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Sometimes I get the urge to vent a bit. Here goes...

It really annoys me to see websites that are designed in a stupid way. There are a lot of ways you can design a website and quite a few of them lead to problems that the designer didn't think about.

Designing websites isn't always easy. You need to be able to figure out all possible corner cases and prepare for them. Usually things go wrong right in the beginning. Developer picks a tool and decides that the tool is really nice and sticks with it. The thing is that the tool doesn't really make the website. It helps you to create one! A big part of creating a website is fine tuning the output of the tool.

The most common problem with web layouts is the orientation to the content. Most designers think that website should behave like a newspaper and have columns. Usually the right column has a menu and left column has ads or some other "relevant" information. The problem is that while doing this, designers usually opt for tables and images. Now, this presents us with a problem images fail to scale well and the table becomes static in width. What does the designer do? Opts for 800x600 or 1024x768 layout, depending on who they assume to be their target customers. This leads to horrible layouts, like the following.

While allowing the text to flow properly on the full window will get you some initial readability complaints, this is caused by the fact that people don't use 800x600 or even 1204x768 windows. Shocking, isn't it?! So we have web designers creating websites for window sizes that nobody actually uses.. What is the point in that?

Another thing that bugs be a lot is the use of JavaScript and cookies. Don't get me wrong, both of them are a good thing. There are a LOT of websites created with dynamic html which works really well. The problem is that too many sites rely on JavaScript and cookies when there is absolutely no need for either of them. Most of the common JavaScript tricks can be done with plain and simple CSS and too many sites use session to store data when there is no need to use a session. What makes things worse is the fact that hardly any of these sites check if cookies work or offer alternative navigation if JavaScript isn't available.

I just visited UPS which first presents me with a nice page about selecting my location. Since I use NoScript to block all scripts (yes, it makes the web a friendlier place) it alerts me about not being able to run scripts. Since there is very little on the page, we could assume that this is one of those "change the value of this drop-down and automatically submit"-scripts. Selecting the correct language and selecting submit brings me to a blank page.

Inspecting the front page a bit more reveals that the JavaScript actually changes the link to point to a completely different page. What this means is that if you ever visit the UPS front page with a browser that doesn't support JavaScript at all, you can't access the content at all.

In fact the whole selection is quite pointless. Yes, it brings me to the 'Finnish' page. The language is still English and there is hardly anything different from most other countries. Why was I forced to select my country? Why didn't the website guess? There are pretty accurate IP databases out there that can pinpoint the city you are accessing the site from. Language can be detected from the headers the browser gives your website. The whole front page is pointless and wastes my time.

In the end of this all ranting I must say that getting a website right doesn't happen by chance. It is possible with a lot of hard work and patience. And I appreciate those who manage big sites and get it right.

I was going to give more examples, but had a hard time finding them...

Posted Fri Jul 18 23:35:15 2008 Tags: web

Sometimes you just need to take screenshots of a webpage, for whatever reason. Here is a quick bookmarklet to open a simple new window with just the location bar.

Easiest way is to drag this bookmarklet to your bookmark toolbar: Screenshot window

Posted Sat Apr 12 18:58:11 2008 Tags: web

Sometimes there are days when everything works as planned. Today I updated this site to ikiwiki 2.0. The major change was a switch to using directories instead of just plain html files. There are benefits in this approach so I upgraded.

What surprised me was the fact that nothing went wrong with the upgrade. At least I don't know of any problems...

Ikiwiki uses static files to store the contents, which is nice. The only problem with this approach is that in the end there will be migrations. All migrations need workarounds to allow things to work without going around fixing things all over. For this migration I had to write some redirect rules for lighttpd. It's a minor inconvenience if you consider the other benefits of static content.

The only problem now is to decide whether or not to enable comments on this blog. I'm not sure if I want to start fighting spam on my own website, I already get way too much spam in my email.

Posted Thu May 10 23:10:42 2007 Tags: web

I have some strong opinions about forums. It's not that they aren't useful in many ways. It's the fact that forums are pain to navigate. Just look at this list on Firefox Add-ons.

So if forums are so bad, why are they more popular than ever. Mostly because they are easily accessible. Anyone with a web browser can access them. There are things that bother me, some are being addressed and some tried to be addressed in the past. I'll address a few problems here:

Logins are a web wide problem. Just about every site out there has separate login. Bulletin boards are no exception. Luckily there is a new standard in the works that is addressing this. Yes, I'm talking about OpenID. For example there is the phpbb-openid, which is a plugin for phpbb that allows one to log in with OpenID. So yes, I see this problem going away in future.

Navigation is hell with forums. This is usually a design error, but It's interesting to notice that even commercial forums suffer from this problem. There were some projects to address this. Like the forumzilla project, which is an extension to thunderbird that tries to present forums as structured mailboxes. This is the biggest problem with all forums and I don't see this improving.

Tracking new content is never easy. With mailing lists we have threads that extend to multiple levels. With blogs we have RSS. So what do we have for forums, threads and RSS. One could think that everything is just fine, but It's not. When you combine threads with RSS you get a huge mess. Now you can select if you want to see new messages or new threads. Neither of these will help you track the contents in the forum. So what you are left with is manual polling and when you combine manual polling with the navigation mess, you usually want to take your life before too long.

Forums are a good medium, but when ever I run in to one I get the urge to hurt myself. Forums work quite well if you are willing to put some serious effort in to tracking them. But for a casual visitor like me forums are usually the final straw.

Posted Sun Mar 25 22:10:43 2007 Tags: web

There are times when you must wonder how wrong things need to go before anyone does anything about it. From time to time you run in to pages that fail to work or have some obscure workaround to fix the bugs in certain majority browsers.

Now, lets play a game. Spot the error!

Install the Firebug extension to your copy of Firefox. Enable it and head to this page: Yle Opinportti: Kielimatka kiinaan (It's in finnish, but you get the point)

Spot the error? So it turns out that there is a trick to make some obscure modification to the behaviour of that certain major browser.

the madness doesn't stop here. There is a new HTML5 standard in the works by the WHATWG. Initially the standard recommends that Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis SHOULD be supported. This is good. It takes a turn for the worse when Apple suggested (i have no problem with apple, just the suggestion) that Ogg* should be replaced with MPEG4 which is more efficient.

Efficient is good. It's not good when it's proprietary. Web should be open and usable by everyone, even if they can't pay for the privilege. Please, stick with Ogg* variants, it's a good recommendation.

Posted Sun Mar 25 13:01:41 2007 Tags: web