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Google Accessible Search Released 134

Posted by timothy
from the what-about-one-for-people-like-me dept.
Philipp Lenssen writes "Google today released Accessible Search, a Google Labs product aiming to rank higher pages which are optimized for blind users. Google asks you to adhere to the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines if you want to make sure your pages are accessible (and thus, rank better on Google Accessible Search). I wrote a small tool to compare results of default and accessible results."
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Google Accessible Search Released

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  • Accessible pages typically mean you don't rely on tables to present your content, yet Google still does. Otherwise, very nice to see.
    • by laffer1 (701823) <(luke) (at) (foolishgames.com)> on Thursday July 20, 2006 @01:06PM (#15750973) Homepage Journal
      It depends. If you actually talk to a blind person, tables aren't as annoying as people using characters between links. For instance, doing navigation with a pipe (vertical bar) or some other character sounds strange to them. I worked for someone who was blind and owned their own business for a time. He said cnet was one of the most annoying web properties for him to use. At the time their navigation sounded terrible and was quite randomly placed. He also didn't like navigation at the top as much except on the first page. Worst of all, he hated hearing. about us vertical bar products veritcal bar etc...

      Oh and he used Internet explorer. His software tied in with that so it looked like an ie hit and even tried to load all the crap everyone else deals with in IE. He did IE on windows using a dell.
      • huh, I never thought about how a blind person my be experiencing my pages... and I've almost always used vertical bars to separate navigation links! Even still my page seems to pop up earlier in the "Accessible" search, probably because it conforms to W3C strict.

        Anyone know of any resources for improving your sites for the visually impaired, or even some sort of tool that will let me experience my sites as a blind person would... it might help for some perspective.

        And here I thought I was getting the
      • by jZnat (793348) *

        For instance, doing navigation with a pipe (vertical bar) or some other character sounds strange to them.

        Which is why I use unordered lists for lists of links. Using CSS, you can just do this:

        #someId li { display: inline; }
        #someId::after { content: ' | '; }

        And if XHTML 2.0 ever gains traction, making navigational lists is as easy as:

        <nl>
        <li href='/some/link/'>Description of link</li>
        </nl>

    • by IdahoEv (195056) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @01:09PM (#15750998) Homepage
      Indeed. Point 5 of the guidelines:
      Tables should be used to mark up truly tabular information ("data tables"). Content developers should avoid using them to lay out pages ("layout tables"). Tables for any use also present special problems to users of screen readers (refer to checkpoint 10.3).

      Even Google's ultra-simple front page violates this guideline, despite zero need to do so.

      Point 3 of the guidelines says this:
      Mark up documents with the proper structural elements. Control presentation with style sheets rather than with presentation elements and attributes.

      But if you dig into the source of google.com, you see cruft like this:
      <br><font size=-1><font color=red>New!</font>
      Google fails rather dramatically to implement any web standard, not even including a doctype. These problems aren't limited to their front page, either. news.google.com is just as bad or worse.

      This is really a shame. The content that google presents is lightweight and free of the layout challenges that can sometimes make web standards difficult to follow: Google should be the perfect test case for perfect standards and accessibility. Instead, it's a throwback to 1996 web design. That they're launching a tool to test accessibility to the blind is incredibly ironic.

      • I found it amusing that the main page of the "accessible" search page uses:
        document.f.q.focus();
      • At least they are honest: http://blog.outer-court.com/accessible/?q=google [outer-court.com] They don't put their own page on the top, as it isn't very "accessible"... :-)
      • I'll take your word for it that this is the case, I have little experience with how it works, but it seems to me that they could make another goodle, like www.google.com/blind and in this there could be nothing which would impede blind users, so simply a search box at the top right (or where ever it would be best)... surely that would be a really helpful tool to go with this and take no effort at all. But I'm no expert so I might be missing something.
      • Amen! Google is AWFUL about basic web standards. You'd think they never heard of them. Considering some of the philosophies they espouse, you'd think they could devote some tiny effort towards embracing these standards.

        How long would it take a good Perl developer to proxy the Google search page, and to produce validating results which look identical in all the major browsers? Probably less than a day. Of course, Google would need to take more time to optimize it, but they've had years to do this. Get with i
      • The reason is of course not that Google cannot make a page without the use of tables or the font tag, but that the pages work with even the oldest of browsers (except IE 2.0 which doesn't do tables). You can't DIV or CSS your way around that. Big sites like Google and Yahoo have always been breaking rules, either for speed (not using quotes etc.) or for backward compatability. W3C is nice but doesn't earn you money.
        • Yep, that's pretty much it!
          Pitty they still need to support Netscape 4, SomeWierdWebBrowserYou'veNeverHeardOfBefore and friends.
        • The reason is of course not that Google cannot make a page without the use of tables or the font tag, but that the pages work with even the oldest of browsers (except IE 2.0 which doesn't do tables). You can't DIV or CSS your way around that.

          That's because you don't need to. Using CSS doesn't make your page stop working with older browsers, it was specifically designed to be backwards compatible. For example, using <body bgcolor="#ffffff"> instead of body {background: #fff} is unnecessary in b

          • Sorry for not stating the obvious before, but the use of these "illegal" tags is exactly to work around the flaws of "graceful degrading". These guys want their home page to look exactly alike in differert browsers, and not just simply degrade to something useful but not looking the way it is supposed to. Graceful degrading is from a technical point of view. Using bad tags to make it look the same is the marketing approach. For instance, I could use css to give a font a certain color, or the font tag. Both
            • Sorry for not stating the obvious before, but the use of these "illegal" tags is exactly to work around the flaws of "graceful degrading".

              You use tags to mark the beginning and ends of elements. That is all you can possibly do with them. You are talking about element types, not tags.

              These guys want their home page to look exactly alike in differert browsers

              Perhaps, but why? Are you saying that it actually makes them money to have Netscape 3 users see a white background instead of a light gr

              • >You use tags to mark the beginning and ends of elements. That is all you can possibly do with them. You are talking about element types, not tags.

                Whatever.

                >Marketing isn't an end in itself. The objective is to make money. You stole my argument. W3C isn't a goal in itself. Turning the argument around doesn't fix that. If so, please give a list of browsers that fail to render the tabled and fonted Google page otherwise.

                • You stole my argument. W3C isn't a goal in itself.

                  No, but it has beneficial consequences. For example:

                  • Less chance of things breaking in the future: historically, when new versions of browsers are released, they have always tripped up on some kinds of invalid code that previous versions did not, while the valid equivalent continued to work. This is true of every major release of every major browser that I can think of.
                  • Bandwidth savings. Taking the design out of the markup and putting it into an
                  • You don't have to list the points I use myself when making websites ;) I was explaining the choices portals and search engines have made in the past. These are getting much less valid over time of course for these particular examples.

                    But regarding your question, the answer, again, is: money.
                    Take any percentage of users with "old browsers" over the years, and against that you can put an audience break point where your neglectance or scaring away of those people costs more than serving them earns.
                    Although

      • For a page like the google front page that gets maybe a billion hits a day I can completely understand ignoring a few standards to cut even 100 bytes off the total size of the page. That would reduce their traffic by 100GB/day.
        • Have you ever actually looked at Google's code? If they were that concerned about bandwidth, there's plenty of other things they could do to save bandwidth while still conforming to spec. Google's invalid code seems to be caused by ignorance or apathy, not efficiency.

      • Running their search interface through the Ruby Accessibility Analysis Kit (http://peterkrantz.com/bacc/ [peterkrantz.com]) yields more errors:

        missing language info, missing headings, using markup not compatible with semantics.
    • web accessibility is making your website accessible to all kind of users, disabled or not, regardless of what browser they are using. I will emphasize that accessibility is for all, not for a select group of persons. Because if this is how it is treated then it becomes burdensome for designers/developers. Imagine designing only for a selected audience (nothing wrong with that if that is your purpose) then your site will be have limited use. Should designers ask for a higher fee because they know accessibi
  • Accessible Content (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alexandra Erenhart (880036) <[saiyanprincess] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday July 20, 2006 @12:35PM (#15750717) Homepage
    From the Accessible Search FAQ:

    How can sites make their content more accessible to the blind?

    Some of the basic recommendations on how to make a website more useable and accessible include keeping Web pages easy to read, avoiding visual clutter -- especially extraneous content -- and ensuring that the primary purpose of the Web page is immediately accessible with full keyboard navigation


    I wish more sites where like that. Do you want info? You get it right there, without all the mumbo-jumbo associated with most current websites.
    • I am not visually impaired, but since I'm surfing with out-of-date or text-only browsers every now and then, I get similar issues that I'd like to add:

      Get rid of flash/java/javascript for anything related to navigation on the site! These things are nice for showing a movie, or a small program, but not for main content and navigation

      A completely cluttered page with an option added afterwards to see it in larger fonts is still a cluttered page! Once I saw a site for local elections where there was a link

      • by Igmuth (146229) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @01:06PM (#15750971)
        Once I saw a site for local elections where there was a link to the part of the site for visually impaired people (large font page),
        Wait... are you saying that they had an entire seperate page that they made simply made the font larger? That is insane. The idea of accessible web pages is that if people need a larger font size, they should be able to select that larger font size in their viewer of choice, and it shouldn't break your page. (I.e. no images as text, etc)
        • I agree that it's stupid to have per-website controls for this, but you don't have to create entirely separate pages, the typical approach is just to set a cookie that lets the server know that it should include a body { font-size: whatever; } rule. The page contents can stay the same, it's an additional style rule that's included - one line of code.

          • I think you missed my point entirely. The whole purpose of CSS is that the server shouldn't need to care. It should simply allow the user to override the default fontsize of the page to the size that they need. Person A may only need base font set to 15 point, while person B may need a 22 point font. And when person C views it with a screen reader, it again shouldn't matter.
            • I think you missed my point entirely.

              No, I knew exactly what you were getting at, which is why I said "I agree that it's stupid to have per-website controls for this". But one of your assumptions was way off, which is what I was addressing. I've been designing with CSS for years, you don't need to explain the basics to me.

              • Then I must not understand the point of this line the typical approach is just to set a cookie that lets the server know that it should include a body { font-size: whatever; } rule. Why does the server need to be involved at all? Why not just let the client override it themselves?
                • Then I must not understand the point of this line the typical approach is just to set a cookie that lets the server know that it should include a body { font-size: whatever; } rule.

                  You do understand what "typical" means, don't you? You said:

                  Wait... are you saying that they had an entire seperate page that they made simply made the font larger?

                  In actual fact, nobody does what you imagine to happen. They use the approach I described. Just because I described the approach, it doesn't mean tha

      • Get rid of flash/java/javascript for anything related to navigation on the site! These things are nice for showing a movie, or a small program, but not for main content and navigation

        What's wrong with using javascript to replace a default menu with a drop-down menu? My site with javascript disabled has a single link to a foto page, which lists all available albums. With javascript enabled, the link still points to that page, but mouse-overing it also opens a menu with direct links to the various albums.

    • by Ryan Stortz (598060) <ryan0rz@@@gmail...com> on Thursday July 20, 2006 @01:22PM (#15751083)
      I tried searching for Porn and the 5th link down was to this article [theregister.co.uk] on the Register that claims Porn makes you blind. :(
    • If only you were blind...
  • Falun Gong Show (Score:1, Insightful)

    by digitaldc (879047) *
    As opposed to the inaccessible search one gets on http://www.google.cn/ [google.cn] ?

    http://www.google.cn/search?hl=zh-CN&q=falun+gong+ is+good&meta= [google.cn]
    • Re:Falun Gong Show (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AtOMiCNebula (660055)
      Let's take a hypothetical situation. You live in a communist country (China), and are trying to do some research on a paper for your studies. You need to pull up some information on a completely legitimate topic (as per China's regulations). What would you use to find this information? Would you, as a Chinese person, whine and moan and boycott Google because they were censoring your results? Would you refuse to use them, because you know full well that if they didn't censor their results, there'd be no
  • by MudButt (853616) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @12:41PM (#15750769)
    I somehow think that a search for "Adobe", "Photoshop", etc. will still give you adobe.com as the #1 result, despite its accessibility problems [contentquality.com].

  • by mu22le (766735) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @12:44PM (#15750794) Homepage Journal
    I didn't get it initially but this is one of the best tool google ever gave us, most spam sites designer do not care for standards and are left out of the 'accessible' results. I think I'm going to switch to the new sevice soon.
    • Unfortunately, I'm sure that's next on their list. :(
    • I'm right there with you on this one. In my casual comparison of the two services, the accessible search turned up mostly the same results as the normal search but without the domain parking and other less relevant sites.

      The accessible version tended to show up more .org results than the normal version but I suspect this is a correlation between people who understand the difference between .org and .com and people who understand the importance of accessible web design.

      I'll be using the comparison site for
  • This could backfire (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @12:53PM (#15750861) Homepage
    With Google's "Accessable search", sites will be able to tell from their weblogs how many visitors are coming in via the "accessable search" route. So it will be possible to figure out the financial benefit of web accessability. If it turns out to be low, even for pages that Google thinks are "accessable", there's a business case for not bothering with "accessability".
    • Good point! Don't forget to factor in the cost of prosecution under anti-discrimination legislation if you plan on doing business somewhere like the EU or USA which makes accessibility a requirement though...
    • In fact, the opposite seems to be true - the Olympics [contenu.nu] was successfully sued [tomw.net.au] over their website being inaccessible, and so was Target [sfgate.com]. As a consequence, it seems, more and more business are finding reason to make a case for web accessibility [wordpress.com] - whether they consider themselves a target or not.
      • The Olympics was an Australian case. Target was not "successfully sued"; that's still pending. Southwest Airlines won a case over that issue, Access Now vs. Southwest. [bytowninternet.com]; their "virtual ticket counter" does not have to be handicapped-accessable. Access Now appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected the appeal. [findlaw.com] That's the only final US court decision on the subject to date.

        As the court put it, it's up to Congress to change the ADA if Congress wants it to apply to the Internet.

        • Nothing in your parent post mentioned the US specifically at all. So why are you now using that to make your case for why accessibility doesn't matter? Just because the US hasn't specifically passed legislation addressing the issue doesn't mean it isn't one.

          The point I was trying to make is that it would be shortsighted and possibly very stupid for major companies to be ignoring web accessibility.
    • Wrong (Score:2, Interesting)

      A common misconception is that website accessibility only benefits blind people. Accessible, semantically-structured websites are good for many things, most notably Search Engine Optimisation and cutting down on bandwidth. How's that for financial benefit?
  • by guruevi (827432) <evi@@@smokingcube...be> on Thursday July 20, 2006 @12:54PM (#15750869) Homepage
    Finally I can start using Links2 or even Lynx to start browsing or any other curses based browser... mmm... gopher. Will work perfectly with my pine mail and telnet based IRC.

    I really commend google for providing us and maybe even forcing webdevelopers to use decent, W3C compatible standards. This means soon enough, we'll have websites that aren't IE compatible.

     
    • This means soon enough, we'll have websites that aren't IE compatible.
      Ah ha! So that's Google's master plan! Pretty good plan if you ask me.. make the web better AND get rid of Microsoft.

      I like MS technologies as much as the next guy (.NET has some pretty good stuff) but.. I think they're a dinosaur and dinosaurs tend to stifle innovation.
  • No sponsored links (Score:2, Interesting)

    by martinag (985168)
    It seems I'm not being served any sponsored links on this one. Nice. I also note that searching for "white house" will put the Wikipedia article above the official home page, as opposed to what happens on the regular search.
  • blind people. i think we all can benefit from this simple and straightforward representation of search results. i actually like the new accessible interface. it was a kind decision by google to not put any ads in their accessible search. i think more people will use the google accessible search than just the blind people.
    so, has anyone tried using any of the screen reading software to test whether search results are actually readable without looking at the screen?
    and also what about keyboard shortcuts? sinc
  • There are always sites like www.aintitcool.com that prove that some places are willing to give employment opportunities for the blind by letting them engage in web site design.
  • Image ALT Tags are useful for more than text-based browsers - they also help blind users surf the web. When images are used as links, the ALT text can help a blind user know what they're getting into before following the link. ComputerWorld had a decent article on websites and their accessibility - they found that most online shopping websites (Like Target or Walmart) don't have any helpful information in the filenames or ALT tags of their images, making it much harder to shop online.
  • I wonder if this will impact the paying advertisers. As long as your money is green, you can cut to the beginning of the line.
  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @01:32PM (#15751147) Homepage
    From what I've read of the guidelines, my website gopher://gopherrulez.org [gopherrulez.org] just won't cut it!
  • So does this mean instead of "grow your manhood in just 2 weeks with these pillZ" they're going to get "get your eyesight back in just two weeks with these sweet pillZ"?
  • Has anyone ever had the problem of trying to find song lyrics and being bombed with pages full of nonsence?! First time I tried with this interface I got the exact results I was wanting. So I know now that this is better for lyrics... what else would it be better for?
  • Given the amount of flashy sites around here it could almost prevent blindness
  • by guabah (968691) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @02:05PM (#15751368)

    The w3c check is not an acurate measure on how thruly accessible the pages are

    I now this because I have friends who are blind and frecuently use screen reader applications

    If you really want to make sure your pages are accessible then download the trial version of Jaws for Windows [freedomscientific.com] wich is the defacto standard screen reader. This trial is limited to 40 minutes per session, but those 40 minutes should be enough to test your webpages.

    As mentioned in posts above, make sure the content can be reaced quickly by readers.

    • by Bogtha (906264) on Thursday July 20, 2006 @02:56PM (#15751738)

      The w3c check is not an acurate measure on how thruly accessible the pages are

      I now this because I have friends who are blind and frecuently use screen reader applications

      Yes and no. On the one hand, WCAG does have acknowledged shortcomings and it's certainly no guarantee. But aural browsers and screenreaders tend to be absolutely awful when it comes to supporting the markup that's intended to help them. They aren't designed to read accessible websites, they are designed to scrape as much meaning as they can out of inaccessible websites.

      So from a practical perspective, yes, you need to test in individual assistive user-agents if you want your website to be as usable as possible by disabled people. But when the markup is fine according to the W3C and assistive user-agents get it wrong, it's usually because the developers of the assistive user-agents haven't even heard of the W3C.

  • So of course the first thing I thought of:
    http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/687/3313/1024/s creenshot_004.jpg [blogger.com]

    Not trying to be a jerk, I really was just wondering what would come up. This is a very interesting search function.
  • This is very good and useful for the sight impaired and for those who like to avoid websites which are design impaired. I do however wonder how relevant this is, I could achieve similar results with an RSS reader, Firefox and/or a few GreaseMonkey Scripts. Compared to a normal webpage it would seem easier for the Reader to speak the print version so I could use the Firefox extension that forces CNN stories to open in print view. I could also subscribe to just their RSS feeds and get the stories I want on t
  • a slap in the face of Macromedia Flash.
  • Just noted that when you search for Internet Explorer, it returns as 3rd:
    Mozilla Firefox
    Official site of the open-source browser. Includes product downloads, release notes, features overview,...
    www.mozilla.com/firefox/ - 14k - Cached - Similar pages

    unlike normal google.. ?
  • But will this accessible search come with the SUGGEST flavor?
  • I ran some searches for terms likely to have a mix of professional and amateur designers. With the 5 searches I did, it looks like 1 site of nine is good enough for the Google Accessible search.

    So the question is: how many web designers will wake up and smell the alt text?

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