Thursday, October 11, 2012

The opposite of graceful degradation

This is Coursera. (No, I'm not directly linking. They've been a bad boy.) "Why are you showing their webpage before it loads?" you might be thinking. Well, to me, this is their webpage. Because I was viewing it with Javascript disabled. And if you do that, this is all you ever see.

That's right. The entirety of their site depends on Javascript. You don't just see a normal webpage but maybe the pop-up calendar doesn't work, or the navigation bar is a bit wonky. No, it's not even like Gawker circa 2011 where you still see some UI elements but everything else fails to load. Here, you simply see nothing.

You'd expect a modern, hip company like Coursera might take heed of the ideas like graceful degradation and progressive enhancement that have been all the rage lately. The point is, it's fine to have extra features provided by Javascript or the latest HTML5 specs. But if those features don't work for your visitor, you should have the more basic functionality there and operational. The particular reason the idea has been popular recently is the explosion in mobile devices, many of which are limited in their form factors and supported technologies. It's also a good idea for accessibility and even Google juice. But no, Coursera is turning away all those less-able devices and people at the door.

Postscript: Yes, I can just turn Javascript on. And I probably will. But I am definitely not turning it on for every site I happen to run into. Whether out of security concerns (and oh, there are many) or because they just don't want all that crap bogging down their browsing, disabling Javascript is a legitimate choice many people make. And if I run into a site like Coursera, half the time I'll just leave and never come back.

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