The "Dehanced For..." Campaign

The World Wide Web is a medium for making many kinds of information available: text, audio, video, et cetera. And that just scratches the surface; on the Web it's possible to dynamically study and manipulate the three dimensional structure of a molecule, or instantaneously compile and map geographic, botanical, & social data. In short, the Web brings to the public more data sources, and ways of interpreting the data, than have ever been available in humanity's history. The possibilities are greater than a single person can imagine.

So why are so many people doing their best to hide data?

At first glance, this might not appear to be true. After all, there are millions of Web sites that offer a smorgasbord of information no one person could ever digest, all free for the taking. But closer inspection of some of the largest sites reveals something strange: information hidden behind unneeded technology.

A simple example are Web sites that require Javascript. In many cases, Javascript is used in place of a simple HTML hyperlink. The primary effect of this substitution is to make the target document unavailable to visitors who will not or cannot enable Javascript. If the data to be provided isn't itself Javascript -- and little is, except for Javascript demonstrations -- why require a visitor to have Javascript?

The same is true for Shockwave, Java, RealAudio/Video, Flash, Windows Media, and whatever the tech du jour is. Unless a site's content absolutely requires them, they serve no purpose other than to make the site unavailable to those who cannot or will not enable them.

A reasonable objection to this is to question why someone would not enable Javascript, or download the plug-in for the latest media type. With so much to lose, why not?

The answer is two-fold: security and stability. Every plug-in that's downloaded has the potential to decrease system stability. In a world dominated by Microsoft Windows, what little stability users can conserve is a precious thing, and should not be given up without careful consideration. If the people who create operating systems have a hard time getting them right, what chances should we be willing to take on other programmers? Darn few.

The other problem with every new plug-in is that each is a potential security risk. The security flaws of browsers' implentations of Javascript and Java are well known. Cookies have their own set of privacy problems. As for plug-ins, millions of people downloaded the several generations of RealAudio's streaming media plugin before someone discovered that they sent tracing information back to Real Networks without user's knowledge. The same was true for Comet Cursors. Security and privacy must be vigilantly guarded; this task is made more difficult every time a new plug-in is installed.

In response to these problems, I've created a new public awarenesss campaign: the Dehanced for.... It's a purely voluntary, nonevangelic movement. All that is required of participants is that they make some part of their Web site -- even just one page -- inaccessible to browsers that have some particular piece of technology enabled. Here are some handy ideas:

It's as simple as that.

If you like, you can add the Dehanced for... logo [Dehanced for... logo] to your site. Display to the world that you think information shouldn't be hidden, and that unstable and insecure technology is not acceptable.

Remember: if sites require you to enable a particular technology, then it is possible to create a site that requires visitors to disable that technology. As the Bulldaggers said,

Those who live by the sword can be made to swallow that same self-serving sword.

Last updated 8 June 2000
All contents ©1999-2002 Mark L. Irons except final quote ©1991 Matt Howarth; Java is a trademark of Sun Microsystems Inc.