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“Stupid” Web tricks can be downright smart

Don’t get too proud of your Web creation. Its beauty is in the eye of the user. “Stupid” Web tricks can be downright smart Don’t get too proud of your Web creation. Its beauty is in the eye of the user.

The Good

I was recently advised to check out the site design at The Internation Herald Tribune. The homepage, however, while neatly laid out and easy to navigate, is not the subject of our interest. Click on any of the news stories and look at the layout. The first thing to catch my eye was the three-column layout–very newspaper like. Next, I noticed the row of “layout” buttons at the bottom right of the text. There is a button to increase or decrease the font, change the layout to one column or back to three columns, and a display of the current page number for the article you are viewing. When your mouse reaches the far right column, the “Next Page” button rolls over, and when you are on a middle page, a mouseover on the left column rolls over the “Prev Page” button. There are also very easy-to-use buttons for printer-friendly page versions and “e-mail a friend” functionality. The pull-down menus at the top of the page are also elegantly implemented, and the site’s designers have also developed a page-based clipboard to hold article quotes across a variety of articles, which is very handy for researchers.

Yes, these things are fairly simple JavaScript tricks, or “stupid Web tricks,” as they would be called at Builder.com, but when it comes to viewing Web pages, these features are handy, if not downright appreciated. A designer will never choose a font size that is favored by all visitors, and while some visitors know how to adjust their browser’s font, many don’t. This simple JavaScript would be very handy on many Web sites.

The site is also uncluttered, which makes reading an article very easy. The site is obviously not ad supported (the print edition probably “carries” it), so we can’t compare it directly to other content sites that are trying to be self-supporting. But we can recognize it for the design elements it has achieved and give the designers a round of virtual applause.

The Bad

Editorial Director James Matthewson drew my attention last week to a USA Today article bemoaning bad Javascript tactics designed to disable users’ back buttons. Apologists for these sites say they “use the tactics to keep people from accidentally leaving the site, or leaving in confusion when confronted with new features such as Flash-based animation.” Horse hockey.

Other bad JavaScript tactics include launching pop-up windows when browser windows are closed or when you leave a site. Porn sites were the first to use these tricks, and it would seem that some people have learned the wrong lessons from porn sites’ success. Like it or not, porn makes up a large percentage of Internet content, and seems to be one of a few things that people will pay for. The reasons for porn’s success are well beyond the scope of this column, but these stupid JavaScript tactics are not one of them. While I don’t recommend disabling JavaScript in your browser, doing so will prevent these kind of things happening to you, though it will probably render many a site un-navigable.

The Ugly

Pride, chief among the seven deadly sins, is an ugly thing to behold. In the past few weeks I have witnessed it too many times among graphic designers who believe their first attempt to be creative is a thing of glory to behold, and do not want to hear criticism or make changes without first complaining to high heaven. Ugly behavior. A better model can be seen in the open-source world, where pride lies in the idea of the object and not in the object itself. Open-source developers say, “Here is what I have created and how I did it. If you can make it better, please do, and share what you have done with others.” This is an approach I can support, because it affords the originator with a degree of humility (much lacking in today’s world) and a path where development can continue. So, designers, please get off your high horses and accept criticism without whining. Criticism about your work is not a personal affront.

Anything on the Internet caught your eye for better or for worse? Let me know at [email protected]

Garth Gillespie is architect and chief technologist for ComputerUser.com.

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