Yahoo! Music – Easy, semantic, unobtrusive music badges

Let’s say you want to link to a song on the internet. Let’s also say that you want your users to easily listen to that music. Further, let’s say you want people to find and enjoy the music without having JavaScript enabled.

Is this asking too much?

Yahoo’s Christian Heilmann has been advocating layered, semantic badging.

Yahoo Music badges and the simple href

Yahoo! Media Player has taken this approach to embedding music. You simply put a link to a music file in your site, insert the music JavaScript and away you go. The Music Badge Twiki also shows how you can extend the functionality with basic HTML elements, such as adding a title attribute or image inside the link.

Here’s an example of the badge in effect. Orca at the Casbah, 1992Orca live at the Casbah, 1992 I made a bootleg recording of Orca, a San Diego supergroup circa 1993. I’m simply going to create a basic link to the music file and include an optional image from flickr. The JavaScript will use that information for the player to appear. You’ll see page loads with a little play icon next to the link. There’s also a small player on the side of the browser. Click on either and you’ll see a media player appear in your browser with the music controls.

Here’s the code:

Orca at the Casbah, 1992Orca live at the Casbah, 1992

Use a content delivery network for dirt cheap


The Yahoo! exceptional performance team has released a series of best practice rules for making your site perform significantly faster. Fortunately, the majority of fixes can be handled by any developer. #2 however seems a bit outside the budget of most developers… until now

2: Use a Content Delivery Network

Let’s say you have a small site that has a very local audience. Sally down the street doesn’t notice any problems with slow images. But what if your site is more global? Will the Sally equivalent in Europe, Asia, India, or the other side of the country have the same experience? Probably not. This is why large sites use the Akamai servers. They can cache images and files closer to the user.

The #2 rule by the exceptional performance team tells us to use one of these distributed asset servers.

A content delivery network (CDN) is a collection of web servers distributed across multiple locations to deliver content more efficiently to users. The server selected for delivering content to a specific user is typically based on a measure of network proximity. For example, the server with the fewest network hops or the server with the quickest response time is chosen.

Some large Internet companies own their own CDN, but it’s cost-effective to use a CDN service provider, such as Akamai Technologies, Mirror Image Internet, or Limelight Networks. For start-up companies and private web sites, the cost of a CDN service can be prohibitive, but as your target audience grows larger and becomes more global, a CDN is necessary to achieve fast response times. At Yahoo!, properties that moved static content off their application web servers to a CDN improved end-user response times by 20% or more. Switching to a CDN is a relatively easy code change that will dramatically improve the speed of your web site.
Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Web Site

Doing this cheaply with Amazon

Amazon’s Web Services give you this functionality for a very low cost. There S3 service costs most people less than $5/month. This gives you easy acces to your private database and storage. You pay by the size of your files and the total traffic.

You can further increase your site’s performance by taking advantage of the hosted Yahoo! YUI CSS and JavaScript libraries.

Storyboard your DHTML interactions

Bill Scott - AJAX GodBill Scott gave an interesting lecture today at Yahoo! about AJAX design patterns. He explained how good AJAX designs keep the user’s attention on the page, remove roadblocks, and increase stickiness to a site.

Patterns of successful AJAX behaviors are beginning to appear (Netflix, 37Signals, Yahoo!). There are subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, changes that can occur to let a user know that an action has happened.

storyboard for AJAX interactionsDownload the drag and drop storyboard design package

For instance, he pointed out an interaction on the recently departed Yahoo! Photos site. A user could select multiple photos and then drag them to special collection folders. The page generated several panels to let the user know that the move would go to the preferred folder (hit yes), wait for the action to finish, and then a final congratulations panel (hit yes). These panels and the two required clicks could have been avoided if the folder changed when the photos were dropped into it. This could be a simple glow and maybe the number of photos in the folder is increased.

Plan your entire sequence in advance

Eric Miraglia coined the phrase Interesting Moments to describe the multiple changes that occur during an AJAX/DHTML action.

In most cases, Drag and Drop requires that you write code to respond to the interesting moments in the interaction: when the drag event starts, when the dragged object enters another object, and so on.
Yahoo! UI Library: Drag & Drop – Interesting Moments

Your user will have a much more pleasant experience if these are considered in the beginning of production. The Yahoo User Interface library includes a storyboard template (.zip) for planning these interactions effectively. This story board concept also works well for forms (especially form validation actions) and Flash components.

Update

The YUI blog has posted a video of Bill’s lecture: YUI Theater — Bill Scott: “Designing the Rich Web Experience: Principals and Patterns for Rich Interaction Design on the Web”. This is a great opportunity to learn from one of the finest developers around.

Related articles

Take the pain out of CSS-based layouts

I hate dealing with CSS-based layouts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’d rather use tables. It’s just that I don’t relish the idea of fussing with the hacks, negative margins, floats, and more to get the page looking good in all browsers.

This problem was solved a few years ago by a series of layouts donated to the greater good by wonderful developers. This gave me the ability to ignore layouts and concentrate on semantic, structural markup and using CSS to turn this into a great set of modules on the page. This is the stuff that makes web development fun for me.

Over the years, new layouts came and went and cross-browser layouts developed to a science. It’s now even easier for you to build a web site layout that is predictable, flexible, and lightweight.

The YUI-Grid

Just because I work at Yahoo!, doesn’t mean I immediately jumped onto the YUI-Grid when it was released. I’ve built several sites without it since its launch. A developer becomes comfortable with a solution and change hurts. However, I recently began working on a very simple, small gallery site and gave this tool a try.

First, a bit of an explanation on some of the nomenclature. The YUI has laid down the law on some naming conventions, and while it may seem a bit bloated, the resulting hooks allow a site to easily incorporate the YUI JavaScript and CSS.

Each main container div has three children, class=”hd” for the header, class=”bd” for the body, and class=”ft” for the footer. You can delete the hd or ft if they are not needed, but you need to at least have the body element. The main portions of the page use the same naming conventions, although with id instead of class. The header has id=”hd”, the body container: id=”bd”, and finally the footer has id=”ft”.

YUI flexibility

Nate Koechley, the man behind the grids, has created a series of rules that let you change the width of your grid, the number of columns, position of columns, and how nested columns divide the avialable space by simply changing a few classes on the parent containers.

It’s a very powerful set of controls. Here’s an example of how the classes change the widths of nested divs.

YUI Grid demonstration
The standard grid-unit interplay always divides space in two, evenly. To create layouts of more than two units (e.g., three), and to create layouts divided unevenly (e.g., 66% and 33% or 75% and 25%), we employ special grid holders. While “yui-g” tells the two children each take up half the space each, “yui-gc” tells the first unit to take up two-thirds of the space, and the other unit to take up one-third of the space. Everything else remains the same: units live within grids, and the first of a set must be indicated.
Nate Koechley – Yahoo! UI Library: Grids CSS

Help?

Now, if you are like me, your head has begun throbbing after reading the YUI Grid CSS page several times, making notes on how it works, and reading it a few more times before figuring out how to start. The package is complex and yet easy to work with once you dive in.

However, it’s easy to skip most of the headaches and begin building your site immediately. Dav Glass, also of the YUI team, created a great Grid Builder that makes it sinfully easy to build your complicated layout. Not only does it generate the HTML for your basic page, it also incorporates the full YUI CSS library.

This means you also get the YUI Base CSS, YUI Reset CSS, as well as the excellent YUI Fonts CSS. All of these are combined into one CSS file that has been akamized for faster downloads. This means your final site CSS can focus solely on the things that make it unique. You’ll be surprised how small your custom files will be when all of these issues have already been dealt with.

Take it one step further

I was prompted to write this post after seeing the latest extension of the Grid CSS from the outside. Christian Heilmann just published a simple javascript, Enhancing YUI grids with equal height columns, that builds on the established nomenclature of the Grid CSS. It’s a demonstration of the power afforded by a standardized class and id naming convention.

Christian’s javascript also utilizes the basic YUI Javascript library to take all of your nested divs and make them the same height. So, with the addition of one more js script, you now have complete control of your grid layout and your nested divs are all the same height.

Here’s how Christian describes the simplicity.

All you need to do is to add YAHOO, YAHOO Dom and YAHOO Event (easiest with the collated yahoo-dom-event package) and the script in the bottom of your document’s body. The script automatically equals all columns in nested grids. If you don’t want all of them to be equal, define only those that need fixing by adding a “columnfix”CSS class.
Christian Heilmann – Enhancing YUI grids with equal height columns

Future flexibility

This powerful package of YUI CSS and standardized nomenclature for establishing the building blocks and the YUI JavaScript library for building interactions will allow developers to spend more time creating the elements that make their site unique and reduce the cross-browser issues caused by individual mistakes. We’ll see more extensions from within and outside the YUI developers as the usage becomes more universal. They YUI libraries are not doing the work for me, they’re just making it a lot more fun and productive.

Class Equals Screen Reader Info

I’ve been using a little CSS trickery to hide content and data from the average user. I hate to mention it too often as it can open pandora’s box. There was a recent thread on the Microformat’s discussion list about this very topic. The gist of many programmers is that data worth sharing is data worth displaying.

However, there are times when your UED provides a design that lacks visual hooks for your screen reader users. A good example may be the ever-popular search form. Most sites will have an input and a button that says “search”. The label for this input is nowhere to be found.

The average sighted user can figure out such a simple form but the screen reader needs a bit more help. Here’s a sound clip of a screen reader trying to use the search form on Yahoo! Kids (.mp3). This was further complicated by the missing alt attribute on the image-based submit button.

I’ve also had to work with table based forms that need some assistance. The table is marked up with appropriate table headers and scopes, but the individual inputs lack labels due to the UED.

The simple solution

There are many ways to hide content via CSS. You want to avoid visibility:hidden and display:none. These will also hide it from the screen reader. You could use text-indent:-1000 em. I prefer using position:absolute; top:0; left:-1000em;. This hides the label by pushing it off screen yet the screen reader is still able to use it.

Updated CSS (updated 4/24/2008)

Adding a top position to your hidden may cause the page to jump when the item is focused. Only use a negative left position and leave the top position out of the equation.

Samples

Let’s look at the complicated table with hidden inputs. The table is properly coded with summary and scope. However, the table would still be difficult for a screen reader without form labels.

Here’s a sample of the HTML code:


Here’s the CSS for the labels


.srinfo {position:absolute; top:0; left:-1000em;}

Extending the hidden screen reader concept

I’ve written earlier about how Yahoo! Tech used a hidden collection of links to replicate an inaccessible flash movie. In a nutshell: screen readers cannot see a flash movie that has wmode:transparent. To get around this, we duplicated the flash content and moved it off-screen for screen readers and search engines.

You could also use this technique for providing information specific to screen reader users, such as:

Please note, this page uses JavaScript to continually update stock information. Look for the link: "disable stock updates" to turn this feature off

Hold the Presses, this isn’t perfect!

You can’t just throw anything off screen for the screen readers. The earlier Yahoo Tech example took about made 6 links invisible yet they were still accessible to keyboard users. So, remember, when you use the srinfo class to hide content for screen readers, keep in mind the impact on keyboard users.