A bad manager once told me, “Perception is everything.” This was a man who lied a lot … at someone else’s expense to benefit himself. One of the problems with websites is that they really don’t tell you whether a company is good or bad.
The Path to the Boiled Peanut Website
How does a girl who has lived most of her life in Montana know about boiled peanuts? By passing stand after stand of big kettles in roadside stands selling boiled peanuts during the 4 years of living in central Florida in the 1980s. To my Montana tastes, just the idea of boiling a peanut was food heresy. It wasn’t until the last year that I actually tried them and found out that I had wasted 3 years.
Back in Montana for 30 years, boiled peanuts were just a pleasant memory, until I read the “Southern Comfort” article in my collection of old Smithsonian magazines. The article was from 2003, almost 20 years ago, but I took a chance and looked up the Lee Bros website BoiledPeanuts.com.
A Trip Back to the 90s
In the late 90s, the web exploded with sites. BoiledPeanuts.com was started in the 90s, and looking at the methods used, it could be the original site.
You can see how long a website has been in existence, or at least how long the domain name has been registered by using an ICANN Lookup.
Clue #1: the Splash Page
The site has a “splash page”. This is an old term, which has a similar meaning to a landing page. It’s basically a page with practically no content that rolls over to the real home page either automatically or when you click. In this case, you have to guess to click the image.
The splash page is index.html and the real home page is index2.html. This is a UX problem because viewers want to click on something specific and are unsure how to proceed. If you click anywhere, it goes to the real home page.
The old splash pages have never actually gone away entirely. They have just morphed into webpage billboards called “landing pages”. When I say “practically no content”, it contains the idea that an image is content. The problem is that it is content that often means one thing to the website owner and entirely different ideas for viewers.
Clue #2: Jumping Things
The flashing red “New” button is an old animated gif. It flashes on and off. When I was working at my first tech job, a client said to me, “Nora, you guys can do most anything you want with my website, as long as there are no flashing things.” He did not have to explain what he meant by “flashing things.”
While animated gifs are still in use, sometimes very usefully, this one has a number of UX problems.
- Red on tan are readability, usability and accessibility problems. These colors are both midtones, so using them together does not provide enough contrast for comfortable reading.
- The flashing movement is not only distracting for understanding the page content, it has additional problems for certain disabilities.
- The letters of the word are not very sharp at that size.
Clue #3: The Frame Structure
When you enter a building, you don’t see what’s inside the walls holding the building up. You trust that the building is safe when you walk in. Over the years, methods and materials for construction of buildings has changed. It’s the same for websites. The code is the materials. The way the code is written and the type of code it is says a lot to a developer about the age of a website. The Boiled Peanuts site has what is called a “frame structure”.
In a frame structure, the code for each part of the page is in a different HTML file. This allows elements that show on all pages, such as the banner and footer, to stay put and only the content part of the page changes when a link is clicked. There is a frameset file that holds all the pieces together (see image on right). This site only has 2 frames: Contents and Items. Contents holds the links on the left. If you click on a link, the SRC on Items will change to the new page.
The idea of frame structure is in use today with new technologies. For example, on Facebook, one part of the page can change without the rest of the page having to load. The newer construction methods are more seamless than the old frame methods.
Clue #4: No Secure Certificate
Not only does the boiledpeanuts.com site not have a secure certificate, their web hosting company doesn’t have a secure certificate. I knew that the host was CarrierZone by following the DNS name in the ICANN Lookup (see image above).
Because of the lack of carefulness on security, I would never order anything through their online order system. They do encourage viewers to call in orders, but I feel they have an ethical responsibility to remove the ordering function from their website.
Now, the question is whether I should bother to call them or just tiptoe away from this business entirely.
Can You Actually Reach the Company?
There is an article of an interview with Matt and Ted Lee, on a site with a secure certificate, that mentions that they have received six “James Beard and IACP Awards”. That gives me the courage to try the number they urge viewers to call to place an order.
The 843 area code is South Carolina, so I figure it should be safe to call after 8:00 am from Montana (two time zones away). All I get is a recording to leave a message or the suggestion to order from the (insecure) website.
It looks like their business is rather like their website. I followed their requests and left them a message over the weekend. It will be interesting to find out whether 1) I hear back, 2) I hear back from the business or from a fulfillment company.
Four days later, I haven’t heard anything. I would have to assume that this is an abandoned website.
This article is anecdotal evidence for the original question, but valuable information for the specifics. Many good companies have bad websites, and many bad companies have good websites … and everything in between. You just don’t know until you deal with the company.