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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Why some web pages don’t work

Did you ever wonder why it is that, when you try to load some web pages, the text overlaps the pictures or the pull down boxes will not pull down or the page just appears blank and empty or any of a thousand other problems that made the page un-viewable or un-usable? Did you ever wonder why, when you ask your friends, they say they have no problem at all with those same pages?

Have you ever wondered what this means for users of all those government web sites you have carefully listed in your OPAC? Have you ever wondered if this means that these web sites won’t work in 10 years — or 1 year?

If so, this article is for you. It explains — in very easy to understand, non-technical terms — things like “Web Standards” and the differences between web browsers.

Joel is a software developer and his columns at Joel on Software are models of clear, comprehensive technical writing at its best. You can read and enjoy his columns if you are an advanced technologist/programmer or if you can’t tell Java from JavaScript. If you care about the future of government information, or if you develop web pages, or sites, or web-based information, or if you are just curious about what will happen when IE 8 comes out, read this and enjoy.

There is no practical way to check if the web page you just coded conforms to the spec. There are validators, but they won’t tell you what the page is supposed to look like, and having a “valid” page where all the text is overlapping and nothing lines up and you can’t see anything is not very useful.


Some of those pages can’t be changed. They might be burned onto CD-ROMs. Some of them were created by people who are now dead. Most of them created by people who have no frigging idea what’s going on and why their web page, which they paid a designer to create 4 years ago, is now not working properly.