Photoshop Complaint

Posted by Fred LeBlanc on November 21, 2005.

I won't lie, I don't know much about Photoshop. I've recently installed version 9.0 (or CS2 if you're into letters) and among other gripes I have about how things work now, hex color values are in lowercase. I've never used lowercase hex values, and I don't think I ever plan to (until the W3C requires them to be valid, which they will do just to spite me). Is there anyway to change this back to uppercase? #7d1e1c is ugly, and converting them all to caps later on is just wasting time.

Whitehat vs. Blackhat

Posted by Will Bond on November 18, 2005.

This week's A List Apart has a really interesting article about accessibility and search engine optimization. To sum it up, whitehat search engine optimization is more effective than blackhat search engine optimization. What exactly is the difference between whitehat and blackhat and why should you care?

Whitehat SEO is optimization of a site by making it simple, well written, accessible, and all around user friendly. Blackhat SEO refers to the approach of using SEO "tricks", such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, and landing pages. More often than not blackhat SEO ends up making your site harder for your real users to use. Whitehat SEO, on the other hand, goes hand in hand with usability and well implemented web sites. Whitehat SEO isn't really SEO at all, but it results in better search engine placement. Whitehat is really visitor optimization (VO).

Here at iMarc we recently revamped our website with a focus on making it easier to use and more concise. Not only is the content better, but we designed it using common sense principles. We used relevant title tags and accurate h1, h2 and h3 tags. Our html is xhtml 1.0 valid for cross-browser consistency and accessibility. We also started using more descriptive page and directory names. All of our news articles and communiqués have the headline in the url and title. There are lots of other little tweaks we did, but you get the gist of it.

But what point am I getting to? Try searching Google for any one of our team members. That's right, every team member comes back in the first six results for their name, and all but one are in the top three. Dave has a couple of personal sites that are very popular (including and push his iMarc Team page down a little in the results. Oh well, I guess Google actually does return more relevant results first...

Between this and the spike we have seen in web site traffic since our launch, I think it is fairly safe to say that whitehat SEO is the best way to go. Not only do you get good search engine rankings, but you deliver what visitors are looking for. From what I hear that helps turn visitors into customers.

Fonts on the Web

Posted by Fred LeBlanc on November 18, 2005.

As we all know, there are only a couple of reliable fonts for the Web these days (and I suppose the ever-growing Linux crowd that becomes even less true everyday). Of course I'm speaking of the basic fonts that everyone seems to have: Arial, Times, etc. My question is this, since we only have a limited number of fonts that are cross-platform available, why can't they all be good ones? My idea: let's infect the Web with good fonts. We should gather at a conference to determine the other good font faces out there. Once we've come up with a pretty good sized list that we can all agree on (let's say twenty or thirty new fonts so we don't have to do this every couple of years), we write a virus that infects all machines. All this virus would do is install these fonts, find everyone in your address book and move to their computers, then uninstall itself from your computer. I'm coining this 'Viral Modernization.'* *Don't really do this. I don't think they let you use a computer in jail. Is this illegal? Due to how it would be deployed, probably. Does that make it bad? Not in my opinion. It's the same as having every operating system come with the fonts when you buy/download it, except this is being done after the fact. I mean come on, the virus even uninstalls itself when its done. After a while, when every machine is 'infected', there would be a constant stream of millions of 'virii' checking your system for these fonts. To prevent ridiculous machine load on any machines, we'll give the 'virus' a month to do its thing. But let's get back to reality. Over time I've developed certain ideas, thoughts, opinions and feelings about each font and what I think they should be used for. Here's the rundown: Arial Ah yes, Helvetica's bastard child. Arial seems to pride itself on being the standard sans-serif font on Windows boxes, and while this is all fine and good the world would be better served with just getting the real deal. Most Windows folk have never been told about Helvetica, but it's everywhere. Maybe the fact that ninety percent (and I'm being extremely generous with that figure) of the world not having it at their grasp makes it even better. Sorry, back to Arial. This is a decent font for

's and for the times you need to cram a lot of words into a little space (around size 10 or 11 pixels), but otherwise this font is boring and unimpressive. I find I have a hard time reading chunks of anything written in Arial if it's going to take me more than a couple seconds to read, especially at 12 pixels, it makes me shudder. Times/Times New Roman Quite probably my least favorite Web font. Times New Roman is the standard font that shows up if you don't use any kind of font-formatting, and that's all that I can think of when I see it: "Someone forgot to format this page." I've seen this super-stylized in the headings of pages and at times (ha, get it?) it can be acceptable, but generally some sort of letter-spacing, altering or variant is needed to make things look respectable. And at this point things seem pretty negative, but don't worry, they get better. Just not yet. Comic Sans Craig will probably punch me in the kidney just for whispering the name of such blasphemy. There is a set niche of people that use Comic Sans, and none of them are good. This font isn't cute, this font isn't fun, this font is unprofessional, ugly and unnecessary. My thoughts: never use this font. Ever. In fact I'm going to go say a few Hail Mary's for having to subject your eyes to it. My apologies. Impact I've heard of Impact being referred to as the "home-grown IT professional's design font of choice," and it seems pretty true. Check your local computer help places for this font and see what you get. But Impact isn't all bad. When used in small chunks I like this font, I just don't want to see it in logos or in any paragraph of text that I'm supposed to read. And I'm not even sure how this became known as a 'technical' looking font. Maybe it all the straight lines or something? (Note: most Macs seem to have this font, but not all of them. Of course that's what? Ten percent of five percent? Numbers that low get truncated, sorry.) Georgia Give me a second, let me bask in the glow of a nice serif font. Georgia is in fact my serif font of choice. It comes nicely equipped with wide characters that are extremely easy on the eyes (especially in titles and

's), and text figures that make any site look somewhat sophisticated. Even at small ranges (without anti-aliasing) this font is very readable. Use Georgia. It's good for us all. Courier New I can really only see two legitimate reasons to ever use this font. First, whenever you're showing me a code sample of something, use this font. It's the font I code it, it's the font that most people use for monospaced anything, so accommodate us. Almost all of its characters are easy to distinguish from one another (except for [], () and {}, for coding you'd think that the curly braces would be a bit more exaggerated). Second, and this one is new to my list, is the typewriter effect. We recently used this effect on Springfield Museums' News list view, and it looks pretty slick. Verdana Verdana is not particularly fantastic for titles, but I could read 11 pixel Verdana on my screen for days straight. If it were up to me, it would be the standard font built into everything online. This font was built for screen readability and like Georgia, has wide characters that are easy on the eyes. There is a reason that the majority of the good sites out there present their content in this font: it's appealing, it's easy to use, it's just great. In fact, you may reading Verdana right now. This site uses Lucida Grande as it's main font, but if you don't have that we back it up with Verdana. (Why did we go with Lucida if Verdana is so good? Simple: something different.) Secondary Fonts There are a couple of 'secondary fonts' that a lot of users seem to have, but not everyone. These are fonts such as Tahoma, Lucida, and Helvetica, all good fonts but you DO have to take everyone into consideration. Secondary fonts are really good fonts to list first (contrary to their name) in font lists. I'm a huge Tahoma fan, and am disappointed that more people don't have it. It seems to come with Microsoft Office, but should be made available to everyone (either via viral modernization or download, whichever is easier). Accommodating for Everyone Finally, while I make cracks about Apple's marketshare numbers and such, that's no reason to cut anyone out of the equation here. You may be asking yourself, "this, from the guy that wants out of 800 x 600?" Yes, exactly. See it's easy to include everyone by just tacking on a ", sans-serif" to the end of your CSS font lists, whereas 800 x 600 is a complete new design. Also, that ", sans-serif" at the end will help out or Linux friends that may not have any of these fonts. So quick summary, come on: more Verdana 11 usage, less Arial 12 usage, and Georgia text figures for life!

Radio iMarc

Posted by Nils Menten on November 12, 2005.

Dave Tufts, iMarc's director of technology will be featured on Worcester radio program, WPI Venture Forum WPI Venture Forum airs on WTAG, 580AM between 5pm and 7pm on Saturdays. The program is a "talk show of entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs". Mr. Tufts will be the featured guest during the first hour (5pm-6pm) on Saturday November 12, 2005. He will discuss the process of growing a web development company, open source technology, and other day-to-day issues facing a small internet business. If you find yourself in central Massachusetts on Saturday, Nov 12, tune in to 580AM.

I <3 OSS

Posted by Will Bond on November 8, 2005.

I love open source software. Free software is nice, but OSS really takes the cake. Since I started here at iMarc I have had a lot more exposure to open source software than ever before. Mostly this is due to the fact that our servers run on 100% open source software. Currentlly all of our production web servers run FreeBSD (4.x and 5.x ) for their OS, along with Apache, MySQL and PHP. We also run a file server on Fedora Core 4, set up with Samba shares that all of our Windows and OSX boxes connect to. But, back to my original point. I love OSS. We host a search engine web service called SiftBox. This is based on Mnogosearch, an open source search engine available at Mnogosearch is a fairly evolved search engine with quite a few features which made it our strongest candidate to use for our search engine web service. We did, however, find an issue with the software in that searches that contained phrases were not properly highlighted in the results. The beauty of open source software is that we were able to modify the source code to fix the issue. On a recent personal project I also experienced the joy of working with OSS. This summer I decided to build my own PVR (Personal Video Recorder). I chose MythTV for the software package, and set up Fedora Core 4 for the operating system. Throughout the process I was able to customize the software to make it so my PVR works exactly how I want it to. I have benefited amazingly from the effort of countless others by using open source software, but in return I have also tried to give back to the community. iMarc submitted a patch back to Mnogosearch to fix the phrase highlighting issue, and I have been working on setting up a site to help share information about my experiences setting up MythTV. I also frequent the MythTV mailing lists trying to help other out as I can. Don't get me wrong, closed source software companies offer some good products (check out PHPEd), they just don't make me all warm and fuzzy inside like OSS.

My New Favorite Firefox Extension

Posted by Fred LeBlanc on November 8, 2005.

The IE Tab extension for Firefox is simple fantastic. It lets you view both IE and Firefox all from the comfort of your Firefox window. If you're still using 1.0.x, read the directions carefully as there is something extra you'll need to download first. IE Tab for Firefox

The Push Back

Posted by Fred LeBlanc on November 1, 2005.

I've done a great deal of reading, studying, and discussing usability for the Web, and while I've adapted a lot of my design and code practices to accommodate what people tell me is best, I have to draw the line somewhere.

This is the beginning of the resistance.
Welcome to the Fred Rebellion.

1. 800 x 600
The belief that most of the people in the world have at least this as their screen resolution, and using the principles of lowest common denominator, every site should be designed to fit this size.

According to the Fred Rebellion: Attention 800 x 600'ers, your time is over. Assuming that people that hit our Website are current clients, potential clients, family or friends, our stats over the last two months are good a base of information to look at:

% of 800+ px wide: 99.98%
% of 1024+ px wide: 93.76%

'Nuf said here, the time for 1024 is upon us. When Flash was appearing on 94% of the machines worldwide there were more than enough people claiming that Flash has become a standard that could be used, where are those people now?

Additionally, I've noticed that since I started using a resolution higher than 1024 x 768, I've stopped looking at browser screens maximized. This leads to the argument that people naturally keep their browser windows to fit 800 x 600 (as was the case of a recent discussion here at iMarc). I don't believe this to be true, I think the user just widens the screen to be about 100 pixels greater than whatever the site is currently set to be, so a browser window 'naturally sized' to fit sites is just a by-product of archaic coding.

By the way, there was 1 visitor to iMarc in the past two months that was on a 640 x 480 resolution. Notice how no one cares about them.

2. 100% Width Sites
The belief that for maximum flexibility, a Website should stretch itself to 100% of the screensize.

According to the Fred Rebellion: No, never. This can completely ruin the design of any site, and by coding at 100% width, standards will never move forward. There will never be a push to code for ANY resolution, let alone the 1024 x 768 that I want. Additionally, with the incorporation of more and more CSS, this becomes harder to accomplish. I've seen a number of cool things that CSS can do, but I code for whatever is the cleanest to read, the simplest concept to understand, and the easiest to get to work. If I'm spending time positioning a million div's when a quick table will do just fine, all I lose in the end is time.

(And I hear that time == money.)

Useless Links are... Useless 3. "Just Add Another Link"
Another discussion that came up recently was about the blurb on our home page. I've taken a screenshot for you (right) so you can see the argument. The thoughts were basically: add a link that goes to the main blog page, and move the "read more" link to be inline with the text. I said that the read more link was already not necessary, since (as I've always been told for anything I build here) that "most people will try to click on the title first," to which the response came, "why not just have both?"

According to the Fred Rebellion: The answer is simple: because having both is unnecessary clutter. If you need to have two ways to do something, the first way isn't clear enough for the user. The titles being the same blue that we use for most of our links is visually key enough that we don't need a 'read more link.' I think a lot of designs lately have lost the use of good white-space, and I think that it's this attitude towards things that is one of the culprits.

4. HTML Title Stuffing
The recent belief that putting full descriptions into HTML titles will improve your Google ranking. Below is a recent site that we did that does this.

Title Stuffing is Gross According to the Fred Rebellion: This is ugly and unprofessional looking. A title should be something short, concise and exact, and I cannot for the life of me think that this truly matters to Google. I've taken a look at a lot of sites (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!) and what is in their titles? One or two words, that's it. You get to the top by having the best and most useful content, which is what Google intends. These lame hacks to bump yourself up a couple notches are for the insecure and lazy.

Make something worthwhile and the people will come.
Have good content, layout and design and Google will do the rest.
And have you seen what this does to my bookmark/link bar if I save it?

Oh Man, Fred, That IS Disgusting I'd like to save more than one link.

(As an additional note, I also checked out Amazon to find that they too are doing this title stuffing nonsense, but with their 100% width antics, this doesn't surprise me. Stop ruining my user experience!)

I think I'll continue to post more of these blogs on the Fred Rebellion, since there are many more things out there than just this that bother me.
You can either forge the path forward or wait for someone else to do it. The Fred Rebellion has got out its machetes, are you coming with us?

iMarc launches site for Springfield Museums

Posted by Nils Menten on October 28, 2005.

Blog image

iMarc LLC ( recently completed a large-scale web site for Springfield Museums ( The site encompasses the museum association, as well as four distinct subsites, one for each museum.

Springfield Museums' new sites have increased educational value with features specifically for educators, while the stylish, interactive design engages youth audiences. The sites enable the Museums to increase member interaction and retention by improving the quality of member communication. The new content management tools dramatically lower site maintenance costs, and the sites are also Section 508-compliant for disabled users.

"The new site that iMarc developed went above and beyond our expectations," said Chrystina Geagan, Director, Marketing & Membership, Springfield Museums and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial. "iMarc's professionalism, dedication, clear and insightful suggestions and productivity will no doubt enhance every online visitor's experience and encourage visitation at the Museums. The level of positive feedback we receive about the site only supports our decision to make iMarc the company who steers our online efforts towards success."

iMarc created an extensive database-driven content management system to enable Museum staff to directly control and update the web site.

Features include:
  • Online Store
  • Museum Calendars
  • Museum News
  • Exhibit Listings
  • Image Galleries
  • Member Management

The site architecture is built on a dynamic, database-driven framework that makes it easy to add, edit, and remove pages from the site. At the same time, the architecture preserves branding and navigation across all pages, so that all contributions to the site contain appropriate branding and formatting. This means that the site can grow, without redesign costs, to satisfy the needs of the museums for years to come.

About the Springfield Museums
The Springfield Museums ( is comprised of four world-class museums — the Museum of Fine Arts, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Springfield Science Museum, and the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. The Museums Association is also the proud to be home to the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden, a series of full-scale bronze sculptures of Dr. Seuss's whimsical creations, honoring the birthplace of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.

About iMarc
iMarc is a skilled team of designers, programmers, and business development experts, focused on building user-focused web sites and online applications. Since its founding in 1997, iMarc has created digital asset management applications; ecommerce, social networking, intranets and member association websites, and literally hunders of other websites and branding solutions for clients world-wide. iMarc's portfolio is available online at

Don't Kill Your Business: Part 1 of 1,452 part series

Posted by Craig Henry on October 25, 2005.

Can we be serious here for a minute?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you that design is more important than the code behind the design. I don't actually believe that, but I have to because I know that the average website visitor isn't visiting your site to see how it was made, but why it was made. Let's face it, your visitors are there because they want something from you.

The internet is an archive to a world of social satire. It's true, just like television and radio- a false perception of reality is key to engaging people to:
  • Buy a product or service
  • Buy into an idea
  • Allow a product or service to give you ideas.
My semi-pessimistic analysis stops here, because although it sounds harsh, we're all capable of accepting or ignoring it.

Moving on, we now know the goal in developing and designing your site; to show people what you do and why you do it better than anyone else. Whether you are a shoe manufacturer looking to sell your soles or a Fish & Game shop looking to make an extra buck - you need to be able to sell your visitors on your service or product IMMEDIATELY or, I assure you, you've lost them. In fact, I'm suggesting that all of you consider your website a one page service center for your future. It's THAT important. If I'm coming to your site to get a phone number or to buy a product, I need to know how to do it immediately.

Now before you call up your design firm and ask them to move all your interior pages to the homepage, let me clarify: Your visitors dont need to be able to access all of your information from the homepage, they just need to know HOW to access all of your information from the homepage. Thus a clear, concise and functional navigation system that leaves no stones unturned.

Now let's talk about your image. There are about 253 good marketing and design firms in the United States today. At the same time, there are about 442 million beer-bellies that will do your site for you in their basement at a fraction of the cost any actual company would quote you. When it comes to your website, you absolutely pay for what you get. Shopping around is the number one piece of advice I can give you (why not start here?).

Here, let me make this easy for you. When you go for your first meeting with a design firm, bring along this handy checklist:

[_] - Does this company have a solid background and track record?

[_] - Will this company use my existing branding/collateral and implement it onto my new site?

[_] - Can this company provide me with ideas that will better my online presence?

[_] - Will I be kept informed throughout my site's development? What role will I play in managing the site?

[_] - Where will my site be hosted? Who do I call if my site ever goes down?

[_] - Where's the coffee?

The list could go on for about 5 pages, but I strongly suggest you start there.

Getting back to your image. Your company's image is very important. If I need to find a good lawyer online chances are I'll Google a lawyer in my area. If the first few sites come up looking like the classic "Dewey, Cheatum, & Howe" I might give up really fast. Let's say, though, that the next one comes up as a professional, clean, informational megaplex of lawyer goodness. I'm so in. I pick up the phone and make the call.

So how can a bad website affect my company? Easy! Listen, there are probably thousands of other companies that do what you do. I dont need to go into a lengthy paragraph about how clean beats sloppy, or how clear and consistent navigation beats navigation that moves around depending on what page you're on. I also don't need to tell you that any company that's at the top of their industry's game didnt get there through poor marketing and branding. The importance of your image is non-negotiable when it comes to appealing to an audience. If you know your audience and know your brand, (and you hire a quality design firm that understands them too), then you'll stay out of that hole that has brought more company's to their knees than bad management and financial instability combined. It's called bad image.

Don't kill your business.

[/end part 1]