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Re: counters

From: Kynn Bartlett <kynn-hwg@idyllmtn.com>
Date: Thu, 23 Jul 1998 13:54:24 -0700
Message-Id: <3.0.5.32.19980723135424.009f1480@mail.idyllmtn.com>
To: Kristine Bradow <kbradow@ece.eng.wayne.edu>
Cc: "w3c-wai-ig@w3.org" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>, David Sant <sdavid@ece.eng.wayne.edu>
At 04:27 p.m. 07/23/98 +0100, Kristine Bradow wrote:
>I'm a bit of a web design novice, and I want to implement a counter on
>my lab's web page. I've been rudely surprised by all that is involved in
>creating counters in the first place--PERL nightmares on top of the
>HTML. Plus, I've been doing my best to follow the W3C accessibility
>guidelines to keep the page accessible, so I was wondering if anyone had
>any tips on creating "accessible counters," or is there is any such
>thing as an "accessible counter." Do they typically cause problems?
>Especially with the scripting involved?

Well, the model for most web counters is to provide an image or 
a series of images, e.g. one reading "03424" or several that read
"0" "3" "4" "2" "4".  For these types of counters, you just have 
to make sure that you are providing ALT text for each one.  This
means your script has to provide the correct numbers.

Many "free" or third-party counters use graphics that aren't even
hosted on your machine; this leads to problems because they are
unable to change the HTML tags in your page, and can only provide
a graphic.  E.g.:

     <IMG SRC="http://www.kynn.com/cgi-bin/counter?id=654">
     people have seen this page.

In this case, the source of the image would be a CGI script on
my computer, and it would use the id of 654, which would be a
code I would assign to your page.  My CGI script would know how
many times id 654 has been accessed, and it would create a
graphic showing that number.

However, my CGI script has no access to the ALT attribute (which
was not included in your HTML above); even if we used a value,
we couldn't provide the actual numbers.  So we can use something
like ALT="Many" -- but that still presents access problems, since 
non-graphical users can't get the same information made available
to those with graphical browsers.

Image-based counters are an annoying barrier to accessibility.

If you can run the scripts locally on your machine, and call them
via Server Side Includes or the like, you have a lot more control
over what is returned.  Instead of something like this:

      <IMG SRC="/graphics/counter/0.gif">
      <IMG SRC="/graphics/counter/4.gif">
      <IMG SRC="/graphics/counter/5.gif">

...you can just have the script add ALT text appropriately.  Two
ways to this are:

      <IMG SRC="/graphics/counter/0.gif" ALT="0">
      <IMG SRC="/graphics/counter/4.gif" ALT="4">
      <IMG SRC="/graphics/counter/5.gif" ALT="5">

or

      <IMG SRC="/graphics/counter/0.gif" ALT="045">
      <IMG SRC="/graphics/counter/4.gif" ALT="">
      <IMG SRC="/graphics/counter/5.gif" ALT="">

The specifics on how to do this with your chosen CGI programming
language are left as an exercise for the coder.

<RANT TITLE="About Counters">

Now, regardless of the issue of counters and accessibility, I 
have a few more words about counters in general:

     Don't use counters.

Counters produce nothing useful for your web page, have no
value whatsoever to the visitors, increase the system load,
increase the download time, and as we've seen before, many
have serious accessibility flaws.  In addition, counters (like
link exchange banners) are a sure sign of a new and in-
experienced web designer, or at least, someone who hasn't
thought out very carefully what they're doing.  They're even
less acceptable on "professionally"-done web sites.

Now, if you want to get information on how many times your
page is accessed, you should be able to get this from the
server logs.  If you don't have access to those, request it
from your sysadmin or webmaster.  Server logs, especially
when run through a good analysis program (I like "analog"),
can provide so much more useful information than a counter
can, and it doesn't decrease the usability or esthetics of
your web page.
</RANT>

--
Kynn Bartlett <kynn@hwg.org>
Vice President, Marketing and Outreach, HTML Writers Guild
  http://www.hwg.org
Received on Thursday, 23 July 1998 16:45:32 GMT

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