codeRambler Ramblings on code, the web, and technology

UK World Heritage Website shunned
Monday December 12th 2005, 6:16 pm
Filed under: Ramblings, Web development

I recently read an article on The Register that revealed the UK World Heritage web site got only 77 hits in a year!

The information came to light after a series of questions tabled by Brent East MP Sarah Teather. This was picked up by the Guardian who ran the original story titled “The websites nobody wants” that paints a rather bleak landscape of the effectiveness of many UK Government sponsored web sites.

As you probably don’t know there are a quite a lot of World Heritage locations in the UK, 20+ in England alone – and the UK World Heritage web site would more accurately be called a portal (which is indeed what it refers to itself as) – providing links to specific web sites that deal with the individual locations (and that appear to be under seperate control).

Whilst the markup still relies on tables for layout (which is a big faux pas – especially for such simple sites), its real failing is a lot worse. If you visit the site without Javascript turned on, then you do not get to see any of the navigation! You can’t navigate to Map of sites across the UK nor can you report these problems to the DCMS team using their Contact page.

I don’t know if that is the real cause of their low page hit rate, but doing a simple search in Google to see how well they are indexed reveals that only two pages are indexed. The map page is linked (probably because another site links to it) and the initial front page but no other pages on the portal are indexed. No wonder nobody visits… nobody can find it!

Someone needs to tell them that the best way to optimise a site for search engines is to create a Standards Compliant and Accessible web site. Use a complete doctype and validate against it.

I’m available for consulting.

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Rendition is merely an excuse for kidnap
Friday December 09th 2005, 8:08 am
Filed under: Ramblings

Recent news articles on the existance of European ‘interrogation prisons’ that were (until recently) used by the US for holding and interrogating (and susequent torturing) terrorist suspects have introduced a new word into my vocabulary. I have been reading about Rendition.

The Washington Post has an article by David Ignatius published on 9th December 2005 that includes the following definition:

Rendition is the CIA’s antiseptic term for its practice of sending captured terrorist suspects to other countries for interrogation.

The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice has defended the use of “rendition” and has stepped into the media firing line as the US struggles to justify what can only be referred to as legalised abduction and kidnap. The word rendition doesn’t even appear (in this context) anywhere in the online BBC News archives before 5th December 2005.

What really make we sit up and pay attention was that this apparently illegal practice actually has a solid base in US law thanks to Presidential Directive #39:

Presidential Directive #39 from the Clinton White House, stated…”If we do not receive adequate cooperation from a state that harbors a terrorist whose extradition we are seeking, we shall take appropriate measures to induce cooperation. Return of suspects by force may be effected without the cooperation of the host government, consistent with the procedures outlined in NSD-77, which shall remain in effect.”

The ease with which such a policy can be mis-used is just as disturbing. I don’t want to have a terrorist on my doorstep wrapped in 10lb of explosives… but rendition is proving to these terrorists (to their backers) that their cause is just.

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Why do they never say what they mean?
Friday December 09th 2005, 7:22 am
Filed under: Ramblings, Web development

I was discussing the recent acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe and the conversation turned to the future of Macromedia Flashpaper and Adobe PDF. They basically offer the same solution to portable print documents. One of the questions revolved around the following statement available on Macromedia’s website…

In September 2005, NPD Research conducted a study to determine what percentage of Web browsers have Macromedia Flash pre-installed. The results show that 97.3% of Web users can experience Macromedia Flash content without having to download and install a player.

So when does a study about Web browsers turn into a report on Web users? The two are totally seperate things, and yet you can clearly see the “mealy-mouthed” way that the quote above has twisted a report to make for good advertising and PR.

I think it’s had the opposite effect (on me at least). As a result I wouldn’t personally put a lot of weight on the 97.3% figure (with respect to Web browsers).

The conversation concluded with me expressing an interest in watching what Adobe does with the newly acquired products. I don’t think they’d kill off one (or the other), but I do like the idea of a merged product that offers the good parts from each. Without the PR people stomping all over the place throwing marketing sentences at us like we are all sheep.

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