Review: The Newtown Bee

Aesthetic and Technical Review of
http://www.thebee.com
by jim barchuk
20 August 1996 10:00am


Pages tested under:
Netscape Navigator 2.02
Windows 3.11
VGA 640/480
14.4k modem

Overview

The Newtown Bee runs a complex, ambitious website. The main opening screen offers access to three major topics, The Newtown Bee, Antiques, and Horses.

Because of the complexity and high volume content it is not unusual to find some small, mostly harmless HTML errors. The excellent content, good graphics to text ratio, and clean layout make this a strong website.

Site Main Opening Screen

  1. Initial reaction: very good, loads fast, clean and attractive graphics.
  2. The main graphic is just a little to large; 622 pixels wide does not quite fit properly on a VGA 640/480 screen. The recommended maximum is about 540 to 570.
  3. Good support for further text based browsing. Many university networks use Lynx, a text browser, and many users with slower modems browse with graphics disabled to improve speed.
  4. There are about a dozen relatively minor technical problems with the HTML code, but nothing that should cause any problems.
  5. There are also a few dozen CR/LF 'empty lines' at the end of the page that serve no 'purpose'. Probably a GNN artifact. Also poses no problem.

The Newtown Bee opening screen

Very good, but I recommend a few adjustments.

  1. The subscription/about/letters/press review image map needs text based links. These options are otherwise unavailable until graphics are loaded.
  2. Reference Library, add hotlink to book image. Centered text is difficult to read.
  3. My personal preference is that there should be a bit of space between individual items in the 'Highlights' and 'Other stories' boxes.
  4. Again, about a dozen relatively innocuous HTML errors.

Antiques and The Arts Weekly

  1. Similar to the Netscape reference, the GNN logo is unnecessary and irrelevant.
  2. About three dozen minor HTML errors. HOWEVER there is one error that under certain circumstances could cause strange problems. The 'Our Gallery Picks' has an extra quote mark that 'upsets' the text mode display.
  3. The Cezanne image file size could be cut by 2/3 by changing to 16 rather than 256 colors, with only slight loss in appearance.

Subscribe to Antiques and The Arts Weekly

Good subscription form, a couple of suggestions.

  1. The 'click here to subscribe' is considered unprofessional looking. It is wordy and redundant. That the link is underlined and/or displayed in a different color defines it inherently as a hotlink.
  2. The New Sub/Renewal radio buttons should be stacked vertically with the 'rates higher outside the US' note below them. Similar suggestion for the '1 year', '2 year', '3 year' radio buttons. This makes them just plain easier to see at a glance.
  3. Instead of the 'Start' button plus 'my subscription today' text, the whole button should read 'Start my subscription today'. It should also be in the center of the screen. As it stands now the button is too small and inconspicuous.
  4. The 'Where to find on the newsstand' page should state explicitly where to find 'what' on the newsstand. The reason for this is that each page should 'stand on it's own'. There is no guarantee that a reader will arrive at the page by 'conventional' means via the main page. The reader should see at the top of each page exactly what it's for.
  5. The Auction Calendar page has -waaaay- too many Horizontal Rules, divider lines. These are normally reserved for major changes in topic. Notice, for instance, that this document contains exactly -one- divider at the very bottom. Other topic changes are marked by spacing and slightly larger text.

HORSES Monthly

  1. First impression, perfectly navigable in text mode except for the image map that needs text links.
  2. Parentheses are completely unnecessary in ALT tags, take up valuable real estate space, but that the ALTs are there is very good.
  3. About 150 HTML errors, but are 'most likely' innocuous. A few of the errors are malformed tables, these 'could' be a problem for some browsers, but only display, nothing incredibly critical. About half of the errors are missing </FONT> tags. About half are 'undefined "U" tags'. The underline of link text is redundant and unnecessary. Underlining is in fact frowned upon generally in WWW pages as they're normally 'expected' to indicate hotlinks. Underlining is generally reserved for places where it's absolutely required such as book titles.
  4. This is the first page I've seen in the series where the graphics are a tad overbearing in volume. Suggest adding HEIGHT and WIDTH tags to all images to make page 'appear' to load faster. Again, image file size for this page can be cut by 2/3 by cutting color count to 16 rather than 256, in this case losing -no- image content.
  5. The three columns of graphical links are too wide for VGA 640/480.
  6. 'Red on blue' is normally a very bad combination, but the image of the five semitransparent horses is quite striking and attractive.
  7. I normally view pages with proportional font set to 14 pts. It's just easier to read, and in this case shows some minor page defects. The text attached to the '96 Olympics' and 'Connecticut Equestrian Center Authority' wraps rather clumsily.
  8. Recommend breaking lists such as 'Recent Reining Results' and 'HITS Catskills I Champions & Reserves' into <UL><LI><LI><LI></UL> unordered lists for easier reading.

General comments applicable to all pages

Recommend adding <META> tags to all pages for search engines.

All 'paragraph' type text should be in tables to bring the margins in from the edge of the screen. 'Too wide' lines of text are more difficult to read, and the screen border is distracting when too close. All paragraphs should be contained within <P></P>.

The 'best viewed under Netscape' comment should not be the first thing the reader sees, and is in fact unnecessary. All of the pages at this site look just fine under MSIE and the tables collapse properly for Mosaics that don't support tables.

The 'Just drop a note' animated gif appears as a pattern of dots when viewed under browsers that do not support animated gifs. Another more universal gif would be more appropriate here.

All HREFs that do not point to a specific file should end with a '/'.

Names and addresses should be split into this format:

Name Name
street address
city, state, zip
other notes

'Mailto:' is not supported by all browsers. Mailto URLs should include a text version of the address. See the very bottom of this document for an example.

The following links are apparently 'broken'

  • http://www.rio.com/aaj/
  • http://www.thebee.com/bweb/nwtfair.htm
  • http://www.thebee.com/bweb/aidsside.htm
  • http://www.thebee.com/bweb/thebee.com
  • http://www.presence.com/g/namhsa/
  • http://www.thebee.com/hweb/hweb/tremaine.htm
  • http://www.hwi.com/SJO/SJOHOME.html
  • http://www.vir.com/mushers/musher.htm
  • http://www.ecst.csuchico.edu/~rebecca/mh
  • http://www.ecst.csuchico.edu/~rebecca/mh/mhweb
  • http://www.dynamo.net/dynamo/pets/pets.html
  • http://www.olympics.nbc.com/, http://atlantagames.com/ (probably a malformed HREF)
  • http://www.museum.state.il.us/o/ismdepts/anthro/dlcfaq.html
  • http://www.thebee.com/graphics/francis.gif
  • http://www.thebee.com/graphics/lamour.gif
  • http://www.thebee.com/graphics/hunter.gif

Summary

Despite the above constructive criticisms, my compliments to the writers and coders of The Newtown Bee pages. Good graphics and layout, and most importantly excellent content.


Copyright 1996 jim barchuk
jb@jbarchuk.com
URL: http://www.jbarchuk.com/review01.html