Better Web Browsing? Or Multimedia Abuse?

First Published:
Date Published: 1997
Copyright © 1997 by Kevin Savetz

Kevin Savetz: Remember when web pages used to load quickly? I'm sick and tired of all the worthless dreck that web pages are throwing at us. Those big, fat animated graphics, those useless Java applets that take half a minute to load, and that disgusting MIDI music. They all come unbidden when you chance upon a web page laden with that stuff. I wish content providers would dispense with the laser shows and just serve up information. I'm on the web to get information, not to be dazzled by multimedia.

Neil Randall: Ah, Kevin! Always harping about the good old days. When browsers were just browsers. When the Web was just text. I suppose you long for the dot commands in WordStar, right? Get with the program, okay? Information is more than just text. It's text plus visuals plus audio. Hell, if they could build in smell and touch, I'd want that, too. I'm on the Web for information, too, but information is all these things. My take is this: if somebody can spice up their offerings, more power to them, because the spice is part of the meal. I'll grant that a good third of the "extras" we get on the Web are utterly pointless, but I'd rather have designers go nuts than stifle themselves and lose even a touch of potential innovation.

Kevin Savetz: Certainly, information comes in many other forms than just text. But adding extraneous media doesn't necessarily bolster the info. Graphics and sound don't magically add value to information. When visuals and audio are relevant, I applaud it. But in your desperate search for something -- anything -- to spice up your dreary existence, Neil, you are willing to grab on to any little trinket that web designers throw at you. Even when they waste your time and bandwidth.

Consider print media. Print designers have access to a multitude of fonts, art, color and presentation possibilities. But good print designers know better than to use them all on a page when only a few are needed to effectively present the information. Which is easier to read, the New York Times or Wired? I don't expect all web sites to make things as dreary as the gray pages of the times, but we can't all try to be Wired either. In your terms, a little spice is nice, but you can't have curry with every meal.

(One more thing: what was wrong with WordStar?)

Neil Randall: What was wrong with WordStar was that my typewriter looked better! WordStar was visually a step down. It was almost as ugly as the word processor on my Commodore 64. The appearance of your writing materials matters - that's why people used to buy really nice pens and really nice paper. Not everybody, of course, but most of us aren't serious authors.

As for relevance, I'm all for it as long as it's relevant. But visuals and audio on the Web don't have to be relevant to the information to be useful. All they have to do is somehow enhance my visiting experience. The pictures hanging in the front hall of my house, and the music I play in the background, aren't relevant at all to the information my guests take away from my house, but they sure as hell enhance their visiting experience. And more on relevance - I don't think print design is relevant in the least to Web design. Print design is mired in a rut of pure lack of creativity, with nothing interesting happening because everybody's afraid to try new things. Wired looks stupid, but at least early on it was an attempt to do something different. David Siegel (the guy who wrote Designing Killer Web Sites or whatever it's called) wants us to think like slightly advanced print designers, and the huge sales of his books tells us that lots of other people think so too, but he's wrong. The Web is about innovation and experimentation, not about information. It's about enhancement, not effectiveness. As for dreariness, doesn't that pretty much define the New York Times?

Kevin Savetz: You're insane! Sure, when guests come to your house, they'll adore your pictures and music. Anything to distract themselves as you drone on and on. You may get to sit around surfing the web all day, but please try to remember that some of us are on the Internet to try to get some work done. Your guests don't enjoy being forced to see slides of your trip of the Big Ball of Twine in Minnesota, or to hear your Yanni collection. And the people who visit your web site don't want any extraneous information either.

By your logic, we can "enhance the experience" of visiting the Library of Congress by adding a disco ball, laser lights and a water slide. More is not necessarily better. The Web should be about information. The Internet has always been about exchanging information, and when that stops being true, I'll log out for good.

Neil Randall: Don't do that, Kevin. The fogeys need a spokesguy! Okay, look, I use the Web for information, too. And, yes, I get pissed off when I go to a site and wait around while some dorky ActiveX or Java thingie makes its way to my machine. But I do think the Web is about more than information. I think it's about a new way of life, a new way of seeing things. The Net is about exchanging information, but it's also about cyber-things: cyber-identities, cyber-work, cyber-blahblahblah, and I don't want to see it become a library. Libraries have their function, but they bore the hell out of me. I don't want to see the Web become merely functional. That's why I want my browsers to do more and more stuff, and why I want HTML and all the other Webbie tools to grow and grow and grow. What bothers me are, first, that I don't seem to get a lot of choice in the matter - the damned ActiveX and Java stuff comes down no matter what I do - and, worse, that Web designers want to emulate TV. That's no good, either. I want a different medium, and the browsers are the only way we have right now of getting there.

Oh, extraneous is good.

Articles by Kevin Savetz