[svlug] Browser problems

Arlo Belshee arlo.belshee at horizongot.com
Mon Dec 3 14:23:11 PST 2001

on Sunday, December 02, 2001 1:32 AM, Karsten M. Self explained:
> A few points, largely amplifying what's been said.
> The first law of the web is:  user determines presentation.

Unfortunately, while that's nice in theory, and is the frame of mind within which the web was built, it fails to meet business (and
other related) needs. Philosphically, it is commendable, and as long as the only web users and the only web publishers are techies,
it works well in practice, but observe the following business scenario (pulled randomly out of a hat):

J. Random business is organizing an advertising campaign around a new product launch. They have decided the three message points
that they want everyone to learn, have identified their target audience, and have determined what image they want to express.
Furthermore, they have identified how they want it to fit into their overall company brand. They hand this information off to their
advertising production group.

The advertising production group determines what media they are going to use. In this example, the target audience would be best fit
by a TV, trade journal and radio awareness campaign, working in tandem with a web-based and distributor-based product education
campaign. So, they need all of these component to tie together in the minds of the target audience - the need to see something on
TV, do a search, and find a site that looks just like what they saw on TV - otherwise they tend to think that they've come to the
wrong place, and vanish forever. They need to see the same graphical elements, in the same presentation, as they saw on TV. They
need to see similar message points, with the same layout, but with further explaination. Most importantly, the product image and how
it ties into the brand are tied _directly_ to the graphical layout of the page - the differences between sleek, sexy, silky, and so
on are very subtle, and require fine-grained control of all graphical and text elements to carry out. They business needs absolute
control of presentation. This is its corporate image - do you really expect them to let fate determine how the masses view them?

In other words, the business needs absolute control over how this will be seen by users. If they don't have it, their advertising
loses much of its effectiveness - the message is muddied. The advertisers don't care whether their site looks good to text browsers.
They sometimes care that it is readable by browsers for the blind, but that's it: text browsers are extremely rare and not often
part of the target audience, so it is OK to marginalize them if it makes the campaign stronger to the 99+% of all users that use GUI
browsers and are more likely to be the target audience anyway.

The decisions that were good for the techies are absolutely to the businesses. Unfortunately, the web is still extremely immature as
a mode of communication. There are several distince groups of users, each trying to meet fundamentally different requirements. These
groups don't often have any need to talk to each other. The only real problem is that one of these groups - the techies (including
those that work at browser companies) - gets to sets all the rules dictating how people are allowed to communicate. Naturally, they
look to themselves to determine what people will want to do, and how. They try to be inclusive, because this is a really nifty
technology. However, they don't fundamentally understand the needs of the other audiences. They are unable to see that the
difference between logical layout and physical layout can be worth millions in lost revenue due to muddied advertising revenues. And
because they are the ones who set the standards (no other user group is even aware that they could participate - or would be
interested in doing so if they were), decisions get made that work well for them, but not for everyone else.

Thus, I must disagree heartily with:

> Font face and size are, by default, selectable by the user.  If you're
> specifying a font face and size, you're violating this basic tenet
> (you're in large, if bad, company).  Worst is if you specify font size
> in points or pixels.

True for the technology.

The reason that there's so much company on that side of the line is that there is a tremendous need to be on that side of the line.
It can be measured in real dollars.

Thus the technology is fundamentally flawed.

The technology fails to meet the needs of a huge (at this point probably the largest, and certainly the wealthiest) group of its
users. Therefore, they attempt to use any means necessary to batter away at it, to bend it, and generally to mangle it beyond all
recognition, in the vain hope that it might becomes something really _useful_. They hope that it might live up to its promise - for
them. A technology that fails to meet the needs of its largest user group is doomed to change. If it is a product, it will probably
die. If it is a free service, it will live on, but it disenfranchise people until someone eventually manages to twist it into what
they need, or replaces it with something better.


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