Delivering Focused Features
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I mentioned in my previous post, “The Real World”:

I prefer a short development life-cycle, keeping the requirements for each cycle short and to the point. The smaller the feature set, the shorter every sub-cycle is (design, testing, etc).

37signals recently discussed a great example of this concept with their “Public Contact Cards”. They saw a need, and delivered a solution to it within 48 hours. In order to do it, they kept a very tight focus on the goal of that feature. They solved the problem in the simplest and most direct way possible. They mention several features they could have added and didn’t. Some of them certainly sound like great additions as well, and you may one day see them. But, by keeping the focus on the problem at hand, they can act much quicker to market and consumer needs, keeping their customer base happy, and reducing the risk of implementing new enhancements. They also get a chance to see how their consumers react to the direction of the solution before they have gone to far down the road.

Read more about the Public Contact Cards they added to their new Highrise application.

Firefox Plugin to assist in switching between development and production domains
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If you frequently want to switch between your local development instance of your web application, and the production version, or perhaps another version like an integration or QA installation, the Server Switcher Firefox plugin may be useful to you. With this plugin, you simply assign both URLs to each other in the Options tabe for the plugin and an icon will appear in the URL field of your browser. Clicking it will toggle you between the two URLs.

For example, if I was running an application on my local machine at http://localhost:8080, and the live version was at www.brianburridgecom, I would enter each in the plugin’s options under Development Server and Live Server respectively. When I got to either web site, I get an icon. A construction hat when working locally, and a server when on the “live” server.

The plugin supports ports, subdirectories, local files (specified with file://). Ctrl-Shift-X can be used to toggle with the keyboard.

I have found this plugin very useful during web site development. I don’t always have the “live” server set for a true production install, but instead to switch between my local development instance, and an integrated development server to perform some QA on both and compare the differences between them.

The plugin can be found here.

Trawlr: A RESTful, Rails-powered online feed reader
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Note: I haven’t touched on it much on my site, but I will in the coming weeks. I’ve become a huge fan of Ruby on Rails and have been doing a lot of coding in it during my spare time. It has brought back the fun I used to have developing Internet software from years ago.

Ruby Inside has posted an interview with the developer of Trawlr, Ben Smith. Some of my favorite highlights are:

Almost all the readers I looked at kept each feed separate and behaved like email where you had to keep marking items or feeds as read to prevent a huge, overwhelming backlog.

The way I use RSS is to subscribe to a large number of feeds (over 300) and then simply ‘dip in’ and read when I have time.

When I first discovered the REST features in Rails (via DHH’s “World of Resources” presentation) I didn’t really get it. Once I started to understand that REST is all about modeling ‘things’ and their relationships by creating rich associations it started to make sense.

The additional benefit of using the same code to respond according to the requesting user agent is a major bonus. Within trawlr I mainly use the REST features to keep the code DRY for different response types; rss and opml being two current examples. In the future I hope to add a mobile version.

Read the entire article at Ruby Inside.

DENIM: A must have tool for Web Site Concepting and Storyboarding
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I love drawing on whiteboards. I’m very visual, and most times, can’t think through a problem, nor plan a problem without drawing it out. I’m terrible at drawing, so its not about drawing something that looks visually interesting, simply about using visuals to organize concepts, data, and flow.

I use the same technique when planning out a new web site. I like to draw a box for each page, and use lines to link them together. I also design the basic idea of each page, either on a white board, or on paper. In the past, I’ve mocked up my pages using HTML/CSS, and at other times done it in Photoshop or Gimp. The problem is, I waste so much time fooling around with the tools, or trying to get that CSS to look just right, that it takes longer than it should to come up with my basic design.
Thankfully, I’ve found a solution to all that, which I’ve already used to design my next project. With the new tool I’ll introduce you to in this article, you can sketch out which pages you need, and the linkings between them, as well as sketch out the look of each page, all with the ease of using a pencil and paper, yet, save it for later use and editing, and turn it into a functional mockup, perfect for handing to a HTML/CSS developer and a graphic designer.

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Tip for Easier Web Page Layouts
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I don’t usually post much about laying out web pages, but this tip was one I just couldn’t pass on . I can’t wait until the next time I have to layout a web page to use this. The tip is to use a background image, which is a grid. You apply it as the background, and then use it to position all your elements. Take a look over at Smiley Cat, which provides a background image and an example.

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