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Rapid Prototyping Tips

This article is written with regard to games prototyping, but with the growing emphasis on entertainment within e-learning (edutainment), these tips can inform rapid prototyping here too. By my estimate, the most valuable tip here is to resist the 'desire to salvage everything'. Part of the prototyping process is that some things will be outright failures. The bigger failure is throwing good time after bad and trying to salvage the irredeemable. You've gotta know 'When To Shoot Your Baby in the Crib'.

via rootburn

Posted by Alexander on October 31, 2005 | Rapid Prototyping Tips | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Longer domain registration may be good for Google PageRank

I recently extended my domain names four years into the future - I had been just renewing them each year, one year at a time, but it's a pain to do that, and it turns out it might be harming my search engine placements.

The idea behind this is that if a site is spam or generally not worthwhile, the owner will only pay to register it for one year - a kind of a hit and run operation. So a longer registration means a site is more likely to be legitimate - it plans to be around for a while. This sounds like just the kind of criterion the Google PhD boffins would use to rank sites. There's no way to be sure it will help SEO, but there's little or no downside and it means that my registration won't accidently lapse. It's good all round and whether it is true or not, it's a story that the domain registrars should be selling.

(By the way, if you're looking to switch registrars, you might consider GoDaddy - They're giving me like eight cents for this link or something, but I've often seen them recommended as both inexpensive and reputable.)

Posted by Alexander on October 27, 2005 | Longer domain registration may be good for Google PageRank | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Flash Quiz Themes

I've been brushing up the themes that are supplied with Question Writer today. There are 10 general purpose themes included, and I've put them on-line as a quick way to see what's available. These themes are really just to get you started. We've made it really easy to use QW to publish new themes, and a lot of the value is in being able to cusomize quizzes down to the last Flash pixel.

Here they are, fancy titles and all.


Film Verde


Grey Marble




Simple Blue

Soft Focus

Well Done

Posted by Alexander on October 21, 2005 | Flash Quiz Themes | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Adobe and Linux up a tree . . .

Interesting to see Adobe's name in this Linux Standards story. Together with IBM, Intel, HP, Novell, RealNetworks and Red Hat... it reads a bit like the roll-call of the Microsoft haters gang.

Posted by Alexander on October 21, 2005 | Adobe and Linux up a tree . . . | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Put a set of components in the Flash player already!

I was going to put this in the Flash Team Weblog on the Flash 9 wishlist, but it started turning into a thoughtful post rather than a quick comment, and I didn't want it lost in what Scoble would call 'the Mudpit'.

Put a set of components in the Flash player already!

Those AJAX guys are laughing when they hear that a Flash developer has to add 10K to a program to get something as simple as a scrollbar, and those Java programmers haven't coded a scrollbar since before they had enough code that they needed a scrollbar to fit it all in. The idea that the basic functionality provided by components should be outside the purview of the Flash player has been around so long that people have forgotten how crazy it is. Diversity is great and the Flash player will always support all the existing and, no doubt, future component sets, but have a native default set that doesn't need downloading.

A good way to sell someone on a Flash solution is not to tell them it's Flash - and native components in RIA's (think Java SWT) would be a great way to do that. I don't like using non standard UI widgets. Throw another few million towards Jakob Nielsen and he'll tell you why - or here, let me save you the bother. Non-standard UI widgets act in slightly different ways to the real widget - they can be unpredictable, every time the UI does something even a little bit unexpected, it frustrates the user and impacts the experience. Experience matters.

Posted by Alexander on October 20, 2005 | Put a set of components in the Flash player already! | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Random Question Selection

We're getting asked a lot if Question Writer supports random question selection. Randomization isn't something that's built in and it took a little creativity to work out how to do it, but now by combining a randomizer and the branching functionality, it can be supported inside the existing framework quite elegantly.
Here's how it works, the randomizer (itself a flash component question) chooses which questions should be asked (4 from 10 in this example). Then there is a piece of branching logic before each question which skips the question if the randomizer hasn't flagged that question.
I expect to be able to make the source available next week, but in the meantime, here's the example test of European capitals, with an aquarium in the background (as if a test of European capitals weren't enough of a draw already).

Posted by Alexander on October 13, 2005 | Random Question Selection | Comments (0)

Mistake 18. Underestimating PHP

I'm a technology whore, plain and simple. Some geeks fall in love with a particular technology and advocate its use in all circumstances. I like to think that I'm more pragmatic and have the breath of knowledge to choose the best technology for a job. I'll use the J# .NET abomination on the desktop, while importing open-source Java to create Flash and hooking the whole thing up to a PHP server side solution. I'll two-time any technology faster than you can say "Ruby on Rails".

I'll two-time any technology faster than you can say "Ruby on Rails".

I usually prefer PHP for smaller server-side solutions that are easy to develop, maintain and deploy. Also, it's easy to find a low-cost service provider to host PHP online. This blog runs on PHP. Our bugtracker is PHP. But the main concern with PHP has always be scalability - it might run well on a single server, but what about when there's 10,000 users all logging in at the same time.

So, it was with some interest that I read this Infoworld article of the top 20 IT mistakes to avoid. Mistake 18 is underestimating PHP - seems the common knowledge on this one is changing. This has big ramifications for e-learning in particular, where the most popular open source LMS for small installations has been the PHP based Moodle. Questions about Moodle's scalability have often been posed, and you can see on their forums there's a lot of thoughtful comments with some impressive results reported. So moving forward, with the shift in attitude towards PHP, comes a shift in attitude towards Moodle.

Posted by Alexander on October 12, 2005 | Mistake 18. Underestimating PHP | Comments (0)

My Favourite Webpage - Pop.ulicio.us Newlinks

Without a doubt, this page is my favourite page on the whole world wide web. It's the most popular new sites that have been tagged by Del.icio.us users but it's more concise than Del.icio.us's own popular listings. So, whenever I get a chance, this is where I go to find new information. New information that I didn't even know that I needed. When I'm here, I feel I'm keeping my finger right on the throbbing pulse of all that's new on the 'net.

By the way, it's all based on tagging. A beginner's guide to The Next Big Thing

Posted by Alexander on October 11, 2005 | My Favourite Webpage - Pop.ulicio.us Newlinks | Comments (0)

Questionmark Export

I've been meaning for a while to write a little bit about the Questionmark Perception export. I wrote it shortly after the initial release, so it didn't get included on the original list of features, but it's there from version 1.1 onwards. There's even a short tutorial on exporting for Questionmark in the manual. It's a useful addition because Question Writer is heavily focused on the client side experience - being able to return results to a widely deployed management system like Perception provides an easily understood and recognised way to store and analyse results.

Posted by Alexander on October 10, 2005 | Questionmark Export | Comments (0)

Blogs By Email

I was writing yesterday that a lot of users don't have enough blogs yet to keep track of to make RSS aggregators a useful technology for them to invest time in. That's not to say that there aren't a lot of blogs, just that most internet users haven't identified ones that they like yet.

Well, Charles Jolley recommends RSSFWD today -

"Every blog should use Rssfwd on their site also. Most of your readers don’t understand blogs and they definitely don’t do RSS. But you can make your blog do double time by reaching these folks too with e-mail."

I think this is going to be useful for people as a kind of stepping stone to RSS aggregators. (Charles Jolley, by the way, is part of a trio of guys who've relocated from San Diego to Prague for a year to develop their e-mail software. That's pretty cool and I reckon he knows a thing or two about e-mail.)

A lot of the people I want to reach aren't going to be using an RSS aggregator for another five years, so RSSFWD is a good way for them to get new blog posts. RSSFWD is a terrible name though - it's a service for people who don't know and don't care what RSS is - so it might more usefully be called something like BlogsByEmail.com or something like that.

They've got an interesting implementation too - you'll see the new link on the top right hand corner of this page - Get new posts by email - the link is the same no matter which blog the link is on - it doesn't have the blog name as a query parameter as I'd expect it to. That's going to give that particular page a lot of Google juice as more people add the service.

Posted by Alexander on October 05, 2005 | Blogs By Email | Comments (0)

Question Writer Pricing

The feedback that we're getting from the marketplace is that Question Writer has been priced too high ($6795 for the Publisher Edition). The other thing that's clear is that there is no market for a product that publishes content with our brand on it (that's the Author edition, $1795).

So the Author Edition is being withdrawn and the Publisher Edition will now be sold at the lower price - $1795. I had viewed Question Writer as quite a niche product - there's a limited number of potential users, but users for whom the software is almost custom made. But interest has been broader than expected and it seems like we'll be better off pitching a lower priced product to a wider market.

Posted by Alexander on October 05, 2005 | Question Writer Pricing | Comments (2)

The Perfect Solution to a Problem You Don't Have

RSS provides a great solution to a problem that a lot of people don't have. That's why it's a slow burner - there just aren't billions of people out there suffering - waiting for RSS to arrive and take their pain away.

The pain that it takes away is very particular - it's the waste of time involved with repeatedly checking websites for updates. A year ago I had maybe 20 bookmarked sites that I'd visit regularly - each morning - a bit like reading the daily papers. Some would update frequently, and I'd miss new information or be late getting it. Others would update sporadically, maybe only once a week, so 6 out of 7 visits would be unnecessary. There was a limit to how many sites I could check like that - that was part of the pain too. And I gradually became aware of those little orange buttons that said 'RSS' and soon the pain was enough that I sought out a solution.

. . . this is the way everyone will be getting their news in 5 years time - The geeks know it, the venture capitalists do too.

It was so very easy - I download an RSS aggregator, SharpReader - I told it about my favourite sites (feeds) - when I want to find out if there is any new content, I can just click 'refresh' on the interface and it checks all the sites for new material.

I've no doubt that this is the way everyone will be getting their news in 5 years time. The geeks know it, the venture capitalists do too. RSS feeds aren't just for tech geeks - they're for everyone who has a favourite columnist in a newspaper, but doesn't necessarily like to read the whole paper. They're for everyone who wants to keep up to date with the information they're interested in without having to work hard to do it - and in the information age, pretty soon that's going to be all of us.

Posted by Alexander on October 04, 2005 | The Perfect Solution to a Problem You Don't Have | Comments (0)

Except on Mobile

We believe that continued developer and publisher support for Flash relies greatly on the seamless, free, invisible install experience of the Flash Player.

That's a quote from the Flash player faq - and Macromedia has done a lot to promote player ubiquity. But the news today serves to remind that this is a desktop strategy and doesn't apply to mobile. When it comes to mobile, part of the revenue stream comes directly or indirectly from the end user. That's going to be an increasing part as open-source tools and tools from other vendors are used more for creating Flash content.

Posted by Alexander on October 03, 2005 | Except on Mobile | Comments (10)