Friends Reunited: How not to build a website

I got an email today from Friends Reunited, which I’m sure everyone knows well. Apparently they have a new website. My curiousity got the better of me. I wish it hadn’t.

Firstly the page I saw when I followed the “have a look at your brand new homepage” link looked like one of those full-of-advertising sites, and not a good one:

Friends Reunited 1

See? Ugh. Where’s the information about what’s new? Where’s anything?

Fortunately they provide a “Don’t show me this page again” link. Except, uh-oh…

Friends Inaccessible

It’s not a link. They’ve fallen for the old ASP.NET “let’s make every link, NOT a link!” trick. By using the ASP.NET PostBack “feature” they’ve made their site inaccessible to any visitors without JavaScript – including, and you’ll like this, Google. Let me be plain: ASP.NET PostBack breaks the web.

Now before anyone gets their knickers in a twist (hello, colleagues), here’s a caveat. Friends Reunited has people visiting using pretty much every permutation of browsing technology possible. They are a big, public site. And the web is, according to Douglas Crockford, “the most hostile software development environment imaginable”, so breaking the basic building blocks of the web is bad. Really bad.

It’s not that I don’t like ASP.NET, it has some fantastic features. Repeaters, for example, are genius. And recently I’ve been developing some custom controls which offers amazing power to the developer. Masterpages, too, are fantastic. But to get something so fundamental as links so fundamentally wrong, was BIG mistake on the part of Microsoft. And unfortunately, due to ignorance and many other reasons, too many developers write websites using PostBack – despite there being alternatives and plenty of help to escape it.

One of these days I hope to write a proof of concept showing how Microsoft could have built the same features as PostBack into ASP.NET, but without the pitfalls. Oh for more geek time.

Anyway, on with Friends Reunited. So I click the not-quite-a-link, still hoping that something great awaits me. Alas, it was not to be:

Friends Broken

Yup, I got an error. Oh well.

So it’s goodbye Friends Reunited. Not only do you have an inaccessible site, but one you proudly advertise to your users which promptly falls over at the first click. Not that it matters to me much, everyone uses Facebook anyway.