Category Archives: Web 0.1

Indie developers and gaming sites: stop breaking the web

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at a lot of independent developers’ websites. It’s quite surprising how many of them go out of their way to make their site unusable – clearly thinking that they’re achieving the opposite. But also, today, Wikipedia started actively doing a very minor (but no less irritating) content-block on mobile users. And last week, I found one of the main games-news sites is also actively *hard*-blocking mobile users.

This was annoying (and stupid!) 5 years ago, when sites added the “smartphones” to their content-blocking, even though smartphones could (and happily would) render full-fat webpages perfectly (tabbed browsing worked fine in Opera on Windows Mobile back in 2005 – I used it a lot).

Now, with the iPhone added to the list of clients that these sites are blocking, it’s a bit worse: Apple won’t allow you to purchase any web browser other than their version of Safari, and Safari won’t allow you to lie to the website and tell it you’re not using a cell phone (this was the standard workaround on windows mobile/opera for stupid web design teams: tell Opera to claim your cell phone was a Windows desktop). The iPhone, with a better quality web-browser than many desktops currently run? That’s just insane…

Wikipedia: mobile users, go away

Until/unless they decide to fix it, it’s now too much hassle to read WP pages unless I do it on my laptop. Since I’ve probably just followed a link from google, that would mean emailing myself the link from my iPhone, and going to WP via my desktop. More wasted time. I’ll just stop using wikipedia, thanks.

So far this morning I haven’t been able to access WP short of manually changing the URL to go to a country-specific Wikipedia mirror, switching to a “slow” (non-broadband) internet connection, reloading the page, and hitting the stop button before they redirect me to a “cut down” version, and no link to escape from it. There’s a link for you to “comment” on the new “feature”; my commentary would have been unprintable, so I declined.

Gamespot: we don’t want money, money is for wimps

The other week I noticed that Gamespot – one of the big ad-driven news + reviews/cheats/etc websites for games – is still locking-out all mobile users. That’s probably a fairly substantial load of ad revenue they are literally throwing away every day.

The web, HTTP, and HTML…

Why do people do this? I don’t know. But here’s a few points you should bear in mind:

  • No website should ever block content based on the user’s device
  • No website should ever have a flash-only front page
  • Since the very first versions of HTTP and HTML in the mid-1990’s, the web has been designed to avoid these problems; this shouldn’t be happening

Content Blocking

Gamespot checks your web browser when you fetch any article, review, etc. If it finds you’re coming from an iPhone, then it refuses to let you view the content. Instead, it serves up a custom “news page” that is identical no matter which link you came in on. There is no way for you to see the actual content you tried to view – literally: they do an auto-redirect that wipes it from the URL.

I can see no reason for this other than the bizarre assumption that an iPhone was launched 10 years ago with a tiny black-and-white screen and an inability to scroll and render web pages. I would love to ask the Gamespot web design team: have you ever seen an iPhone? You do realise it has a better web browser than most desktop PCs, yes? So … why are you manually blocking them from your website?

Amazon has for a long time done a similar thing with any mobile device (again, sadly, the stupid bit is that they apply it to devices where it’s completely unnecessary) – except that Amazon has three essential features which Gamespot lacks.

Firstly, they do actually show you some of the content you were trying to view (not all of it. ARGH!)

Secondly, there’s always a link on the page to view the real version of the page. If you click that, it gives you a warning something like: “YOUR MOBILE PHONE MAY NOT RENDER THIS PAGE … ARE YOU SURE!!!!????!”. Of course, this is somewhat inappropritate when applied to most smartphones, especially iPhones. But hey – at least the option is there.

Finally, they have a link something along the lines of: “Do you want to permanently stop seeing the broken, cut-down version of pages on amazon.com? You can re-enable them whenever you want”.

Irritating, patronising, and foolish (the default should be “view the website normally”, not “don’t view the website”) – but at least you only have to fix it once, and you never again get problems. Gamespot et al offer no such option – they just block you, dead.

Flash-only front pages

About 50% of indie studios have decided to put a massive flash on their front page, most of them with *no* link to “skip intro” or “go to website” or any kind of navbar. About 50% of them (in my sampling over the past few weeks) have made that flash NON clickable: you cannot (you are “not allowed to” ?) view the “real” website until the flash has loaded, you have seen the self-promoting advert for the studio embedded in it, and clicked some internal link at the end. This was foolish, unnecessarily slow, and contrary to the spirit and standards that drive the web even 10 years ago when it first started happening.

Games industry companies please take note:

The 1990’s phoned – they want their web-designers back.

(real web companies don’t do this kind of thing any more)

But now, with the iphone, it’s particularly dumb: it is de-facto content blocking – because the iPhone cannot / will not run Flash. If the Flash is clickable, you can at least (if you know what the studio did – which many people won’t guess) access the site anyway. I’m amazed how many sites don’t even give you that small fillip.

If this post persuades JUST ONE web designer, somewhere, to wake up and smell the roses, and spares us yet another self-blocked website, then I shall be happy.

Of course, maybe I should be grateful that we’re even this far “ahead” … I heard from someone the other day that he still has to explain to web design teams that websites don’t need to be hardcoded for rendering at 800×600 any more (i.e. that – OMGWTFBBQ! – everyone has rather larger desktop screen resolutions than that these days; or else so much smaller that hardcoding to 800×600 isn’t going to help at all).

Thunderbird on OS X: I give up. This is untested crap

The title says it all really; for whatever reason, the Thunderbird developers appear not to have tested TB on OS X. So much of the basic functionality doesn’t work in the latest beta – this isn’t even alpha-quality code (on OS X). I’m sure it works fine on Windows (or else you’d have thousands of people complaining long and loudly).

I had this suspicion with Shredder 2 (the last alpha), where basic features – like sending emails, and viewing messages in a folder – would regularly crash the OS X build. Even for an alpha that should have been unacceptable, or fixed very rapidly. Where’s the regression testing?

But I hoped I was just being cynical, and so I moved on, and forgot about all that. My experiences over the past couple of months with the beta have recreated that suspicion, and cemented it. For instance, I lost a couple of hours of work today because TB on OS X has major bugs in its synch code. I watched as it silently deleted all the changes from the activity manager. No errors. Nothing. Just … gone. Even without ever having read TB source code, I can think of two or three obvious coding errors that would cause such behaviour, and none are things I’d exepect to get into a project as popular and well-known as TB.

So … what gives? What’s wrong with the OS X builds of TB? Why are they so very, very bad? Why do they have so many dataloss bugs?

Sigh. At least I can fairly rapidly re-do all the work I lost. Time to start looking for a new email application. Maybe I can find a version of Mozilla Mail that still runs on OS X? (FYI: Mozilla mail was the thing that Thunderbird was based on / supposed to replace. Unlike TB, it actually worked. It was faster, had more features, but looked a lot uglier. I’ll happily sacrifice “good looks” if it gets me “supports basic email features from 10 years ago”)

Web 0.1: Atlassian

Good

You offer your enterprise software for $5 (renewable!) for a couple of days

Bad

Your website is so poor it is hard-coded to reject valid email addresses

Stupid

You’ve added an error message that explains you “are sorry” for the fact that it’s rejecting valid email addresses, and that you intend to “fix this soon”.

Result

You’ve got an extra licensee – but you don’t have my email address. You now have, in your database, a spam address on a famous spam-eating website, one that *no human will ever read*.

Congratulations: You just gave away free value, but lost the option to send me any emails in the future. And made sure that my very first impression of you – before I’ve even tried your product support – is that you’re, well, a bit incompetent when it comes to web and internet technology. That’s not a great start considering your only products are … expensive, licensed, web and internet technologies.

That’s Web 0.1 :).

EDIT: for clarification, the problem was that my email address contained a plus symbol.

Need help – anyone in SF next week with an iPhone hardware unlock?

(seriously – otherwise I’ll be phoneless thoughout GDC :( )

I’ve had no interest in cracking my iPhone, so I haven’t.

Until I discovered the other day that my incompetent network (O2) won’t allow me to make calls in the USA on the agreement I have with them, so I need to use a local USA SIM while I’m there. Unsurprisingly, all O2’s own staff openly advised this as the only sane course of action. They were apologetic that this was necessary. O2 loses nothing if I unlock the phone.

And then I discover that Apple’s undocumented 2.2.1 update which I was bounced into installing has disabled all known unlock processes except for the hardware ones. If I had bothered to do the unlock a few months ago, it would have worked perfectly. Now, with less than a day until I leave the country, there’s nothing I can do.

Help? Anyone?

(NB: I’m not on a contract. I’m not even registered with the network. I’m sure the EU commission will sue Apple’s ass over this sooner or later and force them to stop retailing locked phones in the UK. That is of no help to me *today*)

(NB2: Apple’s lack of respect for their consumer continues to impress me every year. I know *why* they did it (network operators forced them to), but that doesn’t excuse screwing the consumer without warning them what you’re about to do to them. Undocumented updates are vicious)

Web 0.1: PEOGA. EU Games Companies Still Dont Get It

European Online Game Operators infamous for being overly secretive announce new association:

“The founding members have set three major goals for PEOGA:

* Networking. PEOGA is the meeting point for European companies from the online game publishing industry.
* Improvement of the Public opinion. PEOGA shall improve the image of online games by providing realistic information to the public.
* Self Regulation of the Online Game Industry. The online game industry has responsibilities towards their users. PEOGA will assist to set general rules and regulations for the industry.”

…launch website…

http://www.peoga.eu/

…and add an idiotic javascript hack that tries to disable the right-mouse-button + context menu in your web browser…

The page at http://www.peoga.eu/ says:

Copyright – Pan-European-Online Games Association PEOGA

So, let’s get this straight:

  1. None of the developers of the top 10 online games in Europe are in your org
  2. None of the publishers of the top 10 online games in Europe are in your org
  3. You have a President. But in case he gets lost on the way to meetings, fortunately you have someone else who is the “also President”. Nice.
  4. You can’t even make a website

Guys, I have to say: this isn’t looking great so far. Let’s hope this was just an unlucky start (BTW: you might want to get GOA on board – they know all about rocky starts, they’re probably the most experienced company in the *world* when it comes to bungling a launch).

PS: OMG I HAXX0RED UR SEKURITY – look, I “stole” the URL to your image – HHAHAHHAA111!!!!11!11
(please. It’s not 1996 any more. Get rid of the childish javascript hacks. It’s … embarassing. For all of us)

Jeans. In Europe, everyone wears jeans. From the same company, too.

Jeans. In Europe, everyone wears jeans. From the same supplier.

Web 0.1: Feedburner + Google say “F*** YOU”

Today, I attempted to login to Feedburner.

I had to go through not 1, not 2, but three different adverts for “here’s why we’re forcing you to create a new Google/Gmail account, you really want to do it, it will be good for you”.

The third one has a link “ignore this and login to feedburner anyway”.

That link redirects back to the adverts. It didn’t last time I logged in, a mere week ago – back then, it did what it claimed to do: logged me in to Feedburner.

This time, I clicked a dozen times, with waits in between, just in case it was a momentary glitch.

Nope – Google/Feedburner is engaging in some kind of sadistic schadenfreude designed to make Feedburner users collapse psychologically, and give-in and create Google accounts. Or, if like me they already have a Google account, to delete their Feedburner identities and throw away privacy, personal data, and any semblance of control of their online personas to instead merge their account IDs.

(in some kind of surrealist nightmare, the final ad opens with the words “Moving to a Google Account is easy” (no, actually, it’s enforced), and finishes with the line “You don’t have to move today, but we’ll remind you each time you visit feedburner.com” (um, no – you’ve placed an auto-redirect that does, in fact, force me to “move today”. Bastards)).

So. Feedburner? Google? You say: “F*** YOU”? Well, then, I say: “F*** you too; harder”.

phpMyFAQ: don’t use it, part 2

Disappointing

No spam filter (there is one, allegedly, but it’s invisible, non-configurable (!), and missing obvious spam words)

(there are comments on the official forums from 3 years ago saying “we need some basic anti-spam tools” and the author replying with “we’re working on it”)

Annoying

No spam controls for reactive processing (banning users, marking comments as spam, etc).

Unforgivable

Each comment can ONLY be deleted one, by one, by one, requiring 6 mouse clicks per deletion!

The concept of a list of comments, and a checkbox next to each, and a “delete selected comments” is now well over 10 years old – and it only takes a few minutes to implement with PHP + SQL. If you ever find yourself making a web app for general usage, please don’t forget this core feature :).

(I’ve been too busy for the past month making actual iPhone apps to finish my free PHP FAQ platform, but watch this space, shouldn’t be too long now…)

Web 0.1: Apple: please hire some web developers

I can no longer develop iPhone Apps. I am on my eighth attempt to download the 1.75Gb 2.2.1 SDK – without which, XCode refuses to even talk to my iPhone any more, because I allowed the iPhone to upgrade.

EDIT: I have it! I HAVE IT! YES! NO MORE PRAYING TO THE GODS OF ****ING APPLE’S CRAPPY WEB SERVER! (it’s probably a corrupted download)

The problem?

Sheer mind-numbing incompetence by Apple’s web team, it would seem (NB: I may be wrong; I haven’t tried packet-sniffing the HTTP traffic to prove this beyond all doubt, but my experiments with different browsers and different ISP’s strongly indicate it is the case). They’ve (mis)configured the webserver over at developer.apple.com to kill partial downloads of this monstrous file.

If you cannot download the whole thing before Apple automatically logs you out of their website (which they do every half an hour or so if you don’t actively surf the site), then your download is cancelled, server-side. You cannot resume from where you left off (their web server refuses to honour the HTTP command that tells it to resume a partial download).

What did they do wrong?

It’s a session-management problem – you CAN pause and resume a minute or two later. Just not half an hour later.

The other major bugs in the Apple websites (including that force logout!) suggest that some novice web programmer made a half-assed Session-management system that, well, sucks. (am I sounding angry? Hell yes; Apple’s website is behaving like some naive bricks-and-mortar company from 1999, not 2009). Or maybe they picked up a 3rd party one … that sucked. Whatever. It seems the session-manager is overriding Apache’s built-in support for this core element of HTTP, and saying “no”. For no reason other than bad web coding.

In passing, I noticed that they are *still* (allegedly – it’s easy to fake) running the same version of the Apache webserver that they’ve been shipping by default with OS X Server for some years now – a version that is more than 4 years old, 8 versions behind the current “maintenance” release, and 1 major version behind the “mainstream” release. Personally, I wouldn’t run Apache 1.x if you paid me, not with 2.x out there and running a “proper” webserver arch (apache 1.x is not a real webserver, it’s a hack using forks that makes it unnecessarily slow under heavy load).

</rant>

Crysis Warhead: EA Targetted-Advertising FAIL

So, on this Amazon page, which starts with:

then has a sponsored advert from EA further down the page:

Yeah, um, well. I guess that targetted advertising isn’t quite working out the way it was intended.

Of course, it makes an EXCELLENT pun on the fact that I was *going* to mention that EA has “done it again” and done it’s best to screw the consumer out of 2nd-hand sales, just like they did with Spore. In fact, it’s allegedly identical to the final Spore situation (where the number of times you’re allowed to upgrade any hardware in your machine, or re-install, was upped from 3 to 5). There’s several people claiming that there’s an added “shoot-your-argument-in-the-head bonus” that even Steam-based installs have the DRM feature, although my guess is that this is just people misinterpreting the fact that there’s a different flavour of SecuROM with the Steam version (?).

Web 0.1: Flickr sets

EDIT: LOL, actually, you can Add to Set, I was completely wrong. Thanks to Sulka, and some emailed screenshots, I finally was able to find this feature. It’s there, buried next to “Blog this”, and “view different resolutions of this photo”. I couldn’t find it, because it’s the opposite side of screen from all the other editing/tagging/describing tools, and in the middle of nine other options, in grey-on-white text. Awesome usability (not). Thanks, Sulka!

I am *absolutely stunned* that flickr has no way to let you add a photo to a set.

You can tag a photo, describe it, and change it’s title. You can flag it, replace it, or add it to a pointless “world map”.

But you cannot add it to a set.

No, to do that, you have to close all your photo windows, go to a crappy set editor, and scroll though tiny tiny tiny photo thumbnails that are too small to see which photo is which when they are similar, and drag-and-drop photos on.

I won’t even mention the stupidity of having “sets” and “collections” with dire warnings that “collections can contain sets or collections, but not both [so you better decide carefully now, sucker!]” … and yet no link to “what is a set? what is a collection? what’s the difference? which should I use?”.

So, congratulations to a trailblazer of web 2.0, flickr, for managing to have a core feature in 2008 that is still Web 0.1

Web 0.1 – British Airways

Travelling to Helsinki with British Airways, 24 hours before the flight I received an email telling me that “Online Checkin is now available” and providing a link to check-in online.

So, from my blackberry, I tried the link. It’s broken – it runs some buggy javascript that ends up redirecting to the britishairways homepage (probably because someone is using a 10-year-out-of-date hacky “what is your web browser” check instead of writing the page properly), and then does something I haven’t seen in years – an infinite redirect to the same page. I left the browser for about 5 minutes, and it was constantly redirecting for all that time, as fast as it could load the tiny HTML fragment, around once every 5 seconds.

Sigh. I tried again, this time from Firefox. Now things worked fine, and it picked up my flight automatically from the code embedded in the URL they’d emailed me. Great.

Only, after clicking through a series of pages – I want online checkin; yes, I want it now; yes I’m ready to checkin; yes, I’m the only passenger / have all other passengers with me – it goes to an error page saying:

This flight does not support online checkin. Please checkin when you get to the airport.

So … what was the purpose in sending me that email in the first place?

If they hadn’t bothered, then I’d never have found out that their website is broken, and I wouldn’t have wasted my time trying to do an online checkin process that they don’t allow for flights to Helsinki. Even better, I would never have found out that the email address they sent me the email from has an auto-responder saying “we never read any emails sent to this address, please use http://www.britishairways.com for any support queries”.

Of course, the original email doesn’t say this, and the address isn’t something obvious like “noreply@”, so I’d written them a proper complaint and given them the details of their broken site. All of which they proceeded to automatically delete.

Verdict: BA’s hamfisted attempt at using the internet has shown not only their incompetence, but also their contempt for customer service. It’s also created a desire in me for online checkin, shown me how easy it COULD be, if I were flying with an airline that supported it. All in all, they’ve gone out of their way to use the internet to persuade me to stop flying with them in the future – and I haven’t even got to the airport yet! Definitely a case of Web 0.1…