Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On the Mis-Named Mobilegeddon

If you are a web pro then it is likely that you heard that Google's search results were going to change based on how mobile-friendly a site is (you probably heard a couple months ago even). This change took effect yesterday.

As with almost all things in the tech world that affect clients, the press hit yesterday as well, and today clients are looking for more information. Conveniently, our clients are golden as we went all-responsive years ago.

If you already built sites to be responsive, ideally mobile-first, then you needn't worry. Your clients have probably already noticed that the text "mobile-friendly" appears in front of the results for their sites in Google and have been comforted as a result.

If you have not built sites to be responsive, or have had no mobile strategy whatsoever, then you may be among those calling it, or seeing it referred to as, mobilegeddon. A terrible name that clearly comes from FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).

If you are someone who relies on a firm to build and/or manage your site, then you should also beware the SEO snake oil salesman who may knock on your door and build on that very FUD to sell you things you don't need.

From Google Webmaster Central

For that latter two cases, I have pulled the first three points from Google's notes on the mobile-friendly (a much better term) update. I recommend reading the whole thing, of course.

1. Will desktop and/or tablet ranking also be affected by this change?

No, this update has no effect on searches from tablets or desktops. It affects searches from mobile devices across all languages and locations.

2. Is it a page-level or site-level mobile ranking boost?

It’s a page-level change. For instance, if ten of your site’s pages are mobile-friendly, but the rest of your pages aren’t, only the ten mobile-friendly pages can be positively impacted.

3. How do I know if Google thinks a page on my site is mobile-friendly?

Individual pages can be tested for “mobile-friendliness” using the Mobile-Friendly Test.

From Aaron Gustafson

Aaron Gustafson put together a simple list of four things you as a web developer can do to mitigate the effects of Google's changes, though the simplicity belies the depth of effort that may be needed for some sites. I've collected the list, but his post has the details for how to approach each step:

  1. Embrace mobile-first CSS
  2. Focus on key tasks
  3. Get smarter about images
  4. Embrace the continuum

What Is Your Mobile Traffic?

I've been asked how to find out how much traffic to a site is from mobile users. In Google Analytics this is pretty easy:

  1. Choose Audience from the left menu.
  2. Choose Mobile once Audience has expanded.

Bear in mind that this just tells you where you are today. If that number drops then it may be a sign that your mobile strategy isn't working. At the same time, if that number is already low then it may not drop any further owing to unintentional selection bias in how your pages are coded.

Oh, By the Way

Google isn't the only search engine. When I mentioned that on this blog before, Google had 66.4% of the U.S. search market. As of January 2015, that's down to 64.4%. Bing is up from 15.9% to 19.7%.

Google Sites led the U.S. explicit core search market in January with 64.4 percent market share, followed by Microsoft Sites with 19.7 percent and Yahoo Sites with 13.0 percent (up 1.0 percentage point). Ask Network accounted for 1.8 percent of explicit core searches, followed by AOL, Inc. with 1.1 percent.

While I Have Your Attention

Two days after the initial announcement of this change, word also came that Google is working on a method to rank pages not by inbound links, but by trustworthiness, in essence by facts.

When this finally hits, pay attention to those who refer to the change as Truthigeddon. Be wary of them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Alt Text Bot Image Descriptions FTW

This weekend I saw a tweet in Marcy Sutton's timeline that appeared to be an image description generated by a piece of software.

Given my recent missives on the inherent inaccessibility of images without descriptions (even if Twitter accidentally gave us more options), coupled with rise in people tweeting images of text to get around character limits, I was intrigued.

It turns out the Alt Text Bot is a project from Cameron Cundiff that he submitted to the NYU ABILITY Technology Hackathon, where it also won first place this weekend. He has written a little bit of background on the bot.

Alt_Text_Bot uses an API from CloudSight to help describe images submitted in tweets. Users simply need to mention @alt_text_bot in a tweet with an image (the tweet must be part of the image, not in a Twitter card or via a link) and Alt Text Bot will respond with a description.

I've been feeding my own test images, but Steve Faulkner has been testing its ability to read CAPTCHAs and recognize faces of personalities (though not all).

It has some limitations. The biggest is the character limit within Twitter. Converting a chart to text, for example, is a great idea, but the character limit of Twitter precludes you from getting much value and descriptions can be truncated.

Another is probably from the CloudSight API. If an image is tweeted twice (such as a retweet), you might get two different descriptions (as this first one demonstrates, and then this second one). On top of this, not all images are very clear and context is hard to convey, as in this one showing wheelchair demonstrators in Seoul.

Regardless, given the current state of accessible images on Twitter, this tool is awesome. As I write this I see more and more people testing Alt Text Bot, so I expect that, even if this is just a proof of concept, more good things will come as a result.

The next image is me being excited about this, along with both descriptions that Alt Text Bot provided.

Me at Buffalo Unconference throwing some finger guns.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Selfish Accessibility at Buffalo Unconference

Buffalo Unconference

Yesterday I presented a stripped-down version of my Selfish Accessibility talk at Buffalo Unconference. With an unknown audience and a 20 minute timeline, I gutted most of the technical bits and focused on my thesis. I think it was well received.

At the end of the talk, I pointed people to the version of this talk I gave for Avega Group last month in Stockholm, as it has (many more) slides (with more detail) and video of me rambling. That longer talk is a bit of a disservice to those who don't want to hear me drone on for an hour and a half as well for those who aren't technical.

With that, here are the slides from yesterday in all their concise glory.

The conference produced just one tweet to satisfy my ego:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Twitter (Accidentally) Takes Step Toward Accessible Images

Video showing how tweet quoting works. See original tweet from which I swiped the video.

Twitter has officially released its new-ish tweet quoting feature. Since at least last June, if a user included the URL of a tweet within a new tweet, it would present viewers with the full body (albeit smaller) of the referenced tweet within the new tweet.

Now that feature has been formalized. Users should see it when retweeting a tweet as the option to quote a tweet (which previously would just wrap the original tweet in quotes).

This can be a boon to Twitter image accessibility, allowing alternative text to wrap an image tweet (see my post on existing techniques). Except for a few points:

  • Twitter's (current*) prohibition on retweeting oneself means that users cannot easily quote their own tweets to add alternative text — at least not in the Android app nor on the web. TweetDeck allows it, so perhaps we'll see it in the app or web site.
  • Because a quoted tweet is not a reply, it doesn't show up in the list of replies when viewing the original image tweet. This means a missed opportunity to be associated with the alternative text when viewed on its own.
  • When viewing the tweet providing the alternative text (as a standalone tweet, not in the timeline) in the Android app, the image within the quoted tweet is not displayed.
  • Embedding a tweet that acts as alternative text doesn't show the original quoted tweet (nor its image). There isn't an option to embed media, so web page authors will likely embed the original image tweet instead of the alternative text tweet. You can see this example below.
  • Twitter is missing an opportunity to provide an interface that prompts users to provide alternative text. This might help stem the inconsistent efforts from those who want to provide accessibility (such as 18F's noble but under-informed efforts).
Image 1 Image 2
The first image shows a tweet quoting an image tweet when viewed in the timeline (the quoted tweet's content is visible). The second image shows a tweet quoting another when viewed on its own, demonstrating that the quoted tweet's content isn't displayed at all. Note in both views that I cannot retweet my own tweet (the option is disabled).
Sample tweet that quotes an image tweet, but does not show the quoted tweet.

* From the Twitter page explaining the feature, Note: You cannot Retweet your own quote Tweet.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Twitter App Sets Browsers Back 10 Versions

Screen shot of a web page as seen in the Twitter app, with a menu showing the option to open in the user's default web browser.

The title of this post may be a bit of hyperbole for some, but it is completely true for me.

Sometime over the course of the last week Twitter changed what happens when I tap links in the native Twitter app on Android. Links now open within an embedded browser, not in my default browser.

I have Chrome 40 installed on my Android phone. The built-in web view on my phone is 10 releases back, at Chrome 30. Normally this isn't a concern of mine, but when a good deal of my Twitter timeline consists of bleeding edge web development techniques, I want to view those on a current release of Chrome.

The first image shows that the user agent string within the Twitter app includes Chrome 30. The second image shows my default browser user agent string is Chrome 40.

This change appeared while I was traveling internationally, which means I had a slower connection than usual as well as a data cap. Not only do I have to view content in an old browser, I have to know that the web view is older so that I then know to open it in my default browser.

That's at least two more taps, plus the burden of the download starting in the web view that I don't want. That extra download burden also impacts my data cap, which is an even bigger issue if I have chosen to surf with Opera Mini to make the most of my limited data cap (you know, data budgeting).

Not only did I never enable this feature, I cannot disable it. It appeared three weeks after my last Twitter app update (see the caption below).

The first image shows the settings screen in the Android Twitter app, version 5.48.0. You can see there is no option to disable the in-app browser, though it has been enabled. The second image is the note in the Google Play store that tells me the only change in the new release is updated profiles so it's easier to view bios, Tweets and photos. The final image shows the option to disable the in-app browser, but only because I updated to version 5.51.0 (when I returned from home and shed my data cap).

So What?

A couple months ago Peter-Paul Koch wrote about the massive fragmentation in the world of Chrome (Chrome continues to fall apart at brisk pace), something to which Twitter is now contributing en masse.

In the modern world of rapidly updating browsers, 10 releases may not seem like a big deal. I guess it comes down to what you want to see, or more importantly, what you want your users to see. Can I Use provides a quick way to compare Chrome 30 and Chrome 40 to see which features you may be missing. Here's a short list:

  • The ability to discard many -webkit- prefixes,
  • Font unicode-range subsetting,
  • matches() DOM method,
  • CSS touch-action property,
  • CSS Font Loading,
  • Custom Elements,
  • picture element,
  • Web Cryptography,
  • WOFF 2.0 - Web Open Font Format.

If you rely on any of these (or many other) features of the open web platform, and you receive traffic from Twitter, I suggest you monitor your logs to see if the most common version of Chrome drops.

As for user experience, If you plan to allow users to toggle a new "feature," don't push that feature to them without the toggle. Especially when you exclude it from your update notes within the app store.

Monday, March 16, 2015

ACE! Conference Slides: Selfish Accessibility

ACE! Conference on Lean and Agile Best Practices

In addition to the slides, I've embedded video of my talk and way too many tweets after that.


Impressing everyone on the internet, Paul Klipp has already gotten videos from ACE! posted less than 24 hours after the event ended. That's impressive. I understand his tactic is to upload lower resolution videos immediately and then slowly replace them with higher resolution videos. Depending on when you see this, it may still be the low-res video.


Tweets from ACE! that satisfy my ego, show me in a photo, or might be funny.

Feedback (Added 26 March 2015)

I've received the audience feedback from my talk and overall was pleased. 17 people responded (out of what I estimate was ~40+ in the room) with the following rankings:

  • Loved it! 10
  • Liked it: 2
  • Meh: 4
  • Didn't like it: 0
  • Hated it! 1

Of those 17, 10 left comments (which I greatly appreciate!). Sadly, the one Hate it vote did not leave any comments.

  • Liked it: Too basic for me, but nice examples of disabilities.
  • Loved it! I loved the idea how to easily test your apps.
  • Loved it! Great that this topic emerged.
  • Loved it! Great approach to creating sites/apps friendly for impaired.
  • Loved it! Full of very practical suggestions. Thanks for including it.
  • Loved it! Content that usually doesn't get a forum.
  • Meh: Interesting, however I won't get a chance to use what I learned.
  • Loved it! Interesting point of view. I did not consider accessibility during software design. I should start.
  • Liked it: Most important is to think about problem, not about product/project.
  • Meh: Nicely said, but too short.

The two Meh comments are mostly out of my control. I was given a 30 minute slot, which I agree is too short for all that can be said on the topic. As for the commenter who claims he/she won't be able to use it, I feel that the testing parts of my talk at the very least are in everyone's reach, so I think it comes down to deciding to use it. Even if only to troll the Virgin America site.