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  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:14 pm on December 24, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , HTML element, Markus Frind, , Nevada Test Site, okcupid.com, , , Web Heirarchy, web people, web traffic,   

    Are Tables Important? 

    I was talking to a former co-worker about Inc Magazine’s cover story about Markus Frind and his very profitable, but godawfully ugly dating website plentyoffish.com.

    My co-worker (a programmer) loaded up the website. He took a quick look around and opened the source of the ratings page. Giggling like Bevis he could not believe what he saw: a gradient bar that was coded as [gasp!] an HTML table with bgcolor attributes.

    It looked like this:

    And was coded like that:

    <table border=0 cellspacing=0 cellpadding=0 width=100%>
    <tr height=5><td bgcolor=#204080><img width=1 height=5 border=0>
    </td><td bgcolor=#202F70><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#3F2060><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#5F2050><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#7F1F4F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#90103F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#B0102F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#CF0F1F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#E0000F><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    <td bgcolor=#F00000><img width=1 height=5 border=0></td>
    </tr></table>

    He was going on and on and on about how tables are bad, and mwu-ha-ha-ha — look at this.

    I was fully expecting him to take umbrage at the logo, the overall look and feel of the site, at the grotesquely skewed photo thumbnails. But no, all he was seeing is that Mr. Frind “used a table”.

    I tried to tell my co-worker that despite “tables” or ugliness this website generates tens of millions of dollars of profit to its creator, that it has as much web traffic as Yahoo while being served a small handful of very powerful servers, that it was created and maintained by a single person who gets to keep most of the profits – but to no awail. The kid could not get over “tables”.

    A famous hacker JWZ once was asked about his feelings about “an open source groupware system”. In a famous rant that followed he produced some of the best advice importance that I’ve ever seen:

    “So I said, narrow the focus. Your “use case” should be, there’s a 22 year old college student living in the dorms. How will this software get him laid?”

    While I’ve never heard of HTML tables (not the furniture kind) playing any role in getting laid, plentyoffish.com must have resulted in a mind boggling amount of action.

    Plentyoffish.com, being a technological and aestetical abomination that it is, is firmly rooted in the lower, fundamental layers of Maslow’s Hierarchy and my Web Heirarchy.

    At the most basic people need oxygen, water, food, to take a dump/whiz, sleep, sex, and a predictability in environment.

    On the web people need hypertext, images, search, speed, and community features. If you provide all of these for a topic that is important to people, you will be successful. Start thinking about “html tables vs divs” first, and likely you won’t get to the important stuff.

    Doing it another way – saying, look, I’ll do a site just like plentyoffish but prettier and without HTML tables does not work very well: Frind’s competiors at okcupid.com who set out to do just that are not succesful in toppling plentyoffish.

    Ugliness for the sake of ugliness is not a good thing. In the long run people want things to be pretty, like Apple products and not ugly like Microsoft products. But taste, being pretty high up in the pyramid of needs only becomes a factor after all the basic needs are met.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 10:56 am on January 17, 2005 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: About URI scheme, , Easter, Frontpage, , , HTML element, , , , , , , , Other Office, photo equipment, S. Thompson, , unholy product, Vermeer Technologies, web collage, Web Forms   

    Creative Time Wasting 404 

    Dear readers, let me vent some useless thoughts about HTML and share the fruit of my procrastination with you today.

    It occurs to me that HTML code has finally become a third rate citizen of the World Wide Web. Back in the day, there were horrible WYSIWYG editors that mangled poor HTML, raped it by adding their own non-HTML tags and in general produced bloated and unreadable mess. They still exist today. But now most sites are script generated, so rarely do you see clean, beautiful and handcrafted HTML code when you view the source.

    One of the worst offenders is Microsoft, of course. It gave FrontPage, an unholy product of a dying company called Vermeer Technologies (I’ve read in this book that the price of FrontPage was huge and number of copies sold – miniscule) an eternal life as a part of the Office Suite. Other Office programs always produced horrendous HTML. And now, they don’t even want developers to touch HTML directly. They added extra layers – Server Controls (again, plans for VTI extension and FrontPage come to mind) and Web Forms to isolate them from the language that can be learned in 20 minutes and mastered in a few years.

    I can’t say that positive things did not happen. For one, fewer people write in old skool all-caps HTML tags. All lowercase tags are so much more readable.

    Also now it’s probably safer to put little Easter eggs and funny notes in HTML comments. Are there more of those around? I don’t know. But the oldies but goodies are still out there.

    Famous hacker JWZ’s enigmatic page contains this haughty comment:
    <!– mail me if you find the secret –>
    <!– (no, you can’t have a hint) –>

    Smarter people than me tried, but failed to find meaning in in the 404 lines of what seems to be a hex dump. Former Livejournal user mcgroarty, for instance, wasted a good chunk of his time on this. Where is his blog now, by the way? Does anyone know?

    What I noticed though is that the page is not static as mcgroarty probably assumed. It changes with time. More than that, it seems like it is not the same data – it probably cycles through different files. You can clearly see that if you look at http://www.jwz.org through the wayback machine. Meanwhile you can see the old design featuring the Jamie’s cool terminal graphics likeness. You can see the old design get resized, then get replaced with the 404 line nightmare. Then “mail me if you find the secret” gets added. Enough people send emails and JWZ, always eager to save some time, adds “(no, you can’t have a hint)”.

    Are these 404 a cruel joke – meaning not found?

    I suspected that the 404 lines show chunks of the old green image that I mentioned, or are generated from web collage. When I looked at the famous animated compass gif (the one that replaced the Netscape diddler when you typed in about:jwz or went to JWZ’s old homepage in Netscape 1.1 and some other early Netscape version I think) I found another hidden message from JWZ:

    “You have a lot of free time on your hands, don’t you?
    Tell jwz@jwz.org that you found the secret message!

    http://www.jwz.org/
    about:jwz

    “Some people will tell you that slow is good — and it may be, on
    some days — but I’m here toò tell you that fast is better. Being
    shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out
    of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles, Bubba.”
    — Hunter S. Thompson

    Oh, Jamie, I have very little free time. But whatever free time I have I usually end up wasting on stupid things.

    This does not seem to be the solution to the 404 line homepage puzzle, but the heck with it.

    Russian-speaking readers can entertain themselves with reading comments over at tema.ru. There are a couple of hints of hidden links, a few sprinkles of profanity, showing off about Photoshop mastery. Outstanding advice to journalists that was there in the earlier version is gone. I also remember seeing a completely blacked out page about his photo equipment there (you needed to do control-a trick to see it) in a very old version of the site. http://www.design.ru has its share of rowdy commentage.

     
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