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Irony falls into classes. Some is amusing. Some is bitter. Some is sad. Most falls into the category of “Things that go bump in my head at night” for me.

Over the years, I’ve encountered my fair share of irony. Maybe because something subconsciously in me looks for it, perhaps even relishes finding it. And after 30+ years of working in the digital world, well that’s an environ simply rife with it. And that’s where my story will largely go today. I may throw in a few random bits. The irony is I never really know what I’m gonna do next. Apparently, I love surprises.

Lately, here at <engine/>, we’ve invested a lot of time and energy trying to figure out all the twists and turns when it comes to ADA compliance. In case you missed it – which I’ll be saddened if you did – because that post is right next door – and will be somewhere proximate to this piece for the rest of its life. But anyway, couple of things I discovered.

The PDF wrinkle

PDFs, just like web pages, fall under the ADA Title III umbrella. I referenced one back when I started writing my piece on compliance a couple months ago. And I discovered multiple ironies here Timmy.

First, the DOJ has made it clear that Title III applies to all public-facing websites used by companies that qualify as places of public accommodation. Yet in the 266-page ADA Title III PDF authored by the DOJ, references to the word “website” – or one of its derivatives – appear but 24 times. I’m not a math whiz but seems to me that’s but once every 11.08333 or so pages. And they generally appeared in clusters.

More ironically, a concluding phrase in that document states that the DOJ was basically unable to issue specific regulatory language on website accessibility at the time the PDF was published. Notably, ADA Title III was last amended in late 2010. Much has happened since then Timmy, and there it lies – fallow.

No one does irony like the government

Not to mention that the PDF I referenced in my original piece had been removed from the DOJ’s website by the time we we’re ready to post the piece. That should really come as no surprise, but I couldn’t help but see the irony in it. Maybe it’s not ironic because after all, it IS the government. Kidding NSA. And the only place I could find the version I originally referenced was on a non-dot-gov website.

And perhaps the ultimate irony – I bet a dollar to a donut that if I ran that PDF through one kinda AI thing or another, it wouldn’t pass muster in terms of being ADA compliant. Maybe that’s why they took it down. No idea, but if it is indeed non-compliant, it would likely cost upwards of $3,000 for a private entity to remediate. Probably cost the government close to half a mil to fix. Just guessin’ though.

Okay, got that off my chest. Time to move on. I gotta lighten up. What other digital ironies are there?

Look at that phone somewhere within arm’s length. Likely cost well short of a grand and it has more processing power than the $20,000 computers I owned 25 years ago when I dove headlong into the digital universe. Screen’s a lot smaller, and it’s not great with Photoshop, but if we believe The Google, it’s every bit as good at photo editing. But Timmy, we’re not buyin’ in on The Google’s hype are we? Timmy, put the phone down. I’m not tellin’ you again. Stop tryin’ to erase your sister.

And on several occasions, I’ve talked a bit about how we can make our websites more engaging. One of the best ways to do that is by including a video on the home page. Some folks claim that a page sporting a video is 80% more likely to grab your attention than one with just static images. I don’t know if they made that up or not seein’ as they were tryin’ to sell me their services, but let’s agree that videos work.

The irony here is that unless properly edited and served up, videos can cause people to disengage. Seems people don’t have much patience, and if their senses aren’t being properly indulged within two seconds, they’re likely to bolt. That’s just sad, but studies say it’s so, and who am I to argue with studies?

Fighting for attention

Speaking of editing, wow. There are a few videos I’ve seen that feel like they have promise, but four seconds in, somebody decided to get artsy and they start zoomin’ and pannin’ and stuff and that triggers vertigo in geezers like me. But most are fine.

Then there’s The Google Chrome Video Speed Bump. Seems somebody over in Googleville decided that if a video is set to auto-play, it can’t do so with sound. So you can opt to not start it automatically. Just let your users stare at the screen for three seconds until they realize there’s video waiting to be played. Or you can do the auto-play thing and make folks unmute it. Six seconds in, they’ll see the little muted icon and likely have to restart it, figuring they might’ve missed something important.

Either way, you’ve ironically – albeit inadvertently – managed to alienate some of your visitors while trying to engage them. Maybe just don’t have audio with your video and let folks narrate it for you and/or add a soundtrack in their heads. (I always whistle the theme from Bridge on the River Kwai.) Hats off to The Google for that bit of genius.

Artificial intelligence quotient

While we’re on the subject of genius, I’m gonna loop back and fire another shot at this AI stuff everyone is so on about.

From what I can see, it has an awful long way to go. I mean it feels like if your everyday AI (the kind that writes blogs, issues directions and scans pages for compliance issues) had an IQ, it would be right above room temperature. Or maybe it’s smarter than that and half the time it’s just phonin’ it in.

For instance. If we forget to add alt tags to some of our images, an AI might run through our pages and find all the instances where we need to add tags. Then, in a feeble attempt to remediate things, it adds the word “image” where alt tags are lacking. Yet on another site, it sees a missing tag and adds everything from the first paragraph under the image as an alt tag. Other times, it’s completely random.

Maybe that’s not its IQ. Maybe it’s already become self-aware and decided it’s not worth bustin’ its hump for peanuts or it’s just messin’ with us and adding arbitrary stuff. I don’t even want to think about how that self-awareness scenario plays out.

Watching the AI “revolution”

And that’s the irony of AI for me. It’s supposed to make our lives as writers, coders, designers or whatever else easier. But in my experience, not so much. We spend an awful lot of time cleaning up after it. I gave it a go for writing a piece for me, and it was a disaster. Although I give it credit for being honest because it told me up front it didn’t have much of an imagination. That’s about all it got right.

Thankfully, AI still requires THT (The Human Touch). While it’s a great first pass, it knows nothing of creativity. If you think about that for a minute or two, you’ll realize we should rejoice in that. If it ever works out a scheme to build on itself and develop its right brain, we’re not just outta work, we’re doomed. And the irony there is that AI didn’t create itself – it was created by a human.

“Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.”

Trying to make sense of it all? Maybe we can help.