Like pouring cold water on A List Apart

A List Apart, these days a shadow of its former self, writes this week about how to ruin the user experience. Apparently the best way to ruin the user experience is to, and here I get confused, require that users enable Javascript in their browser. According to ALA founder Aaron Gustafson,

The problem here is not that Lala is using JavaScript, but that they are requiring it. The reason? Well, they apparently like the idea of loading all of the content into their pages using Ajax. In their rush to cram all that Web 2.0 stuff under the hood, they’ve alienated a good portion of Web 1.0 users and a sizable chunk of the mobile market. And they’re not alone.

This bothers me on a number of levels. First and foremost, I’m skeptical of his claim that requiring that users have Javascript enabled is “like pouring cold water in a customer’s lap.” Even if there weren’t a hundred easier ways to pour water both colder and, um, wetter, startups geared towards the youth market don’t generally worry too much about the “good portion of Web 1.0 users” (what portion exactly?) that don’t have Javascript enabled. And who in their right mind browses the internet via cell phone?

I don’t disagree that relying on the availability of AJAX, or even overusing it, is very frequently a bad idea. But I don’t think it’s anything like as bad an idea as he claims it is, and it’s a poor illustration of his points. For crying out loud, it’s 2007. They chose to optimize their website for a slick, rich user experience, and it strikes me as almost bizarre that they should be singled out for that choice.

People make choices about their market all the time. I design to separate content from style whenever possible, and I generally keep my designs simple. But I’m willing to bet that (not the blog) doesn’t render properly in IE6. I own a Mac now, and I have no easy way to test for IE6 compatibility. But it doesn’t bother me a bit. Why? Because the sooner that legacy users get the idea that IE6 is broken the better.

This is a luxury and a risk that would be unacceptable on a commercial site. But my personal site exists primarily, at the moment, to connect me to my friends and to help my career. All of my friends use modern browsers (right guys?), and I’m frankly skeptical about taking a job with anyone who browses with IE6 on a daily basis. Call me crazy, but also call me fairly sure you can’t win my $5000.

I bet you didn’t see that coming.

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