Homepages - the definition

In Hindsight

Another article that's quite close to my heart. Sorry, I'm getting sentimental. I've always enjoyed the web, as a place for information and its exchange. As such the visual layout of a homepage, or website comes secondary to me. Look at Amazon, Google and eBay for example. They're not visually stunning, on the contrary, they're actually quite "ugly", but they work so incredibly well.
There was a time when most web designers used pure Photoshop mock-ups to descibe how the page should look, without any or little respect for what the HTML in the background required. I hated this, and, to some extent this article is a result of that hatred. This aricle was written on the 28th Feb 1999.
I'm quite glad to say that todays web is a much better place to be (there's always exceptions).

So, you do homepages?

Right. There are a lot of homepage makers out there. Many of the consider themselves the aces of homepage making. That might be so. But, nobody has defined a homepage. This is my definition. Like it or not!

In the beginning

In the beginning HTML was made so that you could describe a pages content to a browser, note that it was not made to describe a page for the viewer. You would describe the content using tags, like <P> or <H1>. The idea was that I, as the viewer, then could modify the settings of my browser to suit my needs. If I had a large engineer-type monitor, I could set the font-size larger, for easy screen reading. If I were a dork, I could set my text to be dark gray and the background to be dark gray It was totally up to me as the viewer. You, as the content provider, would only describe the content, not the layout and/or look.

Enter Mr. Netscape

So far, so kickass! But then onto the stage steps Mr. Netscape. He writes a program called Mosaic, an enhanced web browser. It can show bitmapped images. The new tag is <IMG> This means, that suddenly you can add bandwidth hogging images onto the web. Now this would have been cool, if used right, but...
Then onto the stage steps visual designers, yes, people that want absolute control over the look of the page. The content is pushed back and the visual part is lifted up. In their frustration they notice that they cannot have full control over the page, the only thing they can control is images! That is, they start making images instead of homepages. *WARNING-SUMMER!*

So the conclusion is...

That by not having control over HTML visually oriented designers use bitmapped images instead of accepting and adapting their creation to the media.

One of the best quotes I know is the one of Jeffrey Veen member of the Hot Wired team, in his book the first thing he states is: 'The web is not print, the web is not television. The web is not a CD-ROM'. He also states that we should get to know the media before attempting to control it.
Now, that is where most designers fail, to know the media. And that's why we have so many 'non-homepage-homepages' also known as Image-pages.
That is, a homepage is not a bunch of images laid out by using <TABLE>. A real homepage uses plain text as much as possible. Since web browsers pre 4.0 really suck the only way to layout a page is by using the <TABLE>-tag, so that part is forgiven. You should, however, use layers as much as you can. A homepage, both the visual part and the content, should be adapted to the medium. If you can find the same content in print somewhere, it is not a homepage (more like an electronic brochure).
Here is a small 'Is this a homepage' checklist:

  • Do, CTRL+A or turn off all images, can you still read the content? If you can, it's a homepage.
  • Open up Lynx or Netscape 1.1 and view the page, can you still see the content? If you can, it's a homepage.
  • If you find it hard to see the message of the page, it's probably not a homepage.
  • If it takes more than 20 seconds over a 28.8 modem to get the content up on the page, it's probably not a homepage.
  • If you get a lot of error codes smashed up in your face, its probably not a homepage.
  • If you can find a text that says something like 'For more information click here' and the word 'here' is a link, it's definitely not a homepage (Homepages = Hypertext)

This definition makes most homepages fall under the category 'non-homepage-homepages', which is quite sad. And, the saddest part is that customers, not knowing better, mostly ask for 'non-homepage-homepages'