PayPal IPN service outage

PayPal IPN

At around 00:00 on Saturday 15 July, PayPal’s Instant Payment Notification service suffered an unusual outage.  Retail websites around the world reported difficulty processing the response from transactions.

While PayPal’s transaction processing was unaffected, the call-back response failed to materialise for the IPN listener script.  Normal service resumed at around 21:00 on Saturday evening but not before numerous developers spent their weekend questioning code that wasn’t broken.

Google search for IPN problems
A quick Google search reveals other sites experiencing IPN problems

Do customers like you? Can visitors trust you?

The writing is on the wall when it comes to credibility and the online retailer.

Search for the following ‘how much does customer review influence buying online?‘  You’ll find article after article, explaining the emerging trend for visitors using reviews to gauge product appeal and retailer credibility.

A client told me that Feefo recommended he put his stellar 100% customer satisfaction (from 22 reviews at time of writing) somewhere prominent on his site, because it would instill confidence and trust.  Review platforms like Feefo and TrustPilot are holding sway in the online retail game like never before.  Reaching 50 positive reviews from Feefo for instance, automatically attaches a star-rating to your site’s Google’s search result.  This inevitably helps you stand out, attract more traffic and thus more sales.

Prominently displaying authentic customer testimonials is a good place to start.  Integration of review platforms becomes a more technical endeavour, but sites like the ones mentioned will have made integration as painless as possible.

Screenshot of customer testimonials for Damian Harris Cycles
Customer testimonials displayed on the Homepage


Full screen (background) video.

The brief: add a video background to the banner section on a Home page.

My first attempt used the good ol’ HTML5 <video> tag.  It worked a treat, on Chrome.  Nowhere else did this treat work.

HTML5 video is a wonderful thing, when embedding a play/window into a web-page.  Cross-platform issues are few and manageable.

Want to make the player window responsive?  Chris Coyier and Paravel have developed fitvid.js.  The scripts work like a charm on all platforms and across all mainstream browsers.

Need to see the video appear behind your page content?  George Paterson’s JQuery Background Video plugin takes the crown.  Its light-weight and works well across platforms, especially iPhone/iPad.

BigVideo is a stand-out choice, but it struggles on Apple’s mobile devices.  Two fantastic demonstrations and tutorials for integrating BigVideo are on GitHub ( and Tympanus (

My implementation for this client uses the ‘Paterson’ JQuery.

Despite GP’s brilliant code however, insurmountable problems with layout & aesthetics for this Homepage meant reverting to standard a rotating banner on touch devices.

Millions of quality images set free, by Getty Images

Photo by Uri Schanker/WireImage

I recently briefed a client at length, about the risks of filling their news and features pages with images grabbed from across the web.

“To be clear, you are in breach of copyright when you use any image that you don’t own, haven’t licensed or created” – is how these conversations always start.  Whether you’re caught is another matter, for a range of reasons.

i) How many hits does your site actually get per day?  ii) How many are on the page(s) containing ‘dodgy’ images?  iii) How much exposure does the contraband material actually get?  The chances of the right/wrong person recognising unlicensed material and then issuing legal proceedings, can be vanishingly small.

The temptation: swipe an image picture here and a photo there; paste it into the article; published and be damned.  The risk: the copyright-holder recognises the image as theirs; fires a hefty invoice at the culprit; backs it with the threat of legal action.

A good job then, that Getty Images have made the bold and brilliant step of freeing up 35 million images.

You can find the image directory via this link,


Sport helps

I’ve often noticed parallels between things that help me in sport & training and things that help me work.  Even though these analogies reinforce some common sense ideas, I don’t implement them as often as I’d like.

  • Communication is like breathing, it’s essential to every move but has to be regulated. Overdoing it, will slow you down.
  • A disciplined routine and technique, is more effective than shear strength and brute force. The latter may be useful from time-to-time. The former requires focus and concentration and cultivates stable operation and performance.
  • Honing an effective routine requires slow and careful practise.
  • Visualise what you’re planning to achieve and actions will bend towards goals.
  • Start small and ease into the work, then gradually build up momentum and pace.
  • You are more likely to reach the target if you expect it of yourself in the first place.
  • Recognise limits: intensity is great in the right quantities. Too much and too hard for too long, will do damage.
  • Rest and recover at regular intervals, obviously.

When good clients won’t take good advice.

Our clients are constantly balancing choices.  Cost versus potential return; jump on the bandwagon or not; take a chance on a niche or sell out.

By making informed decisions or educated guesses to steer the business as best they can, they manage costs and keep their company ticking over.

But there are those times where they’re plain out of their depth and need specialist advice and the dialogue may go something like this.

Client: “How do we improve this {insert problem here} ?”
Developer: “Maybe use this {tried and tested solution} ?”

Days pass.

Developer: “How’s that solution coming along?”
Client: “Oh we haven’t started anything yet, but we will soon.  I really want {problem situation} to improve.”

Weeks pass.

Developer: “What’s the latest on {strategy to solve major problem} ?”
Client: “Ah we haven’t had time to put anything in place yet, but we will.”

You get the idea.

Take a step back and it’s clear the developer’s first response should be along the lines of “How much (or how badly) do you want to solve this problem?”

As a developer with an often rampant desire to solve every issue my clients raise, I’m usually guilty of regarding every problem as having the utmost importance.  Lives depend on finding a solution, kind of thing.  Galloping off to implement improvements without first verifying with the client the extent to which they really need it fixed, is an easy mistake for a geek to make.

Turns out that when the client isn’t taking that good advice, they’re exaggerating the problem or it’s not such a high a priority as they’re making out.

Weapons of mass production

Adaptive layout arrangement

Adaptive layout arrangement

I’m guilty of overlooking technologies, trends and practices because I’ve been too busy.  I worry about important technical advancements passing me by and I neglect to explore those shiny new ideas that ricochet around blogs and technology sites, like the latest weapons of mass production.

There is a reason for this.  I have work to do, lots of it and it can be done using tried and tested methods.  Only – now and again – I’ll wonder whether there is another way? Is there a different approach?  Is there something purpose built that solves my problem?

As much as the next man I need to strike a balance between working, learning and having a life.  Although I’ve put the latter on hold until spring 2014.  But when the pressure is on to get things done, when there is no need for research & development, learning takes a back seat.

Lately, I’m starting to research adaptive layouts and mobile site design for new client projects.  It’s classic learning ‘on the job’, instead of priming myself for the moment when I’ll use adaptive layouts.

Being too busy to brush up on new techniques feels like a high-class problem.  But not doing so is storing up problems.  Not like I aspire to be Jack O’All-trades or anything, it’s just hard to know what you need to know.