Nov 17, 2006

How to make a site inaccessible

The publication Indian Newslink of New Zealand Indian community seems headed for a negative spiral. They had a very nice HTML delivered web page with full contents available for free for all to see. Then suddenly some old-timer must have protested that it doesn't look like their printed newspaper and he doesn't understand it.

So somebody must have had a brainstorm to go an deliver the whole publication as a printed page look alike. There was an grand announcement that the publication is tying up with India's Bodhtree software company to apply their Pressmart ePaper solution to deliver their publication in much more amazing way.

Now that it has been done, though this solution is interesting, it's mostly a flashy novelty. It delivers the print page onscreen to view, and the user can move the mouse over any of the article areas to get a hover-view popup of the summary. The article print is an image and usually too small to be readable. So to actually read it, you have to click the dang thing which opens up a pop-up page which is lo-and-behold a normal HTML page. "Why couldn't they have normal HTML pages anyway", you ask? Good question. In addition there are also the following faults. The whole paper is delivered through a standard application that - get this - doesn't work in Firefox! They seem to have used .Net technologies but in a way that's not cross-browser compatible.

The application delivers one edition of the publication at a time on screen. Though you can use a calendar drop-down to navigate to previous editions, note that only the edition which is currently visible is actively loaded in the application. That means that the searches that happen only search the current edition, and there's not archival search available. That makes a very poor tool for researchers. Then their are RSS feeds which are non-dynamic. No kidding, the RSS feeds provided correspond to a single page on a single date. Sooo, that means that you can load that RSS link to your RSS reader and the contents will never change!

Recently I read someone saying that "the current delivery of data has to be at the point where the user needs it". But this novelty application absolutely refused to confirm to this principle. I've noticed that some of the other clients of this software such as Times of India, mainly provide a normal HTML website with this as a side feature.

On top of all this the publication which as basic-HTML was free for the community, now requires a subscription fee before it lets you take a look at its precious contents. What must have happened was that now that they are using this propriety software to deliver their publication, they have to pay a recurring license fee, and that cannot be handled by a simple community budget.

In the end I was roused up enough to send them some feedback about it :


I would like to offer the following suggestions.
1. Provide an RSS feed URL for all the news, that gets updated automatically when each new editon is published. Your current RSS Url's seem tied down to a specific page on a specific date. This defeats the very purpose of RSS which are supposed to remain constant and their content is dynamically updated. It's ridiculous to be expected to manually copy the RSS each time for a new edition from the site.
2. You are no doubt aware that the current site application architecture does not allow it to function in Firefox browser. As Firefox is currently considered to be the most advanced browser and it's use is rising - you are severely limiting the accessibility of this publication. I would recommend that an alternative simple HTML equivalent of the publication be also made available, or that Java applets be used to deliver the application which are compatible across all browsers.
3. I understand that you are focussing on delivering a print equivalent of your publication online, but it is important that you want to make the contents available on the web so it would be good to follow basic web conventions and standards.

In a competitive environment it would not be in your interest to have publication whose accessibility is restricted, while there may be other more easily available sources of equivalent news. The fact that I have to pay for it is another factor that increases your responsibility to provide responsible access.

My father who used to follow your publication with keen interest, has been so frustrated with your current interface, that he has given up reading it.

Hope somebody's listening, else I see a failed publication.

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