Category: Browsers

Dead or Deadly — The Wanked-up Web World

I’m down to my last neuron with the “world wide web.” We’re at the mercy of developer-driven technology — “ooh, look at the cool widget,” let’s deploy that.

Really, unbelievable to me how little usability matters for modern enterprise web sites. I was just over at our utility company’s site to pay the bill … I can’t even go over all the things that are wrong with that site, I’ll become so enraged I’ll kill myself.

A huge, and I mean huge, 1/3 of the window, animated HTML5 banner across the top of the page, scrolling, and in tiny letters, maybe 14 pt type at the top, the link for “My Account.” Hahaha! When I run the mouse over the banner, it triggers a pop-out that covers up the link I’m going for! What! What! Who the — designed that piece of crap and who thought it was a good idea to pop up promos that prevent people from getting to their account page?

God in Heaven, have mercy on those fools. If I ever were to meet them, I wouldn’t.

This particular example is just that — particular and an example. I have a “business class” Comcast VOIP and network connection, here in my home office. A test at the internet speed test just reported a download speed of 17.2 Mbps. I just downloaded a 1 GB zip file in 10:18. That’s not super fast, but I am not complaining about it. I’m at home, not on a corporate pipe. And, I’m connecting through a VPN server in New Jersey, so there’s some overhead there.

So given that I can download a 1 GB file in a little over 10 minutes, why am I waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for that web page to load? Yes, the modern web page is bloated, and consists of maybe 2 or 5 MB of data. Yet, why is the status line reading “waiting for cdn.somefuckedupsitesomewhere…”? Weren’t Content Delivery Networks supposed to speed up the page load?

Why can I not read a web page as it loads? Oh, welcome to the wanked-up world of asynchronous page loads. The genius idea with async loading is that you can have parts of the page ready and operational while other parts are still being pulled down from the server. I don’t criticize this idea … but … when the browser doesn’t know ahead of time how much page real estate to assign to the downloaded object, it resizes the page on the fly, once the object is available to be presented.

Hahaha! This means my displayed content is jumping all over the place as varying portions of the page are resized! I’m half-way through that first paragraph of the news article, when the gigantic video header for the page is popped into the display, pushing down all the content below it. Now, the paragraph I was reading is clear off the bottom of the screen! Oh, hit the spacebar, the page scrolls down, and the content reappears. Okay, now searching for the last line I was reading, and … the sidebar loads, so the browser shifts all the content to the left and restructures the paragraph line lengths! Good one! You almost had me — I almost was able to read the available content before the page had completely loaded. Almost.

I am led to the question — what is the point of the technology? Weren’t we on a mission to make the web better, more usable? The Wanked-up Web World started life as a tool for efficient information exchange across distance. Through no fault of its own, it turned into a “marketplace,” a primarily commercial enterprise in which the information is secondary to the presentation. It’s become a gigantic television commercial, from which there is no escape.

If you go back to look at some old web site pages from 10 years ago, they’re actually usable presentations of information. Yeah, they were mighty plain looking, not jammed up with images, CSS styling, and uber-cool fonts. Some people — okay, many people — hurled common sense down the toilet like Friday night’s beer, with ridiculous design decisions, like blinking text. But, yesteryear’s mechanisms for gobbing up a web site are quaint, compared to the sophisticated tools of user torment now deployed all across the netosphere. Not only has usability been thrown out with the party trash, the party itself was in celebration of having done away with usability and having deployed yet more cool widgets that have suicide hot lines lighting up across America and around the world.

Sometimes, the old ways really are better ways.

That Old Tin Foil Beanie

Local Shared Objects

Today’s poke at paranoia is brought to you by the letters L, S, and O. Together, they form the initials LSO, “Local Shared Object.”

The LSO is a data storage mechanism that originated with Adobe Flash about 10 years ago. The purpose of LSO was to allow Flash to store information on your computer about Flash movies or games that you were using in your browser. The LSO might store your game position, or your location in the movie.

The LSO is like a cookie in the browser cookie cache. However, unlike cookies, a single LSO cache is used by all browsers. Thus, if you play your Flash movie in Firefox, and then later reconnect to it with Internet Exploder, Flash will be able to reload your information stored while you were using Firefox.

About the time that advertisers and web sites began to be hammered by paranoia about cookies, and especially about 3rd party cookies, they discovered the genius of the LSO cache. The LSO data storage mechanism is almost unknown to non-technical users. “Clear browsing history,” in any of its incantations, does not touch LSO. This fact led to something dubbed cookie re-spawning.

When the browser accepts a cookie from a web site, the site may also choose to store a copy of that cookie in the LSO cache. Now, suppose you delete that cookie. The next time you are using that web site, if the cookie is not found, the site will automatically look for a copy in the LSO cache; if it finds one, it respawns or recreates the deleted cookie with the saved information.

Web developers bolted on several methods of manipulating the LSO cache in their web sites. HTML 5 formalized a methodology for this activity. Your friendly web site can now bank information about you in the LSO cache with a few lines of JavaScript on the page.

Haha! You were being so conscientious about deleting your cookies, too.

All is not lost. Newer versions of Firefox now include the LSO cache in “delete browser history,” and other browsers provide options to delete items from it, as well. If you’re feeling, well, paranoid.