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The Whole Shebang — Gawker’s #1-^%$ Mistake & What We Can Learn

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OK, so the last “^%$” part was me taking some literary license. The first two characters — the “#!” — also known to computer programmers as the shebang — is the mark of the web programming technique that most recently resulted in Gawker falling out of the graces of Google. Sure, it was a glitch, but as a technologist, it’s frustrating that it was not more obvious that the technique is a poorly-conceived and unnecessarily complex one to begin with. It’s even more frustrating that a high-profile web site was used as a test dummy for what Yehuda Katz and I criticized more than a year ago right here. Perhaps Google-Dogma blinded them all.

So what can we learn from this? Well, that’s simple — we should remind ourselves that new technology is not always good — even technology from Google. What else?

Trust your web development team. Take your programmers, web designers, and that weird physics guy who ended up programming out to dinner. Then while you do that, get their opinions. Not all of them are oblivious to business concerns and the bottom line. They might have then told you among the following things:

  • “Gajax” requires one to install something — a “headless” browser — on web servers …

and this not only sounds morbid, but more importantly it presents a cost, and therefore will be greeted with trepidation by the hosting industry, operating on already razor-thin margins.

  • Even with this implementation, extpensive modifications to your application are necessary …

and so it won’t work without a lot of programming work. That also presents a cost. It also requires a lot of unfamiliar types of configuration and testing, and that’s where Gawker went wrong. Maybe they should have taken Scott Gilbertson out for some Filet Mignon.

  • It’s a proprietary (Google) standard …

and other search engines account for small but noticeable traffic. Proprietary means you will have to do it again anyway — another cost.

Once we realize this, it might be apparent that there might be a better solution on the horizon. And it did, in fact, already materialize — in the form of HTML 5’s pushstate functionality.

A (near-sighted) developer might point out that this HTML 5 functionality is not widely supported yet. But that’s the best part! It doesn’t need to be. Used correctly, pushstate will gracefully degrade and enhance accordingly. This includes IE and Googlebot both. Google (and Bing, etc.) as well as old browsers will see a non-AJAX web site. New versions of Firefox, Safari, and possibly IE9 will see the AJAX web site. Everyone is happy.

So then what should we do?

Listen to what these technologists say carefully. Takes notes. They might know a few things. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but they may avert a technology disaster like the whole Gawker shebang if consulted. Those supervising changes cannot ignore the potentially devastating implications of poor technology decisions. I predict Gawker will do a total rewrite using HTML 5’s pushstate.

Developers ask other developers questions often. Not only does doing this keep us humble, but it can avert disaster. After all, if Gawker had used Google to find that article and asked Scott Gilbertson, me or Yehuda, they would have never have made the mistake they did.

How can I learn more?

Jaimie Sirovich will be speaking at SES NY:

Wednesday, March 23rd, 1:00pm – 2:00pm

Technically Speaking, This is the Way You Do It

About the Author

Jaimie Sirovich is a search marketing consultant. Officially he is a computer programmer, but he claims to enjoy marketing much more. At present, Jaimie is focused on helping clients sell everywhere, and achieve multi-channel integration with major websites such as eBay, Amazon, and even Craigslist. He is the author of Search Engine Optimization With PHP. Jaimie can also be reached directly at jaimie@seoegghead.com.

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