A Picture's Worth a Thousand Wg8nX

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As a full-time 'Softie, I am - of course - a fully converted Binger. However, I occasionally pop across to the competition just to see what graphic they've used for the search engine name, designed to illustrate the particular day of the year. It's an interesting way to keep up with other cultures and see how clever the artists are that create meaningful designs using images that look like letters.

This is, of course, a common way to produce an attractive logo whilst adding a bit of fun to it. But you do need to make sure that you maintain readability. For example, we use this logo for a local site related to feline identification and assistance in locating lost ones. Hopefully, the actual text that is the name of the site is obvious to all.

So, on Christmas day, I popped across to Google to see what they'd done to celebrate the non-denominational gift-giving holiday period (as one of my very pc colleagues described it), and discovered that it said "Grmoi8". Or perhaps it was "GrhelB". Hard to be more precise because - other than the usual letter "G" - the remaining images bore almost no relationship to alphabetic characters.

OK, so I know it's pretty easy to figure what the name of the site is when you get there. Even if you're struggling to decipher the URL in the address box, the fact that it says "Google Search" in big letters on one of the buttons tends to give the game away. Is it that "Google" has become such a well-known household expression (and verb) that they now only need to use the letter "G" to identify themselves?

I tried navigating to http://www.g.com to see if they've decided to abandon the newly non-required letters altogether, but there's no sign of a search engine there. Probably because it resolves to the IP address 1.1.1.1 - an Assigned Numbers Authority reserved address. So I guess there's no point in Microsoft trying to register b.com either.

Of course, one of the annoying things about HTML is that you can't easily tell what fonts the user has installed - which is why CSS accepts standard font identifiers such as "serif" and "monospace" that the browser translates into the appropriate locally-installed font. It would be much easier if you could just specify a font such as those letters that look like cutouts from newspapers, or that have curly bits resembling some Olde English typeface that went wrong in the translation to digital form, and automatically send them down the pipe as GIFs if user didn't already have them. Without needing to install stuff or run some hosted process just to display them.

What's more worrying, though, is that an increasing number of sites seem to use animations as the site name. I run IE8 in a quite viciously locked down mode for general browsing, and find that I now have to add lots of sites to the Trusted Sites Zone that I've never needed to before. Live Mail only works in that mode, never mind many other commercial shopping sites. And it's often impossible to read the pages and navigate many sites with scripting disabled because they rely on animations for content, and ASP.NET and JavaScript-powered postbacks for every link.

In my days on the conference circuit I preached the accessibility recommendations (and legal requirements) on many occasions, but I rarely see any support for the more specialist user agents in these kinds of sites. Yet sites such as Amazon, MSDN, and many others seem to have figured how to do it in even the most locked down or non-standard browsers and user agents. I imagined some years ago that we'd nail the "only works with browser X" thing, but it seems even less the case as the years go by.

For example, what's really annoying is that Visa Verify thing that pops up (or often doesn't in IE) just as you get to the end of a Web-based purchase. I've lost track of the number of times I've had to switch to Firefox and go through the whole shopping and checkout process again because the Visa site can't send me a working page. I guess that if our most trusted and respected institutions (?) can't make it work, what chance do the rest of us have?

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A Picture's Worth a Thousand Wg8nX