Fixing a Broken Web

The Big Monopoly in Redmond is working on the next iteration of their Internet Explorer web browser and actually seems to be trying to make it follow web standards.

However, if tests using the beta version are any indication, IE 8 may just break the web. Or at least large numbers of sites.

Microsoft was initially concerned that defaulting to standards compliance mode would “break the web”–that is, make a significant proportion of web pages render so badly as to be unusable–and experiences with beta 1 have provided some justification for the company’s concerns. Microsoft is appealing to web developers to fix their web pages, but the unfortunate reality is that the owners of many websites will be unwilling to foot the bill for those fixes to be made.

The problem, of course, is that web developers have had to build into their code compensation for the quirks in the way that IE insists on rendering the pages.

That’s what happens when 90% of web users are viewing your pages using a defective piece of software.

Of course, that 90% has dropped to something like 70% and is likely to drop further since Firefox 3 will be released on Tuesday, giving web users one more great reason to abandon IE.

Now, if I could just convince the folks in our IT department to approve Firefox for use in our district. And certain people in other departments to dump Netscape!

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

That’s what a writer for The Atlantic suspects is happening due to our increasing dependence on the web for information gathering.

And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

A phenomena he says many of his friends, “literary types, most of them”, have also noticed recently.

A British study seems to back them up.

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

He goes on to discuss how the integration of other new communications technology have affected reading and writing in the past as well as expanding on the idea that electronic communications is working to “scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration”.

It’s an interesting argument but wasn’t MTV supposed to have done that twenty years ago? Someone probably made similar complaints about the spread of radio.

However, I wonder if what he describes is so bad.

After all, one primary purpose of reading, at least when it comes to non-fiction, is to gather and process information. If we can learn to do that with a “Jet Ski” instead of a row boat, that should be a good thing, right?

But I also don’t necessarily share the writer’s reverence for books. Most of them, like most good music albums, are often padded with extraneous or repetitive information.

Possibly one thing working on the web has taught me is how to bounce through those books to find the good stuff faster.

Of course, the bottom line in all this is that the web and Google are just tools, like any other created by man through the century.

They change the way we accomplish tasks, sometimes in good ways, sometimes not.

And people will view the changes differently.

Rational Behavior

In a comment on the previous post, Dean reminds us that not all principals overreact to student “potential subversiveness”.

In an email to the students he actually gives them something to think about.

I do admire your enthusiasm — and I just encourage you to remember with great power comes great responsibility — I think Uncle Ben said that!

And anyone who quotes a Stan Lee creation, is ok in my book!

That’s The Offending Word?

Can a student be punished for language critical of school administrators posted on their personal blog? How about if the principal finds one of the words employed offensive?

In at least one case, an appeals court says they can.

The Court of Appeals noted that adults may have a constitutional right to use vulgar or offensive speech in order to make a point, but that it “may legitimately give rise to disciplinary action by a school” if a school is responsible for “teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior.” Although Avery made her statements off school grounds and outside of school hours, they were related to school activities and ultimately caused some level of disruption within the school setting.

If this was a wild rant with a purpose of inciting students to violent or illegal behavior, I might agree with this ruling.

However, if you read the entry, there is none of that. It’s actually rather tame with the possible exception of that one word used to describe the administrators. A word that goes unbleeped on broadcast television.

All of which makes the court’s action somewhat disturbing.

The decision concerns free speech advocates because of the cloudy nature of the blog post. No threats were made and no major student demonstrations occurred–at most, the students were a bit “riled up” (according to Avery’s testimony) over having their event possibly cancelled and their student council going to great lengths to turn the decision around. Most importantly, the decision will likely be used as further precedent in the future for schools (and possibly colleges and universities) to take action against students for their postings around the ‘Net.

It probably won’t be long before another principal decides to take action against a student for a blog post with no “bad” words, one that simply takes exception with school policy.