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Of sticks, stones and petards!
Copyright © 1997 to Bruce Simpson, syndication rights available
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14 Jan 1998

Have Your Say

A comment from Aardvark's editor/publisher, Bruce Simpson

Local E-Zine The Plug is claiming to have set a new standard for Web pages and claims that "some of the apparently popular web pages on the net, like Aardvark, are riddled with errors".

To justify his claims, Peter Belt, editor and publisher of The Plug includes a HTML Validation report claiming that Aardvark has 50 errors on its front page.

Shock-horror! Does this mean that Aardvark's pages are inferior in design and construction to those at The Plug?

Quite possibly yes! Aardvark has very tight production deadlines and is all hand-coded HTML so it's only natural that errors will creep in from time to time. Of course it's undesirable, but the factor which decides whether it's unacceptable or not is whether it impedes access to the content contained on these pages.

It must also be pointed out that many of the validation suites, and in particular the one used by Peter Belt, tend to "overstate" the magnitude of the problems in an HTML document. Most commonly they propagate simple errors such as missing close tags such as </FONT>, </TD>, etc. Of course the failure to close tags such as this is an error and can be avoided by careful use of HTML validation software - however, whereas Netscape and IE will quickly realise the scope of the error and still display the page as intended, simple validators tend to consider all tags unclosed from that point onwards. This results in a ridiculous number of errors being reported.

Aardvark pleads guilty to having a handful of HTML errors on many of its pages and yes, they'd probably load faster if these errors were fixed. However, I also believe that people come to this site to read the content - rather than to marvel at the accuracy of the HTML.

Aardvark is a content-centric site, not a showcase of HTML design and therefore the quality and speed of the content production will always be given priority over the 100% accuracy of the HTML which surrounds it when deadlines are tight and time is short.

One must also ask if Mr Belt has not spoken out too soon. I fear he is hoist by his own petard!

This report, generated by the same tool as he used on the Aardvark page produces some embarrassing figures.

Mr Belt, who *does* claim to be a Web designer and promotes his wares through this site would be expected to show perfection in his HTML, particularly on his showcase page. I suspect he may feel a little red-faced therefore when the reports linked to above indicate that this "showcase" front page, a very simple piece of HTML, consisting of just 58 lines of code with one graphic image, is reported as having 9 errors and 6 warnings!

Perhaps only The Plug conforms to the "new standard" as defined by Belt? - but that doesn't explain why the web page at www.plug.co.nz:80/government.htm produces a whopping 256 errors!

So, what can we learn from this?

  • Everyone who codes HTML by hand makes mistakes - even the experts
  • If you're going to bait the Aardvark, dot your own I's and cross your own T's first!
  • The results of HTML validators are useful but should be treated with caution when it comes to performing an objective analysis as to the "quality" of a Web page's HTML.

It's a new year ahead of The Plug and Aardvark and I look forward to some spirited exchanges of views between Peter and myself. I hope the readers of both publications enjoy the results.

The Plug has proven itself to be an excellent site with great content and flavour, I wish Peter good luck for the year ahead and I'm sure his readership will continue to grow.

That's my two cent's worth. If you've got something to say, just drop me an email or post your comments to the Aardvark Forums.

Bruce Simpson

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