Ajax JSP tag library

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This should save some effort for JSP developers building out Ajax interfaces.
This has been your daily Ajax link (via Dan).

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IE 7 in public beta

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Todd tells us that Microsoft released the public beta of Internet Explorer 7 today, and he sent us this link to the Beta 2 developer checklist, including these items (among others):

  • Verify your User Agent string detection detects Internet Explorer 7.
  • Check your website for the use of CSS hacks that may have been turned off in Internet Explorer 7
  • Verify that transparent images on your website are rendered correctly
  • Verify that your website hasn
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Google Code Analyzes the Markup of a Billion Pages

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The folks at Google Code have published some interesting analyses of HTML markup statistics and trends, complete with nice bar charts for us visual learners (Google Code: Web Authoring Statistics):

In December 2005 we did an analysis of a sample of slightly over a billion documents, extracting information about popular class names, elements, attributes, and related metadata. The results we found are available below. We hope this is of use!

They have separate reports covering a large number of categories (elements in pages, attributes in elements, classes, metadata, the body element, link rel microformats, the a element, custom markup from web editing tools, and more). Each of the separate mini-reports is well worth reading, with a lot of amusing “stupid markup tricks” revealed.
(via reddit: what’s new online)

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On the Usefulness of Meta Tags

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One of the oldest rules of Search Engine Optimization is the importance of meta description and keyword tags. They help search engines understand the content and context of each page they query. On my drive in to work today I thought a bit deeper about a strange occurrence I’ve begun to notice. I recently spent several months recoding two of my personal sites (more sites = more experience) and the result has been a steep spike in referrals to both sites from search engines. Each site ranks very high (top 5 results) for related queries and yet the strange thing I’ve noticed is the description for each result is the meta information rather than content from the page itself. This is true for both sites.
An example query for “Sony Launches Music With a Twist” produces some 500 thousand results. My recoded site Jungle-Life is the 2nd result just below About.com and above Sony’s own music blog. This proves the power of the new method which I’m using to code websites, and after this experiment I’ve begun applying the methods I used on my personal sites to the sites I code here at Extractable.
Check the screenshot below (I’m using Firefox’s handy Google Preview extension btw). Pay special attention to the description beneath each title. The first result produces a contextual summary for the article as does the third and fourth results. The second result however is only the meta description. What is it about my site that causes this to happen?
Google Search Results
Digging deeper I find that About.com is using content directly from the article as meta description information (a clever SEO tactic) and the article title for meta keyword information (equally clever).
Checking the Sony blog I see that they are using neither meta keyword or description tags and have left out the title tag altogether. The summary Google is using appears on Sony’s page only after the second sentence of the fifth paragraph!
Continuing my quest I check the QueerDay Magazine site to find that they too are lacking meta tags. It appears that Google has used the document title as the search result link and portions of the second and third sentences as a summary.
So what can we learn from this? It seems clear from this expirement that the importance of meta tags can surely be downplayed. A site will show up in relevant search queries regardless of meta diligence. How high they will rank may require further research (both the About.com and Jungle-Life websites use meta tags) but whether they are something worth investing time and money implementing on each page is something else.
On the one hand, I like seeing content summary results for the other sites, it allows a person to quickly scan the content for relevance. On the other hand, the simple meta description displayed on the Jungle-Life query allows you to see if the site itself has what you’re looking for – not just the search result.
In the end, the jury is still out and while the major search engines are constantly changing their techniques, Search Engine Marketers scramble to keep pace. One thing is for sure: Content is still king. Provide quality, relevant content and the customer will find you both organically and through search engine referrals. No amount of search engine optimization can trump a person’s desire to find accurate results. They may find a black-hat SEO marketer’s website first – but does that website provide the results they seek or does yours?
In the meantime, I will continue to monitor search engine, site analytic and referral statistics. Perhaps I will consider implementing the content-as-meta trick for better search summaries. Or maybe the best idea is not to mess with a good thing. Either way, research is key and the more we know the more we can offer our clients.
Addendum: After all that, I’ve just discovered that the anomaly appears inconsistently. So a search for “free encryption softwar” (the ‘e’ is deliberately missing since that is how it appears in my referral stats) returns contextual summaries while the earlier query does not. See the screenshot below… Will have to explore this further!
Google Search Results Addendum

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Firebug (Firefox extension) helps debug Javascript and DHTML and Aj*x

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FireBug aids with debugging Javascript, DHTML, and Ajax. It is like a combination of the Javascript Console, DOM Inspector, and a command line Javascript interpreter.
Here are some of the listed features:

  • XMLHttpRequest Spy – Ever wonder what all them newfangled Ajax websites are up to? Watch the requests fly by in the console!
  • One web page, one console – Tired of slogging through a zillion errors in the JavaScript Console trying to find the one you want? The FireBug console is built into the bottom of the browser, and only shows you errors and log messages that came from the page you’re looking at.
  • JavaScript Error Status Bar Indicator – It’s a sin that Firefox doesn’t include this by default, like IE does. When there is an error in the page, the status bar will let you know with a big red blob.
  • Logging for web pages – Sick and tired of “alert debugging”? Jealous of all your C programmer buddies with their fancy printf? Now you can log text and objects to the FireBug console from any web page.
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IE7 will support Ajax's XMLHttpRequest without requiring ActiveX

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Because a day can’t go by without something about Ajax appearing onscreen, I’m stealing a news item that Todd posted to our project portal that IE7 will have a native XMLHttpRequest Object:

In IE6, 5.5, and 5 (yes it’s been there for 8 years) you had to use MSXML as an ActiveX control to get use of the XMLHttp object, but in IE7 the implementation will more closely resemble the defacto-standard that Firefox and Safari use.

When I asked Todd what this means effectively for developers, he told me (via IM): “It removes the requirement that the IE user have ActiveX enabled in their browser to use AJAX sites,” and that it helps establish “a common platform for the developer writing AJAX sites: Firefox, Safari and IE7 will all use XMLHttpRequest object.”
Anything that saves work for developers is a Good Thing in my book.

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