Artemy Lebedev

§ 46. Pros and cons of intros. Part one

February 7, 2000

The ceremony of introduction, under such circumstances, was very soon performed, or we should rather say that the introduction was soon over, without any ceremony at all.

C. Dickens. The Pickwick Papers

There are introduction pages performing as welcome mats. Some websites open with the first page that neither ushers in some fresh events nor provides coverage on subjects available, but only features a good- or bad-looking picture.

This special lead-in page first came online in Russia on February 16, 1996 at the N.Zh.M.D. website:

At one time every operating system had a codepage for Cyrillic fonts. A text file made on Macintosh could not be read in DOS without recoding.

Back then, automated decoding was yet to be invented. Moreover, everybody made English websites only. A separate copy of the site was reserved for each encoding. Files for the Windows encoding were piled up in the “win” directory. Another two directories were set up for KOI and Macintosh. DOS copies were sometimes reserved, too.

The intro page was invented to serve a purely utilitarian purpose: enticing the user into the readable zone and making sure he is spared the misery of seeing a mishmash of distorted Cyrillic.

Some webmasters preferred to make sites in one encoding only.

Soon afterwards automated decoding became widespread. But for another two years websites had to feature links to different encodings, and many a user availed themselves of this option. Today indicating the encoding on a site is considered to be mauvais ton, unnecessary care and superfluous knowledge for the poor user who’s already knee-deep in obscure stuff he has yet to come to grips with.

Intro pages have strayed from their original goal, and their current function is limited to presentation sites (without any encoding selection). The reason for that is an information website cannot afford a spare page that would take the user one step back from the target.

Intro pages are meant to make a certain impression on the visitor, communicate a mood. They are a relevant element at websites with static or rarely updated information. If the user likes the website, he will add the website’s main page (not the intro) to his favorites list. But on his first visit, the user should be instantly plunged into the pool of information. If a news site is preceded by a heavyweight 50Kb picture, it’s unlikely to be viewed and trusted as a source of hot news stories.

Truly abominable is the way of garnishing the site with an intro that’s only a screenshot of the main page. What is particularly annoying about it is that a visitor can’t help perusing the names of sections, picks the one he likes best, clicks on it… and is swiftly transferred to a page with a twin navigation bar.

Hence the rule: if you are not entirely sure you really need an intro and doubt its capacity to make a positive impression on visitors, don’t make it.

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