Waiting for Bob
June 6, 2000: The Most Dangerous Game (Day 12)
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Impure motives

or, everyone's money is the right color

Today's topic is accessibility.

I think a lot about accessibility these days, given that I'm a genuine Web HTML Perl CGI Programmer Designer Architect and all. There's been a lot written about the importance of making your content available to any user, regardless of hair color, skin color, modem speed, or browser version. I'll admit to agreeing with a lot of it. But I don't really agree for any of the "good" reasons.

No sir, I like accessibility because it makes people love me and give me money.

I don't care what you use to visit www.waitingforbob.com and bookmark it and come back every single day. The important part, the one that goes visit www.waitingforbob.com and bookmark it and come back every single day, doesn't have anything to do with a specific computer or browser. Use an electric abacus for all I care. I just want you to read my comic. And with the exception of some low-resolution devices, almost everyone can. (And I do worry about the fact that some people can't.) Ironically, it's taken a lot more effort to buy that apathy about your browsing environment than to care intently about making this site look good for one or two specific browsers. But that apathy is a valuable thing, really. It means I get paid more.

I happen to get paid in money (ad sales and commissions I get on account of being a Famous Writer and all). But I can make the same argument about the fact that I get paid in attention. And if I wasn't such a pragmatic little bastard, I could consider that I get paid in making the world just a little bit of a better place by giving people a comic strip that (hopefully) amuses or moves them. But whether the currency of choice is love or global goodness or hard American currency backed by nuclear weapons and Fort Knox, the goal of every Web site should be to get paid as much as possible by as many people as possible. If you're not doing it for money or attention or altruism, after all, what are you doing it for?

That's why accessibility matters.

Now, I could tell you about the Internet standards process and the large number of different operating systems and software platforms and Web appliances and such, but instead, I'd like to point to your television.

Television has accessibility down to a science. I've got three teevees in my apartment - two of them are brand spanking new cable-ready items with closed captioning, multilingual onscreen menus, and remote controls that could probably be used to launch missiles if I had the right program code. The third was left behind by a previous tenant, appears to predate everything but the wheel and (possibly) sliced bread, shows lifelike pictures only if I'm watching a Dalmatian at a dog show, and could be remotely controlled if I had someone I could tell to turn the dial. They're all made by three different manufacturers in three completely different countries.

Take a guess how many of the television programs that are currently on the air I can watch with all three televisions. Here's a hint: the number is somewhere between 99 and 101 percent. That's not because the networks and the cable companies are altruists. It's because accessibility is in everyone's best (economic) interests.

Try to imagine how much holy hell would be raised across the land if half the television channels you watched regularly went blank, except for a message like "Your television is too small. We will only show Friends reruns to people with 25-inch Trinitron picture tubes. Buy a new television from Sony."

People would gang up twelve deep to stab the stupid, stupid, stupid television execs in the spongecake in their skull where most people have brains. They'd demand penalties and money and probably criminal charges. And then the government would finally get through the crowd of stockholders and advertisers and viewers and start doing some real damage.

Now try to imagine if half the web sites you visited regularly went black, except for a message like "Your web browser is too old. We will only show www.toiletpaper-edelivery.com to users of Internet Explorer 5.5 or later for Windows 98 or Windows 2000. Download a new browser from Microsoft." If your favorite browser is Netscape 3.0 (which is a lot more recent than my black-and-white teevee), or a smaller niche browser like Opera or iCab (users of both visit us every day, by the way), you probably don't need to imagine too hard. And yet nobody bothers to complain that they're turning away hundreds of potential readers, or subscribers, or customers every day.

And we wonder why dot-com companies with kewl web sites never seem to turn a profit. They just don't want to get paid.

- Doug

Three new comics a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. (Currently on pause.) Waiting for Bob is copyright © 1999-2002 Doug Sheppard and Katrin Luessenheide Salyers. You may read our privacy policy.