(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)
Today we are all “users”, or at least unconscious sponsors, of the Internet and digital technologies, even if we do not use yet a computer or an Internet connection: all the true stories mentioned in this book demonstrate this fact. This said, can a simple (maybe unwilling) user, somebody who only needs to use computers and the Internet in a very basic way contribute to making the Internet a Better Place? Of course: here’s how.
To begin with, let’s avoid like the plague all the web-based services and applications which are not already guaranteed to work across all types of software and hardware devices, from traditional computers to cell phones. You never know which kind of terminal may be the only one available to check your bank account or contact your manager when you’re traveling. Next, use only standard compliant browsers like Firefox and whenever a site and/or the documents it makes available for download, are usable only with proprietary software, do the following two things.
First, let them know that you won’t come back, and why. This is the most essential thing. Websites live off traffic: never visiting a bad one again, after letting it know why, is the fastest way to solve the problem: make yourself heard, since just ignoring them will perpetuate the problem. If you can find their email address (yes, many communication-challenged guys still set up web sites without giving you contact info), use it. If you don’t find it try email@example.com. Send the message to newspapers, too, or maybe only to them if you fear it’s a site that could spam you. Alternatively, you could get a second email address, to be used only via web for these purposes. If you run a website, you may also consider joining the Website Done Right campaign!
The second thing to do is to never build bad websites. Internet communication is not supposed to be “best viewed in such-and-such a resolution, or only with such-and-such a browser, or with a link speed not less than X”.
If you need a website and hire professionals to take care of it, or just ask it as a favor to some web-savy friend, require that they always use, at the very minimum, open, non-proprietary file formats which are guaranteed to work on every computer: both for web pages, and for every documentation that’s put online for your visitors to download.
Also make sure your webmaster isn’t one of those who must put animated pictures, sound effects, mini-movies or other gadgets on every page, even when they are not needed, simply to justify their salary. Stay away from those people. Do it. Ninety nine per cent of your likely visitors will have computers or Internet enabled cell phones which are different, or differently configured from yours, or slower connections: you can’t bother them like this. They want to talk, not just listen, i.e. be active, not passive. Maximize the speed at which they can use your website, instead of generating more trash TV.
There is a short, absolutely non technical list on the Digifreedom website which can help you in two ways: to choose the right webmaster for your business and to make sure that he or she does what is needed in the right way.