Image Map Hell – Bethel Presbyterian Church

Ten seconds is the industry standard for the amount of time it should take for the data to get from your webserver to the client’s browser. Anything more than that and you run the risk of the user clicking elsewhere, never to return to your site again. As usability guru Jakob Nielsen puts it:

“10 seconds is about the limit for keeping the user’s attention focused on the dialogue. For longer delays, users will want to perform other tasks while waiting for the computer to finish, so they should be given feedback indicating when the computer expects to be done. Feedback during the delay is especially important if the response time is likely to be highly variable, since users will then not know what to expect.”

So imagine my chagrin when it took 30 some-odd seconds for the home page of the Bethel Presbyterian Church of Kingston, TN to load via my beefy DSL line.

What happened, and how would I heal this church website? After poking about the function signatures of the underlying Javascript, I believe this page was created using “Adobe GoLive 4,” a product which at the time of its release, boasted of robust image mapping capability.

not every job requires a ball peen hammerAs a programmer, I’m impressed by the Code Monkeys at Adobe, however I’m not so sure it’s wise to market ‘image mapping for idiots’ as a major feature of any WYSIWYG HTML editor; at least not without some government-style warning. To me, this is like trusting my 4-year-old daughter with a Ball-Peen hammer. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good kid who loves to help her daddy do work around the house, however, I would bet large sums of money that the thrill of using the “grown-up” tool would become the focus of her energies. In other words, regardless of the task, every job in and around the house would require a wack or three … even in those cases when the nail had a nice Phillip’s Head slot in the top.

In the case of the Bethel Presbyterian Church Website, “hammer time” has resulted in a front page that contains 160 unique image items … and a sound file to boot. In plain English, an individual visiting the page using a 56k modem would have to wait a bit over 73 seconds for the entire page to load … provided they’re using an image enabled browser. To see how a search engine or the image impaired might see the site, why not give it a gander using the Delorie Lynx Viewer … I assure you, you’ll be shocked by the results.

So how would I heal the Bethel Presbyterian Church Website? I’d start with their Web Site Index; organizing the tons of compelling content this site has to offer into major categories, such as “About Us” and “Ministries.” Once this is done, I’d select some service that provides some form of off-the-shelf content management. I’m not talking one of the many fine open source CMS solutions out there, but rather one of the many hosting services that cater to churches in just such a situation. I’d do this because I suspect that’s what the great folks at Bethel Presbyterian were expecting from GoLive.

For example, a few months ago, I ripped into the First Baptist Church of Frederick for ‘hammering‘ their entire site in a similar fashion using Flash. Their response? They took their compelling content and enlisted the services of “Church Community Builder.” A good service that is bit pricey for my taste, but then again, I have access to a dedicated server and twenty years of programming experience. To a church such as First Frederick or Bethel Presbyterian it is money well spent.

Sure, it’s not nearly as fun as shooting yourself in the foot with MovableType, pMachine or Mambo, but then again, not everyone can wield a hammer … nor should the ‘coolness of the tool‘ ever become the focus of our efforts.