Gone in a Flash

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This week, Adobe announced it plans to stop updating and distributing Flash at the end of 2020. While this will come as a bit of a relief to some due to the seemingly never ending circle of vulnerabilities, warnings that your Flash player was out of date and updates, it does mean that any site that relies on Flash will need to transition to a different format such as HTML5, WebGL or WebAssembly.  (Flash updates are one of the reason we love Ninite.)


A number of browsers have already switched to asking to run Flash by default and, as it gets closer to the deadline, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Edge and Firefox will start disabling Flash by default. It will still be possible to enable it for a website until Adobe ceases support in 2020. Facebook has also said that they will shut off Flash games by the end of 2020.


So if your website still relies on Flash, you’ll need to start looking at the alternatives.  (And if there's a game you haven't finished yet that may not get updated, you might want to finish it too.)

Can you delete old events off your library's website? Yes, probably!

Deleting old events can be good customer service.

Have you received inquiries from patrons wanting to attend an event that happened last summer because they stumbled across its page on your website and didn't notice it was dated 2016? It's annoying to click an event link in Google search results and see a "page not found" error when that event has been deleted, but is that worse than a patron mistakenly planning to attend a long-past event?

Deleting old events can be good website maintenance.

Are events from previous years stacking up by the hundreds in the content admin screens of your website? They weren't hurting anyone 1 year after your website migrated to Drupal... but now their vast numbers make it hard to find and maintain permanent pages.

Delete-content

Deleting old events may have no consequences whatsoever.

Are there lots of links to the event on the library's site other than the calendar? That sounds labor intensive and unlikely, right?

Are there lots of links to the event from other sites? (My go-to tool for finding these backlinks is the Moz Open Site Explorer.) It's more likely that other sites link to the library's homepage or calendar than individual event pages.

Did you share website links to events on Facebook a long time ago? My highly un-scientific survey says: no one looks at stuff shared on Facebook from a year ago.

Does Google Analytics show any traffic to the events in the past 6 months? It's worth checking to get a sense of how it compares to overall traffic.

Will there be lots of "Page not found" errors in the website log and Google Search Console? Yes, there will be, until search engines stop re-indexing those pages. Luckily, these errors don't really hurt the library's website.

Any cases where deleting old events may not be a good choice?

Events with repeating dates. You may have some long-running events that were created over a year ago and are still ongoing with upcoming dates. Don't delete those... yet.

Bottom line:

You can keep past events on the library's website. Maybe there's no time for this kind of cleanup. But if those old events cause problems for patrons and make maintenance difficult—just like weeding a book collection—don't sweat getting rid of them!

Watch out for spam traffic in Google Analytics

Library folks who are responsible for the library's web presence: let's talk about spam traffic in Google Analytics reports. If you've looked at a Google Analytics report lately, you've probably seen it: fake visits generated by a web bot or spammer.

You may have raised an eyebrow at a surprising number of visitors coming to your U.S.-based website from a far-away country in an Audience report. (Those are spam visits.)

Watch for suspicious audience demographics in the Audience Overview report

You may have wondered why so many strange websites are linking to your website and generating referral traffic, in the Referrals report. (Those are spam referrals, and they're not really linking to your site.)

Watch for suspicious websites in the Acquisition, All Traffic, Referrals report

"But I thought Google Analytics only captured real traffic. You have to be a real visitor to trigger the tracking code JavaScript." That's what I thought! But spammers constantly adapt technology, and can use randomly-generated tracking code ID numbers to send data directly to Google Analytics (aka "ghost" traffic") without ever visiting the websites that use those tracking codes. Or send web bots to crawl a site without following the rules that prohibit this. What can we do?

DO: If you use Google Analytics reports, take a closer look at what's in them. Higher-than-normal traffic may be fake. Keep your common sense hat on.

DON'T: Visit the weird URLs you see in your reports. The purpose of Google Analytics spam traffic (if there is a point, besides wasting our time) is the same as email or blog comment spam: to cheat our curiosity, to get us to click or visit a site, and then lure us into buying something, or trick us into giving up personal information or passwords. Don't fall for it!

DO: Set up some filters in Google Analytics. For all the websites I help maintain, I'll be doing this to help ensure that the data we're collecting is real and useful.

DON'T: Worry about seeing your website traffic numbers go down over time after those filters are in place. 8 visits from people who care about the local library matter WAY more than 97 from a spammer on the other side of the world!

Further reading:

Browsers and Responsive Design Modes

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The set of mobile devices is ever changing, with screens large and small. Website designers have had some significant challenges in recent years. The many solutions tend to fall under the heading "responsive design", as first coined in this article by Ethan Marcotte on alistapart.com. It's all about flexibility in windows.

We can't possibly cover the whole topic in a single TechBits, but here's how to easily get a taste of what it means. Open Firefox, go to any website, and press Control-Shift-M to put the browser in Responsive Design Mode. You can select from multiple screen sizes, in portrait or landscape orientation, to give yourself a view of what end users are experiencing with that website.

The controls are simple enough that you can probably figure them out just by playing. Or, you can read more about the Firefox interface on the Mozilla Developer website. To get out of this mode, press Control-Shift-M again or click the X button at the top left of the interface.

Safari has a similar mode. It is very much oriented to Safari use on Apple devices, but if that is your development platform and target audience, it's great for that. A good summary of the Safari interface on tekrevue.com can get you started.

If you're really into such things, the Chrome DevTools interface has a similar offering, with more complex options and a range of specific presets to help you richly simulate quite a few popular mobile devices. There's a great article about Chrome DevTools on sixrevisions.com.

Last but not least (well OK, yes, it actually is my least favorite of these tools), Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge both have their F12 Developer Tools and Emulation mode.

Website editing tips: Shift+Enter and Paste as Plain Text

These two website editing tips got such a positive reaction at the latest Drupal Basics website training session that I want to shout them from the rooftops:

Shift+Enter is the keyboard shortcut for "Make a line break without starting a new paragraph and adding a margin of space between lines," like so:

Shift-enter

This tip does double-duty: it works in the editor SCLS provides for Drupal websites, and it works in Microsoft Word. This and more keyboard shortcuts are in the Glorious Guide to Keyboard Shortcuts (which was written for Drupal sites hosted by SCLS, but most of the shortcuts are standard across many apps).

Paste as Plain Text (Paste-as-plain-text) is the editing toolbar button to use when you copy a chunk of text and want to paste it into your SCLS-hosted Drupal website without dubious font/size/color formatting. The button opens a popup dialog, and you just hit Ctrl+V to paste your text in. Once pasted, the text will lose all its formatting and you'll be able to reformat it using the toolbar options. It's not just for brand new pages, either—you can also copy existing website content where you have been fighting with troublesome formatting, and paste it in as plain text to start fresh. Also good to know: Remove Format and Source buttons and Ctrl+Shift+V.

Guest post: Website traffic infographic from Visually

This guest post is from Abby Ward, a UW-Madison School of Library and Information Studies student who completed a practicum with SCLS.

Unsure how to navigate Google Analytics to find useful information about your website traffic? Don’t have time to check your data every week? A free service from Visually can create an appealing infographic using your Google Analytics data to give you a quick snapshot of how your website is doing. The service sends an infographic to your email inbox every week.

To get started, go to https://create.visual.ly/graphic/google-analytics/ and sign in with the Google account you use to access Google Analytics.

Sample Google Analytics infographic from Visually

"Modules Unraveled" Drupal training videos now free


flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

When librarians ask about advanced Drupal training resources, from now on I'll mention the training videos from Modules Unraveled. Modules Unraveled recently changed to an ad-sponsored model, making its high-quality tutorial videos on Drupal modules free. (In the past the site was subscription-based, and that's a big barrier for many. Not anymore!)

Modules Unraveled provides intermediate to advanced coverage of select Drupal modules. You may already be using some of these modules on your library's website. For example:

  • "Calendar" powers many sites' calendars.
  • "Views" powers Calendar and almost any display that combines text and images from multiple nodes (Articles, Basic Pages, Events, etc.) into one page or block.
  • "Views Slideshow" powers image slideshows (aka carousels).
  • "Quicktabs" produces tabbed blocks for combined Search LINKcat/Search this website.

Beginner documentation for SCLS's version of these features shows how to use some of them, but falls far short of explaining how to tweak or significantly alter how they work. For the site maintainer who wants to do just that*, Modules Unraveled explains settings and configuration options for Calendar, Views, Views Slideshow, Quicktabs, and more—premium videos that are now available for free (in exchange for watching a 15-second ad).

* Contact me if you need extra permission to tinker with your SCLS-hosted Drupal site.

F12 for website developer tools & device modes

Modern versions of Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer each come with powerful tools for website development. In your browser of choice, hit F12 on your keyboard to toggle them on and off.

Screen shot of a website with Chrome DevTools & Device Emulation

Each browser offers variations on these tools, but these common utilities are my favorites:

A code inspector for viewing the page's HTML and CSS code and making on-the-fly edits to what you see onscreen. Edits made from the code inspector aren't saved anywhere—they only last until you refresh the page. Use it for: debugging tricky formatting, experimenting with new text or styling before actually making live edits.

A network tab reporting how quickly every component of the page loads, including total load speed and weight. Use it for: figuring out exactly which files may be slowing down the page.

Device modes for seeing how a web page looks on screens of varying sizes (with resolution presets for common devices). Use it for: checking how pages behave on small screens when you don't have access to the latest phones and tablets.

If you hit F11 by mistake, something scary happens—all your toolbars disappear! Your browser has gone full-screen. Take a deep breath, and hit F11 again to toggle full-screen mode off.

More about developer tools:

Pointing at LINKcat: Redux

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Earlier this week, Kerri posted regarding how to link to library databases through the SCLS patron authentication system.

That article also pointed to an earlier article about the venerable (but retired) LINKcat URL Scrubber, whose links in turn redirected to the Scrubber's replacement, the LINKcat Link Advisor. Some folks tell me that this should be an Adviser, while Wikipedia tells me that advisor and adviser are "etymological twin cognates" (i.e., they mean the same thing).

Suffice to say that there are often different ways of labeling or pointing at a thing, particularly online. These ways are often completely interchangeable, and what does it really matter, so long as you get to where you want to go?

Well, the bottom line is that things do change, and on the web at an unrelenting pace. This means that some ways of pointing at a thing may suddenly become obsolete, such that if you were to follow that kind of pointer, you would not get to where you wanted to go.

This is where the LINKcat Link Advisor comes in. By creating a pointer that is canonical (scientifically speaking, having standardized coordinates), we can help ensure that this way of pointing at LINKcat will endure, even through sweeping changes. If your library website links to LINKcat, but you are not using the Advisor and its cousin the LINKcat Launcher, such changes could be a nasty surprise (and may be coming soon to a catalog near you).

After the Liblime Koha code branches for public libraries and academic libraries are merged, it is entirely likely that LINKcat will have an all-new URL scheme, a.k.a. an application programming interface (API). Pointers that use the old API syntax could (and probably will) fail to point at the desired target. Yet pointers that use the Launcher (the canonical way of pointing at LINKcat) will continue to work after the API migration. Why? Because the Launcher has its very own API, which we control.

Instead of ending the old way of pointing after Liblime Koha changes, the SCLS Launcher's local API will evolve to encompass and adapt to the new Liblime API, while still supporting backward compatibility. Old style Launcher links will automagically transform to the correct new form, and we will all still get to where we want to go. Learn more in the Link Advisor FAQ.

Design ideas for web images

Unity/Harmony, Composition, Message

As you're staring at a blank canvas in your graphics program of choice, getting ready to design an image for your library's website, do you ever stop and think, "Wow, this is not what I went to school for!"?* Even if your main business is libraries, employing a few design principles will give patrons a better website experience and help "sell" library programs, online resources and collections, and digital services.

Effective visual communication is more than just following a checklist, of course, but you don't have to be an expert to use these design ideas:

Unity/Harmony: Develop a style for the website that includes a limited color palette and a selection of 2-3 versatile, easy-to-read fonts. They will be a foundation for your composition and message rather than a competing distraction from it. (They'll also be a jump start if you're uninspired or in a hurry—some of the decisions are already made.) Examples: Fayetteville Public Library, Salt Lake City Public Library.

Composition: Will you use photos, clip art, or other illustration? Use careful judgment with clip art. If the piece would work nicely in an elementary-school book report, it doesn't belong on your website. When building text into your images, look for pictures with a little space built in, or leave room in a collage of images for adding words. Blank space gives an uncluttered feeling and focuses attention on the details that matter. Examples: Brantford Public Library, Mid-Continent Public Library.

Message: Keep it short—not too many words—especially if they will appear on a small button or a slideshow image rotating every few seconds. In all writing for the web, use a tone that is fun, friendly, and professional, and be sparing in your use of all-caps and exclamation points. Examples: Multnomah County Library, New York Public Library.

Also recommended:

* If you actually did go to art school, I hope you'll weigh in with your thoughts on design for library websites.