That 3D thing

James Cameron's AvatarLast week my brother who is the last person in the world I’d expect to hear give a film recommendation, phoned me to wish me a happy birthday and then went on to tell me that I just had to go and see Avatar, coming from him, it had to be good.

So on Saturday I took the family. The effects were astounding and you really feel that you were watching an event, the future of how all visually rich films will have to be produced to come anywhere close to this. That said, the plot was typically Hollywood but you couldn’t fail to give it 9/10 for entertainment (I never give 10).

A couple of weeks ago the first 3D TV was trialled in pubs in Manchester, using an Arsenal v Manchester United match.

So with all this 3D about I wondered if there was any 3D web development going on. Seems like there’s quite a bit. Here’s a sample of 3 flash sites using 3D (some take a little while to load):


These are all of course Flash sites and more and more we’re seeing opposition to building sites in flash, with some people controversially venting their spleen.

There are few alternatives in javaScript or SVG. So for now I think that Flash will continue to lead the way in this experimental media.

Video, Silverlight and jQuery

During our 25 days of blogging last year, Sam talked about some of the new websites designs that we’ve been working on.  The 125 website was the first to go live last month and today we have released the website accompanying the exhibition for a new sports development.

For both sites we’ve developed some new ways of displaying information as well as improving the designs. Bot the homepage designs use jQuery to create visual effects on the page. 125 has multiple “slides” of information. Each slide transitions to the next after a short period of time or when you click the link on the right.

New Sport also uses some jQuery transitions, this time to change the background image and headline when you hover over links to each section.

There’s a few more new additions to the sport site. We were provided with a DVD containing lots of aerial photos of the campus to feature in a gallery. We’ve done the usual thumbnail gallery but we’ve also got a fancier way of showing off photos.

Microsoft Photosynth is a tool from their Live Labs project. It works by taking a set of photos, working out how they fit together and creating a 3D model in which you can navigate around them. Our set of photos is 71% “synthy” – a measure of how we matched they are – pretty good I’d say! The one negative thing is that viewing the resulting photosynth requires Silverlight on the browser.

Photosynth of Edge Hill

Another new development that’s being released for the first time on this site is a video browser. The observant may have noticed last week video pages on the Edge Hill site changed slightly, doubling the size of the video and moving around some elements on the page. This was to allow us to highlight related videos right along side.

Video player

One final little thing we’ve incorporated into this site is embedding the PDF of exhibition boards – normally a sizable download – into the page using Scribd. Using third party hosted services has risks associated with it but here it clearly benefits the user to be able to quickly scan through pages without the need to download a large file and open in Acrobat.

How do you solve a problem like IE6?

There’s been quite a lot of talk in the mainstream news about Internet Explorer 6 – Microsoft’s browser released in 2001 along side Windows XP. IE6 has a long history of security vulnerabilities and has been linked to the Chinese attacks on Google.

More recently French and German governments have advised people to upgrade and there is a petition to make the UK government follow suit. For Edge Hill’s corporate website, 7.5% of visits are from people using IE6 – higher than Safari, Chrome and Opera.

As web developers, life would be so much easier if we could relegate IE6 to the lower divisions and would encourage uptake of new techniques like those in HTML5. This isn’t necessarily because they can’t be done along side IE6, but supporting it is one more thing we have to do.

When I asked this question earlier on Twitter I got a variety of responses. The Ormskirk Baron (prolific reviewer of beer and web guru) bluntly suggested we “support it” and yes we should but can’t we try to move people along? Patrick Lauke suggests not:

is it your place to do anything about it? they may have good reason (e.g. access from school where IT Dept locked won to IE6)

This to me is the heart of the problem. There will almost certainly be people who can’t upgrade and we need to ensure we don’t annoy them too much. But there will also be people who simply don’t know and those that may have no direct control over what browser they’re using (maybe through inexperience or company restrictions) but can be helped to change.

Another suggestion with potential came from Matthew Walton:

Implement an incredibly compelling new feature which doesn’t work properly in IE6.

I don’t want to go back 10 years to the situation where “you must be using Internet Explorer 4 or Netscape Navigator 3 to enter this site” but there are ways to introduce new functionality while still offering something for older browsers.

But prizes (no monetary value) go to Alex Mace and Martyn Davies for the following suggestions that I wish I could get away with:

alexmace: @MikeNolan Pop a lightbox over the screen that says “OMG, SECURITY FAIL – please hand in your internet access license”


martynrdavies: @MikeNolan I’m recommending going to the house of every user and upgrading their browser whilst informing them of their failure.

More questions than answers? You expected anything else?! 😉