Monday, June 18, 2007

Impossibility of Discovery

For the past couple of years, I have scoured the Internet for spider-related imagery and resources. I think I have a pretty good handle on it. But, there are some gems out there that at are near impossible to find. The discoverability issue has a lot to do with poor web design and that means little to absolutely no consideration for how search engine bots work. While it's commendable to put all that content on a website, it's equally important to ensure the work can be discovered. Many of the authors below should look at some of the offerings in Web Pages That Suck and pay close attention to the list of web design mistakes. Without good design, what's the point? Let it be clear that I'm not knocking the content; these are extremely valuable and obviously very time-consuming works. However, consideration must be given to the end user. Why not just get these works ready for a book & let a typesetter and layout editor handle the esthetics? A few of these examples are (in no particular order):

  1. Nachweiskarten der Spinnentiere Deutschlands

  2. Linyphiid Spiders of the World

  3. Arachnodata

  4. Aracnis

  5. Central European Spiders - Determination Key

Three words: kill the frames. If you have to use a frameset, give the user the option to turn it on or off.

Other sites have been improving dramatically like Jørgen Lissner's Spiders of Europe. But, it's worth thinking about a search function and also hiding the backend technology by creating URIs (i.e. aspx might be your preferred programming language, but what if you decide one day to switch to Apache and PHP?). A bit of server-side URL re-writing can go a long way to ensure longterm access to your content. If you switch to Apache, MySQL, and serve content via PHP, you can make use of Apache's mod_rewrite...none of your incoming links break.

Some pointers:

If you're going to use drop-down menus, please, please make them useful & hierarchical by using some simple AJAX to submit a form and adjust the options. Nothing is more frustrating than scrolling through an endless list of species only to find the one you're looking for is not there or to select a species only to find no content. A list of taxonomic references is at least some content even if that may seem rather thin. If Google and other search engines are having a rough time indexing your content, it is equally rough on end users. Another point is to lose the mindset that you're working with paper - the web is a highly interactive place and visitors have short attention spans. Limit the content to the most important bits. Use a pale background and dark-coloured text. Not only is printing web sites that use the reverse a pain, you are also saying, "I haven't thought about people with less than perfect vision." I could go on and on, but I'll leave it at that.

If you want a web site with hundreds of arachnid-related links, visit the Arachnology Homepage. Herman Vanuytven puts a lot of time trying to make sense of all the arachnid content out there.

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