If rainbow-colored fonts, 1990s layouts, and tiny, tiled background images are your thing, have I got a website for you. My last website review was for the new and glamorous Commons Hotel located in Northeast Minneapolis. This website for the St. Paul icon, the Wabasha Street Caves could not be any more different than that. This is a website that was probably out-of-date when it was first made, I assume in 1980 something, shortly after Al Gore invented the internet. (Note: a search of the Wayback Machine reveals that this current design was made in September 2004.) From what I can tell, the site is built (and probably maintained) with Microsoft Frontpage, possible the most infamous and hated web-creation tool ever conceived by man. Let’s break it down to determine exactly why this site is so bad.
Layout – 4/10
Content in the middle, title on top, navigation on the side. It works… I guess. This layout was basically the defacto standard for quite some time, so you can’t fault them for using it. Anyone with a 14″ CRT monitor and Internet Explorer 4 will feel right at home on this website.
Design – 2/10
There are some fun little things going on here and there… I think I can vaguely make out a face or something in the header banner, along with some fun, colorful imagery of some kind. It would be easier to tell what the image WAS if it wasn’t an extremely low quality .gif file. As long as major page elements are going to be .gifs, might as well make them looping videos of cats or something.
The rainbow, randomly sized font isn’t doing it any favors. But I gave them an extra point because it wasn’t Comic Sans.
Functionality – 5/10
The site DOES work… I guess. There are some serious issues, however. For some inexplicable reason, all of the pages are just frames within the home page. What this means for you non-web-developer people, is that when you click a link, the new page loads WITHIN the current page, without ever fully changing pages.
Take a look at the address bar when you click a link. Notice how it doesn’t change? That’s a massive usability issue. Want to share the link to a subpage with a friend? Good luck with that! There are even links in here to external websites, like “Sus and Chlo on the Go” that link to pages that don’t even exist, and even then, it’s still within a frame, which looks extremely strange and is even more confusing.
In addition, if you let the “Directions” page fully load, for some reason the navigation links will begin opening in a new tab. Weird.
Search Engine optimization – 0.5/10
My scale is technically from 1-10 but I thought a 1 didn’t do the failure of this category on this website, so I gave it a 0.5. Now, I know most people don’t know very much about SEO, but even so, consider this; the only thing, and I mean ONLY thing that is done right here is that there is a title tag present, labeled “Wabasha Street Caves.” Virtually nothing else is the least bit acceptable.
First of all, all the links in the navigation and header are images, which search engines can’t read, and no text or alt tags are given to explain it.
Then there’s the fact that every page is a frame within the home page. You know what search engines don’t read, at all? Frames. This is not the way to do things. It’s just… Not the way. There’s so much more I could go on with for SEO, but it’s just not worth it.
Code – 1/10
This is the kind of thing W3Schools can never prepare you for. You’ve trained for it, you’ve gotten the experience, and still… When you actually see it, part of you just dies inside. Unclosed tags, superfluous closing tags, archaic HTML I’d have to pull out a 1996 manual to decode, LITERALLY no CSS used at any point, and just generally some of the worst-validating code I’ve ever seen… It’s an absolute mess. It’s better that we just never speak of it again.
Responsiveness – 6/10
The only redeeming quality of the whole site, without any thought put into it, is that it is somewhat responsive. It’s a side effect of not using any CSS I suppose, and just letting all the HTML elements fall where they may… It doesn’t display great on a phone, and really there is no benefit to how it is currently responsive, but I started feeling bad for the site and wanted to give it some more points, and it certainly wasn’t going to get any in the previous categories.
Content – 4/10
Here and there, there’s some good content. It’s hard to find and not usually where you expect it to be, but it’s there. I would love to see more of a summary on the homepage instead of just recent accolades, and all of the sub-pages pretty much just explain specific events. If you want to find out more about the caves themselves, it’s hard to get much info.
Some pages, such as events, have lots of info, but it’s hard to find what you are looking for, and once you do, you don’t even want to read it because it’s pink font on a grey background.
Photography? Forget about it. There appears to have been some nice pictures taken, but on the site everything is tiny and low-res, so it’s kind of hard to tell. Note that even though the images appear tiny on the site, some of them are being loaded full-size. Like… 3200px by 2400px big, and then just displayed small. This slows the site down massively with no benefit to the user.
Overall and Conclusion – 3/10
There’s no denying it; the website is terrible. But from what I’ve heard from friends, the actual place is pretty awesome. Clearly they have a viable business model if they’ve been around since this website was designed. I hope to see them redesign the site and bring it into the modern age. If their style is retro, that’s great! But you want your site to remind people of dancing in the 50s, not websites in the 90s.
If anyone knows any of the owners of the establishment, I would love to talk with them about their website and see if there is any interest in revising it. Until then, enjoy this window into the internet’s past.