Friday, February 15, 2008

Wait, did that look like that before?

Wait a second... In a previous post, I noted that gmail just quietly downgraded to HTML if you didn't have JavaScript turned on. But today, I noticed this message:

They could use a small fix to their formatting (ie: don't let the poor text jam into the side of the box like that -- I had to grab some of the surrounding window so this screenshot would be legible) but this is strangely more helpful than it was before.

Why the difference?

Well, much as I like to believe someone at Google saw my comments and made the change, I'm not quite arrogant enough to believe that's true. Although I suppose it could be -- there's a lot of Google people out there, and for all I know they've got something that scans Blogger for mentions of their products. It would be a clever, if time-consuming, way to find out what the public really thinks.

Err, I digress. Self-centred worldviews aside, I'd guess it more likely that this message has always been there, and I just missed it last time because of my NoScript configuration.

Why do I find this interesting? Well, I'm currently working on a theory that users will be more safe if they can disable JavaScript that they don't really need to run the page. This is the theory underlying NoScript, and it has some face validity. But if users start running only some JavaScript, what is this going to do to the usability of the web? My current answer is that if you leave JavaScript off entirely, you're going to turn some pages into a usability nightmare, where things will just not work (more on this later). But these different error messages based on my various setups indicate to me that you may have these usability problems even if you have partial JavaScript. In fact, the usability problems may be much worse because the page won't know to generate an appropriate error message!

I don't know how to solve this problem yet, but I guess that's what makes this research!

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