Coding with Jesse

Review: dict.cc

April 20th, 2006

As a Canadian living in Berlin, I'm constantly learning German, and the best resource is a good dictionary. Paul Hemetsberger's dict.cc is not only the best online English-German dictionary I've found, it's one of the best examples of how an online resource should act. Even if you have no interest in learning German, it's worth having a look just to see what makes a great site.

This site is optimized for people who will be using it regularly. You can click on 'Remove Ads' which will hide all the ads until you close the browser. You can also click on some section titles to hide the sections you don't need, which cleans up the interface, and these preferences are remembered using cookies.

There are simple features that make the site even easier. Alt+S will put the cursor into the search box, which is very handy when you need to do multiple searches. You can simply enter the URL dict.cc/word to automatically search a word (I wish Google would do this!). There is even a slimmed down "pocket" version at pocket.dict.cc, which has become the only web site I actually use on my cell phone.

Everything in the results is clickable. You can click on a single word to look up that word, double-click a table cell to look up the whole phrase, or click on a drop-down menu beside each result to reveal a number of options. You can hear a spoken sample of the word or phrase, which doesn't launch a popup or make you save an mp3 - it just plays instantly using Flash. There are also links to the word in the other popular online dictionaries, in case you aren't satisfied with the results or want more details.

Although some of the extra features require JavaScript, JavaScript isn't required to use the site. The JavaScript is completely unobtrusive - even the Flash is added to the page using JavaScript.

The site is built on contributions from users. This means that the dictionary is as up-to-date and complete as possible. For me, this is very important - I want as many alternative translations as possible to understand the different ways German words can be used. Anyone can suggest a translation or correct an existing translation, and all changes go through user-based moderation. And since the data is user-contributed, the author Paul doesn't claim ownership to the word list. It is available for download as a text file.

There are tons of other cool little features all over the site, too many to go into here. You'll have to play around with it yourself.

There is very little I would do to improve the site. Well, the HTML and CSS don't validate. And it would be better if there was a way to access the extra functionality (like the voice output) without JavaScript. But from a usability and functionality standpoint, it's totally perfect. Thanks, Paul!


Review: Working at Home on the Internet

March 24th, 2006

Joseph Hauckes from the Working at Home on the Internet blog has asked me to review his other site, the Working at Home on the Internet Web Page. I've been reading his blog since the beginning, and it's become one of the few blogs I read daily. He posts very regularly every day (he's only missed one day in the past six months), and it's a pleasure to watch his story evolve over time. I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Usability

The website is a collection of resources and advice for people starting their own Internet-based businesses. At first, the site looks like a blog. It takes some time to find the resources pages including Scams, Forums and Blogging Services. The links to these pages blend in to the side of the site. The site could use some clear navigation, ideally at the top of the page. This would help make the site easier to use and explore.

Design

The design is nothing spectacular, but it doesn't distract from the content either. On the homepage, the left navigation takes up most of my screen, and I have to scroll to the right to read the content. The rest of the pages don't have this problem, but it's the first impression that counts.

Web Technologies

This site was designed and built using Microsoft Frontpage. As a result, the HTML doesn't come close to validating. There's scattered inline CSS and even font tags. It's just not easy to produce valid code with WYSIWYG tools without being strong in HTML and CSS. I hear Microsoft's new HTML editor Expression is supposed to help with this.

Summary

The most important thing about any website is its content. However, it's important to make sure this information is easy to find. Joe's site may not win design awards, but it has a number of great articles to help people getting started with their own sites, and that's what counts.


Website Reviews

March 24th, 2006

I'm going to start doing the occasional Website Review. Consider yourself warned. I figure it's worth taking a look at the good and bad parts of other sites so we can all learn from their successes and mistakes.

I'll mostly be focusing on design and usability, usage of web technologies (ie. HTML, JavaScript and CSS) and whatever else strikes me as interesting and unique.

If you have a site you'd like me to review, let me know.