I was lying in bed after waking up today, trying to think of something to write, when this old annoyance started creeping up on me again: Why do webmasters insist on making sites more and more complicated all the time? Why do they overload them, and particularly the front page, with all sorts of scripts, slideshows, movies and anything else you could possibly think of, often stuffing content into three columns, giving details that usually only take up space without really helping anyone decide whether they want to read more or not and cramming all sorts of menus everywhere? Why do they force you to have a fast connection and plenty of available processing power and memory if you want to even load that front page? Shouldn’t they want everyone to be able to access at least the main parts of the site? And, if so, wouldn’t that “everyone” also include those who still have slow connections and those who use old computers, somewhat newer netbooks or even newer tablets?
Interestingly, as soon as I tried to get on-line today I noticed that my connection was almost down. By that I mean that during the first roughly ten minutes it just barely managed to partially load a couple of sites. Then it recovered for about 15 minutes, then crashed completely for nearly one hour before once again recovering right now as I’m writing this, but that’s besides the point. What is the point is that it acted as a reminder of how much webmasters automatically assume that everyone has a solid broadband connection when that’s really not the case, plenty of people even still being on dial-up and as a result quite frankly unable to load plenty of sites!
Now I’m obviously not talking about sites specifically made to provide multimedia content, as anyone who visits such a site is assumed to have the connection required to display said content, but about all the others. There is no reason to stuff video content or slideshows on the front page of any site not specifically meant for multimedia content. If people go to a news site, they want to immediately see the headlines, with breaking news at the top and then everything else nicely ordered with the newest first, so they’ll immediately know what was posted since they last checked. If they go to a company’s site, they want to see some basic information about that company and the services it provides. If they go to a site dedicated to a certain issue or cause, they want to see some fast facts and the latest related news. Any videos or slideshows should stay on separate pages, those that people who want more detailed information will go to, and even there webmasters shoud make sure that visitors are able to read all the text while everything else is loading, in case it takes significantly longer for that to happen.
And then there’s Flash… Using Flash when it’s not absolutely required is by far one of the worst things you could do to your site, especially now when you have HTML5 and SVG available to do more or less the same things while preserving your site’s usability and accessibility and likely also using fewer resources. Yet some webmasters insist on using Flash for large sections of their sites, or in some cases even build entire sites in Flash!
What does Flash do to a site? Firstly, it makes it load slowly and often requires every part of it to load before anything is displayed, not allowing people to look through some things while others are still loading. Secondly, it significantly reduces the site’s usability, making it very difficult or often even impossible to do simple things like opening a link in a new tab, using the forward and back buttons, saving plain text in a file or posting links to specific sections. Thirdly, it ruins accessibility, as people who, for example, need to use certain fonts and colors and have their browsers set to override those specified by sites, not to mention those who are completely blind and require the use of text to speech software, pretty much get left out in the cold.
On top of all of that, you have scripts and other active content that tries to run constantly while you’re on a certain page. I’m not talking about malware, but about animations, slideshows that start by default, perhaps not even allowing you to stop them from constantly flipping through images, little boxes that constantly display updates without allowing you to turn them off, or utterly idiotic things like snowflakes falling, music playing by default or mouse trails! Especially since a user can and often does have multiple sites open, or perhaps just multiple pages from one site, all these things quickly add up and end up using a fair amount of processing power and memory, slowing down even decent computers, not to mention old ones, netbooks or tablets.
I have a decent computer and even I had problems with certain sites, particularly while opening multiple tabs or when having something else running at the same time. But others have to make do with far weaker systems, not to mention those who actually want to use simpler devices, such as the ones I mentioned above. As a result, I really don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that browsing a site shouldn’t have system requirements! In fact, I’d recommend this little test for professional webmasters: Get the weakest netbook available on the market, install Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome on it, open your site in all three of them at once and see what happens.
Some do seem to get the idea, making simple, and possibly even customizable, front pages and sites that are quick to load and easy to use, but most apparently do not. If a site has articles, the front page and/or the main category pages will feature a whole lot of them piled up, usually with a picture and the first 100 or 150 characters of some of them showing up as well, which often tells the user all too little about the article itself and therefore serves only to take up space. If the site has pictures, you’ll have them as a slideshow, possibly not even giving you the option to stop it from constantly flipping through them all. If the site has video or audio content, you’ll have the player thrown there along with everything else, and sometimes even have multiple players on the same page! And let’s not even mention the sites made in Flash or even those that just have Flash intros… This just needs to stop. Now.