Saturday, February 9, 2008

The web without JavaScript. Part 2: Black Holes and Revelations

As I implied in Part 1, while sites do sometimes provide helpful error messages related to JavaScript, often as not they just behave strangely.

Perhaps the most common issue I've seen is missing content. The things I notice most often are missing ads and missing video. Sometimes, it's nice and obvious that there's a missing element on the page:

Many pages leave very obvious spaces for their ads, and when they're filled with blank space, it's fairly obvious that there's a problem.

The videos are less obvious, however:

There's a video in there. Really. Normally, it would appear right below the header, so the page would look more like this:

There you can see the video loading in the big black box. But how would you tell that the previous page had anything missing? The page has nicely moved the text up, leaving no trace that there should be something there. In the case of the missing video, there are usually only a few clues:
  1. The page looks abnormally short (there isn't much text)
  2. I'm expecting a video on the page, and it's not there.
  3. I happen to check the JavaScript list from NoScript and notice something that looks like video.* or sounds like a domain that might host video.

Usually, the winning clue is #2, since a friend will send me a link and mention that it's a video, or the comments on the page will talk about the video, or sometimes the text itself will tip me off by what it says.

And often, you'll see both missing spaces and the lack thereof on the same page. The page featured below would normally have both an ad and a video:

Could you tell there was a video on this page? You can see the blank space for an advertisement, but the text automatically moves up so you can't tell that the page with the video looks like this:

That's the video in bright yellow at the bottom there.

But it gets even more fun when you've changed which sites are JavaScript disabled in NoScript. Check out that same site with all the JavaScript disabled:

They're pretty smart! If they can tell that JavaScript is disabled (ie: I've disabled it for the main site) then they both provide the helpful error text AND they provide a ad, showing that you don't really need JavaScript to do it. Unfortunately, my weird way of disabling some JavaScript but not others had limited their ability to do damage control on the page I was trying to break. Interesting...

Next up in this series: Sites that have more than a few holes, and sites that just don't work without their JavaScript!

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