Monday, 23 October, 2000

Simplify Your Web Pages!

I never really caught the web surfing bug—just clicking around looking for cool stuff.  I do, however, spend a lot of time looking for information on specific topics or making regular visits to my favorite web sites.  Mostly, this is a frustrating experience for several reasons.

One of my major gripes is the lack of a decent index or card catalog.  But that topic's a bit too involved to cover in a short diary entry.  Maybe some other time.

My primary gripe tonight is web site design.  After five years (that's about as long as the web has been widely used), you'd think web designers would have figured out what works.  If the idea is to make information available, then make it available!  A case in point here is the Galaxy Online site.  This site has a lot of interesting science news, science fiction, and commentary, but it's very difficult to find anything.  The site is flashy, I'll give it that, but it's terribly difficult to read.  The color selections are hideous; hard on the eyes and difficult to read.  The primary content window is about 400 pixels wide and doesn't increase if you resize your browser window.  And the font?  Ugh!  Thin white letters on a bright blue background give me a headache.

Even some sites that are dedicated to programming or other technical pursuits are prone to this problem.  Take the Linux Programming site, for example.  This site looks nice enough, and at first glance appears to be well designed.  Until you actually try to find anything about programming.  The left and right columns of the site are taken up by links to other sites, the top header is useless, and the center of the screen is devoted to news articles.  Until recently, the most recent of those "news" articles was often at least a month old.  Where is the Linux Programming information?  There are a few links to that down at the bottom of the page, of course, you have to scroll through pages of mostly irrelevant junk to get to it.  You wouldn't expect the Linux programming information to be prominently displayed on the site, would you?

Those are just two representative examples.  I spend many hours every week wading through junk and dealing with flashy but poorly-designed web pages trying to locate stuff that I know is on the site somewhere.

What's wrong with black text on a white background?  Sure, it's not flashy.  But I'm not looking for flash.  I don't want an "experience."  I want information!  And I have yet to find a more readable color scheme.  How about making the page's topic the primary focus of the page rather than sandwiching it between flashy menus and links to mostly unrelated information, or hiding it at the bottom?

Sure, there's a place for flash on the web.  Marketing information, porn sites, product catalogs, and toy stores can use all the flash they want.  People who visit those sites love to see that stuff.  But if you're publishing information that you want people to read, then spend your time on the content and leave the flashy stuff out of it.  The news sites figured this out long ago, as have the GNU and Open Source sites, and the Linux Documentation Project.  Keep it simple.  It's easier on all of us.