Low Bandwidth Access to the Internet

Low Bandwidth Access to the Internet
via Public Library Terminals

by Richard Cheshire, The Cheshire Catalyst

Watch a video of the talk
at the Beyond HOPE Conference, and Watch a video of the talk
at the H2K Conference.

Finding and using Lynx
the Non-Graphic Web Browser

Writing Web Pages with
Non-Graphic Users In Mind

Why you should keep
Non-Graphic Users In Mind
When Writing Web Pages

I gave a talk at Beyond HOPE, the second Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference held by 2600 Magazine in August of 1997. This article summarizes the topic of that talk.

Finding and using Lynx
the Non-Graphic Web Browser

I'm From The Government
And I'm Here To Help You

Web Site Useability
When you are not at home, and must access the Internet, it is amazing to find that there are more and more Public Internet Terminals available for use. Besides those shiny new "slide in your credit card" kiosks at airports to catch the eye of the Traveling Businessperson crowd, many public libraries are now opening their doors (and internet access) to the public. While there are some full blown PC installations with full graphics, and Netscape or Internet Explorer web browsers, these are usually crowded, in use, and a waiting list hours long at the Reference Desk. However, look at those cheap, text-only, dumb terminals now scattered around many modern libraries. "Oh", you might think, "Those are only Card Catalog terminals". And you might be right. But look closer. Check out the Main Menu, and you might find "Internet Access" as one of the menu choices. Use the up and down arrows to get the choice highlighted, then hit <RETURN>or <ENTER>, and welcome to the wonderful world of Lynx, the non-graphic web browser created at the University of Kansas, and now lovingly maintained by a loyal crew of volunteers.

First, notice the list of commands given to you in the bottom two rows of the screen. Hit the "H" key for help and click on "Key-stroke Commands". Print this page out (it's at http://lynx.isc.org/lynx2.8.6/lynx2-8-6/lynx_help/keystrokes/keystroke_help.html). It will provide invaluable information on using Lynx. You can view practically the entire World Wide Web with this admittedly "primitive" web browser.

But Lynx is only primitive in that it is constrained by the limitations of the terminal itself. No graphics can possibly be shown, since the terminal is incapable of showing them. We'll come back to the limitations of Lynx in a bit, but first, lets use the resources that Lynx does provide us.

First, to get to any URL (Universal Resource Locator) on the Internet, simply type the letter "G", and when it asks "URL to open:", type in the URL of the web page you want to go to, such as http://www.2600.com. Of course, you could type in any other URL as well, such as "ftp://ftp.2600.com" to get to the File Transfer Protocol site of 2600 Magazine, to see what files are available to the public for downloading. Another valid URL is "telnet://yourhost.com", where your own host computer's domain name is substituted. If your ISP (Internet Service Provider) does not allow users to log in from a Telnet link, find one who does, because it is the Key be being able to access your information, files, and E-Mail from anywhere on the net.

Once you Telnet back to your own home domain site, and put in your login and password, you will either be given a shell prompt, or a menu asking what Host Services you want. One will be World Wide Web access using a copy of Lynx local to your host. This means that clicking on an E-Mail link will have it coming from you (and not the Library), and the "P" Print command will allow you to save web pages to your own local file space. You can also hit the "A" command to Add a web page to your own bookmarks that then follow you around.

I've been known to use a library's Netscape, find an interesting page, Telnet home, bring up Lynx on my home system, and Add the page to my bookmarks, so I can call it up from anywhere else later. This brings us to another problem of Library access to the Internet.

Many libraries will configure their copy of Lynx or Netscape to not allow Telnet URL's at the "Goto" prompt. One trick to get around this is to put a Telnet hyperlink on your own web page! You probably do not want to make this too obvious, because anyone finding a link marked "Click here to Telnet to my host", will find their ISP will be bothered by lots of people hacking access to their system.

One thing you can do (and I didn't believe it myself until I tried it) is to HyperLink on one of the <HR> Horizontal Rules on your page, those lines you use to break up a web page into various logical sections. It doesn't work on all browsers, but on many. Most versions of Netscape didn't recognize it, but both Lynx and Internet Explorer liked it. The HTML (HyperText Markup Language) code reads:

<A HREF="telnet://yourhost.com">

Since this is a link that is called for by the Web Page, and not entered by the user at the keyboard (the software not realizing that the user is the one who put the code in the web page in the first place), it dutifully connects you to the remote computer, as it is instructed to

Since this is how the libraries link their computers to other inter- library resources, they can't very well block this feature without inconveniencing themselves as well. Of course, any other valid URL could be HyperLinked from the Horizontal Rule as well. Just tell your friends what to look for.

Writing Web Pages with
Non-Graphic Users In Mind

When writing web pages, Web Masters should keep in mind that some people can't see their neat and nifty graphics, and that even simple little things like a "Blue Ball" graphic at the beginning of lines of notes will appear as the dreaded [INLINE] text on the output text screen. There are simple things that will make the non-graphic user not even notice that the web page wasn't written with the non-graphic folks in mind.

The one thing you need in any Hypertext Link is the ALT statement within the IMG image tag. For example, the following HTML code will present an Asterisk character instead of the Blue Ball GIF graphic for those people who can't get the graphics:

<IMG SRC="images/blueball.gif" ALT="*">
<IMG SRC="images/blueball.gif">
Place the cursor over the graphic to see the ALT text.

If you put in some "gratuitous graphics", that is, some graphic that is used as an element to "break up" the look of the page to make it more interesting, then your non-graphic user does not need to know it's there. That can be done with the following code putting a "null string" of characters between the quote marks - that is, put nothing between the quote marks. The graphic will not make itself known to the user at all!

<IMG SRC="images/samsarmy.gif" ALT="">

If you want the non-graphic user to know that a graphic is on the page, then give the user clues that it is a graphic that's being represented on the page. Use the square brackets around the description of the graphic, and don't forget the things that will make the graphic look "spiffy" on your page for the folks with Netscape and Internet Expletive.

The group
<A HREF="http://www.sams-army.com/">
<IMG SRC="images/samsarmy.gif"
ALT="[Sam's Army Logo]"
ALIGN="right" BORDER="no">
Sam's Army</A> is the Unofficial Fan Club
of the US National Soccer Team.
The group [Sam's Army Logo] Sam's Army is the
Unofficial Fan Club of the US National Soccer Team.
Place the cursor over the graphic to see the ALT text.
Using ALIGN="RIGHT" means one HREF covers both text and image,

This code will Hyperlink and highlight the words "Sam's Army", as well as show the image of the Sam's Army logo which will be on the far right hand side of the screen (the way I've got it on my home page at http://CheshireCatalyst.Com/#politics (yes, politics - if people are going to ask what my politics are "as a hacker", I'm going to have some fun with them!).

There is one thing that I go out of my way to do for my graphic users, and that is to turn the background color of my pages white, to make things easier to read. To do this, at the beginning of the page, instead of just <BODY> to start the Body portion of the page, put <BODY BGCOLOR=white> instead.

PLEASE NOTE: When this file was written in 1996, it was considered "good programming practise" to write HTML "tags" in UPPER CASE. Since then, HTML standards call for HTML tags to be in lower case.

Why you should keep
Non-Graphic Users In Mind
When Writing Web Pages

When writing web pages, remember that there are people out there who won't have access to the latest, greatest web browser you've got your hands on. Just because Netscape or Internet Explorer come bundled free with most new computers, doesn't mean that they can be used by the person who gets the computer. Some people are stuck on older collegiate networks whose percentage of the high-speed link to the Internet is severely limited. They just set the browser to "turn graphics off" to speed up loading of web pages with the textual information they need to get their school work done.

Other users include the blind, who were doing just fine with DOS, getting their Speech Synthisizer software working with PC's. Then Windows came along, and those folks are back to Square One. They are getting their speech software to work with Lynx, and other software such as WebSpeak, whose web site can be found at http://www.shadisoft.com/webspeak/. Here's a good reason to be using the <HR> Horizontal Rules now and again for breaking up your web site.

One of the commands they can give their speech synthesizer software with a single key-stroke is, "shut up until you get to the next Horizontal Rule". Hey, you check out what your web site looks like with Netscape & Internet Explorer, don't you? Well, why not telnet into your host, and check it with Lynx, and buy a copy of Web Speak, and see what it sounds like too! Once you start looking at what your page looks like to these non-graphic user populations, I think you'll start doing those "little things" that will make your page more useful to more users.

Also, while I wouldn't want to scare you, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) might rear it's ugly head soon. Could your web site take a hit from a consumer who wanted to read your website, and all they got were [INLINE] and [ISMAPS] things scattered all over their screen? It wouldn't be a pretty sight to open your e-mail box on a Monday morning after that bright shiny new ad campaign hits the street with your Web Address all over it, only to get a bunch of Flames saying your web site couldn't be read by someone who is now mad at your company!

Come on people! ALT tags aren't that hard!

Richard Cheshire is known as "The Cheshire Catalyst". He was the last publisher of the TAP Newsletter for phone phreaks and computer hackers, which was published from 1971 to 1984. He is now crusading for accessible information access for non-graphic users of the Internet and it's resources, including the World Wide Web. He is available for consulting on making Web Pages accessible to non-graphic users. You may E-mail him at cheshire@2600.com

This document is http://CheshireCatalyst.Com/access.html

last updated: 1996-08-24 19:42:23 UTC
Last edited 2003-06-04 10:23:42 UTC

This document is © copyright 1997 Richard Cheshire, cheshire@2600.com

Those wishing to publish this article should contact the author by e-mail.

The author,
Richard Cheshire
 is a member of
The HTML Writers Guild
The HWG has declared April as "Accessibility Month".
Not everyone has graphic web browsers, you know.
Also, see Cheshire's paper on the subject,

[Web Access Symbol] A globe, marked
with a grid, tilts at an angle. A keyhole is cut into its surface.
The Web Access Symbol means this page is enhanced for people with disabilities.

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