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The Brain Upgrade Initiative

May 6, 2002

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I might be called CodeBitch, but I try really, really hard not to mock individuals or individual sites. It’s not nice, and my parents always brought me up to be nice. And anyway, it’s too easy. I directed a serve at a few HTML tutorial sites about eighteen months ago, and at SlashCode more recently. Too many people still don’t get it.

So I’m not going to name the Web design site that had this in its draft “standards-friendly” page:

<div class="message"> <font color="#666666"><h2>DELETED is proud to support The WaSP Browser Upgrade initiative.</h2> Our site has been redesigned to take full advantage of Current Web Standards. The browser you are currently using does not meet the WC3 standards of HTML 4.01, CSS-1 or ECMA Script.<br><a href="http://www.webstandards.org/upgrade/" target="ala" title="The Web Standards Project’s BROWSER UPGRADE initiative.">Click here to upgrade</a> to a current browser that supports Web standards such as the new versions of Netscape, Internet Explorer, and Opera. <br> If you do not wish to upgrade, please enjoy the DELETED content without the formatting.<br> Thanks, The DELETED Team.</font> </div>

Well, kids, if you’re so enamoured of Web standards, how about doing properly nested markup? When I ran this page, and the front page of the site, through the validator, neither of them were anywhere near valid, and incorrect nesting was one of the many problems. Even the upgrade message isn’t valid: FONT is an inline element that can’t contain block elements like H2.

What’s worse is the way I found out about this page, since it wasn’t really live at the time I saw it: I found it in a Google search, and this very text was the text that came up in the summary. (I think I was doing some search about Opera support for ECMAScript at the time.)

The Browser Upgrade Initiative, as I’ve said in the past, is a perfectly fine idea. There are also legitimate objections to it. However, all the good it can do will be undone if people use it in this self-defeating, user-unfriendly way.

So I’m declaring a Brain Upgrade Initiative: a campaign against improperly nested markup, inappropriate markup without semantic content, and tables nested more than three deep. Send me your clever banner ads and slogans and we’ll start distributing the meme around all the usual suspect blogs.

Support the Brain Upgrade Initiative!

Send us your art! Dazzle us with your witticisms! We’ll display the best of the bunch next column.

Making the Web safe for non-humans

While we are on the subject of inappropriate use of the Browser Upgrade Initiative warning message: Have any of the people who use it given some thought to how their sites will be indexed by search engines? Apparently not.

Have a look at some of the sites here: "This site will look a lot better in a browser that supports standards". Many of them aren’t even about Web standards, but you will still get some of them in a search about "browsers that support standards", supposing you were looking for information about such things instead of reading my column. (And don’t think people wouldn’t use the quote marks around the search terms to get better search results.)

Now obviously, search engines will present summaries that are relevant to the query you input, so if these sites come up in the results of some other search, it won’t be so bad. Same with this search: "This page uses frames". However, failure to serve up content appropriate to search engines can still be a problem. Take this completely unrelated search: "Preventing elder abuse"+"signs of elder abuse" When I did this search last (April 9, 2002), the third site to come up was Alzheimer’s Association. But the first hit was the printer-friendly page, and the second hit was a page with the page title “This page uses frames”, and then a more relevant summary underneath. Which link is the average user going to click on? The printer-friendly one, of course. Do you think that’s what the designer wanted? And if the user clicks on the other link, there’s no frame, just the article on its own outside of the frameset.

Now, I certainly don’t want to bucket a charitable organisation that probably has better things to spend its money on than hotshot Web designers. But somebody constructed that Web site. Where was their pride in doing good work? Failing that, where was their foresight?

Doing well by doing good

So here’s another part of my Brain Upgrade Initiative: A suggestion to out-of-work Web designers – why not keep your skills sharp by volunteering to redesign some tag-soup pages for charities and other non-profits? Practicing on your blog is all very well, but there are only so many blogs a girl can read. You won’t be putting anyone out of a job either, since many non-profits wouldn’t want to pay for a professional redesign if they already have a Web site. Non-profits are also likely to be more interested in accessibility and conformance with legislation like the US’s Section 508, and less interested in fixed-pixel complex layouts that look the same in every browser.

If you are a relatively low-traffic site or one that is updated frequently, search engine spiders will account for a big share of your traffic. And if you are a popular site with lots of links in from other sites, search engine results will account for a lot of your hits (some of them quite amusing!). Supporting Web standards, accessibility, usability: These are all about making things good for both human and non-human viewers of your content, and about caring about how all the different humans interested in your content can access it. By all means use frames, or support the Browser Upgrade Initiative, but do so with some thought and care.

Think of it as your Brain Upgrade Initiative.

— CodeBitch (codebitch@macedition.com) is the grumpy cow who does the HTML production for MacEdition. Read other articles by CodeBitch

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