Internet Mozilla Web Development

Web 2.0 I can’t hear you

There’s been a lot of talk about what seems to be called “Web 2.0” lately. It’s this new renaissance of browser wars, new dot com’s coming about, users contributing content (blogs, wiki’s), more fluid applications using AJAX, rich media over broadband, and all that good stuff. Personally I agree, we are at a great time for the Internet. I barely remember the last time it was this good. Ideas are flowing, and technology is advancing. But how far will it advance?

Using newly discovered (though not new) technologies like AJAX, it becomes possible to make a web page feel rather fluid. Almost to the point of a good client side application. Using something like SVG (or more likely Flash as SVG is still rather new) you can get enhance that even further. These are great. When put together nicely, you get this wonderful complete application. Well not really. Since very early on, computers gave audible feedback. Apparently we lost that in Web 1.0, and haven’t fixed that regression in “Web 2.0”. We leave it to plug ins like Flash, or QuickTime, but is that really appropriate? I will suggest it’s not. Audio has been rather closely integrated to computing since the beginning from those beeps computers made when keyboards really clicked as you typed. Auditory feedback is part of a complete application (that error beep when you do something wrong in an OS for example). We don’t have that on the web.

Innocent Proposal

Yes, I am aware the below proposal will upset some people, but hear me out before attacking.

I propose the web push to make OGG or find some other open solution to solve part of this problem. Pre recorded audio that’s compact and patent free so web application developers can provide audio feedback to user problems. OGG has been used by games such as Unreal for some time, so it’s proved to be adequate in quality. It would be perfect for things like voice overs, music, and other pre-defined audio purposes.

Secondly, there’s a need for what is essentially MIDIXML, MIDI in XML format. Something that could easily be generated by a server using JAVA, PHP, PERL, ASP, CF, or what ever language and transmitted. Since XML can be gziped, it could be compact (though a slight latency for gzip reasons). Easy for anyone to generate it would allow for much simpler creation of audio than ever before.

Bonus points for text-to-speech on the web, which would reinvent this whole thing to a new level (imagine using simple xml-like markup to present a human speaking, from within a web application). Combine that with AJAX and filling out your taxes on line could be designed in a way that would be usable. You could get explanations while you enter data, dynamic forms adjusting so you only see what you need to.

If these two formats were included in browsers like we now are seeing with CSS support that finally has started to come of age, Web 2.0 would essentially be able to replicate a client side experience, minus the graphical abilities, though flash can compensate for part of that. Sound isn’t just a frill, it’s partially accessibility. Audible feedback is a good thing. That’s why cars do it (in addition to that light on your dashboard), and aircraft as well “Pull Up!”. Even my cell phone is capable of audible feedback (key press sound, ringing, photo taking, etc.). Yet my computer can’t really do audio when online.

There is an annoyance factor of course (we all hate loud websites), but that could easily be compensated for by a good browser UI which could feature volume controls, including a mute capacity. Ideally plug ins would respect that setting so that the experience is clean and simple. Perhaps a way to have visual notification when audio is used if the user has it muted. This would mitigate the annoyance factor while providing for audible feedback.

Why not plug ins? Because they don’t standardize. We’d never get the penetration that you can get with standards. Look at video, there is still a complete lack of standards between players and codecs. Imagine if CSS was only available with a plug in. Do you think the entire web would download the CSS plug in? No, not likely. The penetration Flash has had is unique, and not likely to repeat itself, so that’s not even an argument. It’s one front the browser has no hand on. With video the browser at least has GIF support (which is on occasion used for things like webcams), it supports, images and text natively. But really no audio support.

Imagine a web application that could verbally explain a form to you (filing out taxes online?), or the ability to have a service like Gmail open in a tab, and get notification of a new message via audio. No javascript alert(). Imagine an online store with complete audio support (so far we really have only iTunes, which is proprietary).

Audio on the web has been misguided for a long time. I think Web 2.0 needs to address this. Audio is a part of computing.

The web is capable of so much, but it only touches 1 sense. If the web reaches 2 senses it doubles it’s potential. Perhaps in a few years I’ll be able to suggest SmellML or TouchML or TasteML.

In The News Internet Mozilla Software Web Development

Adobe Buys Macromedia

I didn’t expect to see that in the news this morning (hat tip glazou), but I did expect it to happen years ago. The two companies just seem complementary. As proof of that I’ve often heard people confuse the companies and their products. This is big news for the industry as a whole. I can see many things changing:

  • Daniel Glazman mentions that there’s likely only room for 1 html editor. Go Live or DreamWeaver. I’m personally going to suggests DreamWeaver survives. Simply because it’s more robust. It’s advanced features such as editing code, php, etc. are much better than Go Live. It reaches a larger market. As for the impact on NVU? Well I guess that remains to be seen. I guess people will now be looking to see if DreamWeaver will be the only real commercial game in town.
  • SVG. This I think is the largest impact this deal is going to have. The fate of SVG. Adobe has been pushing SVG since very early on. But now with Flash in their hands. How do they feel about an open standard? Will they perhaps decide to open Flash to relax critics and just push their software as the ‘ultimate Flash IDE’? Will they stifle the growth of SVG? Or will they perhaps make the Flash plugin render SVG just like QuickTime or other media plugins support multiple formats?
  • Adobe has made a business of being cross platform (similar to Netscape). Their Acrobat Reader is available for virtually anything (even the Palm OS). Does this mean better Flash support for non-windows computers (which has historically sucked)?
  • PDF + Flash + Shockwave = ?
  • New products? Will Illustrator and Flash converge?
  • How does Photoshop fit in? Will it integrate with Macromedia Products?

Overall this is a groundbreaking event. It’s not unexpected as their products were complementary for ages and it was inevitable for them to come together. It’s finally happened.


Flash Killer

I’m blogging to much this week, but I can’t stop.

Daniel Glazman, has showcased how some CSS and JavaScript can be a great alternative to Flash.

I left a little comment:

Perhaps an awesome extension to Composer would be something that would create a GUI to create such effects. Technically, most designers use flash all in similar ways. Why not analyze those a bit, and create a product that does the popular stuff in a non-proprietary way?

Would be neat.

And the reply:

Robert Accettura : absolutely. That’s in my plans.

This is a great thing. Most Flash developers only do one of several things with Flash. It’s the same animations, mouseovers every time. What a great free way to do so, using standard free products in the browser already, and not even leave your web development app.

SVG would be nice too, but until native support is robust and standard in Mozilla, I don’t think that will happen.

Either way, that’s a major development headline.

Don’t get me wrong, Flash is nice. It’s pretty cool actually. But it’s overused, and proprietary. Most of the time it’s completely unnecessary. Flash isn’t needed for a mouseover. That’s a waste. I think with the many new features he’s put into code over the past few months, plus this, he’s got a dynamite app on his hands. One I’m itching to get my hands on. Hopefully he’ll be commiting some code into Mozilla’s CVS sooner than later :-D.


Flash 7 Public Beta

Macromedia Flash 7 Beta Available… wonder what’s new? Will have to give it a closer look in the morning.