A fly’s kaleidoscope

We would ask committed NUblog readers to forgive us for our irregular postings. No fewer than 20 topics remain in the hopper. But with no specific deadlines to produce them – and really, the “self-imposed deadline” is a fiction of Tolkienesque dimensions – will they ever emerge from the hopper? (Chefs may prefer imagery along the lines of ricers or mandolins.)

And at any rate, we have the decade’s biggest excuse not to post, namely the audacious but technologically straightforward destruction of the World Trade Center. You had pretty much no hope whatsoever of reading about the attack online as it happened; every conceivable news site was swamped. Yet snatchmail and Steve Case Instant Messager™ worked just fine, as did “non-peak” Web sites.

What happened as a result?

Is there a lesson here?

Well, yes. News sites should provide news, not Nintendo. The dictum in newswriting – “As long as necessary and as short as possible” – manifestly applies here. News on the Web should be presented as simply as possible and as complex as necessary.

We are by no means opposed to infographics, audio, video, and the like, assuming platform compatibility and accessibility are considered. But there is really no excuse for the lavish and extravagant misuse of graphics (text rendered as GIFs, for example) seen omnipresently on news sites. Each of those graphics, to be individually downloaded, requires a separate server hit. That’s what kills you. (Newsflash: The majority of people online use slow modems.) It must be pointed out that design can still be accomplished with genuinely necessary graphics, colour combinations, and of course stylesheets.

We are aware that we sound like poor Irish stock here, pretty much telling the world that businessmen need nothing but two suits (one winter, one summer), two pairs of shoes (with one set of rubbers), and a good solid greatcoat (grampa’s ought to do fine – it did him). Anything more is ostentatious. It is not plain in, say, the Amish sense.

It is submitted, however, that news sites should be plain rather than fancy. Let’s quote Dennis Miller here: “I just want the news. I don’t want to know what a fly sees when it looks through a fuckin’ kaleidoscope.”

Posted on 2001-09-18