Graceful Degradation

You might think from the title that I’m going to address the proper way that you should hold social intercourse with your co-workers. Friends, I would not ask you to be graceful when belittling your inferior co-workers.

Instead, I am reminding you that your Web sites and applications are going to be out in the wild for a long, long time after you finish this firedrill project and move on not only to your next emergency, but onto your next job or career or the rest of your life. As such, you need to keep in mind the fact that someone in 1 year, 2 years, or 10 years might try to hit the URL you’ve specified somewhere on product packaging, in e-mail campaigns, or embedded in applications.

For example, if you try to get to the Tools on the Web from a recent version (okay, 2002, but recent enough when the damn thing is a couple hundred bucks a throw) Microsoft Publisher:

Microsoft Tools Off The Web
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You ever wonder why people think Microsoft sucks even though its operating systems have been pretty stable lately? The cumulative experience of history and the ongoing experience of little things like this. Oh, and Windows Vista, so I hear.

On the other hand, A&E Biography’s Web site shows how simple it is to handle an expired program:

An expired program
Click for full size

Nice and neat, and it indicates to the user that your organization or client are not complete goofballs who don’t understand the Internet. A 404 error makes it look as though your Web site, not the user, is at fault; the user is only following your instructions.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll probably do so again, but you need to account for all the URLs you throw out there in any way you throw them out. Show the home page, show a “We’re sorry, that has expired” message, but do not make it look like your Web site is failing.

 

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