Invalid Gnome

I get Chris Pirillo’s Windows newsletter (currently called “Windows Fanatics”) in my inbox this morning and was shocked that he seemed to assert that Lockergnome was going back to its old style, or lack thereof. Maybe it’s just Chris’ flourishes, but several things gave me cause for concern.

Remember what the Web was like when the BLINK tag roamed the earth?

Off to a bad start. We all know there’s only one good use for <blink>.

There were only a handful of browsers, and it didn’t take much to make a page “look good” on all platforms.

Maybe I missed these times. I remember pages “Made for Netscape” or that “Require Internet Explorer.” I remember having to essentially code two sites to work with two radically different browsers. I remember single-pixel GIFs and tables nested ten deep and bad typography. I try to forget, but I can’t.

It doesn’t take much to push the envelope, but sometimes (as we discovered) the envelope pushes back. You might recall the somewhat-simplistic design of our site before we dove head-first into Cascading Style Sheets. Despite its shortcomings and lack of finesse, the sucker worked – and we had few complaints.

I find that surprising. Here’s one: it was one of the ugliest sites I’d ever visited, and the bizarre look turned me off from subscribing to the newsletters even when I had heard several recommendations, because I assumed they must be unprofessional. I’m not trying to be mean, just honest.

Lockergnome.com is about to become less confusing as it goes back to more a basic code structure. We’re going to unbury the menus and options and chalk up the past few months to experience. I’m not saying that we won’t employ fancy scripts now and again, but we’re refocusing our new(er) layout on the thing that most likely brought you to us: the content. Right now, Jason’s putting the finishing touches on the overall structure and functionality…

The attraction of Lockergnome is the content, and the site could use better information architecture, but I hope this does not come at the expense of clean, fast-loading, semantic code and the distinctive aesthetic the site currently has. Though I’m not crazy about parts of it, their current design is pretty good in my opinion. It has some very nice elements that are impressive to me both as a web developer and a consumer. It’s not perfect, but a darn sight better than what was there before.

Is this going to be a step backward? In a way, yes. I’ll certainly miss certain aspects of our ultra-hip CSS implementation. However, until 99% of the installed browser / e-mail client base supports the same standards, we’re gonna leave the fancy-schmancy stuff to other online resources.

Mind pointing out these fancy-schmancy online resources so I can read them instead?

For what we do, and how we need to do it, advanced “hacks” just don’t work well.

What about web standards? Graceful degradation? From a purely business and marketing point of view, is the couple of percent of users on browsers so limited and hardware so old that they can’t appreciate modern web pages (and not just yours, also ESPN, Wired, PGA…) a demographic you want to cater to at the expense of the other 95%?

Furthermore, the old Lockergnome got eaten by spam filter several times because its markup was similar to the spam I got. Since the redesign, nada. Maybe it’s just my Bayes scores or installation of SpamAssassin, but I can’t imagine my setup being different from many others. If a newsletter falls in the spam box and no one sees its ads, does it make a penny?

I doubt it.

I could just be worried over nothing, their redesign could be impeccable markup combined with simpler CSS that works better than their current across browsers and platforms. The only reason I put my thoughts to words is that I’m on the cusp of several decisions. I’m examining my subscriptions; they recently cancelled the Linux channel (which was quite good) and the Web Developer channel is in a state of flux (it was pretty bad for a while). Also the affordable Gnomedex is coming, though my decision on that will probably be more influenced by its speakers. On one hand I have a lot of faith in the Lockergnome team to do the right thing, but the standards-lover in me is just terrified of the prospect of a site going backward. Not to mention the masses who subscribe to the newsletters that will draw the conclusion that “CSS isn’t ready for big sites yet,” in 2004. I can think of nothing further from the truth or more subversive.

10 thoughts on “Invalid Gnome

  1. Lockergnome has been going down for a while now. Ever since they got rid of most of the original staff, it just hasn’t been the same. The personality is mostly gone, the quality has diminished and I’m just unsatisified. I used to read every newsletter, I have for the past five years…has it really been that long? Now though, I rarely read the issues. I still save every one but I don’t look that them that often.

    Funny, almost.

  2. “it was one of the ugliest sites I’d ever visited, and the bizarre look turned me off from subscribing to the newsletters even when I had heard several recommendations, because I assumed they must be unprofessional.”

    It’s true; another unstated benefit of RSS is that people will still read you if you have good content and awful design.

  3. I can’t see going backwards. The main reason I went with b2 and then to WP for my blog was I didn’t want to do tables. I wanted something I could change with just a different stylesheet. MT had tables, MT was a no go. Simple.

  4. I remember when Lockergnome did the redesign and though I’m not certain, I seem to recall it validating. Checking now there are more errors than I was inclined to count — I wonder if part of the regression is due to problems keeping the site valid with whatever they use for a CMS. On the other hand I haven’t read it with any regularity recently, what used to be a valuable resource now seems like little more than a platform to pimp the latest affiliate deal and they don’t do a very good job seperating the advertising from the editorial content leading to unecessary confusion.

    Mog, I’m not sure what you mean by tables in MT. As best I can remember the default MT templates have always used CSS. I imagine it’s possible an early version used a layout with tables but I certainly don’t recall that being he case.

  5. Well, I looked at the source code at MT and they used tables. The site promoting the product as well as several MT sites I have been to used tables, so I wasn’t inclined to use it. Since then, I have had the opportunity to guest post at several MT blogs and it reminds me a lot like Blogger with the page rebuilds. I prefer WP. Much nicer from my point of view.

  6. Mog, the default templates for MT can be viewed here, the only table is for the calendar which is arguably tabular data. Regardless, for me, it’s pretty much a moot point since I can’t recall the last time I used a default template for more than an installation.

    That said, I too am coming to prefer WordPress (and recently Textpattern) for the simple reason that I have a reasonable grasp of PHP but Perl baffles me. MT also generates a few too many pages for me and I’ve never quite seen the advantage of storing everything in a database if your going to create a slew of static files anyway.

  7. Well, the redesign appears to be out now and it’s much worse than I expected – blockquotes for indentation, paragraphs with non-breaking spaces in them for added vertical spacing – tag soup if ever I’ve seen it. Yuck.

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