On dissidence

By now, many of you may have seen François Briatte’s recent survey of 10 web sites he reads on a regular basis. My props to François for assembling an insanely detailed, and very well documented and explained study.

Perhaps you’ve also already seen responses by Jon, Dave, and Eric. There’s no need for me to rehash anything they’ve already stated. I’ll just add a few notes relative to Stopdesign’s position within the survey, as well as my overall perspective of the results.

What I found particularly interesting was Stopdesign’s placement as the supposed “least dissident” site among those surveyed. I’m not entirely sure what to think of this. I wonder if being the least dissident is a good thing or not. The practical side of me says “Ah-ha, I’ve found a pretty comfortable middle ground compared with my peers.” The creative side of me wonders if I’m pushing the boundaries enough, or if I’m simply over-conforming to the norm.

The results aren’t really conclusive for anything beyond simple comparison data. But for some of the criteria, it’s certainly interesting to see who implemented what. If anything, it gets a few more people discussing the value or benefits of one approach over another. Being dissident does not imply doing the “wrong” thing. Maybe only one or two people have seen the light, the rest are still in the dark. Sometimes the least dissident folks are a good model of what’s currently accepted and practiced within an industry. But the dissidents might be the people we need to study more closely. Are they dissident by intent or by ignorance?

François spent a lot of time already putting together the data for just ten sites. What he’s done is a great start. Imagine if there were a means of using a Technorati type of service to rapidly collect this data automatically for thousands of sites? The results could be plotted over graphs. We might start to see more reliable trends in the areas surveyed. Some people could choose to follow the trends. Others, to purposely break from them.

As it stands now, the data is a little blurry in a few areas to draw any absolute conclusions. The sampling size is small (it was only put together by one person, so of course it’s small), the means of collection (by a human, and over the time span of a month) is not fool-proof, and a few of the questions were slightly vague. For at least one of the questions, François has old/inaccurate data (of which he is now aware), and another question’s results are debatable depending on interpretation of the question.

Question #18 asks “Is there a print style sheet?” The answer for Stopdesign is recorded as “no”, but the answer is now “yes”. Stopdesign used a print style sheet before the redesign, but didn’t for about a month after the redesign. I added another print style sheet for Stopdesign on July 2, which is right in the middle of his survey period, so it’s not necessarily François’ fault. He easily could have correctly recorded a “no” if he checked Stopdesign before that date. But since the survey period spans an entire month, any of the results for any of the sites could have changed during that period, as they obviously did with Stopdesign.

The second question I point out might end up more misleading due to a basic lack of specificity in the question. Question #19 asks “Does the navigation bar use image rollovers?” In this case, the recorded answer for Stopdesign is “yes”. But it’s only partially accurate, depending on the question’s interpretation. François clarifies that he was looking for CSS image rollovers. But does that question imply the navigation text is image-based, and a new image appears (or a new portion slides into view) for the hover state, changing the appearance of the text because a new image is revealed? Or does it simply mean some type of image appears behind (or around) pure HTML text? For one of those questions, Stopdesign’s answer is no, the other, yes. The same alternating answer is true for other examples cited in the survey, e.g. Dive Into Mark and SimpleBits. On the flip side, Zeldman.com and Mezzoblue use image replacement techniques to hide the HTML text and replace it with image-based navigation, so they answer yes either way.

Both of the questions mentioned above are currently at 60% consensus, which is a close call. Since there are only 10 sites in the survey, change the answer for just one of the sites, (as needs to be done for the print style sheet question) and the results all of a sudden become 50%. If there’s a 50/50 split, which direction is classified as dissident? Alter one value, and the dissidence percentage could change for every site in the survey. Tough call.

One note: We should be thanking François for doing this work in his own free time, and for starting the dialogue, rather than critiquing his selection of sites, or the number of them. He’s human, and only has so many waking hours in the day that aren’t spent on other critical work and personal tasks. Obviously it would be great to have lots more data, as I suggested above. But we gotta start somewhere. Thanks François.