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Thursday, May 31 12:01 AM EST

11 Questions with Vincent Flanders

By Brian Briggs

Real interviews with real people. Unlike the rest of BBspot there's nothing made up here. I know it's a difficult transition but I'm not fooling. We did e-mail these questions and these were the responses.

In the second of the world famous interview series we converse with Vincent Flanders who in addition to creating the great web site Web Pages that Suck also has a book by the same title as well as the sequel. When I first started designing web pages Vince's site and tutorials were an invaluable resource for me. I give thanks by subjecting him to 11 Questions.

BBspot (1): Since BBspot is a geek site we'd like to know what kind of computer system you have? Processor? OS? Browser? Details please.

Vincent: Dell Inspiron 5000E laptop running windows 2000, IE 6, NS 6.2, NS4.7 Only 128Mb of memory.

Compaq Presario 5420 running XP Pro, IE 6, NS 6.2. Allegedly 500Mb of memory, but the system says something like 430Mb or 480Mb. Hmm.

Dell Dimension Desktop. Running NT 4 workstation service pack 4. IE 5.5, NS 6.2, NS 4.7, Opera 5

I have 2 Imacs -- one is a DVD version, with the DVD running OS 9 and the older running OS 8.5.

I've got a couple of other older machines lying around.

BBspot (2): Who would you like to face in a Celebrity Death Match and why?

Vincent: Wow! What an interesting question. I'm not sure because the question implies I hate someone. I really don't hate anyone enough to want to fight them. Hmm. Probably whoever writes the "documentation" (and I use that term loosely) for all those low-end CMS systems. On most systems, you can't install the software if you follow the directions. If I could make one suggestion to your community -- and you say your site is a geek site -- please, please, please get somebody to write ACCURATE installation instructions for your software. Please? Thank you. End of begging.

BBspot (3): How does it feel to have a site like this about you on the Internet, frightened? Flattered?

Vincent: Well, there are two reactions. The first reaction is that you are only as important as the people who disagree with or hate you. Jakob Nielsen has lots of people who hate him and I only have this one site so I guess I'm not very important.

I'm even less important because this person isn't smart enough or didn't take the time to read my material to understand that I'm the only person in the usability community who doesn't feel the way he thinks I feel. Okay, I'm hated by one person who isn't smart enough to understand what I really say. Jeez. That makes me totally unimportant <g>.

BBspot (4): How did you make the transformation from interviewing rock stars to teaching good web design?

Vincent: The only reason I interviewed rock stars was so I could get into the concerts for free. I really wasn't interested in the rock scene like most people are. I love the music, but the world of the rock star is just too weird for my tastes. Yes, there are some wonderful benefits (women, money, and more women), but the downside is too great. It's a totally insecure world driven by ego and hate and greed and I'm just not that hateful, greedy and monomaniacal. Looking back, the most interesting thing I noticed was that I never had my picture taken with any of them. I wondered, "Why?" but I realized that rock stars live in a completely unreal world. It's hard to explain, but if you've ever been around any of them, you'll understand. The movie Almost Famous is perfect in its depiction of being behind the stage. I can't talk about the other parts since I never wanted to hang out with the band. In fact, it never occurred to me.

Becoming a Web critic was easier. I was teaching people how to hand-code HTML and to showcase bad techniques I would show them sites and then I'd say, "That sucks." They'd all laugh because back in 1996 "sucks" was an edgy word -- now, only fundamentalist Christians and companies who have to be politically correct (all big corporations) are upset by the word. My boss wanted me to teach a course on good design and I thought I'd take the easy way out and just put up a small site. Big mistake. It's been six years and I'm still working on it <g>.

BBspot (5): I imagine webmasters get a bit up set when they see their site listed as a "Site that Sucks". Who's gotten the angriest and what did they do?

Vincent: Ironically, I get more negative mail when I say something is good than when I say something sucks. As I point out in <blatant plug> my new book "Son of Web Pages That Suck" </blatant plug> most people agree on what's bad but they argue over what's good. Is Monet better than Manet? I've heard stories that when David Siegel was running his High Five site for good design that people would get very upset when they would submit their sites and David wouldn't put them on his list. Really upset. I suspect many of the bad sites I criticize -- especially the smaller companies -- look bad because "the nephew made it" or somebody in the steno pool, or the president's son. I remember this one site -- it had something to do with Corvettes -- where the person suggested it because all the employees hated the site but the boss loved it. You have to watch out for bosses. They can be pretty stupid.

There was one site that made the Daily Sucker -- where the owner took his site down and just put up a page that said I was an idiot or something. Of course, *he* was an idiot because he took down his business site just to rag on me. His local customers would go to his page and see this rant and wonder, "What's up with Bob? Has he flipped out? I've never heard of this Vincent Flanders fellow. Do I want to do business with somebody who has flipped out?"

I used to have a bulletin board and the day I criticized Jerry Pournelle's site (the Science Fiction writer), there was a lot of flak over his inclusion. If my memory serves me well, it seems that some of Jerry's followers got upset. I remember one argument was that his site was a personal site and that it shouldn't be criticized. My response was he was charging money for subscriptions or something. His site still sucks (at least it did a couple of weeks ago which is the first time I looked at it in a long time) which I find truly amazing because there is all this blogging software out there with templates that don't suck. C'mon, Jerry. Sign up for one of these services or buy the software. That brings up a good point. There really isn't an excuse for a personal or a Web site with just a few pages to suck. We've got all these nice templates and blogging software.

Web design firms love it when I use their site -- and I only use them if they use what I call Mystery Meat Navigation -- because they get new customers when I mention them. One guy thanked me for the free trip to London to meet with a prospective client. As you might imagine, I don't want to perpetuate bad design so it's a rare Web design firm that's featured. Their attitude is "Vincent doesn't like me and that's good." Hmm. Maybe I should start praising them -- "This doesn't suck." That would get them upset <laugh>.

Check out Part II of the interview where Vincent addresses people who tell him that he sucks and what he would change about the history of the web.

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