Alt tags should be funny

There was a picture of Earth on my client’s intranet site the other day. It was quite clearly not a photo, as it was surrounded by a circle of light to make it stand out all the more from the black background of space.

It bore the Alt tag “Earth, as seen from space”, which displayed on hover, consigned as I was to using the travesty that is IE. The clear mistruth represented by the tag got me thinking about a theme I’ve pondered numerous times before: alt tags should be funny.

Blind people have life hard enough. An entire sense is missing and with all of the accessibility technology in the world, their experience will always fall somewhat short of that of a sighted user. (Although they will never experience the blinding orange of Directgov, so maybe it does have some blessings.)

So to enhance their experience in other ways, why not make the alt text for images funny? The Earth picture might be tagged “Earth, surrounded rather bizarrely by a ring of fire”. The attractiveness or otherwise of people in photos might be referenced. (“Distressingly ugly ginger chap walking, to the cosmetic surgery, perhaps”, for example.) The world’s your oyster and you might just enrich the web experience for some of your users.

Maybe it’s not a technique to be advocated on all sites, but some could doubtless benefit.

Google SketchUp

I’ve been using Google SketchUp lately to help visualise some improvements we’re looking to make to our house. And I have to say, it’s lovely. (I’m using the free version—there’s also a professional, paid-for version.)

Basically, it allows you to create 3-D visual representations of things. Its main building blocks are straight lines, rectangles, circles arcs, which sounds rather limiting but in my experience is perfectly adequate for the vast majority of stuff I’ve had to mock up.

Its beauty lies in the ability to drag planes to move them into the third dimension. This makes the creation of accurate mock-ups simple, quick and wonderfully pleasing. Once you’re done with your shape creation, you can use an array of surface treatments to put glass in the windows, tile or carpet on the floor and colour the walls to your satisfaction and heart’s desire.

It’s a local client install and I can’t understand why the app. is still labelled “beta”. It’s been around under Google’s branding for well over two years to my knowledge, so surely it’s ready for the tag to be removed.

So if you need to mock something up, I wouldn’t look much further than Google SketchUp in the first instance.

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