Why Be Ubiquitous?

It seems like everybody and their company has a web site these days, and with increasingly rare exceptions, there's a certain sameness to them all. Same old, same old, and in a few apalling cases, different exciting old, same old. Has individual style on the web died, or merely gone underground? Is the increasing focus on the commercialization on the web killing the push-you-out-of-your-seat design in favor of a staid style translated (and not that well) from the corporate print ephemera to the web?

Even the academic, the personal, and the publications end of the web are beginning to settle into the same old grooves. And although the manifestation of the tired design replicated over and over will vary per genre of web site, there are a few underlying site features that seem to be everywhere. Some are good, some are bad (and they are discussed elsewhere on this site), but it all leads to the largely continuous feeling that I've seen this before.

It is a mixed bag to be sure; good and bad nestle hand-in-hand, and often in the very same feature. I like being able to choose a non-frames version of what I will see, but find it rather amusing that this page usually contains a very arrogant statement about using one kind of browser over the other. This arrogance often boils over into attempted tyranny (with all the attendent respect and kindness), and the user is castigated for choosing the wrong browser. Price or preference be damned, there is no excuse for not centering one's web browsing based on that one web provider's demands. And to think, I've spent years trying to develop a website that will be accessible to as many people as possible - the fact that a woman in Romania, whose modem is slow, whose tiny connection out of the country gets more traffic than the Washington beltway, kept coming back to my site was actually making me proud! I gotta get my priorities straight!

Lately, there's been two even more disturbing trends than over-inflated egos: lack of content and lack of verve. Both are essential for a great web site. A web site without either is dead in the water. A person's home page should be more than small borrowed icons and links to television shows. We've seen that before, and we were bored the first time. A web site needs personality. It doesn't have to be your personality.

A web site with a lot of fluff and a little content will draw few people back for an encore, no matter how stunning the design (and even then, the people will return only to borrow from your design . . .). A vapid or confusing design schema will render brilliant content less potent and attractive.

This is all fine and good, but I've still not answered the question. Why be ubiquitous? And if you are going to be ubiquitous, why not go the whole hog. Use Blink! Make the screen flash different colors before loading the page. Use eight frames. Incorporate loud sounds and music! Where's the Java? Take over the status section with scrolling cutesy sayings! Where's the black background? Hunh? Answer me punk!

I got swept up in the moment. Forgive me.

The desire to be ubquitous isn't so strong as to overcome my innate sense of design and functionality. And I want my web site to be more than a sarcastic slam at the state of web page design today. I want it also has to reflect good design and useful content. This is not a contradiction; 'ubiquitous' is not a synonym for 'bad.' Ubiquity can be bad, but, then again, so can bananas.


The Ubiquitous Choice| Julia Hayden | August1997 | feedback@julen.net