An Easier Approach to 360 degree photography

We’ve picked up a new toy at the office recently: the LG 360 Cam. It allows you to take those cool 360 degree photos you can swivel around with using your phone’s gyroscope or a pair of “VR” goggles you stick your phone into.

This review on CNET covers just about everything you need to know:

The LG 360 Cam is an easy-to-use and comparatively inexpensive 360-degree point-and-shoot camera. It’s compact and its clever case doubles as a handgrip. Its mobile app lets you preview and review your shots as well as control the camera. You can shoot with just one lens at a time for non-360-degree images.

For most people, the only way to take these kinds of photos is to whip out your phone, install an app, and slowly stitch together multiple photos into one big one (with a little algorithm magic) in the hopes it all comes together. Not so with this LG, which features a stupidly simple solution to the issue—it stuck two very wiiiiiiiiiiide cameras on each side, put a button on the front, and called it a day. This no frills approach is extremely successful, there are few things to screw up—you shoot once (or twice for safety!) and you’re done. You can control the camera with an app on your phone, so you can leave the room before you shoot your photo.

We think the best part about this is the price. On a good day you can pick one of these up for less than $100. Photography is a notoriously expensive hobby, but this isn’t an example of that.

So why are we talking about this on a site about the web?

Well, there’s a reason! We were approached by someone recently to shoot photos for their house which they intend to sell on their own. It seemed like a great opportunity to break out the new camera and embed some 360 photos in the ad.

Combine this with some Google Cardboard or one of those plastic headsets, and you almost don’t even need an open house. Almost.

Disclaimer: No one paid us to say any of this, we just enjoy geeking out about cameras every once in a while. The links in the article are affiliated, however. So if you decide to buy, you’d be doing us a solid.

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How to measure site load times (and how to make them shorter)

How quickly your web page loads is important. Actually, a site which loads quickly could be the most important thing in deciding whether or not a customer decides to buy. From Google (“Why Marketers Should Care About Mobile Page Speed“):

Consider this: Mobile sites lag behind desktop sites in key engagement metrics such as average time on site, pages per visit, and bounce rate. For retailers, this can be especially costly since 30% of all online shopping purchases now happen on mobile phones. The average U.S. retail mobile site loaded in 6.9 seconds in July 2016, but, according to the most recent data, 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. And 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with site performance say they’re less likely to purchase from the same site again.

You could have invested in a great looking responsive layout for your site, but if the thing takes 10 seconds to load, people are already back on the search engine looking for something else.

It is understandable, then, that we have a lot of people who come to us concerned about how quickly (or not) their site is loading. Some will point out how slowly it loads on their machine. Some will show us scores generated from Google’s own “PageSpeed Tool,” which issues a score out of 100 on a variety of factors, the idea being that we can make that number higher as proof that the site is quicker.

A couple things with this:

  • Performance on your computer/phone/potato on your internet connection will not be a great indicator of site performance for other people. A old computer and/or slower internet connection could give you a false impression compared to those closer to an average speed. It’s better to use a third-party tool which will likely give you much more stable data to work with.
  • Google’s a smart group of folks, no doubt about it, but their PageSpeed tool leaves something to be desired. This article from GlückPress, “F*** Pagespeed” proves it’s possible to have a lightning-fast website completely loaded in half a second which also scores poorly on Google’s tool.

The above article gives a pretty good list of guidelines for judging if your site is loading quick enough. Here’s the skinny:

  • Go to Pingdom Tools.
  • Enter the URL of your front page.
  • Pick—this is important!—a location nearest to your most likely audience for “Test from”.
  • Run the test.
    Then run it again, from the same location.
    And again.
  • Look at the load time.
    Don’t look at the “Performance grade”, it’s generated via PageSpeed’s API, screw it.
    Look at load time only for now.

Easy right? We went ahead and ran a couple of our sites through:

PageSpeed Score

How Fast it Really Is

Great. We’re under the dreaded 3 second mark Google warned us about. With a bit of wiggle room even. Our new website for The Next Wave even comes close to getting under a second—it occasionally does when the test is repeated.

‘My site is slow even with this, what can I do to speed it up?’

A truly quick site that will stay quick is one which is designed from the beginning to be quick. This means it utilizes few images (this is also very helpful for responsiveness!). It minimizes the amount of scripts and plugins it needs (beware of premium themes which require a lot of plugins to function like it does in the demo). The Next Wave’s site, for instance, gets most of its visual flair from CSS and a single JavaScript file.

Some sites are image-heavy, however. Websitetology currently uses quite a few images in its design, so we’ve used a few tools to reduce the loadtimes, which I’ll outline below:

WP Super Cache (Free)

Caching is one of the two biggest things you can do to speed things up. We currently leverage WP Super Cache (find it in your “add new plugin” area in the dashboard) to take our dynamically generated pages and turn them into straight HTML. This means when someone visits the site, the server doesn’t need to grab information from the database every time to load, it simply grabs a saved completed version of the page.

CloudFlare CDN (Free w/ paid upgrades)

You could probably write an entire book about the benefits CloudFlare provides for a website host. It saves parts of your website (or if you’re clever, the entire thing) to its servers around the world, speeding things up considerably. It protects your website from hackers and cyberattacks. They can even give you a free SSL certificate for HTTPS browsing. It can be a little tricky to set up since you’ll need to change your domain to point to CloudFlare, and then back to your server, but if you aren’t already on CloudFlare or something like it, stop reading this and do it now.

WP Smush (Free w/ paid premium version)

This is the other big thing for making your site as fast as it can be. You’ve gotta get your image sizes down. For the most part I try to keep embedded images below 100kb, and limit images above 100kb to only 1 or 2 per page, if that. Sometimes you can achieve these file sizes without changing much to the image itself. WP Smush from the folks at WPMU DEV will automatically compress your images down with no visible decrease in image quality. The premium version supports further features like converting PNGs to JPEGs (a huge improvement if you aren’t using transparency in your images) and a “super smush” which does a second compression pass with a barely-if-at-all noticeable decrease in image quality. The premium version is definitely worth it.

CSS and Script Minification with Hummingbird (Premium plugin only)

Okay, things are getting a little deep here, we understand, but if you’re still struggling with site loads you may need to go down this rabbit hole. Hummingbird is another plugin from WPMU DEV which, well, takes care of all the loose threads related to site load speed. Most notably it “minifies” your CSS and Javascript files. The easiest way to explain it is this: it combines all those little files into one or a few and removes all the unnecessary spaces and line breaks in the code. That means it isn’t very easy for a person to read the code, but as this great scene in Silicon Valley puts it best: the machine reads it all the same anyways.

Still slow? Don’t throw your computer, we can walk you through it. Check out our monthly seminar.

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WordPress isn’t going anywhere in 2016

Our completely committed endorsement of WordPress is no secret, you’ll hear from us on this website and in our seminar that WordPress is the best content management system for a business owner building their site. It’s at home with techies just as much as it’s easy to use for people who have a casual relationship with the web.

However, this doesn’t mean we live in a vacuum; we keep an open mind to new and other currently existing web technologies, as well. If something even better than WordPress were to appear that made website creation and maintenance easy while keeping up with tech trends and searchability, we’d try to be the first to tell anyone about it. To this end, we continue to keep up our knowledge with other content management systems like Joomla and Drupal, among others. The rest of the web has generally trended towards what makes sense, too, which is why WordPress makes up nearly half of all websites. Take a look at the following stats we gleaned from BuiltWith:

Trends-wordpress-2014-2016

With 2016 getting started, it doesn’t look like we’re in any rush to change our 10 years of web content: WordPress is here to stay. Better yet, usage is increasing. As for the other big players—Joomla and Drupal—they’ve continued on a downward trend which has been going on for years  (all 3 experienced a sharp increase in one month in 2015, likely a change in measurements).

Trends-joomla-2014-2016

Trends-drupal-2014-2016

Keep in mind that in these charts, WordPress is measured on a completely different scale than the other two, ten times larger in fact.

Going with the consensus is often a good thing in terms of tech adoption. In this instance, large scale adoption means more robust support, a much larger pool of plugins and themes to choose from, and much lower likelihood that your website will become obsolete anytime soon and require a complete rebuild from the ground up. How many sites do you still see built on Flash in 2016? Also consider that the site you’re reading right now has existed on WordPress more or less in the same state for over 10 years now. A website that has to be continually rebuilt from scratch is oftentimes treated as a completely new website in the eyes of Google’s indexing bots. Crawling through a website built on WordPress is like cutting open a tree and counting the rings inside: a more detailed history than you’d ever need.

 

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