Our references to "spam" on web pages, and the recent decision to filter all Yahoo.com email to the trash can, has come under fire lately, so we've decided to post this piece to explain our views, and gather your comments. It in no way attempts to promote nor condemn website spam. Please let us know if you agree or disagree on the following.
The anatomy of a spam site
Back in 1994 when DGEF decided it was time to send me on the road with a Web Design seminar, I established Ten Deadly Sins of Web Design following the tradition of the Ten Deadly Sins of DTP from my then-popular Creative Layout Techniques seminars. As the web emerged into the main stream, that idiom caught on and spread far and wide. It was greatly quoted, modified and re-introduced by anyone and everyone hanging a web design shingle on their door, or professing to be the latest and greatest web designer.
In 1995, we established the Web Design & Review site as part of the year-old Design Center web site. One of the first orders of business was a web reader poll. The results were easy to predict: nearly 90% of web surfers listed ads on web pages as screen spam and one of the "Top Ten Signs A Web Site Sucks". Another high ranking sin was "Anything that moves".
As software gained more features and web page crafters craved cheap, easy gratification, animated gifs became too popular and code for blink and marquee peppered the web like a teenager's worst acne nightmare. The problem was compounded by Madison Avenue's take-over of the web back around 1997. The big-buck advertising industry saw the internet as a free ride into the eyes and homes of millions of ready, willing consumers. The notion of making the web user bear the costs of advertising delivery was no less than earth shaking and everyone jumped on board. Then came the plunge into the dot-com abyss. Those dot-coms who were to stay had to realign their methods of generating an ever-growing amount of revenue to stay alive. So they did.
Near the end of the '90s, a number of readers began to question the ideals and philosophies of tasteful web design. Faster internet, faster computers and a numbness to screen spam was spawning a breed of apathetic surfers. Yes, they all complained about slow loading web pages, but they took them in stride. Many readers began to ask about our survey results and just how we measure content-to-noise ratio.
In 1998 we decided to run the survey again, just to test our established sins of web design and see if society had really changed their taste for spam. But the results were basically the same. So we published the following article late in 1998.
Ten Years Later
Today, ten years after the original Ten Deadly Sins we plan to run the survey again. We really want to know if people and internet use has really changed that much. We know web design has dramatically changed -- but have the readers? Site developers now believe everyone has full-time, always-on broadband service, and they seem to no longer be concerned with page-load time.
Even the dyed-in-the-wool usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, has changed his version of the Ten Deadly Sins of Web Design three times. So ten years later, we compelled to ask what has changed.
A little later we'll visit some of the test sites to see how they've done since our 1998 survey, so stay tuned to WebDesign & Review.
When evaluating a page for spam or "noise" content several basic issues are addressed:
1: Most people go to a web page specifically for the info it promises to deliver.
2: Most people surf on their own time, using their own bandwidth, or that of their employer, school or business.
3: Few websites pick up your bandwidth fee.
Each page has three distinct kinds of content:
1: the [implied] content of the subject of the page, and
2: content that does not relate to nor enhance the message of the page, and
3: the hidden code required to deliver the subject content in item 'a'.
These content-types are measurable, and require work to be done on the part of the net, the routing hub, the ISP, and the users own modem and computer. Each byte is addressable.
Non measurable criteria
All of the above are tempered by the surfers reasons for arriving on that particular page as well as the bandwidth, phone line loads, hub loads, the speed of the modem, and the speed of the computer.
Let's not say that it's bad to have advertising or sponsors on a web page. Not at all. If a web site owner feels compelled to be compensated beyond the identity and residual benefits of the content, and wants some cash income from the site then there are few other ways to fulfill that need. You either sell a product, or you sell space. It's that simple. It's the way in which these ends are accomplished that is the focus of this article. We don't necessarily want to make value judgments, but rather provide some sort of yardstick with which to rate relative degrees of spam on a web page.
The yardstick we use tends to measure what is the implied benefit or content of the target page against what the reader must go through to get it. All of which can be judged by how much work is stolen or wasted on the acquisition of unsolicited content that the reader didn't want when they clickedto the page. All of these elements can be measured by the following:
1: Content to Noise Ratio: Content download against code download
2: Screen space taken by irrelevant or superfluous images,
3: Download times effected by the above.
Additionally, there is a "Distraction Ratio" relating to visual things that move, or blink which don't relate, or devices like roll-overs which call on the server yet offer little benefit to the reader.
There are relative degrees of spam sites.
Now, let's take a closer look at some examples. . .
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