The folks over at Optimization Week have “analyzed the Web sites of the major Presidential candidates”:http://www.optimizationweek.com/reviews/president/ and have found these sites to be, overall, slow and inaccessible to those with disabilities (or those who choose to use the keyboard, and not mice, to navigate; or those who choose not to load images; and so forth). Fast-loading and accessible sites aren’t unattainable goals, they’re best practices. Why is it that the candidates to lead our country are behind the curve on Web design? And, no, “it’s not important” isn’t the answer I’m looking for.
The only candidate with a reasonably-sized first page is “Carol Moseley Braun”:http://www.carolforpresident.com/. All of the other candidates’ first pages weigh in at over 100K, with good old “Dick Gephardt’s”:http://www.dickgephardt2004.com/ page nearly a breathtaking 700K in size — that’s about ten times the fairly standard guideline of 70K for a first page. I can’t see anything so special about Dick’s site, but the size does appear to be bloated by code filled with Internet Explorer-specific attributes and badly-compressed images. Sixty-four of “John Kerry’s”:http://www.johnkerry.com/ 216K come from a Flash animation — not that there’s anything wrong with Flash, but it should only be used when it communicates things that static HTML can’t, which this animation doesn’t do at all. Of course, that’s better than “Dennis Kucinich’s site”:http://kucinich.us, which doesn’t even load at all at this time.
A simple approach using “CSS and semantic markup”:http://wadearmstrong.com/archives/000292.html could have given the candidates pages that looked just as good, were easier to maintain and update, and were compatible with all common Web browsers. Instead, convoluted old-style table layouts with formatting instructions given redundantly for each element, rather than separated out into a single style sheet, make for large, slow-loading and difficult-to-maintain sites.
The most glaring accessibility issue on the vast majority of sites is the omission of alt text on images. Alt text is read to non-sighted users and is often used by sighted users who choose not to load images. It’s also used by search engines to determine the relevance of pages to queries. There’s no excuse to omit alt text — it’s comparatively easy to include for 90% of images, and most sites will do anything to get better search engine results!
All these candidates’ sites fall short of current best practices; in 2000, this was unsurprising, but, four years later, it’s embarrassing. Especially with Dean’s Internet-driven campaign, I would have expected better results. But best practices are hard things to follow, especially when they’re for things, like code, that aren’t obvious to the end-user.