CommBank's Broken Website

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
-- Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia's website was broken without JavaScript until January 2002. The webpage did not have a <body> - a significant violation of the HyperText Markup Language. I contacted the bank several times over a 17 month period until the website was corrected.

I have been a customer of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia since 1982.

Impact

Without JavaScript, the user was presented with an empty page titled "Please wait...". This page doesn't even contain the words "Commonwealth Bank"!

Below are screen-shots I prepared of browsers displaying the website without JavaScript.

Possible Solutions

A trivial fix would have been to add a <body> to the page, as follows. With the exception of the three added lines, this was the source of the broken homepage. This would have had the significant benefit of making the page valid HTML.

	<html>
	<head><title>Please wait...</title>
	<script language="JavaScript">
	var strURL = "/default.asp";

	if (parseFloat(navigator.appVersion) >= 4) {
		location.replace(strURL);
	} else {
		location.href = strURL;
	}
	</script>
	</head>
	<body>
	<p>Sorry, you need JavaScript to access this website.
	</body>
	</html>

A slightly more ambitious solution is detailed in Danny Goodman's Detecting a JavaScript Client article. Danny's book, JavaScript Bible, would be a useful reference.

Ideally, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia would apply the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines produced by the World Wide Web Consortium. These Guidelines include a specific recommendation against relying on scripting.

Correct Use of JavaScript

JavaScript is a very useful tool for enhancing a website; however, there are many reasons we must ensure websites work without JavaScript:

  • The web browser being used to view the website doesn't support JavaScript at all,
  • JavaScript is disabled, possibly over security concerns or just to avoid intrusive pop-up/go-under ads,
  • The client is behind a firewall that removes JavaScript,

With all these possibilities for failure, why does anyone make a site that does not work at all without JavaScript? Please use my JavaScript Processing Test and visit your favourite website to see how it works without JavaScript.

Time line

I've created the following time line of the significant events in my efforts to have this issue corrected.

September 2000
I contacted the Commonwealth Bank about this issue and was eventually told that the development team would take my feedback into consideration when performing the next update.
August 2001
I again raised this issue. Despite assurances of a rapid reply by the "Email Support Team", no response was received.
September 2001
I spoke with a Customer Relations Officer about the lack of response. I forwarded my previous emails to them and my emails were passed onto Direct Banking for a response.
October 2001
Direct Banking staff contacted me and we discussed the issue. I forwarded the above screen-shots. They said that my feedback would be considered in a forthcoming re-design and that they would let me know the outcome.
January 2002
Concerned over the apparent lack of action or reply, I again raised the issue about the website. Direct Banking staff replied saying that my suggestions have not been implemented.
February 2002
Direct Banking staff contacted me to say the problem had been corrected. The site now uses a HTTP server redirect instead of the JavaScript code above. The Commonwealth Bank site still needs improvement on this issue; however, it no longer fails outright.
https://zwitterion.org/commbank/ updated by Mark Suter on 2004-06-19. Copyright | Privacy