This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things I: Eye Cancer

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things I: Eye Cancer

Summary

Working in IT leaves you with no shortage of things to complain about. And sometimes, that's about the only thing you can do. So let's have a look at some of the rubbish on the web.

Introduction

Working as a developer in IT, you have to contend with a lot of things that are, frankly, fucked up. One of these things is the good ol' Internet. Well, it's not so old really, and I'm not quite sure how the lot of you is using it either, but when you're working in IT you need to look up a bewildering amount of information. Very often. So that's what you typically use the Internet for.

Or rather, you're trying to. There seems to be a severe amount of misinformation about how to sensibly present information for others to use on the web. Or about the actual purpose of this hypertext medium in general. So in light of this, I've collected my all time favourite things about the Internet that make me want to gouge certain peoples' eyes out with a rusty spoon. Since that is, sadly, a rather long list, I've decided to concentrate on some of the more prevalent presentational aspects for now. But don't worry, I'll follow up with my favourite layout issues soon enough in Volume II.

Volume 1: Eye Cancer

OK, I get it, you don't want to have the silliest website on the block. That's fine. But what some of you are doing to poor, unsuspecting content on the web is nothing short of despicable. And oftentimes quite confusing, too. After all, you'd think that if people take the time to publish information they'd want that same information to be read and used in some way. I can only assume these things are being done in the name of readability, but I fail to see how in the hell that is supposed to work. Which brings us to one of the most obvious problems on some web sites: colours.

Some uses of colour don't just look bad on projectors

Frankly, this one is just mind-boggling. Does anyone really think that things are easier to read when all the bits of varying importance are written in all sorts of garish colours? And then when you run out of colours to mutilate the text with, the text background is your next victim. Whenever I see text like this, I close the tab immediately. Whatever information you might have, I don't care. Someone else is bound to have written about it, too.

So here's what you do instead: you pick one colour, and you bloody well stick with it. And if you're posting on a web forum, just resist the urge to change colours at all. Your dyslexic friends will thank you for it -- not even being sarcastic, they really will. It's a good thing this actually seems to be contained to forums and email. Well, mostly anyway. Speaking of unprofessional text formatting on web forums, ...

Fucking with your text size isnot cool either

Using a different text size for a bit of text indicates that there is a radical difference in the intended semantic interpretation. Like, you know, titles are supposed to be bigger than the paragraphs they're the title for. Paragraphs with content of varying importance aren't. And individual sentences and fragments within a paragraph much less so. Period. Fucking with text sizes in any other way, for example to indicate emphasis, will make people hate you.

So just stick with the default text sizes for paragraphs and fragments and you'll be fine. There's a reason they're the default, after all. If you do want to change the text size, make sure to be consistent. A second-level heading should always have the same size as other second-level headings, and so on. If you're posting on a forum, do not change text sizes at all. Use the software's heading tags for your headings and leave it at that. If the software doesn't offer those, you're probably not supposed to be writing anything that would require headings. And while we're at semantic issues in general, ...

Line breaks
are not substitutes for paragaphs

Okay, let me explain one of the fundamental text composition principles for you: a paragraph is a collection of sentences that logically belong together. These are typically laid out as a single block of text with some added margins to the surrounding bits of text and possibly some padding on the first line to make it easier to scan for new paragraphs. Conversely, a line break is just starting a new line wherever the line break was inserted.

That means that a paragraph typically contains several line breaks by default, i.e. whenever the text would leave the associated frame. That also means that a line break does not mean you're starting a new paragraph. You might, but not necessarily. Depending on the software in use, two line breaks might be converted to a paragraph automatically. But if so, there's usually a note somewhere telling you about it. This is the case on most web forums, and with software like TeX.

On the web, more specifically when writing HTML, when you insert a line break in lieu of starting a new paragraph you don't really know where that line break will appear on your users' browsers. Depending on the browser's size and available fonts and all sorts of other factors, the line break could just be where it would be inserted automatically anyway. That means your visual cue might get lost completely. Also, you're losing the semantic meaning of starting a new paragraph, which may or may not be used by non-visual browsers. So don't do it.

Written by Magnus Deininger ().