Monday, February 4, 2008

What does the web look like without JavaScript? Part 1: Error Messages

So what does the web look like without JavaScript? This post focuses on the error messages you see when you decide to ditch the JavaScript, but the sad reality is that although some sites will give you warnings, this is hardly the norm. Still, it's worth looking at what you might see...

Without JavaScript, occasionally the web looks like this:

That's a nice big red error message indicating that there's no JavaScript. Simple, clear, informative, lets you know where to go for help, or even lets you use the website for things that don't require JavaScript.

In a similar vein, you sometimes get error messages like this one:

I find it hilarious that it first tells me that JavaScript is turned off, then tells me what to in the event that JavaScript redirection isn't working... even though if I saw this page at all, JavaScript redirection won't work. But maybe I'm too easily amused.

Anyhow, similarly, it lets you know in nice big red letters what the issue is and how to fix it. Good good.

But this isn't the norm among pages. Sometimes, you get error messages more like this one:

Well, it could be JavaScript, or maybe something else is wrong. Here's how to get Flash player! Err, that's almost helpful. I can see a lot of people reinstalling Flash player and assuming it was broken when JavaScript is the real culprit.

Also, although it's fairly clear where the error message is when you've got a nice little page fragment like this, it's pretty easy to miss that black text on a page with lots of black text and little images and video responses and so on and so on. Especially if you're looking at a video site where really, you're scanning the page for the big video window and mentally blocking out all the text, which you know isn't what you came to the page to see.

And then there's the not-quite-an-error message route:

Okay, so I know that the reason gmail is showing in basic HTML is that I don't have JavaScript enabled, because I've been out messing with it. But if you, say, sat down at my computer and tried to log in to gmail, you'd be asking me why it looks so funny on the mac. Or at least, that's how the friends who've tried to use my laptop reacted when I left things like this.

I do love how Google automatically downgrades when possible (and it does this with a lot of services) but sometimes it might be worth letting people know why you're seeing the reduced interface. This is really apparent if you use Google maps, which only gives driving directions (no maps!) if you have JavaScript disabled and search for one address to another instead of a single address. Very confusing if you're not the one who disabled JavaScript, or you did it because of some unrelated thing and didn't realise it was going to break the web.

But it's still better than no error message at all combined with pages that just don't work, which seems to be very common. Stay tuned for more broken pages!

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