The Web Design Group presents:

"This page optimized for ..."
- arguing with customers -

What people will tell you

OK, so you have listened to me, and you are nearly convinced, but the people who have designed that site (or your site) keep telling you it really should be that way, because:

"95% of our hits are Netscape users anyway"

Are they? Let's for the moment assume that server logs indicate this.

Now, of these "hits", how many did have image loading turned on? Those users that do not turn it on will generate less hits, because they do not "hit" your server for the images. To have valuable numbers, you need numbers about users, not hits. You are not trying to sell your products to hits, are you?

Of those users, how many are using Netscape Navigator, and how many are using Microsoft Internet Explorer (which claims to be "Mozilla", too, just as Netscape does)?

Even if you count users, and even if you carefully distinguish browsers, you can not trust your stats: Of all your users, how many are using Proxy servers? If hundred people using the old AOL-Browser (no table support) look at your page at one day, you will only have one hit for all of them. If every single one of 4.000 students with Internet Access at the University of Münster visits your site, there will be only one hit, too. You have no chance to reliably count your users, except if you fiddle with HTTP headers to "prohibit" caching. If you do so, your pages will take a lot longer to load, and you can be absolutely sure that not all of those 4.000 students will visit your site.

Now, let's assume you took all of this into account, and still, 95% of your users are using Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. Therefore, you are told, it is perfectly OK to optimize the page. Let's for the moment assume that you can afford to lose 5% of your potential customers - after all there are about 40 million of them out there, so who cares about a few more or less?

These 95% are not a homogeneous class of users: About 30% of them (this share is indicated by server stats as stated by several people on comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html for different sites) will disable image loading. You can't understand why they do that, because you paid a lot of money for the images. But people are diverse: I can't understand why the other 70% don't do the same. Actually, some people hit the STOP button on every page to stop image loading because they don't want to wait that long. So, if you do not want to lose those 30%, you have to make your site readable for Netscape and Internet Explorer even without images. Knowing this, have you ever looked at your site with image autoloading disabled? Or did you only see it on a demo system, where the pages were read from local disk?

In the following paragraphs, I will give some numbers that are rough estimates by me ("wild guesses"). If you think they are not accurate, I agree. If you can provide more accurate numbers, I will be happy to correct mine. I am sure that the argument formed will still hold. Don't quote me on the numbers, quote me on the fact that there are significant shares of users with systems of the various kinds:

Of the 95% you decided to aim at, at least 10% do not have a screen resolution of 800x600 or bigger. Another 5% do have that screen resolution, but do not usually have their browser window cover the whole screen. Another ~30% do have more than 800x600, and another share has set their font size so they can read it conveniently, so optimizing for their screen size does not work, either. This leaves you with far less than 50% of your "Netscape and compatible"-users if you optimize for 800x600 screen resolution. You probably can not afford that.

You are told that you need some nifty graphics and scripting. As we have decided, 95% of people use Netscape and MSIE anyway, and they both support this cool plug-in for realtime audio and video. You have tested this from a local disk file and you were quite impressed. But, being suspicious, you want to know how many of your users can actually benefit from this. "No problem, just include a link to the download site for the software, and all will be able to use it."

Well, all that run MS Windows, because it is not available for other systems yet. But hey, that's about 90% of the people, so you still have about 80% left. Unfortunately, many of them use modems at speeds of 28.800 baud or even (gasp!) 14.400 baud to connect to the internet. And no, it does not help if you are connected with 45 MBit - the whole audio and video has be sent over the modem connection. Naturally, not all of your potential customers want to hear your company jingle, so many just won't bother and simply ignore your pricey site flavoring. I will be among them, because I have no sound card on one computer, no windows drivers for the card on another, and the speakers connected to the sun station I occasionally use are located in an entirely different building than my X-terminal, so I won't hear your company jingle except over the PC speaker - I better sing it myself. Maybe some of your customers will actually download your multimedia enhancements. After all, it is essential information - isn't it? It is probably exactly what you wanted to provide to your customers, and if the Internet did not exist, you would have to send it to them via normal mail, like you did with your catalogs in the past.

Of "your" 95%, some are tired of watching those "get a REAL browser" messages whenever a new megabyte-munching killer application is released, and they therefore only use the latest in technology. Unfortunately, if your pages were optimized to a particular version of a particular browser, they might not be able to view it, because browsers change. Your pages that looked so nice may fail to work on a new release. And your JavaScript for Netscape 2.02 that contained the frame hack gives an error Message on Netscape 3.0.

Fortunately, the same people whom you have paid to build these pages will gladly fix them if you provide the necessary funds. They will even re-optimize your site for the new browser "generation" (they prefer to call it "generation", where others simply say "release"), and they will do so with almost no additional charge. Of course, having this much to do writing HTML, they do not find the time to view it with other browsers or setups than their own, let alone validate it against a DTD. But hey, 95% of all people are using that browser, anyway.

Note that we not yet discussed the possibility that some of your customers might use an outdated Browser version. I for one use Netscape 2.02 (or lynx 2.4.2, which is equally outdated - get lynx 2.6 NOW!).

"Then we would have to provide and maintain a second version"

This is not true. There are ALT-attributes to the IMG tag, and there are ALT-attributes to client-side image maps. I see only two reasons why someone would want to maintain two versions:

  1. To provide a no-frames version for uses that have frame-capable browsers, but do not want to have frames.
  2. To provide a text-only version that displays the same way as the normal version, but loads faster, because there are less (or no) IMG-Tags, no JavaScript scripts and no FRAMESET tags in it.

If you do not know how to write correct, scalable, working HTML, maybe it is time for you to download a REAL HTML reference, if not for yourself, then for your WWW-designers.

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