All posts by Jack Zeal

E-wallets: not suitable for mainstream e-commerce

Over the years, we’ve had a lot of people come into Web-Op with a vision revolving around an “e-Wallet” service. If you can convince users to load funds into their wallet service, they can spend them at participating merchants without involving Visa or Mastercard. Usually it runs on top of bank transfers, but sometimes the wallets are funded from in-person transfers or credit-card payments with fees backed in.

Sometimes e-wallets are presented as a MLM opportunity– getting people to sign in as new merchants on a wallet platform or by offering referral links for members. Most frequently it’s a blatant “it’s cheaper than using your existing credit card gateway.” Framkly, at this point, I’m ready to reject them at first glance. On your typical e-commerce site, they’re a losing proposition. Continue reading

The era of pixel-perfect is over

If you came into an office like ours five years ago, an early phase of the development process would have involved creating an exact, pixel-perfect model of the page.  You then had a reasonable expectation of seeing the actual web site looking exactly like the mockup.  We’ve had people send us messages saying “move the title 3 pixels over”, and five years ago, we honoured them.

This is no longer an acceptable practice.  It creates unrealistic expectations for the modern web experience.  Now, when you get a mockup, it’s more about showing overarching design principles than exact measurements.  There are several reasons for this change.

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Accidental Dark Patterns

A recent development in the field of interface design is the concept of “Dark Patterns”.  Ordinary site processes are subtly re-engineered to drive people to spend more money, subscribe to more spam, or otherwise have a worse experience.  Once you recognize them, they make a profound statement as to who’s actually providing a quality customer experience.

Some businesses are experts in explicitly designing their sites that way.  Many airlines, in particular, have turned it into a game, almost requiring a “walkthrough” to make your way to checkout and actually get the advertised price without upsells and gimmicks.  However, most clients don’t really want that.  There’s an unspoken trust– if we don’t abuse the customer, we have a chance of getting a higher lifetime value out of him.  However, poor site design– in particular for checkout– can often unintentionally create dark patterns.

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Don’t Hide Your Loading

For years, web developers have been driven to try to find ways to mask the performance characteristics of our sites.  We know that graphics are getting larger, third-party libraries are more prominent, and expectations are rising– but at the same time, everyone wants something up in 1.2 seconds after hitting the link.  Get something to load in a hurry, even if it’s not the full content, and everyone will feel like it’s faster.  However, like most “philosophies for web design”, this can be quickly followed from sensible to downright hazardous. Continue reading

An Overview of Responsive Design

First, a little history. Responsive design is the fourth major evolution in web design.

The first generation of web design, circa 1994, was “full screen width because we can’t do any better”. In this era, you had to build sites to be very forgiving of a diverse and primitive browser landscape, one frequently lacking support for even the most basic HTML features.   <center> and <h1> were hot stuff!  Ironically, it tends to age pretty well, because there’s simply nothing there to age.

The second generation showed up in the late 1990s with table-based design. All of a sudden, you could wrap content in a table, or later, some carefully cantilevered div elements, and have it sit in a fixed-width column in the centre, of the screen. Finally! Some control! Unfortunately, this often led to layouts that were brutally inflexble… comical looking on a big screen, while still forcing people to scroll on small ones. Continue reading

The “Domain Info” site: Google’s latest target

Every few months, Google gets a bee in its bonnet about a specific type of site, and usually rolls out a series of updates intended to clean up the results pages.  We’ve seen it for directories and “content farms”, and untold man-hours have been devoted to keeping “payday loans” clean and safe.

With the recent “Panda 4.0” update, a few sites have began publishing lists of “Winners and Losers”. The more interesting aspect is what happens when we look at similar lists over time. a clear trend appears.

Again and again, you see rank drops for the “sites that list every major domain” — this typically falls into one of three categories:

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Proposal: Microformats for Easy Mobile Checkout

Right now, purchasing on a mobile device is, frankly, a nightmare. You’ve got your phone in one hand, trying to read the figures off a credit card in the other, and barely able to peck out the data.

Now, there tend to be a lot of over-engineered “answers” to this problem– usually in the form of elaborate new third party systems or complete shopping cart re-engineering. This frequently involves liability-intennsive situations like “we’ll store the customer’s credit card number”, or solutions that only solve the problem one vendor at a time.
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Run and Hide! The Upgrade’s Coming!

There’s nothing wrong with responsibly using off-the-shelf software packages. Whether it’s a WordPress blog or a commercial shopping cart, they often represent an affordable way to avoid reinventing the wheel, both from a development and a user-interface perspective.

In addition, many of our clients also find that commodity shared hosting is a fair choice. Face it: if you’re operating a fairly light-weight site that’s getting a few hundred visitors per day, tops, you don’t need that much performance. There’s also a “too big to fail” aspect to being one client of many on a huge machine with a fast connection– odds are, if something fails on their end, you’re the 67th person to report it and they’re already working on it by the time you find out.

However, combining the two can open yourself to surprising difficulties.
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Security Research: Hijacking Your Domain Authority

Anyone who owns a blog knows that they’re going to get a bunch of spam posts. Frequently, these are intended as spam for SEO purposes– create a bunch of low-quality links that all say “Buy Fake Watches Filled With Erectile Dysfunction Pills”, linking back to the “money site” where you actually sell the goods. Usually, this was either a keyword stuffed domain ( or a complete nonsense domain (, because nobody wanted to spend money on a quality domain with real rankings to run the scam.

Lately, I noticed a new trend. Very spammy anchor text, linked to legitimate looking domains. When you loaded the pages up, they looked and felt like normal websites, with nothing to do with the original anchor text. Where’s the business plan?
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