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AFRIK-IT  May 1998

AFRIK-IT May 1998

Subject:

Re: idn.org and other informative web sites - panacea or Pandora's box?

From:

Joris Komen <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Thu, 28 May 1998 10:27:53 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (102 lines)

Hi!

Christopher Byrne wrote:

>Well I feel I must respond to this and the other comments presented on
>this mailing list today.  First, I wish Mr. Komen had taken the time to
>write to me personally, as we do implement suggestions made by our
>visitors.

I'm awfully sorry if I made Christopher Byrne feel sore earlier on in his
time zone:-); I have been carrying out a longish spate of alter-bechmark
tests :-) and inevitable flames at notoriously slow museum sites (in
particular) and other supposedly educational or information-driven web
sites in the past few weeks. Sad to say, out of the many sites examined and
(often) flamed, Christopher is the first person who's responded!  Now this
tells me something really interesting, especially since I gather that he's
not the webmaster of the idn.org site!  As soon as I've completed a
reasonably exhaustive examination of all the pertinent web sites, I will be
cross-posting the results to a couple of lists; in particular the Museum-L
list which sees a lot of museum traffic.  My reason for raising issue on
this list is that it's frequented by a lot of African ITers...they may
learn something from this bit of public criticism...after all, for every
complaint received, there are at least another 2000 who don't:-)

>Second, when the design of the IDN web site was done, it was with the
>intention of minimizing download time.  There are further things that
>can and will be done once we generate revenue from sponsorships and
>memberships (which will allow us to hire staff to work on these areas).

tsk-tsk,  this must be simply awful for a first world organisation, but
probably very much like many other museums and allied institutions in
Africa, where, for example, the National Museum of Namibia has a
(presently) negative (!) operational budget, the museum server is managed
by a semi-literate bird biologist, and the web site was developed in spare
time by three museum curators!  I don't complain:-), we're getting
reasonable numbers of virtual visitors to our museum, lots of feedback
(including criticism:-)), and we try to improve all the time!

>If it took six minutes to download, I apologize, but I really do not
>have much sympathy for users of 9600 baud or 14.4 K modems who surf the
>web with images turned on.  With Images off you have your text only
>version.  And unless an animated GIF adds value, it will absolutely not
>be used.  Those are 'Bandwidth Hogs'.

Christopher just put his foot in it:-)  A lack of sympathy!!?? for users of
copper wire and oldish modems "surfing" the web with images turned on ???
Wow!  If this attitude is pervasive, then I really do see the merit in more
frequent Lisse flames:-)  on this list!  It's time to come real with
respect to your client base;  the great majority of erudite African web
crawlers do this and lots more to make information retrieval a less than
painful experience!  I
know of at least a dozen African museum folk who regularly go to work at 5
AM to check mail, let alone "surf" (hah!) the web!

Having examined the idn.org web page with images off (I had to find,
install and use a very much older version of netscape to be able to do this
successfully:-)) , it was a decidely unpleasant experience!

A jpeg (!) background image, followed by a 20K jpeg graphic inside a
complex table, will be a far greater bandwidth hog than a hypnotic 4k
animated gif, if you're trying to provide a virtual paregoric!:-) Jokes
aside, I strongly believe that a lot more effort could be put into page
planning and design, to optimize for low bandwidth and follow minimalist
rules as per Jean-Pierre's thread.

>Mr. Harris of USAID (or should I say a USAID Contractor?) suggests that
>the site should have been tested with slower modems.  The reality is
>that it is.  And his statement about Tables loading is incorrect.

This brings me to the value of having the Afrik-IT list, and other
pertinent lists:-) There may be some automated *alter*-benchmark testing
device somewhere on the web which could provide very valuable guidance to
those webmasters who are, indeed, concerned about *holding* audiences at
their web sites.  I don't know of any, and now that I've had seventeen
(first world) requests for testing (first world) web site downloads since I
posted my critical contribution yesterday afternoon:-), I'm worried that
I've kicked over a can of worms, or should I say Pandora's box, and may
land up having to find funds and sponsorships to hire staff to run these
tests !:-)  Perhaps someone out there has a practical solution for this - I
would be grateful:-)
>
>It is always very easy for web 'gurus' to be critical of others work
>(and I freely admit that I do the same), but I think we have a case here
>where people are failing to see the trees in the forest.  If it took Mr.
>Komen 6 minutes to download the main page, how much longer in time and
>money would it have taken him to find the same information and links
>himself on the web.  That is why the site was launched:  to provide a
>place where people could go for the information.

Criticism is healthy; using a good search engine and some well thought out
search strings will give me satisfactory results in a lot less time.
However,  this is not the point of my criticism!  The webmaster(s) of an
educational or informative site aimed at a distinctive (?) audience should
strive to make it as accessible as possible - quick to download, easy to
read, text-only options and a discerning list of links.  After all, if I
had intended to visit a virtual photographic exhibition or cnn.com, I sit
back, relax and expect to wait...within reason:-)

Cheers,

Joris

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