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Creative Dissidence

Self-described ‘Web hobbyist’ François Briatte recently conducted a survey of ten sites, comparing them on 25 different points, and has published the results.  I suggested that those responsible for the sites that were reviewed might write up their perspectives on the rankings and their dissidence levels, as Dave Shea and Jon Hicks have already done.  I tied for John Gruber for third, which amuses me.

I’ve seen some criticism of this survey scattered about, with two points made:

  1. The survey is too small, only examining ten sites.
  2. The survey is too limited in terms of the kinds of sites studied (all ten are basically Web design blogs, to one degree or another).

True, François picked ten sites instead of several hundred, all ten being sites that François reads regularly, and looked at them in detail.  Well, at least he went to the effort of doing it and publishing the results for free.  Don’t like the number of sites, or the sites surveyed, or the questions that were asked?  Fine.  Do your own survey and publish the results.  We’re waiting.  I’d actually like to see more such surveys, especially those done with the impressive degree of thoroughness and thought that François displayed.

Here are my thoughts about meyerweb’s rankings and the criteria in general; I’ll stick to commenting on those points where I differed from the crowd, or else where I think there’s something particularly interesting to note.

Are links underlined / are hovered links underlined / do visited links differentiate? (yes on all three)

As it turns out, my site is acting as a mirror for François’ browser preferences: I don’t assert link styles at all.  What I’d be interested to know is how many of the surveyed sites follow the same path.  My guess is few, or none.  Even Jakob‘s style sheet asserts link styles.

Is the layout fixed in width? (no)

Mine is not, and that leaves me in a strong minority.  I prefer a layout that flexes with the browser window, and I suspect I always will.  This does mean that the layout can start overlapping itself at very narrow window widths, but then a fixed-width design forces a scrollbar at narrow widths.  Which is better?  I’ve made my choice, of course, as have all the others surveyed.  I’ve yet to decide one way or the other is truly better, although of course many people have very strong opinions.

Is there a search box? (no)

I should probably add one, but for some reason it just never seems like a critical priority.  There is a search function on the archive pages for “Thoughts From Eric”, but that comes built into WordPress.  It may be that my reluctance stems from the fact that I’d probably end up using a Google search box, which seems like cheating.  I should probably get over myself and just do it.

Are “steal these” buttons used? (yes)

Dave Shea’s reaction was: “Ugh. Please, no.”  I think they’re useful, both for RSS feeds and for the “XFN Friendly” badge.  I’d also like to think they’re well integrated into my design (such as it is), although obviously that’s a matter of taste.

Does the navigation bar use image rollovers? (no)

Nope, it’s all text.  I may one day get fancier about the design (don’t hold your breath) and if so, I’ll probably have some kind of image rollover for the navigation.  At the least, I’d use a Sliding Doors-type decoration, which could count as an image rollover effect.

Is there a print stylesheet? (yes)

I have to admit to some surprise that the majority of the sites didn’t use one.  Mine is pretty low-key, doing basic things like preventing the sidebar from being printed.  I wish more sites did that kind of thing.  A link-filled sidebar is as useless on the page as it is useful on the Web.

Is the page UTF-8 encoded? (no)

I’m still kickin’ it ISO-8859-1 style.  This is in part because when I tried to enable UTF-8 encoding a while back, all my characters got thoroughly mangled.  I spent some time trying to fix it, and then dropped back to 8859, which I knew would work.  If I ever figure out how to do UTF-8 correctly, I’ll probably switch over.

Is the DOCTYPE Strict / is the page XHTML / is there an XML prolog? (no on all three)

I use HTML 4.01 Transitional, so clearly there wouldn’t be an XML prolog.  Even if I used XHTML, there wouldn’t be one, since its presence triggers quirks mode in IE6/Win—thus the 100% agreement among the surveyed sites on its absence.

So why HTML instead of XHTML?  Because there continue to be no major advantages to valid XHTML over valid HTML, which is what I strive to attain.  In some sense, there are disadvantages, albeit of a minor variety—I find trailing slashes on empty elements and the lack of attribute minimization to be annoying.  If I’d learned XHTML first, I’m sure I wouldn’t care about them, and would wonder why HTML was deficient in those areas.  Since I taught myself HTML when the cutting edge was HTML 2.0, I have some fairly deeply ingrained habits that cause me to lean toward HTML.  I also have a decade’s worth of documents that I don’t really feel like trying to convert to XHTML just so I can claim big markup geek bragging points.  Sure, there are tools that will do it for me.  Then I’d have to go back and check to make sure the tools didn’t mangle anything.

I’ve gotten the occasional critical e-mail about this over the past couple of years, chastising me for not being a role model in this area.  I like to think that I am.  I’m trying to show, by example, that there’s nothing wrong with using HTML 4.01 as long as you’re using it correctly.  If your HTML is valid, you’ll have no more trouble converting it to a ‘pure’ XML format than you will if XHTML is your starting point.  So I stay with HTML, and probably will for some time to come.

One other point: the education of my quotes is entirely due to WordPress, and in pages that aren’t part of WP I don’t have educated quotes.  C’est la mort.

I’ve already written François to congratulate him on his work, which I think is a good look at the underpinnings of the sites surveyed and sheds some light on points that don’t get discussed very often—or when they are, it’s in needlessly polarizing ways (witness the various flame wars over fixed width vs. liquid width, HTML vs. XHTML, and so on).  It’s refreshing to see someone collect some facts, do a little analysis, and freely share the results.

16 Responses»

    • #1
    • Pingback
    • Thu 29 Jul 2004
    • 1308
    Received from Dive The Web » Évaluation de quelques sites

    […] ;est encore plus, c’est les réponses à son étude. Déjà, Dave Shea, Jon Hicks et Eric Meyer on réagit. Je suppose que d’autres r […]

    • #2
    • Pingback
    • Thu 5 Aug 2004
    • 1857
    Received from Splash of Style » Creative Dissidence & Consensus

    […] information so I could study it thoroughly. It has proved to be a very educational read! Eric Meyer commented on the survey and offered reasoning on his design. Da […]

    • #3
    • Comment
    • Wed 28 Jul 2004
    • 1404
    Milan Negovan wrote in to say...

    This is an extremely interesting research. I’m curious, though, why there are no hardcode web developers in the lineup. I don’t know if it’s just the perception that web developers can’t produce anything worthwhile or what… Really don’t know. There are plenty of PHP/Java/ASP.NET/ASP gurus out there.

    • #4
    • Comment
    • Wed 28 Jul 2004
    • 1420
    Greg K Nicholson wrote in to say...

    Eric, your links aren’t underlined for me – I set non-underlined-ness as the default. Never assume anything ever :)

    • #5
    • Comment
    • Wed 28 Jul 2004
    • 1420
    Anne wrote in to say...

    Nitpicking: XHTML is a pure XML format. HTML needs tidy, XHTML needs nothing. That doesn’t mean I disagree with you by the way. Using XHTML without the appropriate mime type is a no-go, since the forward compatibility argument is gone (you are not completely sure your pages are well-formed) and IE doesn’t support that mime type. Great :-)

    O, and if you ever need some help with utf-8, just mail ;-)

    • #6
    • Comment
    • Wed 28 Jul 2004
    • 1421
    Laurens Holst wrote in to say...

    UTF-8 giving you strange characters? Both UTF-8 and ISO-8859-1 have the ASCII character set (meaning the first 127 characters are the same)… And as your site is English you’re not using characters with accents (���), conversion between the two should be relatively trivial, up to the point that you don’t even need to convert the files, just the character-encoding specified.

    Well ok, now that you mention it, you do use some non-ASCII characters like � and �… But then again, if you start using UTF-8 you can go about using even more fancy characters! Yay! ^_^. Thing is, there are really only advantages to using UTF-8, except if you have existing content in a different character encoding.

    About converting ISO-8859-1 to UTF-8… Load the document in particular as ISO-8859-1 in your favorite text editor supporting UTF-8 (Notepad, or rather, Notepad2!) and save them as UTF-8. Surely there are tools around to automate this as well.

    ~Grauw

    • #7
    • Comment
    • Wed 28 Jul 2004
    • 1506
    Eric wrote in to say...

    Eric, your links aren’t underlined for me – I set non-underlined-ness as the default. Never assume anything ever :)

    That was kind of my point. As I said in the post:

    I don’t assert link styles at all.

    Thus, the link styles on meyerweb mirror what the reader expects, in the form of his browser preferences. I scored “yes” to all three questions because François’ preferences are set in such a way that this site yielded positive results for him on all three points. I thought I was clear about that, but perhaps not.

    • #8
    • Trackback
    • Thu 29 Jul 2004
    • 0422
    Received from Mokhet Blog

    Sondage graphique
    Fran

    • #9
    • Trackback
    • Thu 29 Jul 2004
    • 0908
    Received from Dive The Web

    Évaluation de quelques sites
    L’évaluation faite par François Briatte est en soit intéressante. Mais ce qui l’est encore plus, c’est les réponses à son étude. Déjà, Dave Shea, Jon Hicks et Eric Meyer on réagit. Je suppose que d’autres réactions suivront :-)

    • #10
    • Comment
    • Thu 29 Jul 2004
    • 1102
    John Y. wrote in to say...

    Eric,

    No thoughts on the serif/sans-serif item? I, for one, find serif fonts more readable, even on screen; I admit, though, that I may be an aberration.

    • #11
    • Comment
    • Thu 29 Jul 2004
    • 1153
    Kolano wrote in to say...

    “Because there continue to be no major advantages to valid XHTML over valid HTML”

    Well except for allowing XML based tools to more easily grab and parse your content. Sigh. I don’t mind you not using XHTML, but please don’t say there is no advantage to it.

    • #12
    • Comment
    • Thu 29 Jul 2004
    • 1655
    Faruk Ates wrote in to say...

    Eric, you may want to add Doug Bowman’s log entry on Dissidence at the top, so that people can check that one right away as well. Useful for instant comparison purposes. :)

    As for “Steal these” buttons: Dave Shea is all about webDESIGN, whereas you (as far as I can tell) care much less about DESIGN and much more about WEB{,standards,markup,etc}. I say, as long as they’re tastefully picked and don’t clash with the feel of the site, there’s no harm in using them.

    Oh, and definitely have a mail with Anne about UTF-8; he helped me convert my work’s CMS to UTF-8 entirely, and made it very easy for me to do so. :)

    • #13
    • Trackback
    • Fri 30 Jul 2004
    • 1137
    Received from Dutchcelt's blog

    Design survey, well sort of
    Some of you may have already seen François Briatte’s web design survey. It was written as a starting point for discussion on the implementation of particular web design issues. Not

    • #14
    • Comment
    • Wed 4 Aug 2004
    • 1659
    bryan wrote in to say...

    when I resize in firefox at very narrow widths it forces a scrollbar.

    • #15
    • Comment
    • Wed 11 Aug 2004
    • 0533
    restiffbard wrote in to say...

    My only thought on this is that a 10 site sample is fine in this case if for no other reason than the sites in question are driving forces in how the rest of us build our sites. If the survey was done of ten sites and most of them were just like my poor attempt then it would be ridiculous (I don’t even validate yet). But, considering the sites are “designer” sites it seems fine. Poking at the people that guide the rest of us is admirable.

    • #16
    • Comment
    • Fri 13 Aug 2004
    • 1148
    Mark wrote in to say...

    The survey’s site says “On the Internet (or rather on computer screens), rules change and web designers know it: most of them use sans-serif typefaces.” Yet where is the evidence for the superiority of sans-serifs? There is none that I know of. Certainly there are plenty of comments from people claiming that the screen is different. But I think the evidence is far too anecdotal and sketchy for such a claim to be made, especially given the ample evidence for the increased readability of serif faces in print. Unless strong evidence, not anecdotes or spurious reasoning, in favor of sans-serifs is presented, Web designers are probably better off sticking with what is known to work best in body text: serifs. (But good serifed fonts, of course. This isn’t about a choice between a good sans-serif and an ugly serif. And this shouldn’t be about which type can be made the tiniest either; many sites have type that is far too small — and all too often in a fixed size, too.)

    I’m inclined to be classical — or cantankerously old-fashioned, depending on your outlook — about this, perhaps because I remember the many sins of typography committed in the name of The New Medium that came during the early popularization of the Web. Sure, be bold; be new; be cool. Use sans-serifs if they’re what you like best. Just don’t take it yet as gospel that sans-serifs are the one true way, especially for long stretches of text.

    One more comment on another matter: So-called educated quotes are not always a good idea. Windows operating systems designed for Chinese often choke on these and other typographical niceties. In many cases, curly quotes will not appear on Chinese Windows systems; a blank space or a Chinese character will appear instead, often swallowing the character following the quotation mark. You think Web pages are ugly with straight quotes? Try Web pages with lacunae and random Chinese characters!

    This is most likely also the case with operating systems designed for Japanese and other languages whose writing systems are non-alphabetic (not “ideographic,” despite popular misconceptions and, alas, the misinformation spread by the Unicode Consortium and CSS specs).

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