If you’ve used any social media site, you’ve probably faced the unnerving challenge of picking a profile picture. You know, that small circular thing that sits next to your every comment, post, and interaction.
Perhaps you don’t think a whole lot about this little picture. Or perhaps you do. Maybe you tend to choose a photo from your holiday as your avatar. Or perhaps you snap a quick selfie or opt for a photo of your pet.
What you hopefully don’t do is go for a seizure-inducing light show GIF. But some people, it seems, inevitably do. And I found myself looking at one such profile pic a few days back.
I don’t have photosensitivity issues. But despite several layers of anti-glare protection and the small size of the avatar, I still found looking at the thing to be headache-inducing. My headache aside, it left me wondering: why would someone go to the effort of making that their profile photo?
Surely, at some point, between downloading or making the GIF and uploading it to their profile, the thought would have occurred to the person behind that thing that this would not only be annoying to other people but potentially even dangerous. Or maybe that was the whole point?
Thankfully, that person’s ability to self-express onto other people’s feeds was mostly limited to the realms of this one little circle.
But what happens when that kind of attitude is let loose on an entire web page? Say, within a web revival space like Neocities (or any website hosting service, really), which gives users unbound control to make a website to their liking?
Well, as a webmaster by the name of ‘pinkvampyr’ notes on a recent post, things can get pretty ugly:
“I eagerly opened up someone’s website (one with tons of views), completely unsuspectingly, only to be met with a barrage of flashing and quickly moving images that took up the entire screen. It was incredibly jarring and sudden, with absolutely no warning given.”
Unfortunately, running into seizure-inducing websites is all too commonplace for those who go browsing within these web revival spaces. And in this particular instance, the creator of the web page was, apparently, entirely dismissive of anyone else’s concerns.
To be clear, I don’t think the people who make these web pages make their sites photo-sensitive disasters out of spite. Rather, I believe they get carried away with the spirit of the small web or “web1”.
(That is, for those who are currently asking what ‘what is this guy talking about?’ the realm of the internet dedicated to HTML pages where 90s aesthetics, DIY blogs, starlit backgrounds, and scrolling banners still rule: https://mikegrindle.com/posts/why-this-site-looks-like-this)
I mean, that’s the whole point, right? Unfiltered self-expression on the web? A place where (in my own words): “you set the tone, you pick the decor… that exists for its own sake, as your place to express yourself in whatever manner you please.”
Sure, sounds great. But just like in real life, you have a duty to those around you. At the very least, a duty that should make you consider putting a warning up if your webpage looks like the 4th of July on shrooms.
But this also brings up some bigger questions surrounding the web revival scene. Namely, who is it really for? And who is welcome? Because, at the moment, there exists much resistance to making it accessible:
This resistance manifests in several ways, but most often as an aversion to making sites that are mobile-friendly:
Now look, I get it. Smartphones suck, amirite? Call me an old “boomer” (I’m a strapping young(ish) millennial, for the record), but I can’t stand using the things. I like my laptop and my text-based browsers, thank you very much.
But I also know that the world isn’t going to be ditching these things anytime soon. I also know that for many people, particularly those with disabilities, smartphones are a lifeline. Furthermore, the reality is that if people can only afford either a laptop or a smartphone, they’re going for the smartphone.
So, when you say your site doesn’t work on mobile, you are effectively saying your site isn’t for anyone who can’t afford or doesn’t have access to a desktop computer. Not to mention anyone who needs a screen reader to browse the web. That’s your choice, I suppose. I know I’d personally prefer my site to be accepting to all.
Don’t get me wrong, I want the web revival space to stay wacky, weird, and experimental. I also think that most of the time, non-mobile-friendly web design is not the result of intentional exclusion. I mean, probably nine out of every ten sites on places like Neocities are the result of people just experimenting with HTML and CSS and have webmasters who haven’t even looked at their pages in years.
But, if you’re in this for the long haul and want your site to be enjoyable for all who wander upon it, you might want to spend a little time thinking about this sort of thing. And now you’ve wandered here, you’ve officially lost your excuse for not doing so. Sorry.
To be clear, I’m not anyone to point fingers at anyone’s code - I’m not a master web designer. I’ve certainly made ignorant mistakes with my site’s code before. But now I’ve talked the talk, I do want to ensure I walk the walk. So, I’ve been busy giving my site a little audit over the last few days to ensure everything is in order.
Because I keep things pretty simple, mikegrindle.com works nicely on mobile (but I do need to fix some images). I’m pretty good at remembering semantics and alt-text, too. But if you see an issue in my code, please do moan at me, and I’ll try to make suitable changes.
There were many things to love about the “old web.” But I think the main reason people are drawn to old-school web design today is not strictly because of nostalgia or even a love for 90s aesthetics (though sometimes it is). Instead, I think it’s because the older web felt more people-orientated, and in today’s corporate internet-sphere, that’s something many crave to see back. So, if you’re thinking of building a site or already have one, make sure it’s just that: for people.
With that in mind, I’ll now leave you with some sources on how to make sure your site is accessible: