Ajax Security" by Hoffman and Sullivan (2007, Addison Wesley, 470p) that seems to offer one of the best overviews of the issues. While going into some detail about threats and remedies, it also offers non-technical readers like myself a good overviews of issues and remedies.
If you're intereted in the issue, take a look at this review (courtesy of Pathfinder; Agile Ajax)that also gives a useful summary of many of the issues that are further covered in the book:

"[The book] demonstrates not only new security threats that are unique to Ajax, but established threats that have gained new traction in the Web 2.0 era. It then details both the specific technical solutions and - more importantly - the mindset that are necessary to combat such threats.
Because so many developers have historically overlooked the importance of security, the authors approach their topic for what it is: a remedial subject. They take pains to explain the basic mechanisms by which hackers have exploited insecure web applications over the last decade: cross-site request forgeries, denial of service attacks, cross-site scripting and SQL injection. Then they explain how those mechanisms have changed thanks to the rise of xmlHttpRequest, public APIs, mash-ups and aggregators. If you've ever read a Douglas Crockford rant about the "brokenness" of the web security model and wondered why the guy was such an alarmist, Hoffman and Sullivan are only too happy to provide you with a much-needed wake-up call."

Agile Ajax also has an interesting follow-up detailing some of the most shocking finds based on the book.