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<Web Peeves #3>
By Daniel Will-Harris

9-28-98 - Yes, I’m still at it—complaining about common things web sites do that annoy me (and others). Don’t just laugh at sites that do things wrong, learn from them. Next week I’ll give you positive tips on what you can do to improve your site, but for now . . .

>“Welcome to...” in the title

It’s about time that people realized what they title a web page is important. Why? Because it becomes part of your bookmark or favorite. Yet so many sites don’t title pages, so you get “index” which means nothing, or they start with “Welcome to XYZ Inc!” which then alphabetizes their link down with Welcome instead of where it should be.

Come on, we don’t need “welcome” in the title. Be smart: Make the title what you want in a bookmark.

>Pages that are too short

I’ve said in previous columns that I don’t believe web pages have to be short, and I don’t believe that web site visitors are incapable of scrolling. If someone is interested in what’s on your site, they’ll read it, scrolling and all. If they’re not, it won’t matter how short your page is.

So I get really peeved when there’s a long article I want to read, and it’s broken up on many, many pages. Why? Because I may not want to read the whole thing in one sitting. I might want to print it, or, better yet, just save it to disk and read it on-screen later. If it’s on 12 pages, as was a recent transcript of a speech I wanted to read, then I have to save 12 pages, or print 12 times (and sometimes get one full page and a few lines of another). It’s a waste of my time. If you must do this, give the users a “printer friendly” link as some sites do. But you don’t have to go to this trouble if you just put the whole article on one page so people can read it, save it or print it.

>Pages that scroll horizontally

Maybe someone decided that they were tired of vertical scroll bars. Maybe they were thinking, “timelines are horizontal.” I don’t know what they were thinking, but whatever it was, it doesn’t work.

I’ve been to a few sites lately that seem to think it’s natural to scroll sideways instead of vertically. These sites inevitably confuse me, but perhaps the worst I’ve seen lately is this one, with new pictures of Marilyn Monroe when she toured Korea with the USO. I went to this page, saw a title, but no pictures and nothing to click on. I reloaded the page, thinking something was missing. The text says to “use the bottom slider to view the exhibition.” I didn’t know what a “bottom slider” was and thought it was something they’d invented that would appear on the screen. No, they mean scroll bar. Ah. I figured it out. I used it. I hated it.

And why did they have to give me this information in a nondescript typeface yet set as a GIF?

>Web counters!

I don't care how many other people have viewed the page I'm looking at. And if the sites that had these counters had any sense, they wouldn't want the world to know that a big 58 people had visited. Even if your site is getting a lot of hits, you don't need to announce this to the world. Besides, I don't believe any of these numbers (except the low ones). What's the point? I hate waiting for these things to download, they don't give me any information I want or need, they're useless. There was one counter I really liked, though, and here it is:

counter-wild 

>Ugly, weird navigation and weird section names

Even sites that avoid the latest tech gizmos can still fall victim to the latest design trends. www.sfgate.com wasn’t content with merely having a vertical imagemap menu of site sections. They had to make it look as if it was distorted by one of those “fun-house mirrors.” The result is something that’s hard to read, and harder to click on. I’m not sure what the point of this was, but since it’s neither attractive nor easy to use, I think the point is moot. It’s a great site, but a terrible navigation bar.

>Technically inept navigation

I also get annoyed with sites that insist on using imagemaps for navigation bars when they could have used separate, smaller images, one per section. These sites inevitably like to highlight the current section on the bar, which is fine, except that since they used an imagemap, they have to replace the entire image, which takes 10 times longer than it should because they’re not just replacing one little section, they’re replacing the whole darn thing.

>Lack of navigation

I’m still getting to web pages (often through a search engine) that won’t take me to the home page of the site. Usually I can edit the URL line in the browser to go there, but I know how to do this, most of your site visitors don’t. More and more people are entering sites, not through the home page, but through a page they got from a search engine. Look at the user logs of your site and you’ll see this is true. Those sites had better link to your home page, or people will simply leave.

>Links that aren’t, and too many that are

If your site mentions another site, and seeing that site is an important thing for your readers to do, don’t just mention the name of the site, make it a link. Otherwise, they have to cut and paste or type, and it’s unnecessary. If you don’t want them to lose your page, just open a new window for the link by adding target="_new” at the end of the link tag (example: <A HREF="http://www.blah.com/" target="_new">blah</A>)

That said, I don’t like it when sites have so many links that it gets distracting. If you want to mention another site, but it’s not vital that people see it right then and there, you aren’t under any obligation to link to it. So the bottom line is, if you want people to see it, link it. If you don’t, don’t.

>Fork in the head

It seems I’m not the only one with web peeves. Now there’s an entire site devoted to letting visitors complain about your site—to you. www.forkinthehead.com lets you choose from a number of common complaints, as well as providing your own personal criticism. The site also features “Fork U,” an area that contains some useful articles about site design and marketing.

What are the top complaints at Forkinthehead?

Design:

  • Page is too big to fit on the screen
  • Text is unreadable
  • Nasty background
  • Inconsistent look and feel
  • ALL CAPS
  • Too slow

Tech:

  • Broken links
  • Missing images
  • Gratuitous Java
  • Gratuitous obscure plug ins
  • Slow, screwy code

Content:

  • Too little info
  • Too much info
  • What's your point?
  • Poor spelling and grammar

Navigation:

  • Pointless splash screen
  • Can't find what I want
  • No way out of the frames
  • Too many clicks
  • Too much back and forth

>IE, IE, ow!

This web peeve is about a browser: IE4. I know I’ve complained about Microsoft lately, but I’ve long used and liked many of their products. I use both Netscape Navigator and IE4. But lately, IE4 has been giving me fits and has shown me why integrating the browser more tightly into the operating system may not be such a good idea after all.

My browser recently decided it didn’t want to run any ActiveX components, those special little IE-and-Windows-specific programs that latch onto a browser and let it do special things. When they work, they can be handy. When they don’t, and a site depends upon them, the resulting site can be useless.

I went into my browser’s security settings and told it to ask me before running ActiveX components, but it wouldn’t ask, it just kept wasting time downloading them, then gave me a message saying my security settings wouldn’t allow it to run.

I used Microsoft’s very clever and potentially useful automatic update system to update the browser and Outlook Express to the latest versions. You choose it from the Help menu and it takes you to a web page that analyzes your system and tells you what pieces of the browser needed to be updated. This sounds great, but it only actually worked after three attempts. Then the new version installed itself.

But the problem persisted, and got worse--because now the automatic update feature stopped working, so I couldn’t even get to the newest version. It just went to that page, sat there forever and finally gave me an error message saying that a script on the page was wrong. But it wasn’t wrong, my browser was. The result: I couldn’t download an update. Clearly, I needed to re-download the entire 14 megabytes of the browser and start from scratch.

Then MS tech support told me not to just re-install it, but first to rename some key files: Mssip32.dll, Wintrust.dll, Msoss.dll, Softpub.dll, and Imagehlp.dll. They also suggested I uninstall IE4 altogether first. I was afraid to do this, because I’d heard horror stories about Win95 simply not running after someone did this. Why? Because it’s got its hooks into too many parts of the operating system.

I finally screwed up the courage to uninstall it--and I suffered no ill effects. I downloaded IE4 again (if you have a cable modem this takes about three minutes, if not, it can take up to two hours!), installed it, and now it works fine. But it’s much easier and safer to uninstall and re-install Navigator because it’s not all tied up with the operating system.

Here’s a case where Microsoft’s attempt to make things simpler has really just made them more complex. At least Windows 98 is supposed to check files to make sure they haven’t been corrupted. But what happens if it updates a file to a newer version that doesn’t want to work with your older software? I don’t even want to know.

 

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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved