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After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine A Season in Methven Our Host Send Me Mail

Home Articles STARK REALITIES About This Site My PGP Public Key

After Hours Reality Check Magazine

I've been devouring "Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage" (copyright 1990 by Cherry Hill, ISBN 0-88266-596-0, published by Storey Books of Pownal, Vermont.) I got a slightly-imperfect paperback copy from booksonhorses.com (I'll bet you can figure out the URL for yourself) for less than ten bucks, third-class shipping included. It came in the mail earlier today and I haven't been able to put it down since.

Hill opens Section One of the book -- which is entitled "Knowing Horses" -- with a cautionary tale about her neighbor, Bud, and how he unwittingly created a horseman's tragedy by combining enthusiasm for horsekeeping with ignorance of the animals' needs and insufficient time properly to care for them. It's only after that heartbreaking story that she gives us Chapter One, "The Benefits and Responsibilities of Horse Ownership."

And, buddy, I'm right there.

Owning living creatures is a big responsibility. Your horses lives are literally in your hands. Screw up in caring for them and you can easily cause them to develop debilitating vices, destructive habits and/or dangerous disorders. And those are relatively postive outcomes. In the worst case, they die or have to be put down -- and you have to live with yourself, afterward.

So, even though we moved to Mariposa to keep horses -- and even though I'm so eager to sit my own horse that I could bite someone -- I want to make sure I do my homework, thoroughly understand the issues and options and have made the necessary preparations before we actually buy our animals.

I mean, I may be horse-crazy, but I'm not stupid.

This isn't combat. There is no immediate pressure on me to leap headfirst into horsekeeping other than my own desire to jump. And I know better than to take on a major new responsibility without first being sure I know what I'm getting into. At a minimum, I want to understand what I'm going to try and accomplish, how I'm going to try and accomplish it and what resources I'll need in order to do so properly, before I take any irrevocable steps.

See, I refuse to do a half-assed job. If it's my responsibility -- and therefor my reputation and my self-image (not to mention my investment -- although money, per se, is not as big a motivator for me as are those other, less-easily-quantifiable values) -- on the line, I want it done right the first time. And that prescription applies to more than just horsekeeping. It's one of the guiding principles of my life.

And I guess that's why the ISPworld website is such a source of frustration to me.

The problem I have with ISPworld has nothing to do with content. Since it includes nearly everything that appears in Boardwatch, (except for the ads,) and additional, Web-only material of its own, I have absolutely no problem on that score. No, what bugs me is the design of the site.

Now, I have no beef with the flatness of the access model. Nothing on the site is more than three clicks or so from the top, so it's easy to find your way around -- assuming only that you have your browser properly configured.

And, from my perspective, that's where the fly meets the ointment.

A Low-down, Dirty, No-good, Rotten Shame

See, I think that Boardwatch -- and, by extension, the ISPworld Web site -- should set an example of how to do things right. We have, after all, for years referred to our collective product as "the Bible of the ISP Industry," so it's incumbent on us to make certain that the products that bear the Boardwatch imprimatur meet that standard.

And ISPworld's over-reliance on Javascript and Cascading Style Sheets doesn't cut the mustard.

See, the problem with building a site's code base around those two technologies -- and their ugly, retarded sister, Java -- is that it forces visitors to accept your "my way or the highway" approach in order simply to browse your site. And that's a fundamentally-authoritarian, user-unfriendly attitude that communicates itself very effectively, however unintentional the message might be.

The plain fact is that, if you don't have CSS and Javascript enabled, the ISPworld Web site is ugly as a mud fence and annoyingly difficult to use, to boot. And the ubiquitous presence of broken links -- most of which are clearly artifacts of line-wrapping in the application that generated a given page's content -- just makes the entire thing seem that much more brain-damaged and unprofessional.

That's just unacceptable, folks.

If we're going to have a Web site at all, the Boardwatch site should be easy to use and it should look good no matter which browser you use, regardless of which platform it's running on. Its server should have horsepower and physical resources to spare and it should be hanging off a T-3 line -- or better.

And it shouldn't rely on flashy gimmicks like Javascript and CSS simply to display readably. That's the mark of an amateur effort -- and, damnit, we're supposed to be professionals here.

See, the thing is that a lot of savvy Internauts turn Javascript and Java off by default, as a security measure. Ditto style sheets, because they are so often so ineptly implemented.

And we -- the collective Boardwatch "we" -- should know that and allow for it in our site design.

The problem is that the design of the ISPworld Web site was foisted upon us by a constultant hired by our corporate masters, Penton Media. They didn't know anything about HTML or site design criteria, so they hired an "expert" to tell them how things ought to be -- and Greg Tally and his crew have to live with the results.

I'm certain the poor, stupid Penton people meant well, so it's hard to actually blame them for the crappy site we've been enjoying. And I don't. I blame Alan Meckler, instead.

The Emperor Has No Hair

Now, assuming you've given the matter any thought, you may have had occasion to wonder why the heck the ISPworld site even exists. After all, we got along just fine as boardwatch.com for a goodly while before this new Web site came along -- and now the old, gray URL just ain't what she used to be, many long years ago.

So, what's the deal?

Well, as I understand it -- and I don't pretend to be anything close to an insider where Boardwatch's boardroom politics are concerned -- it goes back to that six-month period in the second half of 1999, after Meckler bought the magazine from Jack Rickard. It's my impression that the actual object of his desire was the ISPCON trade show, and that Boardwatch itself was merely a self-supporting sideline effort, from his perspective.

If that.

So, at best, he placed little value on the magazine or its attendent Web site -- he may even have thought of them as competition of a sort for his beloved Internet World, despite the determinedly-non-realtime nature of the Boardwatch publishing schedule. And, for one reason or another, he therefor assigned very little in the way of resources to the Boardwatch Web site. For a very long while there, it sat on a tiny pipe, running on an ancient and terribly-underpowered server and just kind of gasped along asthmatically, chronically mortifying us all.

Worse still, every article or column was stretched across as many separate pages as possible, the better to overload each page with multiple ad banners and endless navigation bars for Meckler's internet.com uber site. It was horrible -- and horribly slow -- and everyone at Boardwatch just hated it.

Then the Penton people bought Boardwatch and ISPCON from Meckler and they could finally do something about it. So they signed a one-year extension to Meckler's Boardwatch site-management contract, while their hired gun labored mightily and brought forth that horrible ISPworld design.

You know -- the one that doesn't display well without Javascript and CSS? The one with all the broken links?

The one we've been stuck with for almost a year now.

Since I have no power in the matter, all I can do about it is to complain. However, since I get to do that here, in public, with all you folks watching, I have at least some hope that someone who does have the authority will take heed of my criticism and be motivated to take the necessary remedial action.

That someone would be Randy Goldner, Boardwatch's Publisher, to whom the Penton folks have just handed the reins of the ISPworld Web site. Randy seems like an intelligent and reasonable guy to me, so there may be hope for the old girl, yet.

After all, it's a good bit short of life or death, but the Web site we present to the world is still important. It represents our public face. And, like it or not, it's also a statement about how the Web ought to be and the criteria our readers ought to employ in the design of their own sites.

That's a pretty big responsibility. Doesn't it deserve our best effort?

(Copyright© 2001 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)