I'm sad to see CNET's yellow and green go

cnet Earlier this week, Dan Farber posted a preview of CNET’s new, improved look. The main changes are to the logo (the pipe between the “c” and “net” is now gone, as you can see to the right) and the color scheme (yellow and green have been replaced with red, black, and grey). I’ll admit that I like the new design, because it is cleaner and simpler. At the same time however, a part of my own personal web history is dying along with the yellow and green.

When I was in junior high (grade seven if I remember correctly), living in Inuvik, NT, I had a summer job at the Inuvik Centennial Library. Part of my job was to scan in old yearbooks and other volumes so that they could be viewed (and presumably searched) using a computer. The other part of my job was to assist library patrons in using the computers and the web (this was around 1996, so the web was still new to most people). Both of these jobs meant that I had a lot of free time, either waiting for the slower scanner to do its thing, or waiting for people to need assistance. To pass the time I would read whatever technology news I could find online. In 1996, that meant CNET’s News.com.

Every morning, I was greeted by the yellow and green coloring of CNET’s properties. My passion (or addiction) for following tech news started at that library, reading News.com. I daresay I became quite fond of the yellow and green!

Over the years I have visited News.com less frequently, of course, due to the appearance of blogs like TechCrunch and aggregators like Techmeme and FriendFeed. Occasionally I’ll still check it out, but usually I find myself clicking through from Techmeme. News.com is no longer the destination for me.

For a trip down memory lane, check out the Wayback Machine. The version of News.com from December 22, 1996 is particularly trippy!

So long, CNET yellow and green, and thanks for all the fish.

Judging websites in a flash

Post ImageThere’s a very popular article (according to NewsGator) at Nature.com today titled “Web users judge sites in the blink of an eye“. Even though you think you’re giving a website a chance by taking a good, long, hard look at it, chances are you’ve made up your mind in less than a second:

We all know that first impressions count, but this study shows that the brain can make flash judgements almost as fast as the eye can take in the information. The discovery came as a surprise to some experts. “My colleagues believed it would be impossible to really see anything in less than 500 milliseconds,” says Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa, who has published the research in the journal Behaviour and Information Technology1. Instead they found that impressions were made in the first 50 milliseconds of viewing.

Lindgaard and her team presented volunteers with the briefest glimpses of web pages previously rated as being either easy on the eye or particularly jarring, and asked them to rate the websites on a sliding scale of visual appeal. Even though the images flashed up for just 50 milliseconds, roughly the duration of a single frame of standard television footage, their verdicts tallied well with judgements made after a longer period of scrutiny.

The research is particularly interesting for website designers like myself. And students of visual design, for that matter. Chances are if someone likes your design better, they’re going to like the content better too. I know I am guilty of that. I hate reading a plain black and white HTML page with only text, but I don’t mind reading something that is styled attractively, even if the content is the same.

What’s your flash judgement on this site? Be honest now!

Read: Nature.com

Flash Websites Suck!

I realize that the title of this post is a very wide and sweeping claim, but hear me out – I have quite a few good reasons for why I hate Macromedia Flash-based websites. I don’t think I have always disliked Flash, but lately the hatred has grown. There are just so many things to hate:

  1. Flash websites go against the true nature of the Web! This point will probably be the easiest to disagree with, but it’s also a more subtle point. How does the web work? You basically move along by clicking on hyperlinks, from page to page and site to site. What happens if you want to go back to a certain page? You can enter a URI, you can use a back button, or a bookmark, lots of ways. Flash breaks this functionality! You can’t really link to a “part” of a Flash site. Sure you can click links out of the Flash, but they aren’t standard links either – they are not picked up by link crawlers, and they don’t conform to the display standards set in your browser. You don’t always notice this, but it drives me nuts when you need to actually interact with links in a “normal” fashion.
  2. Flash sites are slow and take forever to load! Basically when I load a Flash website, and see some sort of progress bar or percentage, the website is saying to me “I think I’m so great you’re going to have to wait until I am good and ready to be displayed!” What the heck is that? When I visit a web page, I want the page to load, not the entire site! And Flash sites that show the progress bar just for looks piss me off even more. I have high speed for a reason morons!
  3. Flash sites require you to learn a new interface each time! I admit, this point is also sort of easy to argue against, but think about it. How different are HTML-based websites? Really different? Not really. They typically all have some sort of textual or graphical menu along the top or one of the sides. Almost all of these websites are fairly similar in the way you navigate them. Flash sites on the other hand are completely different! Some sites want to you click different objects in a 3D world, others have pictures with no words. The links are often scattered around the Flash animation which means I have to hunt around. And the most annoying part of Flash navigation is that often times you click a menu item, only to be shown a submenu with no way to get back to the original menu! It’s frustrating to say the least.
  4. Flash sites don’t “fit” my screen! Most websites will resize depending on how big or small my browser is, and how large or small my screen’s resolution is. Not so with Flash sites! Almost every Flash site I have come across has a set size, and too bad if your screen/browser size doesn’t work out.

Those are the main things that bug me about Flash sites – as you can see, they are pretty logical and straightforward. There’s some other minor things that get under my skin too:

  • Lots of Flash sites don’t have a text-only or HTML-only equivalent!
  • Why must every musician or band in the world have a difficult to use Flash site?
  • Most of the time trying to copy text from a Flash animation is impossible.
  • I realize it’s hard to get a browser that doesn’t have Flash, but requiring a user to install a plugin to see any of a website is kind of dumb, Flash or not.
  • Show me the source! Sometimes I like poking around the HTML, CSS or javascript – it’s a useful way to learn from others. I can’t see the source of a Flash site though!

I really don’t care how good you think Flash will make a website look. I’d take usability over looks any day (with very, very few exceptions), and that’s really why I hate Flash sites.