They’re clearly sensitive to this question, as there’s a whole section about it on the Glow website itself, specifically referencing my own current favourite, jQuery. ‘On reviewing the major libraries we found that none met our standards and guidelines, with browser support in particular being a major issue,’ they explain.
So why not contribute to something like jQuery, to make up for its deficiencies? Isn’t that the whole point of open source? ‘Many of the libraries had previously supported some of our “problem” browsers, and actively chosen to drop that support… Forking an existing library to add the necessary browser support was another option, and one that might have had short term benefits. However, as our fork inevitably drifted apart from the parent project we would be left with increasing work to maintain feature parity, or risk confusing developers using our library.’
Plus, crucially, this isn’t about a bunch of geeks directing their spare-time volunteering efforts in one direction, rather than another. These are people being paid real money, taxpayers’ money, to do this, at a time when the BBC is supposed to be trimming its ambitions. If they’re at a loose end, perhaps they might want to address the News homepage’s 416 HTML validation errors, and abandon the ‘table’ markup.
I set up a quick test page on puffbox.com, which included a call to the Google API, and asked people to leave a comment as to whether or not the response was accurate. Within an hour I’d had 30 responses, from all around the UK.
The results revealed that the function is sometimes bang-on, sometimes blocked, sometimes curious, and sometimes plain wrong… occasionally by hundreds of miles. I can forgive the occasional placing of towns in the wrong county; but several people in the north of England, using the same ISP also located up north, were getting responses of ‘London’. So my conclusion, disappointingly, is that it’s not really good enough to make meaningful use of.
A wasted effort? Hardly. It actually saves me the effort of building something reliant on the geo function, only to discover it’s useless for large numbers of people. And it’s a nice case study for the value of Twitter: a crowd of good folk and true, located all over the country, from whom I could ask a 5-second favour… with a good expectation of getting responses. Thanks, team.
One of the more inspiring developments at the BBC recently has been the extension of iPlayer away from the desktop PC. Back in April, they launched iPlayer on the Wii – but it wasn’t the breakthrough moment it might have been. Leaving aside the fact it didn’t stream especially smoothly on my machine, the interface was optimised for a screen resolution which the Wii couldn’t deliver, making for a horrid user experience. Last week they made amends, with a Wii-optimised screen setup – and it’s truly brilliant. Try it on your desktop PC, but to appreciate its full glory, you need to be sitting on the living room sofa, in proper telly-watching mode.
I’ve been a bit surprised that people haven’t done more optimising of content for ‘games consoles’ – particularly the current generation, with their online capabilities. And with the Wii (again) selling like hot cakes (set to get even hotter too), it has tremendous potential for video-on-demand in the living room.
Inspired by the Beeb’s efforts, I wondered how much effort it would take to put a Wii-friendly front end on some YouTube content. So I took a few hours last night to build a prototype – and here it is: wii10.puffbox.co.uk
I want to stress: I’ve done this completely off my own bat. Although we have a continuing working relationship, I wasn’t asked to do this by Number10. It’s purely a proof-of-concept, using publicly available (publicly funded) material. It’s a bit rough round the edges: some of the link highlighting isn’t too smooth on the Wii, the word wrapping isn’t polished, and it doesn’t seem to work properly on (desktop) Firefox for some reason – although curiously, all other browsers seem OK, even IE! But having proven the concept, to be honest, I may not bother going back to fix these issues. There’s also a risk of YouTube changing their code, as has happened before: the Wii’s Flash player is a bit behind the times, and YouTube’s improvements have caused problems in the past.
But for now – it works, really quite nicely, and I’m dead pleased with it. You need never again say the words ‘there’s nothing on telly.’ 🙂 And with more and more government content going on YouTube, if anybody thinks this might be useful in a proper business context, please get in touch.
Time for some tech talk. A few weeks back, I wrote about Google’s new AJAX Feed API. Having played with it last week on behalf of a client, and having liked what I saw, I decided to implement it myself.
If you’re reading this on the puffbox.com website itself, you might see a list in the sidebar headed ‘Who’s linking here?’. (If not, see here for an example.) It’s something I introduced a while back, powered by feeds from Google’s Blogsearch engine, and processed using the excellent SimplePie. But I’ve now switched over to doing it client-side, through the Google API.
If you want to see how it’s done, and copy the idea for yourself, a quick glance at the page’s source code will reveal how straightforward it was. (You’ll need your own API key, obviously.)