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In Praise of Image Maps.

As many of you know, I write a lot about internet, marketing and advertising. And when you spend that much time writing about internet, marketing and advertising, it can be difficult not to constantly whine about internet, marketing and advertising. So this one is for all the techno-geeks out there.

Today, we're gonna get all those juices flowing with an issue that I know hits close to home with all you digital Da Vinci's that simply can't get over the fact that the internet is, above all, an extremely graphical medium.

Today, we're singing the praises of image maps.

For those of you who are too embarrassed to raise your hand at the staff meeting and ask, an image map is a graphic on a website that contains links to different parts of the web site. By clicking on different parts of the graphic, you go to different parts of the site.

Sure, you've got your text link here and your rollover JPG's, but let's face it: when it comes to ease of use and fabomundo sites, image maps are where it's at.

Yeah, I know that there are thousands of reasons NOT to use them, but being the visually-oriented pig that I am, I'm here to give you the why's and why not's of using them. Read on and in a manner of minutes you'll be able to print out this column, go running down the hall and wave it in front of your webmaster's nose and yell, "See? I told you image maps were the way to go!"

Image maps have gotten a really bad rap. Most people consider them to be a lot like Cindy Crawford: really beautiful to look at, but actually kind of slow. Well, that can be true. After all, a large graphic takes more time to load than does a line of hyperlinked text. But you have to remember that the less-than-desirable reputation endured by image maps has pretty much been out of business since the introduction of modems capable of transfer speeds faster than 9600 baud. Between new compression technologies and faster modems, the "slow to load" argument has lost a lot of steam.

Unfortunately, a lot of people who have "slow load" on the brain mistakenly avoid image maps by substituting a bunch of teeny-weeny graphics (hey, that's the official term for them -- look it up). You see this most often in framed sites, usually located on the left side, in the vertical "table of contents" frame. Right?

How often do you sit there and watch the buttons or bars pop on to the screen one at a time?

Well, I've got news for you. If those buttons were actually one image map, the whole bar would not only load at once, it would also load faster. The reason is that the combined weight of separate image files often exceeds the total weight of a single image map graphic.

Betcha didn't know that, eh? Now aren't you glad you showed up to this party?

Here's another reason why image maps can load faster: most hosting servers are a lot like really stupid shoe salesmen. Picture yourself telling the guy you want brown penny loafers in a size ten. Then picture the guy running back behind the curtain and bringing out a pair of white cordovans. Then back behind the curtains. Then out again with black wingtips.

Getting the idea? Wouldn't it be a lot faster if he just made one trip behind the curtain and dumped all the shoes at your feet? Well, that's the efficiency you gain with an image map: one trip to the server, one trip back and you're done.

Yet another reason I like image maps is that they allow you to express your site's personality more effectively than just about than anything else. It's true. Look at any site's home page image map and you have a cyber-Polaroid of that company's mental processes. It tells you how they want to be perceived and what they think is important.

Finally, I want to stress that despite the beauty, communication and ease of use they provide, image maps will never be able to do the job by themselves. You'd have to be a dope NOT to include redundant text hyperlinks on every single page of your sites. And NOT just for the slow-pokes' sake. There are tons of fed-up netheads who simply turn off graphics because they find them annoying. Hey, their money's as good as anyone's -- give them their text links.

Now print this out and go running down the hall.

©1997, Rob Frankel

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