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The Crockford Files: Access to Government Information Revisited

By John Crockford

A letter (www.fresnobee.com/2014/01/13/3712545/online-access-to-fresno-courts.html) from the media coordinator of the Fresno Superior Court to the editor of the Fresno Bee on Jan. 13 provided “information to help those encountering problems using the Banner Court Connect portal to access online civil, family law, probate and small claims case information”—an issue that was covered in the August 2013 issue of the Community Alliance (https://fresnoalliance.com/?p=8110).

In a notice on its Web site, the court says that the “case information website has been tested and is known to be compatible with the following web browsers without any issues or further effort” and then lists Internet Explorer versions 6 through 9. The notice goes on to say “The Fresno Superior Court is unable to ensure proper functionality with other browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Chrome and is not aware of any other browsers that retain their functionality in newer versions.”

Unfortunately, Internet Explorer versions 6 through 9 made up 25% or less of the overall share of browsers used worldwide during January 2014—yes, there are people who keep these kinds of statistics—meaning that 75% or more of visitors seeking court information using the Banner Court Connect portal can’t get it.

Interestingly, our first attempt to find a modern browser that can access the court system’s case information system on both Apple platforms (computer and mobile) was successful. We tested the Opera browser (www.opera.com/) and found it works fine. So if you need immediate access to the Fresno Superior Court’s online civil, family law, probate and small claims case information and can’t or won’t use Internet Explorer, use Opera—it’s free and available for Mac, Linux and Windows computers.

Figuring that if it works with the Opera browser, we looked deeper for a solution to the problem of access to the court’s case information. We did some more testing and found that cleaning up the HTML code of the search pages for the Banner Court Connect Web site—bringing it up to the modern standards of the World Wide Web Consortium—made everything work across most modern devices and browsers.

Evaluating the court site’s code through the W3 validator showed 16 errors that together caused the site to fail. In an experiment, we cleaned up the code—bringing it up-to-date using the recommended W3 XHTML standard.

It took less than an hour to correct the problems for which the court had no apparent solution.

We look forward to seeing an updated, standards-compliant Web site that delivers the universal access to case information, which seems elusive to the Court but is ultimately fixable with just a little bit of work.

Here’s a good reference if you’re interested in learning more about better government through better use of the Web: www.w3.org/egov/.

Online Activism

Does your organization’s Web site work? Is it accessible? Is it user-friendly? Does it contain accurate and current information about your organization and its work? Some of these questions can be answered easily by just taking a look at the site and poking around as if you’ve never been there before.

After checking your site’s content, check its foundation on the W3C validation service (http://validator.w3.org/).

*****

John Crockford, a self-described “geek with Luddite sympathies,” is an independent Web site designer and electronic publisher. Contact him at info@johncrockford.com or follow the Crockford Files (@crockfordfiles) with Twitter (https://twitter.com/crockfordfiles).

  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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