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’Silent Failures’ for Unavailable Browser Features

Even more annoying than web sites that call unnecessarily for ActiveX, JavaScript, cookies, or Flash are parts of sites that do need these features—but don’t indicate that they do. Dell’s site is a "good" example of this bad behavior (at least as of February 21, 2006).

"Silent failures" make a site difficult or even impossible to navigate. They often result in not finding information—usually because I don’t even know it’s there—or in a conversation (phone or email) with a PR person like this:

PR: It’s right under the Resources link.

Me: What Resources link?

PR: The one at the right side of the navigation bar.

Me: What navigation bar?

I’ve seen plenty of sites that are smart enough to detect that my browser is a shy of a feature or two, and good web design dictates that such sites display a large-font advisory like "This site requires JavaScript. Some features may not work properly."

The web site for Newton, MA (where I currently reside) uses ActiveX and JavaScript, as best I can tell, both of which I leave out or turn off. If I attempt to access the site with Opera, I wouldn’t know that ActiveX is required, or that there might be information or links I’m not seeing; at least cranking up Internet Explorer gets me an advisory message. This results in some information being invisible. For example, try to find the hours of operation for the town’s recycling area—in a no-script browser. The town library’s site, by comparison, has been designed with enough savvy and courtesy to include the advisory note "Search history function requires JavaScript."

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