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Creating effective web sites for AOL users

©Judy Vorfeld

Did you know that well over half of all people using the Internet access it through America Online? At least sixty percent, in fact. That means that your carefully designed Web site that looks great on Netscape, Opera, and Internet Explorer may look absolutely dreadful to six out of ten people. But there is something you can do:

If you use Windows 9x, open AOL and go to "Web Graphics" . . . click to remove the checkmark for "Use Compressed Graphics." In Windows 3x, open AOL, and under Preferences, uncheck "Image Compression." Once you've done this, clear your cache. Now you should be able to get the best graphics available in AOL!

You'll find some support for AOL at http://webmaster.info.aol.com.

Recently a Webmaster friend, Richard contacted me: he was using a JPEG background of less than 9k on all his pages. He designed and tested carefully for weeks before he opened for business.

Suddenly, an AOL user sent him an e-mail informing him that the pages were so cluttered with black and white images that he couldn't read the text. Richard uses Internet Explorer and Netscape, but doesn't use AOL, so he contacted me. I opened AOL and downloaded the site. Something was definitely corrupted. I went out to my Desktop and opened both Netscape and Internet Explorer. The site looked beautiful. If you use AOL, try the following URL and you may be able to see how it looked: http://www.ossweb.com/GMNexample1.html.

We spent quite a bit of time researching this. First we checked all the coding. AOL-related resource mentioned earlier. The information indicated that AOL compresses various multimedia applications, and converts them into the image format .ART.

Some versions of image-processing software add information in the headers that (in AOL) result in black areas on the image. To view the details, go to http://webmaster.info.aol.com and click on FAQ, then GRAPHICS QUESTIONS. Once you've read these comments, click on the GRAPHICS COMPRESSION hyperlink and you'll have a clear understanding of what can happen. Here's how it looks when it's fixed.

Back to the drawing board. I learned two things:

  • Optimizing the original file fixed the graphic
  • Moving the file into PaintShopPro and saving it with another name also worked. Strangely (I am not a graphics expert), the file went from 9k to 2k, and all I did was change it from one JPEG name to another.

My point? In addition to designing fast-loading sites that (1) are compatible with both major browsers, and (2) read well using a 640 x 480 resolution (used a significant number of Internet users globally), we must either consider AOL's parameters or risk losing potential clients and customers.

AOL members can adjust the graphics settings in AOL under Member Preferences, but if a background graphic has been converted by AOL's proprietary program and clutters the screen, you have no choice but to work around it.

Now that you know what can happen to an important part of the Internet market, you can make plans to correct the problem. If it appears. If you don't have software or the means to optimize backgrounds, you can always use a plain color for your body background. And remember: you want your pages to load quickly, so your visitors don't click off to another site! Optimize or replace. And always remember AOL users.

More pages with info on designing for AOL

About the author
Judy Vorfeld's operating system is Windows and her primary software includes WordPerfect; Microsoft Word; Microsoft Publisher; Adobe Acrobat; PaintShopPro; and Macromedia HomeSite. Please visit her website: http://www.ossweb.com

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