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Subject: Web elitism [fwd]
From: Joe Clark <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Joe Clark <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 2 Apr 1997 16:16:37 -0500

text/plain (129 lines)

[You're reading a message to the Media Access mailing list]

An article from one of the _Wired_ online spawn, Packet. The predecessor
article she mentions is at:


This particular article's URL is:


The lessons here are applicable to accessible Web design and Web
typography, which are kissin' cousins anyway.

>   [Brooke Shelby Biggs - Media]
>   [Packet]
>   So Cool You Can't Even See It
>   Online media constantly strive to prove they're on the technological
>   "cutting edge" at the expense of readership
>   Two weeks ago, I made the case that Web media is too [3]elitist and
>   insular to ever attract a mass audience, and that without a broader user
>   base, it would surely fail. I was reminded, in the ensuing truckload of
>   email, that it isn't only content that can be exclusionary, but
>   presentation as well. Digital media gets so wrapped up in groovy
>   animations and slick, complex designs they fail to notice that hardly
>   anyone out there in Web land has the technology to appreciate it.
>   In the dark little recesses of the retro-pomo warehouses where the digital
>   elite congregate to conceive and create online publications, you better
>   believe they're not thinking about you, the end user with 8 megs of RAM
>   and a 14.4-Kbps modem. That's your problem. Hey, we've got T1 and T3
>   lines. We've got SPARCstations and SGI boxes. Get with the program or get
>   out of the way. We're shooting so many cookies, graphics, and massive
>   image maps at you when you arrive, you're lucky if your browser doesn't
>   wave the white flag and bail out entirely.
>   But as we grind out more and more bandwidth-intensive loveliness, we
>   alienate ever greater numbers of our loyal followers and first-timers.
>   That's because the online media is using more sophisticated tools to
>   create material than our public has to view it. While we attempt to
>   mesmerize you with our creativity, we [4]pulverize your telephone line.
>   And then we wonder why more people don't stop by.

>   Although most of the mail I received about the elitism column ran in
>   enthusiastic favor of my thesis, some readers worried about the "dumbing
>   down" of the Web. After all, appealing to the lowest common denominator
>   (to the elite, that's anyone with an AOL account), puts you in about the
>   same league as the FOX Network and [5]Married ... With Children. Believe
>   it or not, that analogy was made by three different people who wrote in to
>   comment. It's wrong. There is a difference between being smart and being
>   exclusive. Just because 90 percent of the public doesn't know or care what
>   you're publishing doesn't make you intelligent. In fact, it makes you
>   stupid.

>   My friend Carmel put it this way: "Sometimes I try to read a publication
>   online, but it's like going down to the corner store and buying the Sunday
>   newspaper one page at a time," she said.
>   Perhaps a more precise observation is that while the Web may not ever be a
>   mass medium, it should be accessible to the masses - or at least those
>   masses with the most basic Net connections. Nothing is more frustrating
>   than waiting 10 minutes to load the Shockwave movie that just hijacked
>   your browser (forget about doing anything else while you wait), just to
>   look at some murky Wayne's World-inspired pseudo-intellectual horseshit by
>   some bored GenXers making like the Rupert Murdochs-cum-Francois Truffauts
>   of the Web.
>   Web designers should visit their own sites over a 14.4 connection with a
>   stripped-down browser. It's hard enough to create niche publications based
>   on the common interests of a limited number of users, and it only gets
>   harder if you present your material in a manner that shuts out half your
>   target audience.
>   Even if users bothered to figure out how to install every plug-in they
>   encounter, they're probably not willing to wait for each application to
>   download, let alone for their computers to process and display a [10]token
>   Shockwave animation or a [11]pointless sound file just for a little flash.
>   But those of us who are fortunate enough to work in the Web publishing
>   industry have superfast network connections and loads of RAM, and we just
>   can't remember the days of visiting Prodigy on a 9600-baud modem from our
>   Mac Classics. We've blocked the memory. Too bad for you.
>   Of course all this talk of "cutting-edge multimedia experiences" and
>   "pushing the technological envelope" makes the online media feel
>   important, but it doesn't make it relevant. In fact, it hurts publications
>   that are already scrabbling to hold on to the users they've managed to
>   attract thus far. It's a selfish, shortsighted, shallow, and [12]arrogant
>   excuse to get paid to play with cool toys, cop a superiority complex, and
>   then blame the baser instincts of society for the [13]commercial failure
>   of pet projects.
>   There's a place for the [14]vanguard on the Web; don't get me wrong. But
>   the smart ones don't expect to make money at it. They understand that just
>   because something can be done doesn't mean it should be.
>   [Brooke Shelby Biggs]
>   Send mail to Brooke Shelby Biggs at [15][log in to unmask]

                                        Joe Clark
                                   [log in to unmask]

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