I have a recurring nightmare: It’s 1996 and I’m trapped inside Internet Explorer 3.0. I can see the user – as they eagerly surf what exists so far of the world wide web – but they, alas cannot see me.
And let me tell you, I’m not just trapped anywhere inside this archaic space; Dante and his Nine Circles of Hell would be a day out compared to where I keep ending up. For I am cursed to pace the confines of the final circle of the web’s inferno; known better to you and I as – the site footer! Noooooooo!
The descent to my current dungeon started in the warm cheery glow of the page masthead or header. Surrounded by proud, perky branding; shiny new logos and boastful straplines that promised the moon on a string, I felt confident and full of hope for the journey ahead. Someone really cares about this space I thought.
As I waved farewell to the main navigation – talking animatedly amongst themselves – I could hear below me the healthy buzz of conversation coming from the home page content features and news headlines. Each page element participating in the healthy hum of debate and fighting for attention. What a party! Pushing my way though the noisy throng I felt I’d arrived at last. Here’s a space my voice could be heard in – if I shouted loud enough.
Sadly – as the ‘Donate now!’ button (what an attention seeker) bossily reminded me - my train didn’t stop here for long; my ticket not valid for this destination. A chill air found my feet and dragged me ever downwards – down, down. The light dimmed and the joyous debate above me faded away into silence punctuated only by a nagging, howling wind.
In gathering gloom my feet touched page bottom. I could scarcely see my hand in front of my face. Shapes (demons?) formed themselves out of the shadows and tugged at my feet; tumbleweed blowing across a dusty and forgotten part of the page. I shivered and drew my coat around me.
So this was the footer. My final destination: An empty and forlorn place – devoid of content and purpose; drained of hue and form. Lifeless. Even my watch had stopped here. I looked upward and could see – like a tiny star many galaxies above me – a glint of light that was the page content and the header above it. How different life had been there – how rich and fulfilling – engaging and thought-provoking. How people had cared about that place.
I bowed my head and slumped into a damp corner of the confine. My foot struck something solid. In the mirky half-light my hand explored a long forgotten and dusty relic. Some brave soul had actually bothered to venture this far down the page before and had left their mark in this God-forsaken spot – now silent and still as a grave. I read their last lonely desperate message to the world: ‘Site Content – Copyright 1996′ – and wept.
These days you don’t have to let your users suffer a similar fate to our allegorical hero as they venture to the bottom of your page. In the renaissance years since the dark ages of the Web 1.0, web designers have woken up to the fact that there is a whole new frontier of the page that they’d cruelly neglected as being ‘beneath (the valley of) the fold’. Here is an unexplored and virgin territory of prime land – ready and fertile for population with the new ideas, content, navigation and take-actions that the Web 2.0 (and beyond) has demanded.
Since 2009 the footer area has been re-claimed, redeveloped and redecorated. Rewarded for their brave and gravity-defying page descents (users do scroll!) today’s would-be web-explorers find a world of footers unrecognisable to their forefathers – a bright, open space for all where the possibilities seem endless and life is just beginning…