Is A Bad Website Worse Than No Site At All?

Think, for analogy’s sake, of a visit to a restaurant.

You drive into their gravel parking lot and do your best to steer around the numerous potholes. A recent rain leaves a stealthy cloak of muddy brown water to hide the true depth of each hole. Unable to miss all of them, your car dips, sways, and clunks across the parking spot. So much for the $11.95 car wash you just got. You and the car’s contents are tossed and rocked, finally jousting your glasses case from the car’s console onto the floor.

You begin looking for your glasses case and realize you’ll need the car door open to step out and have room to fish the elusive case out, now lodged well under the front passenger seat. The moment you open the door the summer rush of hot, humid air hits your nose. Piggy-backed on it is the stench from the restaurant’s garbage dumpster. Perhaps, you think, it just happens to be an unfortunate wind direction this fine day.

As you walk to the door, the only one facing the parking lot, flies buzz this way and that in crazy spirals. Nearing the screen door, you see an employee carrying something so you politely open the door for him. The employee silently brushes past carrying a full grease tray. Barely outside, the employee dumps the grease onto the gravel just to the side of the door. The grease splatters from the gravel onto the over-dried bare wood siding, leaving dark stains. Hmmm… no wonder the flies like it here.

So, let me ask you, how likely are you to be thrilled at the prospect of sitting down, looking at the menu, and ordering food at this restaurant? How many of those pesky flies followed that employee and you right in the door?

Which reminds me of an old joke I once heard…

Patron to Waiter: "What's this fly doing in my soup?"
Waiter to Patron: "It looks like the backstroke to me."

But, I have digressed.

In the same way, what does the appearance of your Website say about you or your business? Does it have broken links, poor graphical layout, or confusing navigation? Does all of the page content actually load… or does a browser stagnate for awhile and finally give up, displaying broken image placeholders or notices that the viewer needs to download some app or plugin to continue? Is your tekst content fuel of speling and gramer ishues (I made a joke right there… Ha ha!… Fine, I’ll just laugh by myself)?

When you consider your Website might be the first point of contact with a potential client, think about what the reaction of that visitor might be. They will either stay to take a look at your menu… or click their back button to their favorite search engine to visit your competitor’s site. Which will they do for your site?

When we think about it this way, perhaps owning a bad Website is worse than having no Website at all because it can push people away. The good news is that, unlike writing a bad book in hardcover, the content and appearance does not have to be static. A site can be fixed, renovated, and updated in near perpetuity. In this way, the site can work for us, not penalize us.

Is It Time To Avoid Flash On Your Website?

There has been a continuing push for increasing interactivity in Web pages. Certainly this is due in part to the “keeping up with the Jones’ ” mentality– site owners feel that because their competitor next door has some unique feature on their site, it is imperative to have the same or better. One frequent method is the use of Adobe Flash to build rich content on a page. At the same time, I cannot hardly start my computer anymore without Adobe’s Updater wanting to install a new update. I applaud Adobe for releasing patches to fix problems. At the same time, I wonder if the technology just has too many problems at the start to even try to fix, let alone use on a Web site.

My job, as a Web developer, is to build my client’s sites to promote their businesses, organizations, hobbies, or personal accomplishments. If, in attempting to do so, I expose their site visitors to the malicious intent of some hacker or script kiddie out there, I may have not only damaged the reputation of my client but, also, myself and my business. For that reason, I tend to look at incorporating Web technologies into client sites that are less likely to create headaches in the future. Flash is simply not a technology I recommend to my clients anymore. And, frankly, there are other technologies, such as PHP, that will allow users to upload and download files, that have nothing to do with Flash. If I want animations, the newest browsers support HTML 5′s Canvas. Perhaps, given the continuing security problems and the safer alternatives available, the time has come to move toward a future without Adobe Flash, Reader, and Acrobat.

To be fair to Adobe, the fault of many security issues are not always because of the application but, rather, the site designer. So, there is an attitude that we can solve all these issues if all designers develop their sites securely. Can we really count on that? Even if I design my site perfectly, will the next developer do the same? If I force my viewers to download Adobe Flash to view my site, I potentially open doors for vulnerabilities when they visit another site that might not be securely developed. If I care about my visitors at all, I should care about what happens to them beyond their short time on a site I have designed. If they are exposed to the vulnerabilities of software they are required to install because of a site we design, exactly how does that improve their overall browsing experience?

Useability is another reason why designing a site that relies too heavily on Flash might not be a good idea. Of course, obtaining the software to view Flash animations or a PDF document is free. But why do we need to subject our site’s viewers to a required download right in the middle of trying to see what we have to offer? I suppose we can hope that our viewers have already installed these apps after visiting someone else’s site. If they have not, then a lengthy download procedure that interrupts their browsing experience is not likely to win any points with them.

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