Iraq tickers fail in some browsers is using an Iraq headline “ticker” on its front page. It uses some DHTML JavaScript tricks to cycle through a set of less-important headlines on the imminent war with Iraq, underneath the top stories. I don’t much like tickers, on cable news or on the Web, but I can see why the site decided to use it.

The script apparently isn’t implemented perfectly, though. It looks as intended in Internet Explorer (shown) or Netscape 4:

A rectangular gray space, with a 'Confronting Iraq' header and headline links that cycle through below

But in Netscape 6, the ticker is blank and doesn’t display even one story, let alone scroll through a set:

The same rectangular gray space and header, with a blank space where the headlines are supposed to cycle through

A ticker provided by the Associated Press is worse, though. As seen on’s Iraq resources page, it requires both JavaScript and Flash (the Washington Post’s ticker just requires JavaScript). Furthermore, the JavaScript the AP wrote embeds the Flash file in a way that only works in Internet Explorer! Even if you have JavaScript running and Flash installed, the ticker won’t work in Netscape.

Adrian Holovaty has eloquently and correctly argued that Web sites should not be designed only for particular browsers. Unfortunately, with DHTML there really isn’t yet a good way to code according to one set of standards and have functionality “gracefully degrade,” as well-written HTML will. Thus, when developing anything special like a DHTML effect, Web developers need to write code that works in all major browsers, not just one or two.

If that seems like too much work for a stupid ticker, you’re right, the ticker is stupid and just ends up hiding those headlines from some of your site’s visitors. Put them in plain HTML instead, so everyone can see them. Or if you must keep the browser-specific ticker system, at least allow the headlines that would appear in the ticker to gracefully degrade to a simple list of links for anyone who can’t view the ticker.

Comment by kpaul, posted March 19, 2003, 11:53 am

Please, make the ticker stop!

Seriously, though, they 'sort of' nifty, but too much trouble at the moment to get them working on everyone's browser... Good catch, though.

Comment by Julie, posted March 19, 2003, 7:03 pm

I am adamantly anti-ticker. On the Web, that is (for TV news it's great). Not only for the very good reasons you mention here, Nathan, but also because the entire concept violates basic usability principles by removing readers' control over the speed at which they obtain information. How annoying is it to sit and wait for the next headline?! If you insist on having a ticker -- though if the headlines are really so important there is likely a better way to display them -- it should be user controlled (simple JavaScript-enabled arrows or something to click through, and as you mentioned, an HTML list for noscript browsers).

Comment by Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman, posted March 25, 2003, 2:05 am

Rex, you have the exact right attitude about when tickers (or any type of content, from text to photos to video to interactive databases) should be used — only when it makes sense, only when it is a great choice to communicate the information you’re trying to present. I’m not sure either what that “content moment” will be, but if someone does discover a great content-supporting way to use them, it will be great to have another multimedia tool at our disposal.

Comment by Rex Sorgatz, posted April 10, 2003, 4:11 am

I have somewhat mixed feelings about tickers. The war seemed to bring tickers out en masse, which sparked a conversation around the office. Last week, there were two tickers on the Post at the same time -- the one you mention and another further down that was scrolling scores from the NCAA tourney. My argument was that tickers aren't inherently bad -- but they need a good content reason to exist. The NCAA scores one I liked -- a discreet, small amount of space used for tangential information that's hard to present in a news time like this past week. The scrolling news headlines, however, made no sense to me -- I'd rather scan a list. has one up right now too, similar to the Post one, but a little more effective from a content perspective because of the dramatic way they've laid out the page.

I get a lot of questions from tv people at our sites (a network of tv websites -- people who love things that move/scroll/tick). Although I sometimes give a technical argument against them (DHTML/Flash/Javascript/blech!), lately I've been leaning more toward the "content argument" -- why do you want a ticker? what do you gain? But I actually look forward to the day where I come across a content moment where it really makes sense to make one.

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This page last modified on Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 7:59 pm