Website design, programming, technique, and work.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

Something worth noting for people looking for website hosting is that my host, MediaTemple just announced that they partnered up with CloudFlare. CloudFlare is a CDN, or Content Delivery Network. A CDN works by taking “clones” of your website, and copying them to various locations/servers around the country and in some cases around the world. So instead of having one location that everyone goes to when surfing, website content is served up to your computer from the nearest location. Essentially, it translates into increased speed.

100 milliseconds of waiting doesn’t sound like a lot, but there’s been a lot of studies and statistics surrounding people’s browsing habits. Some studies have claimed that a 100 millisecond wait translates into a 2% visitor loss, and the number increases exponentially as people have to wait longer. From a business perspective, 2% is a pretty big loss. If you can reduce that wait as CloudFlare claims to do (and I’m sure it works), this means people will stick around longer.

Secondly, Google announced last year that they were going to start factoring in website page load times into their ranking algorithm. So the faster your page loads, then that should help your website obtain more traffic in return. It only makes sense that this is one factor in determining a website’s quality. So if you implement a CDN, you will probably see a greater return in traffic as a result.

My blogs are running on MediaTemple and I’m using MaxCDN as my CDN. I pay an annual rate for this extra performance service, but now that the CloudFlare basic plan is free, I’m considering canceling my paid service.

The installation for CloudFlare on MediaTemple is pretty quick and takes less than 5 minutes. It’s just a simple matter of registering, clicking a few “next” buttons, then waiting 12-24 hours for everything to populate. I set it up this morning, and by this time tomorrow it should be working. It will be interesting to see how well it works.

Lunarlog Statistics.

I noticed something unusual in my website statistics this morning. Traffic to this blog had jumped from around an average of 50 visitors a day to almost 600 visitors per day since September 20th. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly caused this spike.

Lunarlog Statistics.

Lunarlog Statistics.

The only other times I’ve seen larger spikes is when some of my work was featured on NPR, The Atlantic, Gizmodo, and The Wall Street Journal. The numbers had jumped close to 8,000 visitors per day then dropped back down.

A traffic increase is a positive thing for any concerned author on the Internet as long as it doesn’t crash your website hosting service provider. The whole point of running a site in the first place is for people to find what you are writing about or promoting. So, there’s no complaints on my end – I’m just trying to figure out what exactly happened because I’m really curious. I tried looking at my logs and couldn’t pinpoint where visitors were coming from and what they were looking at.

Relatively-speaking, this site isn’t meant to be popular and the traffic spike isn’t anything remarkable compared to some much larger and more popular websites. I don’t think (nor would I ever intend) that the topics I choose to discuss here would be interesting to most people. It’s meant to be informative for people searching out specific needs and design-related information, while attempting to cross-promote my artwork at LunarStudio.com. I tend to focus more on smaller niches of writing and uniqueness of content, rather than some other blogs which try to tackle one major topic (ie. food-related blogs, motorcycles, etc.) A slight diversity in topics seems to cast a much wider net when it comes to search engines, although specificity also has its own time and place. I suppose what you choose to write really depends on what you want from a target audience. My main work is illustration-related, and it’s such a broad field that work can come from any number of directions.

I think several different things might have caused the traffic jump:

  1. The redesign of Lunarlog which could have led to faster load times, better code syntax, and a more pleasant experience to end-users.
  2. A link from a popular website to this one.
  3. A link from a popular website which contains a popular article to this one.
  4. A popular topic which I might have recently written about.
  5. New blog article posts which Google triggers (they like fresh content.)
  6. Incorporating rel=”author” syntax.
  7. Removal of some WordPress plugins.
  8. Addition of some WordPress plugins.

In general, traffic spikes usually come from one or two resources, but other sites might pick up on something interesting and start linking to you as well. Spikes and traffic acts like a pyramid when it comes to linking, but hopefully this remains a plateau. It might be a few more days before I can come up with some solid answers.

Visitor Statistics.

After another week of going through code, I’ve update the lunarstudio.com website to incorporate additional HTML5 valid syntax. By doing so, I hope to increase future compatibility across browsers, speed up the page load times, and make it easier to make future updates and revisions. If anyone reads this article, I hope that you can take a quick look at the website and let me know if it works and looks okay. I’m only one person working on the site, and it’s difficult for me to test the site across operating systems and and dozens of web browsers while maintaining my day job. Website design can truly be a full-time job when done properly.

Below is a screenshot of my LunarStudio Analytics Browsers:

Browser Statistics.

Browser Statistics

Just to note: the above screenshot isn’t thorough. Some browser statistic programs/scripts will break down the different versions of let’s say Internet Explorer. You might be surprised how many people are still using older versions like Internet Explorer 5 (the current is IE9) which might cause some websites such as mine to bug out. I just tried pulling up Urchin to show you, but for whatever reason, my host (Mediatemple) turned it off. :(

The older version of the LunarStudio website was designed many years ago using HTML tables. At the time, tables were just starting to fall out of favor with the W3C specifications and CSS was starting to become more commonplace. The problem with CSS was that it was often hard to develop more complex website designs with it, so some designers (such as myself) kept with using traditional HTML tables. I am still puzzled as to why HTML tables are now deprecated – to me they were (and still are) very intuitive. Anyways, tables on my main site are now a thing of the past and I managed to figure out how to redesign the site with almost pure CSS.

Another item worth mentioning is the LunarStudio design itself. I wanted a website a long time ago that was perfectly centered on page which was uncommon at the time – both vertically and horizontally. It’s not uncommon to visit a blog these days and see that it is centered across your browser horizontally. Most of the few designers who did achieve the centering effect back then had done so through Flash (which was quite frankly a pain.) I managed to achieve the effect through some code trickery and table usage. Since that time, overall page centering on websites has become more commonplace, and I don’t think LunarStudio reads as “revolutionary” as a design as it once did, but I still like my own design, and if it’s not broke, I don’t see the purpose in fixing that portion. I’m pretty happy (and a bit surprised) that I managed to be able to keep the overall look and feel using CSS instead.

Additionally, I’ve gutted most of the JavaScript and replaced it with pure CSS opacity hovers. The only JavaScript I kept was the Lightview/Lightbox thumbnail image popups as well as some Google-related Analytics and newer + code (which ironically doesn’t validate properly.) I didn’t like how my previous preloads and hover states worked.  I wasn’t sure how the two states of thumbnails (on and off) were being read by image searches on the search engines. Hopefully, all of the above has been addressed and will be in a better state than before. Because my website is image heavy, they were dumping an additional 200 kb per page onto visitors, and this could have been made more efficient. These days, most people have higher speed connections than the older 56k dialup, but pageload times still factor into whether or not visitors stay on your page, or navigate away. There’s still some pretty scary statistics as to how long the average visitor stays depending on these load times.

Here’s an Analytics screenshot of my current visitors stay duration:

Visitor Statistics.

Visitor Statistics.

The only thing I have left and wish to fix/update that I haven’t been able to is the animations section. HTML5 uses the new ‘Video’ element, and I wasn’t able to convert the preexisting Flash .swf animations over to it. The Video element is still relatively new, so encoding older material (especially interactive material) over to it will be tricky for some time to come.

3D Renderings and Artwork by LunarStudio

The LunarStudio website was recently updated. There were over 70 images added to my portfolio, most going back to last October. This doesn’t include our full body of work, but mostly pieces that I felt should be represented in our gallery. Some of our other renderings and designs were left out because most of these projects were early-phase (still in-progress) and not considered final. I deliberated between posting them as interim or massing types of illustrations, but in the end figured that they might detract from the final finished quality we generally represent. With a few others images, we finally received permission to post some of these after waiting a few years. Some of our best work is kept under non-disclosure agreements.

Here is a list of pages that contain most of our illustration additions:

 

I’d like to thank all of our clients and supporters for their patronage in this tough economic climate. We truly appreciate everyone who has supported us over the years. It is my hope that the new images and updated back-end to the LunarStudio website will increase traffic for everyone involved as a way of giving back to the community. I spent the last two weeks and a lot of sleepless nights optimizing the pages and redoing large sections of the code to bring it up to more recent standards. This in turn should result in even greater traffic from various search engine results, and will hopefully turn into more work for all of us in the long run.

LunarStudio is often ranked in the Top 5 (often #1) for the field of Architectural Renderings out of almost one million results in Google. It also places in the Top 10 for hundreds of common design-related search terms as well as being listed high in Google Images. Ranking high on the search engines is an art form and a business onto itself. There’s thousands of Search Engine Experts and consultants constantly vying for the top spot in any one particular field. If you’re not listed in the top of a search, you will probably not get noticed. As a result of our high rankings, people recognize our work on the web, and I hope that this helps us all in return.

When it comes to appearances, I tried to keep the same look and feel of the design. However, there are some people who might be interested in some of the underlying code which has changed. It might prove useful if you’re interested in website marketing.

Below is a change log concerning LunarStudio’s revisions:

  1. Website pages converted to HTML5. While not completely validated as the Internet standards are still under development, this should lead to faster load times, easier search engine spidering, and thus higher ranking in other areas. Other websites are getting left behind at the moment, and it will be years before many of them are updated. I speculate that this will lead to a more dominant search engine position.
  2. The navigation has been completely redone with proper CSS (Cascading Style Sheets.) It has moved to the top of every webpage versus getting lost in the bottom of the code. Search engines should have a much easier time figuring out the structure of LunarStudio. Many years ago, I used tables to develop the website while CSS was still becoming popular. HTML tables are falling out favor now, and CSS has been replacing some of out more traditional methods of page layout.
  3. HTML5 allows for some new elements such as Nav, Header, Article, and Footer which were implemented. This helps the search engines determine the important sections of a website, as well as potentially leading to additional Google’s Sitelinks (For which LunarStudio already has.) It should also help with the rankings and visibility.
  4. Some of the redundant code was stripped out in favor of CSS. This speeds up the website and also caches information.
  5. Additional code was removed because they have become obsolete/deprecated. Again, this brings it up to standards and decreases load time which provides for a better user experience and load times.
  6. Over 70 watermarked images and over 140 thumbnails were created and added.
  7. Eight 3D animations were partially recreated for Squarewave and Massachusetts General Hospital Laboratories. These were added to the animation section.
  8. Page titles were modified.
  9. Page descriptions were modified.
  10. Tags were changed to read more smoothly and less like spam.
  11. Image descriptions were modified and updated.
  12. Corrections were made to the previous descriptions which might have resulted in page bleed (lower ranking for certain terms.)
  13. Proper punctuation introduced in some page elements.
  14. Copyrights updated.
  15. Client listing updated.
  16. Introduction of Google + buttons at the bottom of every page. This probably will result in higher rankings and a more established prominence.
  17. The new Google Authorship (now replaced with Rich Snippets) system introduced which will help delineate search results even further and lead to higher click-through rates. I hope this is working as the instructions were very confusing. First it requires approval, but then secondly it takes time. Google also doesn’t generally communicate directly with webmasters so this is a waiting game.
  18. The LunarLog website (this site) was completely redesigned to coincide with some of these changes. You can read about some of these changes here.

Here are some things which I plan on implementing in the future (to-do list):

  1. I’d like to move LunarStudio over to a near full CSS solution.
  2. I want to get rid of the tables and switch over to CSS for that. That’s a massive undertaking for which I have little spare time presently.
  3. It would be great if the thumbnails could also fully go CSS in their highlight states. This would probably shave off around 200 KB in extra downloads per gallery page.

There’s still some things to do. The process of maintaining a website could be a full-time job in of itself, but in order to stay on top, you have to keep a site updated as technology changes. My updates usually come twice a year and at most it usually involves adding a handful of images. I would consider this one a major update. I would really appreciate people’s feedback on the LunarStudio design. If there’s any bugs or issues, I would like to know as everyone’s computers are different and everyone runs different browsers. It’s a lot of work for one person to handle.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I spent the last couple of weeks updating my main website Lunarstudio – mostly reprogramming and adding new images. When updating websites, most responsible webmasters and designers will run their site through additional browsers, operating systems, and test people’s reactions to new content. I had a friend look at my site on Sunday to see if she had any feedback. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a full-width bar appear at the bottom of my page on her monitor. My first reaction was “WTF”, followed by concern that somehow I must have uploaded malware to the back-end of my site. The third option which was slightly more worrisome is that some hackers got into my site. So I took a closer look, and the bottom left read “Google Related(don’t install this.)

Now, I would never think Google would have released a toolbar that covered up part of the screen. Not only was it distracting from the design I had worked so hard it, but it wouldn’t just affect me but almost every webmaster and designer on the planet. So my next thought that it had to be some malware she accidentally downloaded over the course of her Internet travels. Upon even closer inspection, I noticed that it was serving up advertisements and contact information from competitors. So someone looking at my site could see another image at the bottom of the screen, then decide to go to that website instead.

I started to look into this. Sure enough, it’s part of a new, 20-day old Google program which is a toolbar extension for Internet Explorer and Chrome. ArsTechnica wrote a concise article on what Google Relate does here. While it might prove useful for some users, for webmasters and those concerned with privacy, this is an absolute nightmare. It represents a major downfall in Net Neutrality if this is allowed to carry on. *Aside* – some might argue that Google is not a telecom, Internet Provider, or government agency and hence doesn’t fall into the argument of threatening Net Neutrality. However, I should remind people that Google has mentioned that it’s testing their Internet Providing services. Also, Android runs on many cellphones as well as telecom providers. They’re basically in bed with one another.

There’s several different and valid concerns, not to mention the legality of this program:

  1. It interferes with a person or company’s intended website design without their permission.
  2. It potentially distracts an end-user.
  3. It slows down a person’s website loading time. The speed issue is probably negligible, but it’s still there without an owner’s permission.
  4. It risks having people leave your website in favor of another. Holding user retention on a landing-page is tough enough, but this just adds fuel to the fire.
  5. Due to people wandering off one’s website, it can jeopardize website owner’s businesses and livelihoods.
  6. Google is directly (or indirectly) profiteering from someone else’s work without their permission.
  7. This is potentially part of their AdWords program, which makes money off of advertisements.
  8. It allows for Google to monitor your browsing habits, even when not using Google search. It’s basically spying on your activities.
  9. It potentially opens up the door for further abuse.
  10. It threatens Google’s competitors (Yahoo!, Bing, and other search engines.) If successful, competitors might also have to roll out similar toolbars or methods.
  11. It could become a permanent part of Google Chrome.

Now, there’s some usefulness to the end-user. It wouldn’t be fair for me to mention the Google Related negatives without the positives:

  1. Provides directions.
  2. Provides alternative solutions for someone looking for a service or help.

I was almost positive Google would provide webmasters with a method to take this off of owner’s websites through the use of META tags, but my searches for that method turned up empty. Instead, I came across other “unapproved” methods of using CSS code to disable the iframe, either by moving the toolbar off-screen, or by hiding the iframe completely. Unfortunately, I tried these methods and it didn’t work. It seems that Google caught on to webmasters changing their CSS code, and in turn updated their own to prevent us from doing so.

Since then, I’ve brought it to the attention of some friends on Facebook, however I think my concern has largely fallen on deaf ears which is understandable. I’ve also written on the Google Forum where you can see there my concern is #6. Some might call it an overreaction, but I think I’m fully justified here. The people reporting this problem is so low at the moment because Google Related is just starting to get attention. This is part of the reason why I’m writing about it on my blog – it’s to bring attention to this.

My main issue is that Google is intruding upon my work and business without permission. The nail in the coffin is that they are also potentially profiteering without my permission too. I think it’s just a matter of time before Google is:

  1. Sued by competitors.
  2. Department of Justice goes after them and tries to break up the monopoly.
  3. Public outrage from the webmasters community gets out of control.
  4. Or they disable it before it gets to any of the points listed above.

I hope I am overly concerned, and that Google disables their new program almost as soon as it has started. However, it blows my mind how this idea got past scores of lawyers, executives, management, and employees at a billion dollar company in the first place. If you agree with my concerns, please promote this article and also express your concern on the Google Related Forum. If you disagree, I’m still interested in hearing your views.