New Edition of LUMS NEWSnet Published

The March 2009 edition of LUMS’s external newsletter, NEWSnet, was published recently and you can read all of it online. This edition covers about nine months worth of news and events and makes a good read.

Terrible Usability

What’s weird about it, though, is the format it’s been published in: it’s all image files. Basically, instead of taking the time to make a proper website for the newsletter or even make a PDF file out of it, they’ve converted each page of the newsletter into an image which they’ve then sliced into smaller images for faster transfer over the Internet. (Note: making image slices for online publishing is pretty standard for intricately designed websites but is highly unusual for publishing newsletters online.)

Publishing the newsletter in this way makes life a lot simpler for them because (a) making image slices is really easy and (b) the newsletter’s original design, formatting, fonts, photographs, page numbering, etc. are all preserved without them having to make any extra effort. However this is a silly way to publish a newsletter online. Why?

Well, first, the image-only format takes up too much bandwidth and is slow to transfer over the Internet (no matter how many slices you make, transferring HTML code is still quicker). Second, though it’s nice to be looking at a well-formatted page, you are basically stuck with whatever font size they’ve decided to publish the newsletter in (in this case, 9pm Tahoma). Third, reading text as text is much easier than reading text that’s an image. For example:

Text as Text: Text as Image:
Jahanzeb Sherwani is Pakistan’s first developer (and LUMS alumnus) whose application has been accepted into Apple’s iPhone App Store. Jaadu is a groundbreaking application for the iPhone and iPod Touch that lets you control your computer from wherever you ware in the world. page_01_10

Finally, to nitpick a little: I hate the fact that you can’t click to zoom-in on any of the photos they’ve published and the newsletter’s masthead is far too large for an online publication.

The Options They Had

The thing is, I understand why LUMS would do something like this because the online version of NEWSnet is probably not a priority for them. Indeed, they most likely wanted to make as little extra effort as possible in converting the print version to a format they could publish online.

That said, they actually had three choices for that print-to-online conversion:

First, they could have made a proper website for the newsletter. This, however, would have required a bit of work on their part because they would have had to design the site layout, create a template, and then copy all the text and images into it.

Second, they could have made a PDF version of the newsletter and made it available for download. PDFs are the Internet-standard way of publishing newsletters online because they preserve your design, layout, fonts, page numbering, and so on. They are also much better from a usability standpoint because readers can zoom in and out to adjust the print size and, if the text within them is rendered as text, they are also much easier to read.

Finally, they could have done what they did: convert the pages into images and publish those online. This, while the second-easier option for them (making the PDF is easier), is the least user friendly option for readers (or, in this case, site visitors).

Why, then, did they do it this way? I’m not sure. Image files certainly look better than a simple link to a PDF file from the LUMS homepage. And they could have been trying to cater to their six site visitors who don’t have PDF file reading software installed on their computers or in their browsers. Regardless, their choice of publishing the newsletter in this manner is, in opinion at least, a bit of a cop-out. And though I understand why they did it, the reasons for doing it aren’t very convincing to me.

Some Good Things

Among the things they did do right, however, is the fact that the newsletter’s content is both short and very interesting. Also the design and layout of the newsletter itself is quite good. So, even though it’s a pain to read, I have actually skimmed through bits of the newsletter to see what’s going on in the world of LUMS.