Unreadable Webpages and Crummy Electricity

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Hmm. I thought I’d been explicit about this in earlier postings about Google’s New Blogs and other webpages, but apparently not explicit enough. So let’s try again.

Whenever I discuss the problems of the increasing unreadability of webpages, due to font choices, low contrast, and other “form over function” web design choices, I inevitably receive email from folks offering me “helpful” hints to bypass those poorly and shortsightedly designed pages.

Run this theme! Edit this style sheet! Install this add-on! Use this RSS reader! Switch to this browser! And so on …

The thing is — trust me — I already know how to do all this stuff.

I’m not the one I’m concerned about. It’s average users — who read pages in their native formats on the most popular browsers — who are being increasingly disadvantaged.

And most of these users don’t know about these workarounds, and frankly are unlikely to install or use these typically ephemeral bypasses that can break at any time.

By and large, these readability “solutions” are designed for techies, not for ordinary users who sometimes don’t even fully understand the difference between the desktop and a browser. I work with people like this all the time. They’re everywhere, and they’re a rapidly growing category of users.

We techies tend to be blinded by our own science, to the point where we undervalue or simply don’t recognize the disparities between our view of technology and the ways that ordinary, non-techie folks with their own lives use our services and tools.

It’s a disgraceful situation on our part. And it’s our fault.

Most people increasingly view the Internet as they would a refrigerator, or an ordinary TV set. They just expect it to work. And that’s a completely reasonable attitude given how much absolutely necessary day-to-day functionality we’ve pushed onto the Web.

Here’s an analogy.

Imagine if one day your local electrical power company suddenly changed the parameters of the electricity they were sending you, in a manner that mostly caused older equipment to have problems.

So you complain, and the power guys say that they’ve determined that newer equipment works better with the new parameters, and anyone with older equipment should just search around, find, and install special power filters and regulators so that their older equipment will work again.

And you ask when the company asked if anyone wanted them to make these electricity changes.

And they reply that they didn’t ask. They don’t really care much about your demographic of equipment, and they suggest that you can take the electricity or leave it. Thank you for calling. Click.

Now maybe you have the time, skill, and/or money to go out and find the electricity add-ons you need (or install solar power, perhaps). But what if you don’t?

Anyway, I’m sure you see my point.

Electricity delivery of course is usually regulated in various ways by the government, but if the current trends in webpage design continue to selectively disadvantage particular categories of users, it is increasingly likely that the government will get involved in this area, just as they have in other aspects of perceived discrimination and disability concerns.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much prefer that these firms fix these issues themselves, rather than having the government moving in with their own heavy-handed mandated changes that not infrequently cause new problems more than they solve old ones.

But one way or another, the status quo and current webpage design trends are increasingly untenable.

So the choice for these firms seems fairly clear. Either throw the switch yourselves toward better webpage design and viewability choices that won’t leave users behind, or wait for the government to start firing high voltage regulatory lighting bolts your way.

Be seeing you.

–Lauren–
I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so — my opinions expressed here are mine alone.
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The correct term is “Internet” NOT “internet” — please don’t fall into the trap of using the latter. It’s just plain wrong!