December 18, 2012

Another year, another team

The last few days at work in 2012 held another surprise for us. Well, more for the other members of my team because I got the informations a few days in advance. Because of the current project situation it was no longer possible to keep our team together in its current structure.

We all knew that sooner or later one of our colleagues would leave the team and also start supporting other teams as Scrum Master as he has expressed his wishes and goals already some time in the past. Something similar applied to me (just not that openly) as I always communicated to my department leaders that if there is a project or team with the requirement of a Scrum Master who has also a proper technical background in development and there is no other possibility they could get back on me as a last resort. What only I knew in advance was that there were already restructuring plans emerging as the project situation could no longer afford our current team in its entirety. The large project we were working on ends with 2012 and will be continued (with a certain probability) earliest in February. And there are no other short-term projects available which could carry our team in the meantime. Furthermore other teams were also in need of new Scrum Masters and that was the the tipping point why not only my colleague is leaving my current team but also I have to leave it to support another team.

The current team is left with two full time members, one part time member and one member on unpaid leave until March. It has been decided that it will be merged with another smaller team and its Scrum Master to work on small tickets and also the current projects of the joining team. In the end we were victims of an unclear project situation in our technological areas and a high demand for support in other areas.

It's really sad that this is the fate of our team. In the last year we became specialists in our technological areas and had a steady rise in expertise, know-how and professionality. We had to cope with several difficult situations but in the last few weeks of 2012 it became clear that we were working together very effectively and there were also no issues on a personal or communication level (which is not that common in my experience).

I hope that I'll have the chance to keep up regular chats to all of them in the future and stay in contact.

My new team will be in a comparable situation as my old team way a bit more than a year ago. They are also only a few people and in the last year they had seen five other Scrum Masters come and go. That this poses an obstacle to building and adhering to processes should be pretty clear. In 2013 they will also take over a completely new project where there is not much prior work and they can start "green-field". As this is new to most of them I had been asked to become their 6th and hopefully more permanent Scrum Master because I had similar success with my old team(s) and also can offer deeper experience in that specific area of technology (Java, J2EE, etc.).

Thank you my old team for the great ride and I wish you all the best. Welcome my new team, I will do everything what is possible to me to make our upcoming work a presentable item of excellence.

A new approach for hiding text in SEO?

Prolog: I thought a lot about making this idea publicly available as it may add another ace in the hole of SEO engineers and degrade search results, at least for a while, if it is really applicable. But in the end I decided in favour of writing it down as I think the detection of this should be not too hard for search engines and it has a very interesting technological approach which may be also useful in different applications.
To make sure, I did not test this and maybe never will as I do not want to jeopardize my search engine ranking. It may very well be that this is completely useless and non-functional but I'm not taking any risks here.
You should always consider to improve your content before trying to raise your page-rank via dubious techniques.
So, here we go:

In a discussion with a coworker today we came to the topic of font rendering on a search result page of a project we're currently working on. I don't know how we made the connection but at some time we were discussing SEO techniques.

At that time an idea arose in my mind. Everyone concerned with SEO nowadays should know that hiding text from the page visitor and just having it in the page for the search engine is evil. Every search engine should be able to detect such intentions and add a penalty to the page if such questionable tactics are detected. Such SEO techniques to make text invisible are for example:

  • text color is same as background
  • place text in a div-element and hide it
  • place text in a div-element and position it offscreen
  • place text in a div-element and place it behind other stuff
  • unrecognizable tiny font-size

All of these text-hiding approaches are in my opinion detectable by "simply" analyzing all HTML and CSS of a webpage. But what if you do not hide the text but display it? No color-tricks, no awkward positioning, no font minimizing? Search engines should not apply a penalty if you're not trying to hide text, right? There are also tricks which utilize JavaScript to hide text after it has been loaded in a browser but search engines are gearing up and are already capable of executing JavaScript on a webpage during their crawl to detect such tricks.

My idea deals with none of those tricks. What came to my mind was to utilize not the descriptive information in HTML and CSS to hide text but the graphical information required for rendering. To be able to render the text visibly but still make it invisible to the page visitor my idea was to utilize a web font which has just empty glyphs in it for each character.

The @font-face should nowadays be supported by all major browsers and allow to retrieve the font also from a custom location and font file. So to "hide" text on a webpage you have to create a custom web font where each character is included but contains an empty space for the rendering of the characters. Then add it to the CSS and declare a font-face for it. Finally style the text to use the CSS with the custom font. It should now be invisible for the average page visitor but still visible for the crawler.

If the search engine would have to detect this it would also have to download the custom font, render it and have a detection algorithm that the rendered font does not display any text. As far as my knowledge and a quick research told none of the major search engines are currently also fetching resource files like custom fonts during their crawl operations. (But I think, if this trick to hide text gains any significant spread, search engines will begin to actually do this and quickly detect and penalize blank fonts.)

Another quick search also did not reveal anything that this idea has been tried or discussed elsewhere so maybe this is really a new approach. Drawbacks to this could be that until the web-font is loaded by the browser the text may still be visible. Furthermore browsers which do not support web-fonts may also display the hidden text. But these should be neglectible.