Edge Tech - Rant!

Rant! David Hudson

Stop Crashing on Me!

The other night I needed an URL. Bad.

Earlier in the day, I'd seen a news story that would back up some outlandish statement or other I was about to make in public. But when I went back to get it, I got two windows in a row announcing that such-n-such a Java thingie couldn't be implemented. Even though I dutifully clicked OK twice, my browser crashed anyway.

Stupidly, I tried it again. Crash. Only this time, the whole system was brought down. I did not have time for this. With a deadline in less than two hours, there I sat, helplessly tapping my fingers while my poor old computer crawled back to its feet.

What idiot designer decided that Javascript would be just the thing for a news site? Just give me the words, the news I come to your site for, and save all the fancypants, mouse-over pop-up, animatraumatic hypershock stuff for your company demo in Vegas.

We should get something straight right now. When it comes to the technical side of all this magic we're up to out here, well, let's just say my strengths lie elsewhere. I come to the web for information and entertainment, and I don't want a lot of trouble getting at it. In other words, I represent the market this industry is desperately trying to court.

I understand that for progress to progress, upgrades, new features, and all that bigger and better paraphernalia requiring more memory, more bandwidth, and faster machinery are unavoidable. The bone I have to pick is with the haphazard way too many are going about it.

Before lambasting software developers and website designers out of hand, though, I thought I'd better check in with a few of them. Bruce Rinehart over at c|net readily admits that he puts off installing higher versions of browsers as long as he possibly can, "because the code gets shaky when you're cranking out versions that fast." He simply can't afford the downtime caused by hard-drive-munching crashes.

But eventually, like everyone else, he has to break down and step up. Too many sites tell you: Sorry, your browser is too wimpy for our dizzying delights. Designers, says Rinehart, "are more comfortable dealing with something new rather than having to do something elegant with older technology."

Worse: "The bleeding edge as such is the valued quality. The more blood you draw, the cooler you are, and the more you crash the browsers of the proletariat."

The buck doesn't stop with designers. "It's hard to sell 'highly functional' to most clients," says Andrew Sullivan of eLine Productions. "They want pizzazz ­ unless they really know and use the medium. In the end, you get CEOs looking at websites and saying either, 'That's boring. Who the hell did that?' or 'Wow!'"

So what we have here is a classic vicious circle. As the developers at Netscape and Microsoft compete with each other to slap more doodads on their products as they zip along the assembly line, website designers compete for clients who value glitz over what works.

They're wrong. A page has got to be viewed to survive.

Again and again, I come across sites that testify to mangled priorities. Snazzy extras that impress the in crowd may well be lost on the rest of us, who have spent a lifetime watching better, faster effects on TV. More than anything else, the human browser at the mercy of the digital one wants to be able to get at what a site has to offer quickly, easily, and reliably.

Most of these human browsers cannot afford to buy a new computer every couple of years. Most don't know how or are hesitant to add memory, plug-ins, or extra applications for audio and video. Most just don't see anything out there worth the trouble.

Someday, 3D interactive multimedia extravaganzas may be cheap and reliable. Until then, we'll keep experimenting, and we ought to. In the meantime, if a site can't resist the temptation to show off, I'd appreciate the opportunity to click on an alternative, simpler means of getting to what I came for ­ before it starts shoving voodoo code into my machine.

What do you think?


jlennon said:

Crashes in our personal computing are inconvenient and frustrating. In business however, they can become very expensive. Especially when one needs the tools or research or whatever to complete the given task or project. Netscape (3.0) started locking up on me last January. Several times a day. Despite crash guard. (Which I believe should have it's name changed from "Crash Guard" to "Stand By and Yell, 'Look Out!', After the User has Smashed Into the Pillar") About every third crash was a hard crash, requiring reboot.

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David Hudson couldn't design a website if his life depended on it. Nevertheless, he has had the gall to write on net issues for nearly a year now at REWIRED.

Twice a month, he files a column on the San Francisco Bay Guardian's website, and he has recently written for Salon and Netly News Network.

David also co-hosts ArtCircuit, Electric Minds' conference on arts and technology, and he's currently sitting in for Steve Rhodes, as co-host of Media Shock. Get well, Steve!

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