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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fourmilab Beats Google in Google's Accessible Search

Google Labs have launched Google Accessible Search, a variant of Google's search engine which gives a higher rank to pages which are accessible to blind (or, in the PC-speak in vogue at collectivist hard-left Google, “Visually Challenged”) individuals, many of whom use text-based screen reader programs when accessing Web pages.

The 1999 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines issued by the World Wide Web Consortium are an excellent place to learn how to make your Web pages accessible to the blind. Most of these are quite obvious, but may be easily overlooked by a sighted person: for example, never rely exclusively on an image map as a means of navigation; always provide meaningful “alt=” descriptions for images; and never use just colour to express semantic information. I had a head start in learning Web page accessibility because Speak Freely, as one of the first Internet telephone applications which actually worked, attracted a large number of blind users who pointed out where I stumbled in making both the application and the Web pages which supported it usable to them.

Ever since, I've tried to make every page I create accessible to the blind. An excellent way to test your own pages for accessibility is simply to view them with a text-only browser such as Lynx; if you can understand the content of your pages and navigate among them with Lynx, blind users probably won't have any problems visiting your site.

The new Google Accessible Search provides a useful report card on how your site ranks in accessibility among its peers. Google Blogoscoped have set up a comparison page where you can see the results for a given Google query in the regular and accessible searches side by side. For several of the words for which Fourmilab is a heavy hitter, the results are quite interesting. The table gives the rank in search results that Fourmilab's top-ranked page has on the regular Google search compared to its rank in the Accessible search.

Query Normal Accessible
Earth 4 2
Moon 7 3
Diet 12 4
Autodesk 12 5
Solar System 15 6

Amusingly, in the searches for “Earth” and “Moon” (how topical on Moon Day!), Google Earth and Google Moon, respectively, come in first in the regular searches but are beaten by Fourmilab and other sites in the Accessible search for each term. Note that Google search results are notoriously difficult to repeat; I am reporting results from my own queries via the comparison page cited above: your results may differ.

Posted at July 20, 2006 22:43