diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 17, 2012

I got Reddited yesterday. Which was nice.

Reddit, if you don't know, is a long-standing online community where users add links to an ever-bubbling noticeboard. If they like something they vote it up, and if they don't they vote it down. What with Redditors being just a trifle nerdgeeky, they liked my list of station usage data and voted it up. Hey presto, well over a thousand of them clicked over, which was nice.

And then they went back to their own site and left comments. "I thought Clapham Junction was the busiest train station in the U.K." said one. "It's the busiest because lots of trains go through it, but this list is busiest in terms of passengers using the stations" said another. "Stratford... it's crazy busy. I travel from there every morning. Sometimes I've been on a completely packed train to the point that West Ham and Canning Town folks can't really get on at all," added a third. And then somebody said this.
» What a terrible looking site. [eastlondonmandem]
Oh, I wasn't expecting that. The feedback continued.
» content over form isn't necessarily a bad thing [Scary_]
» Pretty sure it's been the same since 1999. The content is great, but I agree that it could do with a facelift. [Larwood]
» OK - the aesthetics might not be "modern", but is that really a reason to change? The Golden Syrup tin hasn't changed since it was designed and is now considered a classic. [geekchic]
There then followed a wildly tangential geekbitchfight debating the merits (or otherwise) of Javascript and Ajax, because that's what Reddit's like sometimes. But I was left thinking, oh, does my website really look crap?

I'm still using a Blogger template from ten years ago. It used to be a vile shade of green, which I soon updated to silver (or, OK, grey). But other than that it's still pretty much the same layout and design as ten years ago, mildly tweaked, with added bits embedded here and there. It's fairly simple underneath, and I understand how it all fits together, so who cares if it's little more than two ashen strips with text in? I'm betting you're here for what I've written, rather than how it looks, so I place all my effort there.

But, looking afresh, I'm probably doing myself no favours. Those thousand plus people who surfed in yesterday, many for the first time, may well have formed a snap judgement on my site based on one page of ugliness. They won't be back. And yet perhaps leaden grey clunkiness is the least of my problems, maybe it's screen size. It used to be that most people accessed the web via a computer with a big screen, but today the driving impetus is portable miniaturisation. I don't yet have a smartphone, so it struck me that perhaps my blog might look godawful on a mobile, even to the point of illegibility. Ulp. So I unearthed a few emulators online and, ah, oh dear, maybe that's not good at all.

On an iPad, seemingly, no problem. I stuck diamondgeezer.blogspot.com into a iPad simulator and it looks fine, even quite swish, with all the greys and blacks and indigos blending well. But on an iPhone, if these emulators are anything to go by, it's not so hot. My dark grey sidebar's only 180 pixels wide, which is nothing on a normal screen, but on a thin mobile screen it's much too over-dominant. There's not enough space to the left for the main text, so far as I can see, which then becomes much too titchy to easily read. Or maybe I have a scrolling problem. Using this emulator the text comes up full size but runs straight off the edge, back and forth, which you'd need the patience of a saint to coherently read. In the upcoming futureworld of mobile browsing, it seems, my blog is several different types of unreadable. Sorry.

To confirm this sorry state of affairs I tested my blog for mobile-readiness using a couple of validation sites. They weren't best pleased. I'm doing lots of things wrong, apparently, which makes my blog almost as mobile-unfriendly as it gets.

  • The size of the document's markup exceeds 10 kilobytes. Er, yes. My mark-up's 167.6KB, apparently, so it takes an age to load. Too long, or too data-expensive, for most people to bother.
  • There are more than 20 embedded external resources. Er, yes. I let readers see up to a fortnight's posts all in one go, which is a lot of photos for one page. No problem on a broadband PC, but a fatal choking error in your pocket.
  • A "javascript:" link is used. Er, yes. My comments pop-up via Javascript, but mobiles hate pop-ups with a vengeance.
  • There are nested tables. Er, yes. My entire template is a two-column table, rather than a seamless CSS stylesheet, which is appallingly old-school.
  • The document does not validate against XHTML Basic 1.1 or MP 1.2. Er, no. And the list of failures goes on, and on, and on.

    What I ought to undertake is a complete template redesign. Something swish and modern, something off the shelf, rather than a creaking internet dinosaur that's unfit for purpose. Websites like Londonist and Ian Visits have already upgraded to mobile-friendly templates where you can only view one post at a time, never two, which makes them much easier to load. London Reconnections now has an alternative mobile format which strips away the sidebar and leaves the main content perfectly legible, just like magic. Or perhaps I could retreat to dumbdown geezer, my April Fool from last year, which I deliberately slimmed down to simplistic levels for readability's sake. As another Redditor says...
    » It could do with a lot more contrast in the content area, as well as a smaller column size for the main content (we aren't reading on 1024x768 any more!) [r3m0t]
    But stuff that. I want to flaunt the depth of my content, not hide it away. I'm a webpage purveyor, optimised for the big screen. I'm a child of 2002, still doing landscape while the world's going portrait. I'm a miserable coding stick-in-the-mud, happy with what I've got until someone proves it's broken. I'm continuing to make the fatal assumption that you're all viewing my blog the same way I am, and it still looks fine to me. Only when I buy myself a smartphone and start to view my blog through different eyes might things begin to change. Until then, sorry, the terrible-looking site lingers on.

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