Dynamic And Rich But Not Without Text

The beginning of Web had everyone coding their own HTML files by hand. There was no other way. Individual HTML files were written and manually linked in other pages.

Then came in the dynamic page creation. The whole Web 2.0 system, amazing blogging tools like WordPress, Content Management Systems and Portals have proven that today a website should be dynamic and rich. It is inline with fast-moving world, or fast-moving virtual world that we live in.

Here, dynamic means more than one things:

  • Database driven applications improve performance, security and storage of data. Scripting languages (PHP, JSP, ASP.Net, Perl, …) can then be used to dynamically retrieve the data and display it.
  • Template based page creation help in creating consistent (X)HTML pages. Templates can be used effectively to ensure valid markup creation. This has attracted attention with increased stress on valid (X)HTML.
  • User experience (AJAX) can be used effectively to enhance the user experience. It provides better interaction and encourages user participation.
  • Separation of data and formatting is a necessity nowadays with more than one channel of deliveries for content. Users can use their PCs, handheld devices or take a printout to read content on your website. Separation of data and formatting helps in providing the same content in multiple formats. This also gives a chance to keep the website design uptodate with current trends, by just updating the formatting without affecting the data.
  • Multimedia is now actively used over the Web. With websites being used for songs and increasing trend of podcasting, websites are not just about text any more. Technologies like Flash are used to provide “rich” experience to the user.

Even if we have justified this approach, they should provide alternative textual content for every non-text element. The output of each of these should also include the static HTML of the old days. Why? Two reasons – accessibility and search engine optimisation.

Web Was Made For Reading

It might seem a little outdated, but Web was made for reading. The browsers inherently support text, but require plugins for other technologies like Flash and playing multimedia. Even if you publish multimedia/images on your website, you should still provide alternative textual content which comes into play if the user does not have the plugin installed or if the images cannot be displayed or the user chooses to block them.

Adhering to accessibility leads to high level of search engine optimisation, which is exactly what Andy Hagan says (via ). The reason being that search engines can read only what is human readable. Content that humans cannot read or access cannot be read and hence indexed by search engines, which utlimately is the website owner’s loss.

Techniques For Alternative Textual Content

This is a core part of accessibility where the information is still accessible to the user, using the alt attribute. An alt attribute is provided for every non-text element, even the anchor element has an alt attribute. In XHTML Strict doctype, the alt attribute is mandatory.

Here is a good guidance for providing text equivalent for client-side image maps. There are similar techniques for applets and objects. longdesc attribute can be used to provide an alternate page which contains textual equivalent content of the corresponding non-text element.

There are some modern innovative approaches for making alternative content available. A modern approach to flash SEO has excellent advice for providing alternative text for SEO.

This is necessary because I think there has not been an uniform upgrade in technologies. While we consider multimedia to be core part of Web 2.0, search engines still read only text and browsers still need plugins for lot of technologies. Looking forward to more innovative ways.

More Reading

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.


4 Responses to “Dynamic And Rich But Not Without Text”

  1. Abhijit Nadgouda @ iface » Blog Archive » The Changing Face Of Search Engines Says:

    […] Web has always been about text. Especially since search engines know only about texts, SEO has been limited to text. Even though binaries like images, audio and video are not core part of using the Web, they are still considered primary contributors. This will change only after search engines start actively working with binary content, and there are some experiements going on. […]

  2. Abhijit Nadgouda @ iface » Blog Archive » Accessibility, But Not For Users Says:

    […] WCAG 2.0 comes out with the concept of baselines. The baselines will be used to convey the necessary technologies to view the website. The onus of making content accessible to everyone has been changed to just declaring the technologies required, which does not guarantee access of content to everyone, but can satisfy the success criteria (a rename of guidelines). Inaccessibility to be compensated by baselines! The result of this is that now we can expect future websites to be completely done in flash without providing alternate content. So, no guarantee that visually challenged users can access websites, or that users without Flash plugins can still use them. Joe Clark discusses the details to respond to WCAG 2.0. […]

  3. Abhijit Nadgouda @ iface » Blog Archive » The Best Format For Blogging Says:

    […] A peripheral but technical problem is that accessibility suffers when it is purely in non-text formats. However, blogs are typically informal and the blogger has right to make his own decision. […]

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