Posted Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Web: A Work in Progress

On Monday, the always-bouncy Boing-Boing published a post about text greeking—you know, the "lorem ipsum" placeholder text that designers often use to flesh out a layout while waiting for final copy.

That post got me to thinking: how many Web pages have gone live with placeholder text of one kind or another? Sounds like a job for Google—and a great way to procrastinate while looking busy.

Separating the Sit from the Amet
A Google search for the phrase lorem ipsum dolor sit amet yields scientifically questionable results—many sites now have posts about text greeking as well as "lorem ipsum" text that you can copy and paste into your own term papers.

But if we add a couple of arguments to the search to omit phrases like greek text and dummy text, we start to get some reasonable (that is to say, embarrassing) results.

For example, there's the US Forest Service's Frequently Asked Questions page for the Pawnee National Grassland. Next time you see a park ranger, ask "Ut wisis enim ad minim veniam?" Don't worry—I'll pay your bail.

There's also the sponsorship page for Air Perfection's Anger Management Race Team. Air Perfection apparently manufactures components used in hydrofoils—those rockets disguised as racing boats. A few minutes behind the wheel of a hydrofoil sounds like a great way to manage anger.

There is more. Take a tour of the University of Washington's Aeronautics and Astronautics department. And apparently, some versions of Microsoft Word shipped bearing the Mark of Dolor in their online help.

Beyond Ipsum
But enough of this frivolity. What other ways have Web publishers found to express their work in progress?

Calling a spade a spade. The phrase this is placeholder text appears 254 times.

Playing the waiting game. No one knows better than I do that the design is often done before the text. And so we have the handful of pages containing the phrase need copy for this page or the slightly more popular need text for this page. There's also waiting on copy and text still to come. Come on, writers! What are you doing with your time—playing with Google?

Just Slightly Before Their Time
Millions of Web pages have a slightly different problem: they're complete, but their publishers left out one key step: assigning an appropriate page title using HTML's <title> tag.

Truth in advertising. Search engine gurus say one of the best ways to improve a Web page's ranking is to use an appropriate title. And yet according to Google, 13 million pages have the title Untitled Document. Besides being sloppy, this completely screws up the page ranking for this useless site.

Free advertising. Then there's the GoLive issue: Adobe's GoLive Web design application used to give pages a default title of "Welcome to GoLive CyberStudio." Maybe it still does. In any case, in roughly 42,500 cases, a Web designer didn't bother to change that title.

What's it All Mean, Lorem?
Not much. Pages sometimes go live before they should. Web publishers sometimes forget to perform small but important steps. And Google is a fun way to explore it all.

Consec tetuer elit!