A Problem with Flash-based UI

Macromedia Flash MX is great for building good looking custom UI, but most of them simply sucks when it comes to interactivity.  Using Flash-based UI feels like you are doing it underwater and behind an inch thick glass.  Controls feel sluggish, oily, and unreal like they are not really there.  I suspect this is due to problems with how Flash manage events and threads.  There might be ways to make the components more responsive using ActionScript, but its not apparent.  I am gonna experiement for a few more hours before the night is over.

SARS in Toronto?

I just got back from Toronto.  I went there despite WHO advisory because my friends who were gathering there ahead of me told me not to worry.  They were right.  Everyone was joking about SARS there, but no one seemed scared.  No one was wearing mask and young folks were partying til dawn.  So, if you are planning to visit Toronto soon, there is nothing to worry about.

Some Daily News features

Here are some of the features I am thinking of:

  • Clippings – news articles can be 'clipped' into scrapbooks which are searchable.  These clippings can also be reused in other newspapers by drag-and-drop.  Visually, clippings look just like real newspaper clippings.
  • Output Formats – native format is XML, but output to RSS, HTML, XHTML, PDF, SWF, SVG, and popular image formats are planned.  Custom output format support via XSLT and XSL-FO.
  • Physical Output – manual and scheduled output to printer.
  • Two versions – Daily News for news readers and bloggers, Daily News Editor for advanced users.
  • Distribution Server/Service – TBD
  • Sections – Sections are topic or event specific pages with their own local layout and styles.  Custom modules may be required for specialized sections such as the Wanted and Financial sections.  Sections can be created, edited, and published for and by users.  Section contents can be automatically pulled based on some criterias from specific news sources, or manually added and edited prior to publication by users.
  • Reputation – is managed by each instance of the aggregator with possible assistance from reputation provider sites.  Reputation is used for filtering and positioning.

Implementing just these features will be difficult, but it feels good to let some of them out.  What I am striving for is a UI that is as easy to use as a real newspaper and allows people to create, modify, and share personal newspapers.

I'll be in Toronto from Friday to Sunday, so I won't get a chance to respond to comments until Monday.  Have a good weekend everyone.  I'll be dodging SARS virus all weekend.

Screenshots of Daily News Aggregator UI

Dave asked for a screenshot, so here they are.  First one shows parts of the front page in browsing mode.  Second one shows parts of the front page in reading mode.  Navigation and tool controls are not visiable in this shot.  I am doing some experiments with 'hand-drawn' controls that stands out without disturbing the 'real newspaper' look and feel.

While visual aspect of the aggregator UI is important, most important thing is how it behaves and 'feels'.  I must say, Daily News is breaking some new ground in UI.


Welcome to Esther Dyson

Esther Dyson started a blog named Release 4.0.   Welcome to Blogland, Esther!  I am not impressed by amount of intelligence a person has, having plenty of it myself.  What I am impressed by is the shape and movement of intelligence a person has.  Esther's intelligence feels razor-like and moves like a chef, using precision and timing to prepare a good meal.  I was impressed with the way she cooked NetBeans.  In her second post, she talks about Applied Semantic, a recent Google purchase, she provides behind the scene glimpses.  Her blog is now on my daily reading list.

Better Aggregator UI

Yesterday, I took some time out to build a mockup of the newspaper-like aggregator UI.  Hey, I really liked it.  I showed it to my wife and son who said "Wow!" and "Cool!" respectively.  This is why I enjoy working on UI.  It is really easy to impress your love ones.  I am going to try to put together a live prototype using .NET.

Goodbye to 4th Gen Browsers

Tim Bray's company Antartica is dropping support for 4th generation browsers, specifically IE 4 and NS 4.  A year ago, I was trying to do exactly that for 3D-Secure.  At the time, IE 4 had less than 4% marketshare and NS 4 had less than 2%.  I figured that, by the time 3D-Secure becomes common place, these old cranky browsers would be gone.  Today, each browsers have about 1% marketshare.  While some might argue that 2% is still significant, problems caused by supporting them was way out of proportion to any benefits.  Good riddence.

Visa and MasterCard, its time to drop IE4 and NS4 support.  If you really want to better serve your customers, add better Mac browser support, including Safari.

Foggy Text

One of the recent trends, I hate is gray text (aka foggy text).  Using colored text for short pieces of text like headlines and links are all right, but using light colors for large body of text annoys the heck out of me.  Here is an example blog site where gray text is used over mostly white background.  Folks, blogs are for reading.  Looking good is secondary.

Secure XML Programming

Mark O'Neill mentions two examples of security vulnerabilities in XML software.  In summary, keep these two warnings in mind:

  • Beware of URI – XML-based data formats are rarely standalone, meaning they rely on some external resources (i.e. DTD, fragments, images, hyperlinks) via URIs.  Blindly dereferencing or copying these URIs could result in a host of problems, most common being denial-of-service and cross-site-scripting attacks.
  • Beware of Opaque Data – many XML-based data formats have elements or attributes whose values are opaque to all but few of system components.  SQL statements used in Mark's post is a good example.  Other components blindly pass on and store these values until it reaches components that can process those value.

Both URIs and opaque data are common ingredients of extensible systems.  Extensibility is good, but always remember that it is a double-edged sword.

Heading into a SARS zone

I am scheduled to fly to Toronto Friday morning, but CDC just announced that all travellers should avoid hospitals in Toronto.  They will also be handing out a yellow card to those leaving for US from Toronto.  Why don't they just come out and tell people to avoid Toronto?  That will make my decision easier.