Web 2.0 Evolution

Web 2.0 & Accessibility

Active content = less accessibility, more misery

Posted by iljitsch on October 14, 2007

A while ago, I wrote this rant. Since web 2.0 is also often used in conjunction with AJAX (asynchronous javascript and XML) that powers all these neat tricks that can make web applications behave (almost) like real, local applications, I thought this might apply somewhat to our discussion here. So:

Embedded programs that are supposed to enhance our content are in fact making it less secure, less reliable, more expensive to create, promote monocultures and limit consumers’ options. This problem is most apparent on the web, but it’s permeating elsewhere as well.

Phishers trick people into revealing sensitive data by making the user believe he or she is dealing with a legit outfit. For instance, when you hover your mouse pointer over a link, normally, you’ll see the URL the link points to. But with some scripting, it’s possible to display something different. That’s bad, but it gets worse. It’s easy to scan an HTML page to determine if there are any undesired URLs in it. But if there is a script attached to that page, this is no longer possible, because the script can be programmed to construct the unwanted content when it’s run.

Less reliable: if you have a browser display an HTML page with some illegal HTML in it, in almost all cases, the result is usable to some degree: the browser ignores the HTML it doesn’t understand and goes on to render the rest. But with a JavaScript program, if there is one statement or function that the browser doesn’t understand or implements in a way that wasn’t expected by the programmer, and in most cases, the program can’t be executed at all or it fails to function to any useful degree.

Because programs are so fragile, it’s necessary to test them in all environments where they’ll have to function. This is why it’s so hard to surf the web with a browser other than the two or three most popular ones: content creators don’t test their scripts on these browsers, the content doesn’t work, and people switch to Internet Explorer or Firefox.

When DVDs first appeared, only the FBI warnings were unskipable. But having the ability to restrict the use of certain DVD player functions, DVD creators soon started making previews and ads unskipable too, sometimes even forcing users to go through menus to select different soundtracks or subtitles.

Please stop this proliferation of active content, for the most part, it’s not making our lives better.


2 Responses to “Active content = less accessibility, more misery”

  1. Rafa said

    I agree that AJAX is a very important component of the web 2.0 world.
    Although agreed with some of your comments, I think that in a network environment where nobody works within a single computer and networks are more and more pervasive oriented, AJAX-based applications is a clear trend to follow.
    For example, in online banks, AJAX could be used to customize your welcome screen in order to do the most common bank operations, or to have a customized-URL, or to have a customized login to avoid phising, …
    So, I foresee some brilliant future for AJAX, although with some challenges to be resolved.

  2. Jose Jesus said

    Color or B&W TV? That seems to be an always present concert about technology: simplicity is advantageous but, wow, how hard is to renounce all those new possibilities 🙂

    Do you know Jakob Nielsen? He has some ideas (perhaps too radical ones)on the subject…

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