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Inside the industry and inside the agency

18 Apr 2013

develop 2

Frontend United is an annual European conference that moves from country to country, previously hosted in Prague, Berlin and Amsterdam. Despite being a strongly Drupal themed conference, it's topics are perfectly relevant to any Frontend developer regardless of what CMS they work with.

Last weekend, beneath the arches of the Shoreditch overground line, Frontend developers, designers and Drupal themers gathered, caffeine fuelled, at the unusual venue of a nightclub named Cargo. As trains rumbled above like thunder, below a series of talks ignited thought and engagement on topics from cutting edge web components to project management and delivery.

Kicking off the talks was Mozilla's Christian Heilmann who was there to discuss the capabilities of the latest Firefox OS and why he/we should be excited to be a web developer right now. Whilst not wanting to downplay the benefits of "native-built" applications for phones/tablets, Chris was keen to champion HTML5 apps as offering greater modularity, upgrade-ability and non-dependence to a specific platform/device/$500 iPhone! Mozilla recently launched the Firefox OS boilerplate app to ease and speed up the process of building HTML5 apps on Firefox OS. Primarily, what I took from Chris's talk was that the future in web development is far from dull and instead is at the start of an exciting chapter encompassing all kinds of potential projects on many different platforms.

From across the pond we had the company of Sam Richardson who works for NBC Universal. He was demonstrating features of Compass for addressing responsive web design through a media queries-based extension called Breakpoint SASS. This offers better organisation of the key considerations for responsive websites:

•    Media queries
•    Fluid grids
•    Flexible media definitions

It’s “future friendly” and can conceivably be used for implementing media query feature detection fallbacks. In addition Sam spoke about a grid framework called Singularity which isn’t based on pixels or percentage units but ratio points.

develop 1
Peter Gasston gave a presentation on Web Components which is a series of W3C modules that introduce new HTML, CSS and JavaScript properties for extending web pages with reusable components. Of particular note was ShadowDOM which is claimed to address issues surrounding encapsulation versus the common alternative of using iframes.
Rounding off the first day of talks was undoubtedly the most entertaining speaker of the event: Bruce Lawson. His satirical, loud and energetic talk focused on “How to Destroy the Web” and how many organisations and firms worldwide are achieving this through bad design and development decisions. Such examples of this include:
•    Browser sniffing and region/country-specific filters
•    Disabling features required for accessibility
•    Developing just for one platform/device/OS
•    South Korea’s strict online transaction policy to use Microsoft’s ActiveX

Overall this was a fantastic event with a good range of speakers and much to take from in terms of development techniques and potential avenues to explore for future projects and concept proposals.

27 Feb 2013

Pixel Party People

by James Saunders / Make a Comment


If your Twitter timeline or Facebook feed has seen a dramatic influx of colourful caricatures bearing a resemblance to your friends over the past fortnight, the chances are you’ve already heard of iMadeFace.

The new iOS app stormed to the top of the free charts on the App Store in multiple countries, including the UK and USA. The popular app, iMadeFace, helps turn its users into a cartoon in just a few minutes thanks to the wide variety of templated facial features.

The simple app design allows almost every part of the face to change with a simple swipe. iMadeFace users can scroll through a variety of hairstyles, pick one and then change the colour – and then share it with your friends. You don’t have to worry about lighting, background or photobombing to create the perfect digital you – and you’ll never have a digital hair out of place.

But iMadeFace is just the newest kid on a very big block.

Avatar blog - main
The Family Tree

To understand the place of the pixel person, we need to begin by looking at the fixed square (usually less than 100 x 100px) that they were originally restricted to – the ‘avatar’. Whilst you might remember them as a gangly blue smurf alien, here we’re talking about the graphical representation of a user, their alter ego or personality originally used in the ambitious 1985 Lucasfilm videogame community, Habitat.

Avatars are common amongst virtual communities such as Habbo Hotel, Wee World and The Palace where research has shown that younger users often labour on the fun aspect of avatar creation, looking for the most amusing rather than the most accurate – in fact, younger users often use avatars to conceal their identity whereas older users look to create a more reflective representation of themselves, often spending money on extra clothes or that perfect pair of glasses.

The rise of Facebook, LinkedIn and before them, Bebo and MySpace, has seen a shift in popularity (and ease) towards real life photographs for avatars as the importance of recognition begins to play a more important role. Technology has played a role too, with users now able to upload and crop their own images.

Whether we like it or not, the web has become a more open place, bloggers jostle for the most traffic and work hard at building themselves into a trusted, recognisable source of information. We see more faces online now, than we have ever done in the past.

Will the digital avatar allow users to retain a level of anonymity? Can you imagine a world where your Facebook feed is filled with caricatures of your friends?

4 Apr 2012


Stuart Wells, Managing Director at agency Wickedweb talks to Figaro Digital about best practice within design and build - Article by Jon Fortgang - Figaro Digital

"If you build it," runs the line in baseball drama Field of Dreams, "they will come."

That was back in 1989, but until comparatively recently the same theory underpinned plenty of design and build projects. Now that Google decides on ranking, campaigns are seeded on social and the mobile frontier opens up, brand managers and marketers need to approach the planning and construction of their sites – and in particular SEO - with scientific precision.

Wickedweb are a full service digital agency who specialise in this field. Established in 2002, the company's work with a range of clients over the last decade has provided them with a clear perspective on some of the most persistent challenges – as well as the greatest opportunities – open to digital marketers seeking to optimise their presence across all channels.

Flexible working

"We speak to some new clients now," says Stuart Wells, Managing Director at Wickwedweb, "who've been through maybe two or three versions of a design and build project, and they're a bit nervous at the start. They're saying to us, 'we've made these mistakes in the past, we've seen these errors crop up. How can we mitigate the risk and improve our top level approach to a design and build project?'"

For Wells and the team at Wickedweb, the answer to that has involved establishing a clear best practice procedure which, they believe, helps brands refine their objectives and focus on achievable goals with measurable value. So what, for Wells, does best practice within design and build actually entail?

"Most projects start with a client saying, 'I want to deliver this'," he explains. "'I want to do it in three months and this is how much I've got to spend.' But the reality is, at that point, nine out of 10 clients don't know what it is they're looking to achieve, they don't know how long it's going to take and they don't know how much it's going to cost. And the agencies tendering for the job don't know either, because until you get into those detailed workshops and discussions, you simply don't."

Wells uses a three-part model to describe the approach best suited to streamlining and unifying that process.  "There's the budget," he says, "There's the deadline, and there's the delivery. The methodology by which a large scale design and build project is delivered is all-important. In years gone by you'd see the 'waterfall' methodology, where you do one stage of the project, agree it with the client, sign off and then move to the next stage."

The problem with that approach, explains Wells, is an inherent lack of flexibility. Budgets change, deadlines shift and objectives are reconceived. "A lot of times that ends in disappointment. We inherit a lot of clients who've been through that relationship. What we're looking at now is a more agile way of working, where we'll ask the client not necessarily to commit to a definite budget but a budget range, not to commit to an absolute deliverable, but to a deliverable range. And not to set their heart on an absolute deadline but to a range of dates. That way you can enter the project and be far more open and pragmatic and say, 'What is actually achievable here? What are you looking to do as a business and what can we do to give you as much value as possible?'

Brief encounters

Given his experience, what, for Wells are some of the most persistent challenges facing brands and agencies as they embark on a project together? Though brand managers may imagine the tighter a brief the better, that isn't always the case.

"Eighty per cent of briefs are actually too specific," he explains. That might sound counter-intuitive in a field where clarity of purpose is key, but more information, it transpires, doesn't always mean better information.

"Most brand and marketing managers will have a good idea of what they want to achieve. Let's say it's an integrated campaign – they'll be aware of some of the things they can do in social media, some of the things you can do with a CMS. But they may not know the best things that can be achieved at that point in time. Often agencies will respond to those client requirements because the clients have been very prescriptive. But that may not be the best way to achieve a client's underlying objectives, because there are new methods or more technically advanced ways of doing things." As an example, Wells cites advances in browser-technology versus Flash. But the point, he says, is that agencies should be able to analyse a client's top-level objectives and then present that client with the best routes to achieving those aims, rather than having to stick to a rigid, pre-ordained road map.

Starting with SEO

Key to any design and build project is SEO. For Wells and the Wickedweb team, it's the foundation on which everything else rests. So how does best practice apply here?

"To get the best results in SEO," says Wells, "you have to be there right at the beginning. Your organic search strategy has to be considered right at the start of the project. And that search strategy needs to filter through to the content audit – understanding where content is going to be placed. It needs to filter through to the information architecture stage, ensuring that the structure is correct around the content and search strategy.  And on the back of that it should fall into design and build in a way that's fairly straightforward. You're then at the point where you've got the right foundations for search."

Dealing with data

Though the focus is inevitably on the launch of any campaign, when it comes to looking at data, this is the beginning rather than the end of the story. 

"The brands that we see doing best in digital are the ones who understand their data best," says Wells. In the past this meant relying on disparate methods of analysis. "Now, with newer platforms and technology – Sitecore for example  - we're able to work with customers, look at the data, look at the audience and actually prescribe the user-journey we want people to go down as we engage with them. That strategy can be put in place right at the beginning of the project and be constantly checked and progressed throughout."

While agility and flexibility are key, Wells acknowledges that the speed with which digital technology moves means specific strategies must themselves remain fluid. What works this year may need revising next. But remaining nimble, adaptable and open to change is a surefire way for brands to protect – and see measurable returns on – the investments they make in digital.

Best Practice in Practice – 10 Tips For Design & Build

  • Choose you partner agency on who they are – as people!
  • Get the background on senior figureheads leading all key roles within the agency
  • Ask about their internal project management processes and methodology, status updates and meetings
  • Ensure you know your SLA, response times, maintenance and support retainers
  • Ensure you know how they and you will measure the ongoing success of the project
  • Ensure you have portability
  • Ensure you have performance
  • Ensure you have scalability
  • Ensure you have targeted content
  • Ensure you have data and information


21 Dec 2010

EPiServer have now released their second generation CMS, it’s fully integrated with EPiServer CMS 6 and EPiServer OnlineCenter and includes increased functionality to answer the needs of the market by following up the visitors’ behaviour with data and statistics.

EPiServer CMO is the perfect tool where you receive an instant answer on how your campaigns are performing and which landing pages are delivering the best results. You do not need any technical skills and can easily test and analyse the results yourself. It has never been easier to measure your web presence.

EPiServer CMO allows marketers to test and measure the result of any online campaigns. The campaign can be adapted in real-time to ensure that the desired return of investment is achieved. With EPiServer CMO you can easily measure and monitor online campaigns and optimise your landing pages.

The latest version, EPiServer CMO 2.0, not only has more user-friendly user interface and is more robust, but also includes improvements in user experience through increased responsiveness in the user interface. EPiServer CMO is one of the most requested add-on products for EPiServer CMS based.


The key features of EPiServer CMO are:

  • Campaign management, analysis and statistics
  • Budget and measurement of your online activities
  • Live and real-time visibility of your web visitors
  • Real-time measurement of activities through KPI’s
  • Monitoring of the conversion rate against predefined goals
  • Easy export of statistics and test data
30 Apr 2010

Answer: Yes! HTML5 is going to form the foundations of most websites within a few years, and most modern browsers including FireFox, Chrome, Safari and Opera already support it. Here is a cool demo of just some of what can be achieved without any plugins.

Previously visualization like this which play music, displays smooth animations, and hooks straight into Twitter, would've been something you'd have to build in Flash or Silverlight, requiring developers to know multiple languages, and viewers to download weighty plugins. Now it's possible to pull this off using just HTML5, which includes support for video and audio embedding, a canvas for scriptable animations and all kinds of other rich content that'll make current HTML based webpages look weak and bland in comparison.

Big names like YouTube are already looking at ditching their Flash player in preference of a full HTML5 offering, it's also fueling the fire heating up between Apple and Adobe over Flash on the iPhone. The latest models of the iPhone coming out will heavily feature HTML5, offering some great features for advertisers that you can check out here.

So grab the latest build of your favourite browser and have a look at what it can do. You'll be seeing a lot more of this before too long, so if your newest gadget's software supports it, consider it a worthwhile feature.

30 Apr 2010

With the release this week of The Official Charts website which is hosted on our Wickedweb CMS platform it's a good time to look at some of the CMS features that make it possible.

The Official Charts website is a busy site throughout the week but with the chart release at 7pm on Sunday we also have to serve an incredible peak of traffic.

One of my central design goals for the Wickedweb CMS was speed under load. Under load the weak point in any content management system is normally the database. Whilst it is reasonably straight forward to increase your ability to serve http requests just by adding hardware it is a lot harder to increase your ability to serve database requests in the same way.

A normal content managed page will contain a number of modifiable content areas, a number of modifiable menu structures and possibly some custom elements (for example the chart listings on The Official Charts site). A naive CMS implementation would fetch each item from the database and render them into the page on every page view. The Wickedweb CMS avoids this by integrating caching at every level. What this means is that we only have to fetch and render content once for any change. Even on page elements that change at the level of seconds this can be a big win for a busy site. If you are serving 50 pages a second and have content that changes once a second you will still be reducing the load for this element from 50 database calls per second to 1 per second. By integrating the caching at every level from individual database rows, to module page components up to entire pages we are able to not only reduce database load but also the work done for each page load. This means many more pages per second can be served by the same hardware.

Another way of reducing your server load is to move static content off of the server and onto a content delivery network (CDN). Using a CDN not only means freeing up your server to serve more dynamic content but also moves the static content nearer to your customers, improving their page load times. The Wickedweb CMS integrates CDN hosting seamlessly, you upload content to the CMS as if it was stored locally and the CMS publishes to the CDN for you.

It should go without saying that a quality hosting platform is essential to a quality CMS driven site, however many people are attracted to the low prices of bulk shared hosting providers. It is a false economy as your site will be at the mercy of the hundreds of other sites on the same server. This can mean not only a bad customer experience but also poor search engine ranking.

For the Wickedweb CMS we have partnered with leading managed hosting provider Rackspace who provide a powerful, highly reliable, secure hosting platform for our CMS. By serving the CMS on hardware dedicated only to that purpose we are in control of all the elements that affect performance from the server configuration, the code and the maximum load. Depending on the demands of your website the Wickedweb CMS is able to scale from shared hosting, to a dedicated server or multi-server solution.

31 Mar 2010

Under the hood

by Robert King / Make a Comment

PHP 5.2.13 was released last month and right at the top of the security fixes for this release was "Improved LCG entropy. (Rasmus, Samy Kamkar)". This rather brief note caught my eye so I thought I would take a look under the hood to see what had changed.

LCG stands for Linear Congruential Generator, which is basically an algorithm for generating pseudorandom numbers. PHP uses the LCG algorithm in a few places, the most obvious being the lcg_value() function. It is also used in the uniqid() function if you pass a value of true as the second parameter.

The code for the LCG is located in ext/standard/lcg.c within the PHP source. From the PHP version control we can see the changes have been made to the lcg_seed() function, this is the 5.2.12 code:

static void lcg_seed(TSRMLS_D)
	struct timeval tv;

	if (gettimeofday(&tv, NULL) == 0) {
		LCG(s1) = tv.tv_sec ^ (~tv.tv_usec);
	} else {
		LCG(s1) = 1;
#ifdef ZTS
	LCG(s2) = (long) tsrm_thread_id();
	LCG(s2) = (long) getpid();

	LCG(seeded) = 1;

As you can see the PHP LCG is actually a combination of two LCG's which are being seeded in different ways. In version 5.2.13 the code is now (I have highlighted the changes):

static void lcg_seed(TSRMLS_D)
	struct timeval tv;

	if (gettimeofday(&tv, NULL) == 0) {
		LCG(s1) = tv.tv_sec ^ (tv.tv_usec<<11);
	} else {
		LCG(s1) = 1;
#ifdef ZTS
	LCG(s2) = (long) tsrm_thread_id();
	LCG(s2) = (long) getpid();

	/* Add entropy to s2 by calling gettimeofday() again */
	if (gettimeofday(&tv, NULL) == 0) {
		LCG(s2) ^= (tv.tv_usec<<11);

	LCG(seeded) = 1;

So the seeding of both LCG's has been changed, but how has this improved the entropy? Previously the second LCG was just being seeded with getpid(), which returns the process id of the PHP process ( which if your running mod_php will be the Apache process ). If you lookup the PHP equivalent function getmypid() you will see an interesting warning in the notes: "Process IDs are not unique, thus they are a weak entropy source. We recommend against relying on pids in security-dependent contexts." Indeed in the most common Apache configurations repeat calls to a script in a short period will return the same process id. To improve the seeding of this LCG then the current microsecond value from gettimeofday has been or'ed in. Why shift the microsecond value left 11 places ? The maximum value of microseconds is 999999 which is 0xF423F, shifted we get 0x7A11F800. So shifting 11 places just fits the microsecond value into 31 bits. The process id from getpid() will typically be up to 0xFFFF so combined in this way they make a seed with a greater range. Lets see what values we get if we write an equivalent PHP script to compare the old and new seed values:

$old = getmypid();
$tv = gettimeofday();
$new = getmypid() ^ ($tv['usec']<<11);
echo "Old value: $old
"; echo "New value: $new

Reloading this script with a couple of seconds between I see:

Old value: 14025
New value: 1644429001

Old value: 14025
New value: 2031015625

Old value: 14025
New value: 1393229513

There is clearly, with this change, considerably less chance of seeding the same value to the second LCG and thereby having it generate the same pseudorandom sequence on each run, i.e. improved LCG entropy.

25 Nov 2008

Wickedweb are getting festive early this year, and are already wearing Santa hats! Ok, we're not quite yet, but we have added them to the Rainforest Foundations UK's virtual rainforest application - check out the festive elephant, parrot and swinging monkey! Buy a virtual acre as a Christmas gift for someone special, and you can personalize it with a Crimbo message, adding the funky festive characters... have you ever seen a tiger looking so good in a Santa hat before?

Wickedweb were recommended to the Rainforest Foundation UK and will be developing the Virtual Rainforest with the aim of increasing user interaction with the web application, and driving online donations. There are a number of additional features that will be added over the coming months, and new functionality that focuses on usability and social media networking too... watch this space...

23 May 2008

With a reputation for absolute clarity, there was only one creative digital agency the world's largest vehicle glass repair and replacement company could come to.

Belron, parent company to Autoglass, approached us to help improve its current online ordering platform through web application development, and to offer an enhanced user experience when navigating through the purchase process.

But we don't want to give away too much yet - find out how we helped here.

Contact us to discuss your digital requirements
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