All in the <head>

– Ponderings & code by Drew McLellan –

– Live from The Internets since 2003 –

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Google Page Creator

23 February 2006

Google have launched their new personal homepage service, comprising of a browser-based what-you-see-is-a-bit-like-what-someone-else-might-see (formally known as WYSIWYG) editor, and a coupled hosting service. Like Geocities used to be – remember that? Here’s a page I created in just a few moments poking around with it. Signup was painless, editing was painless, publishing was painless. The resultant markup? Painful.

I’d like some web standards with that.

Google, listen. I know creating a visual editor is tricky. Combine the flexibility of multiple skins and there are a huge number of non-trivial issues to address. But that’s what Google are good at, right? Search is a non-trivial issue: conquered. Web-based email that actually feels responsive and manageable: solved. Flexible advertising models that work well for the little guy as well as the big players: 0wned. Usable interfaces that enable online maps to actually be useful for finding your way around: home run. Building a web page that meets a basic set of implementation rules easily learned by any literate small child: erm, we’ll get back to you. Seriously.

If this were Jonny’s Homepage Builder dot com then I don’t think I’d really care. But this is Google, and that means that the web-using public at large will be introduced to it and will begin to use it. Which means that the web-using public at large will soon be turning out nasty, invalid web pages at a rate of knots. At that, my friends, is a problem.

So what can Google do?

Unless the architecture is such that pages can be fixed once they been published, Google really need to withdraw this service until it’s fixed. Would they launch Google Mail if it was malforming the emails it sent? No way. They’d fix it. So is it acceptable to launch Google Page Creator when it’s malforming the pages it creates? No way. And don’t give me any of the it’s only a beta crap. We all know that carries no weight these days.

Google are soliciting feedback on this new service, so I encourage you to create your own page, test it and then report any technical problems that you find. They need to be aware of the faults in their service else those faults will simply go unfixed. And that’s a problem for us all.

- Drew McLellan

Comments

  1. § Dean Edwards:

    Strange. I can view the page fine using IE. I get a 404 error using Firefox.

  2. § Drew:

    I think they’re having intermittent problems. A couple of refreshes got it to load in Camino and the validator too.

  3. § Rob Wilmshurst:

    I agree with you about the painless setup (although the giant blue borders on template previews aren’t too nice) and I was, quite frankly, shocked at the poor markup.
    I could let them off on the odd unclosed br but there are basic issues there that need to be resolved.
    By the looks of it the templates are broken before you even get to edit them. Making valid templates is not difficult. Coping well with user input is harder, but doable.

    The most heinous crime: All the CSS is in the head (no pun intended!).

  4. § Jesse:

    You forgot to mention they don’t support Safari either ;)

  5. § sir-rant:

    Surely the (eternal) ‘Beta’ covers these nubbins? It is beta software after all .. not perfect (yet!)

  6. § Scott Schiller:

    The FONT tags are pretty old-school, as are the block-level (DIV) elements nested within paragraphs, should not be allowed.. That being said, they’ve still obviously done some thinking around keeping the code pretty clean, which is always a good thing.

  7. § Drew:

    Scott – I don’t see any evidence that they’re trying to keep the code clean. To me it looks like they’ve bodged the code to provide some kind of functional skeleton for their editor.

    sir-rant: Beta only covers it if it’s really a beta. A real beta is two-sided: it may not be perfect but the recommendation is that you only use it for testing purposes. Google-style betas (and most public betas these days) don’t carry the second half of the contract. They want to be let off the hook for the broken bits, but they still want you to go ahead and use it for real, as well as recommend it to your friends etc. So no, a beta label doesn’t excuse the faults in this case.

  8. § Jemaleddin:

    I really don’t think it’s as bad as you’re making it out to be. I mean, what’s the fix list:

    * close the br and hr tags (probably 2 lines of code)

    * swap the nesting so that divs are outside h and p tags

    * swap the font tags for spans (not perfect, but good enough for this sort of thing)

    * add a type to the script tags.

    What is that, an hour’s work? 2? Come on! It’s probably done in javascript, and we could send them a patch! (Anybody wanna have a go?)

    And besides, if they switched to Transitional, it’d cut the number of errors in half. At least give them credit for trying strict!

  9. § Dean Edwards:

    The code is dodgy no doubt. However, this is a WYSIWYG tool aimed at building simple web pages for people with no technical skills.

    Google can’t guess at the semantic meaning of a page so can’t produce semantically driven markup. Replace the FONT tags with what? Even if other tags were used they would still be presentational. There is no way round this I’m afraid.

    That said, they could at least produce /valid/ code. There is no excuse for not doing that.

  10. § Jemaleddin:

    They’d want to replace the Font tags because there is no Font tag in XHTML 1.0 Strict. Quoth the validator:

    “You have used the element named above in your document, but the document type you are using does not define an element of that name.”

    So in order to produce valid code… No font tags! Right?

  11. § Douglas Clifton:

    I’m frankly surprised they would even try serving XHTML strict. Not nearly as surprised to see font tags, unclosed hr’s and so on. Even stranger is the large amount of commenting in the embedded CSS (which easily doubles the size of the markup) from a company well known for its terse, almost unreadable code.

  12. § Nick Presta:

    I am curious as to why they’re using XHTML 1.0 Strict. Anyone using a WYSIWYG editor isn’t going to be using XML or anything fancy. Stick with HTML 4.01.

  13. § AlastairC:

    I agree with Dean’s comments, and would add that there are way more lines of CSS for the page (within the page) than there are actual HTML.

    Admitedly it’s a short page, but surely the CSS would be better kept separate?

    I can’t poke around yet as I get the message: “Google Page Creator has experienced extremely strong demand, and, as a result, we have temporarily limited the number of new signups” [snipped]

    I’d like to think they listened to Drew ;)
    Still, interesting to see how it goes.

  14. § simon r jones:

    Dean: The code is dodgy no doubt. However, this is a WYSIWYG tool aimed at building simple web pages for people with no technical skills.

    In my opinion such WYSIWYG tools should enforce semantic structure upon pages. True, users cannot be expected to understand the underying structure of a page but they should be helped by editing tools – not let loose to create some ugly mess of HTML.

  15. § Jesse Skinner:

    Producing valid XHTML from Rich Text Editor input is nearly impossible. The Internet Explorer editor produces crap like:

    < P >< FONT size=+0 >

    So you have to build an HTML 2 -> XHTML converter, converting not only the syntax but fonts -> spans, etc. This is why maybe 1% of CMSes produce valid code. Firefox is better (it uses CSS and puts quotations around attributes) but still not perfect. It’ll be interesting to see if they can overcome this problem.

    Nonetheless, they could at least get their “XHTML Strict” templates to validate. Geez.

  16. § Al Abut:

    Yeah, I’m seriously running out of patience for automated markup generation and thought that maybe Google would get it right, of all the companies to take a stab at it.

  17. § Hein Tore:

    I’m with Nick on this – HTML 4.01 is definitely the way to go.

  18. § jammo:

    just wait for the ever popular “Web 2.0”, and then maybe … maaybee, Google and the Gang will decided to make better uses of their time.
    Tripod, GeoCities, AngelFire, AOL HomePages, etc.

    Google just took a huge leap backwards on this one.

  19. § Mike Cline:

    I really like the picture of the guy with the animal hat at the top of your site. What does it mean? And where can I buy myself a hat with an armadillo? Thanks.

  20. § Adam:

    “Thank you for your interest in Google Page Creator! Due to heavy demand, we are unable to offer new accounts for today. If you’d like to be added to our waiting list, please enter your email address.”

    cheers google.

  21. § aidan:

    It took me a month to get… damn you google

  22. § laender:

    I think people who create there pages this way dont think about a 100% validation. For those this is a nice service…

  23. § CableGuy:

    What about the comming Firefox 2.0? Can you view the page or do you still get a 404 error using Firefox?

  24. § Cartman:

    I have problems to view the page Info, i think it is done with the page creator…

  25. § Pozycjonowanie:

    I am curious as to why they’re using XHTML 1.0 Strict. Anyone using a WYSIWYG editor isn’t going to be using XML or anything fancy. Stick with HTML 4.01.

  26. § Miejsca:

    Seriously, Google is the standard. BTW It is strange Firefox being so loved by G is not-so-well supported.

  27. § Buddha + Ago:

    They’d want to replace the Font tags because there is no Font tag in XHTML 1.0 Strict.Stick with HTML 4.01.

  28. § nawadnianie:

    You forgot to mention they don’t support Safari either ;)

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About Drew McLellan

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Drew McLellan (@drewm) has been hacking on the web since around 1996 following an unfortunate incident with a margarine tub. Since then he’s spread himself between both front- and back-end development projects, and now is Director and Senior Web Developer at edgeofmyseat.com in Maidenhead, UK (GEO: 51.5217, -0.7177). Prior to this, Drew was a Web Developer for Yahoo!, and before that primarily worked as a technical lead within design and branding agencies for clients such as Nissan, Goodyear Dunlop, Siemens/Bosch, Cadburys, ICI Dulux and Virgin.net. Somewhere along the way, Drew managed to get himself embroiled with Dreamweaver and was made an early Macromedia Evangelist for that product. This lead to book deals, public appearances, fame, glory, and his eventual downfall.

Picking himself up again, Drew is now a strong advocate for best practises, and stood as Group Lead for The Web Standards Project 2006-08. He has had articles published by A List Apart, Adobe, and O’Reilly Media’s XML.com, mostly due to mistaken identity. Drew is a proponent of the lower-case semantic web, and is currently expending energies in the direction of the microformats movement, with particular interests in making parsers an off-the-shelf commodity and developing simple UI conventions. He writes here at all in the head and, with a little help from his friends, at 24 ways.