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Prize Assortment

Text by John Lampard

In Arthur C Clarke’s novel, 3001: The Final Odyssey, set at the beginning of the next millennium, one of the characters refers to the twentieth century as “the century of torture”. From the perspective of a thousand years, that seems to be the best and all that our descendants can offer as a summary of humanity, circa the early twenty-first century.

And had our far-in-the-future descendants spent time studying Bruce Harris’ More or less, a website that profiles the heroes and killers of the twentieth century, they could be forgiven for reaching such a curt, and chilling, conclusion.

For Bruce, a Sydney based journalist and web developer, who also has an interest in politics and history, selecting the theme for More or less was a logical choice.

The Cenotaph - Martin Place, Sydney
The Cenotaph - Martin Place, Sydney

“After working in web development for a while I decided I’d like to create a website of my own, partially as an experiment and partially to set up a domain that was totally under my creative control. I wanted to create a site that presented positive stories of struggle against injustice - something to provide a bit of inspiration in an increasingly troubled world,” says Bruce.

Launched in late 2000, More or less currently features 36 profiles of both heroes and killers from last century, and ironically was inspired by a Google search on the word hero, which didn’t quite return the results Bruce was expecting.

“There wasn’t much out there apart from a huge number of websites devoted to comic-book ‘super-heroes’. I had my theme - a site devoted to real-life heroism. After researching the first few heroes though, it became apparent that to balance the site I’d need to provide some coverage of their nemeses, and so the ‘killers’ section of the site was born.”

The Cenotaph - Martin Place, Sydney
The Cenotaph - Martin Place, Sydney

Despite the controversial nature of some of the subject matter, Bruce says the reaction to More or less is generally favourable. He also receives a number of suggestions for possible future profiles from readers as well.

“Most of the feedback by and large, has been positive, from messages of thanks and support to suggestions on ways to improve the site. Given the nature of the material covered on the site I also occasionally get feedback from cranks and extremists, but that seems to be happening less frequently lately,” he says.

While the choice of who is profiled is purely arbitrary, articles are thoroughly researched and all facts verified against a number of independent sources. They are also regularly revised when new information comes to light. Ironically the revisions of existing profiles can take the most time to prepare, says Bruce.

The Cenotaph - Martin Place, Sydney
The Cenotaph - Martin Place, Sydney

“Reviews of existing profiles can end up taking longer than the original research and writing. For instance it took over twice as long to complete a recent review and expansion of the profile on Yitzhak Rabin, as it did to research and write the original article.”

In 2004 Bruce started using CSS for the site’s layout. While there was some effort involved in making the conversion, the results seem to have been worthwhile, as More or less was short listed for the inaugural McFarlane Prize, which recognises Australian websites with accessible, and standards compliant, design.

“It took a while to bed-down the CSS positioning but now I think I have it at a stage where the next redesign of the site will be a piece of cake. I’m also keen on CSS because of the improved usability and accessibility it brings to the site. For me the best websites are the ones with the richest content presented in the most usable and accessible way,” says Bruce.