What I think about while evaluating websites, besides whether I can get Wes to go buy me some root beer and chocolate

Rock bottom:

Must not crash my browser.

Second rock:

Must not advocate or provoke hatred or harm toward any person, place or thing, with the possible exception of that stupid concrete step next door I tripped over one day; I'm willing to reserve judgment until I see your treatment. This is subjective and flexible; I know it and I take responsibility for my own judgements. It is impossible for me to say "Yes" to everything -- if I say "Yes" to celebrating diversity, I have to say "No" to hate.

Respect for all guests.

I usually browse in Netscape 4.0; I alternate with IE 4.0 and Lynx. I have available Netscape 2.0 and 3.0. I use both tiny little old screens and big wide new hi-res screens. If I am using any of those and get a message from your site saying "Adjust your screen size now", "Go away and get a real browser" -- or a long string of Java error popups -- I am going to go away and not come back. Either design for all traffic or warn the viewer politelythat what's coming up is for a particular audience, then give the rest of the audience a graceful exit from the theater before the show starts.

Accessibility.

I read most of my mail in Pine, so the first time I see most new sites I'm referred to by mail is in Lynx. If I see something interesting, I'll go back later in a graphic browser. If all that I see is a large field of [this.gif] [that.gif] [inline] [blank] I am not likely to go back.

If I have to wait more than 30 seconds before I can start reading your text, I had better have a very good reason for loving you ahead of time.

I work with low-income and disabled groups and individuals; I am one myself. If you can't pass Bobby, I probably won't give you any awards either.

There are good reasons for making specialized sites for a specific audience with specific equipment, and I will recommend such sites for that audience -- but only for that audience.

Content

I am primarily a text-oriented person, and I am unlikely to regard your site as containing "content" if it does not have some text on it. There are exceptions to everything.

Pictures are content if they move the viewer to emotion, thought or action. Being just plain beautiful or amusing are valuable too. Singing and dancing icons are not "content". A coordinated set of webpage graphics is nice, but it's not content. Not every link has to be a graphic image -- it takes too long to load! Site intros in Flash are pretty, but don't add a lot of meaning.

In sum, if you have a visual element to the page, it should add some meaning to the page, not just decoration to break the march of text or fill an empty spot.

Games are fine, but don't make me play games to find my way through your web-maze. If your whole site is games, say so up front and let me move on -- I'm not your target audience, though many of my friends are and I'll send them over if you didn't annoy me.

A list of books, or links, or friends, or games, or anything is not content unless you tell me something about them; something more than "I liked this one."

If you want me to pay attention to what you are interested in, pay attention to what I am interested in. Don't just present your own poems as if you were the only person who ever wrote poetry. Link to other poems, information about poetry, forums where visitors can post their own; discuss why you write, what you think poetry should be, who your favorite poets are. Have a guestbook. Use the web to widen your own horizons, as well as those of others.

One of my crotchets: people who act as if they are the only ones to ever think about a particular subject. "Oh my god! We have homelessness in this country! I think we should build houses for everyone now! Get your hammer and join me next Tuesday at Broad and Elm!" (Actually, I wouldn't mind that at all. It's the "Forward this e-petition to fifty people to end homelessness in our lifetime" folks who really irritate me.) If you are interested in a subject, research that subject, link to other folks who have written about it, then fill in the gaps -- don't re-invent the wheel. We have a WHEEL. :-)

Much more serious crotchet: Inaccurate or misleading data.

Originality

Do, however, invent something. By all means use the wonderful webpage graphic sets that other people have created, and great quotes from literature, and the "free content" services like news headlines and fortune cookies, and link lists and webrings -- but those are all add-ons. Don't create a webpage just because everybody else has a webpage -- create a webpage because you have something to say, and then say it.

"Doorway" pages are fine; pages that catch the attention of surfers and introduce other sites you have created. Unless the doorway site has its own content, though, it's not going to get its own award.

Service & Usefulness

So many webpages, so little time -- if I recommend to one of my friends that they take time to go see your webpage, it's because I know they will get something from it.

Navigation

If I am intrigued by your site I may work hard to find my way through it, as an individual. But I won't recommend it until you make it easier to navigate.

In Practice

Different factors weigh more heavily in relation to different sites. Some hypothetical rankings in hypothetical order, from lowest to highest:
  1. Shoot Mahir and the Dancing Hamsters: I would recommend to three close friends.
  2. Flower Gardens, Flower Poems: a site of sweet watercolors and rhymes that I would recommend to couple of email lists that my previous three friends do not subscribe to. Appearance would be critical; too much text would detract from the site. A way to order copies of the pictures, and perhaps greeting cards with poetry and pictures, would be a plus.
  3. Walking the Borderline: information and resources for people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and their families and others in their lives, I would link to with a recommendation, help to get indexed in search engines, and recommend to many individuals and lists. The rating I gave it would depend primarily on the accuracy and usefulness of its information and its tone (clinical or emotional or "personal experience backed by careful research"), with some attention to navigation and almost no attention to appearance as long as it can be read.
  4. Getting Everyone Inside: a directory of shelter and housing services. Here accuracy of information and ease of navigation are critical to usefulness; so is complete accessibility to older browsers and fast loading. A clean, uncluttered appearance would gain points, as would a simple and non-patronizing tone. An easy way to add and update information would be a plus.The more the directory provided, the higher I would rank it.
  5. How to Change Your World: How to get involved in your neighborhood, your community, your city, your county, your state, your region, your country on the issues that matter to you. Because not everybody is working on the same thing, and if they did the planet would be three miles deep in whales and everything else would die, I would rate this site the highest (all factors of accuracy, ease of use, etc. being equal) because it was useful to the most people. (For something pretty close to this, check out Oneworld.org)

Any Suggestions?
 
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