'Unsafe At Any Speed' - Does That Describe Your Website? - Annex
This document is an explanatory document giving the "footnotes" that expand on the issues raised in Newsletter 39. It is designed to be "dipped into" from the Newsletter via a series of Bookmarks and it is possible to close the viewing window after each of the footnotes. If you wish to print out the full document, use <CONTROL>P or your browser Print function to do so.
Hidden Defect #1. Loading Speed
Many website designers working with high speed cable connections and fast computers forget that some of the audience may be working with dial-up connections. Even if a target viewer has a high speed connection in his office, he or she may check out the website from their home computer with a dial-up connection. Some regions may not have access to high speed connections. So for some years to come, it should be standard that web pages are ideally no bigger than say 30 kilobytes including images. This may still mean that a dial-up connection may take in practice 2 or 3 seconds, but this is tolerable, even if not desirable.
Hidden Defect #2. Cross-browser compatibility
Many website designers create websites that look attractive using the latest version of Internet Explorer. Unless they use programming code that is in conformance with standards, this website may appear very different using other browsers or even older versions of Internet Explorer. Recent data for the SMM website shows 69% of visitors using recent versions of Internet Explorer, 13% using older versions of Internet Explorer and 18% using other browsers. It is possible that some of the more interesting visitors may well be using browsers other than Internet Explorer.
Hidden Defect #3. Frames
The use of Frames is an older technology that carries with it a number of serious disadvantages. It is used by website designers because they know the technique and they may believe it simplifies the design process. However the same functionality can be obtained using layers with little more effort. This avoids the problems associated with Frames, such as not being Search Engine friendly, not being Printer friendly and preventing human visitors from saving bookmarks.
Hidden Defect #4. Not Search-Engine Friendly - Over-use of Images
The typical HTML web page with text suffers from the disadvantage that different viewers may see it differently depending on their browser settings. A website which is mostly images will likely appear the same to most viewers. Of course, with images it is also possible to present much more complex ideas as well. The big down-side of the extensive use of images is that search engines can only deal with text and see very little in such pages. Search engines will likely not rate such web pages highly in searches for keywords.
Hidden Defect #5. Resolution
As higher resolution monitors are more popular, some website designers suggest that lower resolutions such as 800 pixels x 600 pixels can be forgotten. This is far from the case. Currently close to half of any audience may still be using 800 x 600 resolution. Some do it even though their monitors are capable of higher resolution, since they prefer the larger images. Even those using higher resolutions may have a number of toolbars and taskbars in operation thus reducing the usable size of screen. It is most important that such viewers who prefer a 800 x 600 resolution image are not frustrated by images that are too large for their screens.
Hidden Defect #6. Navigation (Usability)
Some websites look almost zen-like in their inscrutability. There is no obvious way to get away from the initial web page. The only solution is to move the cursor around the screen until it turns into a hand and then click to move. This is an extremely bad example of Usability. Usability aims to provide clear and obvious ways of navigating around a website and finding the information that is needed. Not all website visitors are computer-adept and may find even the simplest tasks of navigation baffling.
Hidden Defect #7. Credibility - Poor language, Typos
A critical attribute of any website is that it instills a feeling of confidence in those who visit the website. Credibility can only be maintained if the website shows high quality and reliable functioning. Spelling and grammar should be impeccable. There should be no Pages Under Construction. There should be no links that do not work. Some of these issues should be very apparent. Others only become apparent as someone moves around the website intensively, just as an interested potential customer might. It is most important not to lose potential customers who have found the website by undermining any trust in the company that they may be developing.
Hidden Defect #8. Flash-y, Sound
Website designers often love to show their prowess by successfully employing the latest Flash techniques, sometimes including background sounds. Unfortunately not all computers have all the necessary software installed so a download is required. Even if they do, website visitors may not appreciate all this glitz. Sound may go down very poorly in an open office. The only safe way to ensure that the maximum proportion of website visitors stay with the site is to be very judicious in the use of these techniques. Another strike against Flash is that search engines may have a real problem in seeing the content of such web pages.
Hidden Defect #9. Using PDF files (Documents requiring Adobe Acrobat)
This is a very pervasive problem. It is very appealing to reproduce documents exactly as they were conceived and only PDF files can do this. It is also more difficult for viewers to steal part of the content and use it within their own documents. Unfortunately the serious disadvantages outweigh these minor advantages. A PDF web page is often a one-way exit from the website. It may be difficult for the less experienced computer users to work out how to return to the previous web page. Since the Adobe Acrobat reader must also be loaded before the document appears, some viewers may find this irritating. There are few websites that have mastered the problems of using PDF documents so as to have high Usability. The best advice is to avoid using the PDF files.
Hidden Defect #10. Accessibility
Accessibility is the process of ensuring that those with visual or other handicaps can effectively navigate a website and get the information they want. This will become an increasing problem as legislation is brought in to force websites to be in compliance with accessibility principles. Europe is possibly farther ahead in these matters than North America. The Web's leading standards group, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been promoting Web accessibility since 1997, when it launched its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Since then, the group has periodically put forward voluntary accessibility guidelines and recommendations for software makers and Web publishers.
Copyright 2004 Barry Welford, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Added to site 29 April 2004
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