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Chevy has received glowing praise for cutting weight and adding polish to their new C6 Corvette. Now they’ve taken the same approach with their redesigned web site: it’s both slimmer and easier to use thanks to semantically-sound, standards-compliant markup.

Oh, there’s the odd typo here and there, but dig into the code and you’ll be treated to elegant construction techniques that would do the Corvette engineers proud. And appreciation of the new site won’t stop with the pocket-protector set.

Legend has it former GM president Alfred P. Sloan once said, “the primary object of the corporation … was to make money, not just to make motorcars.” One expects that sentiment extends to web sites as well: the largest car division of one of the largest companies in the world isn’t going to build a site just to show off their mad markup skillz. It’s the bottom-line focus that counts, and the new site delivers. It boosts site reach by increasing accessibility while simultaneously reducing bandwidth and maintenance costs — a bean-counter trifecta.

The marketeers must be tickled, too, by the clean new look, trick expanding menus and aforementioned wider reach.

The Engineering, accounting and marketing departments all on the same page? How often does that happen?

Well done, Chevrolet.

Tip o’ the hat to Deepak Mitra for the heads-up.

Update: A visitor by the name of Jack points out that Chevy sends users of Netscape 4 and earlier, Internet Explorer 4 and earlier and Opera 6 and earlier to a ‘please upgrade’ page.

Ouch. So close, yet so far.

As Jack says, using a JavaScript sniffer to ‘protect’ users of older software from an otherwise compliant site rather misses the point. At a minimum, the site should be served to those users as unstyled markup. Perhaps with a single upgrade warning, if absolutely necessary. While those users wouldn’t get the sparkles and doo-dahs, thanks to the site’s structural markup they would get a usable site with all the critical information.

Here’s hoping Chevy patches that little niggle soon.

Update the 2nd: WaSP script wonk extraordinaire Porter Glendinning has pointed out to me that the Chevy site actually uses an object sniffer, rather than a browser sniffer per se.

Checking browser capabilities, rather than brand and/or version, is definitely a better way to go, though simply locking out browsers that fail the test is still sub-optimal.

Update the 3rd: Chris Moritz, the information architect on the crackerjack team that built the Chevy site has given me a bit of insight into why the site behaves as it does.

Turns out, the reason for the upgrade message is branding: Chevy felt that it would do more harm than good to let people on the site if what they got wasn’t as polished visually as it could be. I disagree, of course. So does Chris, truth be told. But it’s the client’s brand, and the client’s dime, and truth be told the number of visitors affected is small. So Chris and his teammates came up with a compromise solution — the same one Jack did, as a matter of fact: direct users of older browsers to the upgrade page on their first visit, but give them the option of continuing on to an unstyled version and set a cookie so they won’t get the upgrade message on subsequent visits.

Speaking for myself, that seems like a reasonable balance.

Unfortunately, deadline pressures caused the cookie feature — and consequently the pass-through to the unstyled version — to be delayed to the near future. Chris assures me that it will be launched soon, along with other little improvements.

Here’s betting it will be worth the wait.

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