Mathematics on the Web

This page recreates a few of the links found on the more comprehensive page That page includes links used in a talk by June Lester about what does and does not work when attempting to communicate mathematics on the web. On this page we illustrate some of what doesn't work.

Note: our focus here is on the presentation of the web pages, rather than the creation of them. There are many products which, for example, will create in-line GIFs to display formulae; some may create these GIFs with much less effort on the part of the page designer, but that's not what we wish to critique here. Our criteria only concern the final product -- how will your web page look on my screen?

More precisely, I show here the effect of visiting some of the sample pages which were evidently intended by the designers of these products to illustrate how well (or how easily) mathematics can be communicated across the web. The methods might fail for a number of reasons. To begin with, it is difficult enough to describe mathematical layout in a "linear" format, although we know this is possible and done regularly with TeX. Setting math onto the Web adds the frustration that it is difficult to predict the combination of hardware and software which will be available at the user's end. Indeed, it is supposed to be a feature of HTML that the presentation of the pages will reflect the preferences of the viewer of the web page as well as those of the creator of that page; each can control font choices, colors, viewing area, and so on.

When fetching these pages I made absolutely no effort to accomodate the page designers -- I just clicked from my default set-up, which is, admittedly, a bit out of the ordinary. (But this is my point: that page designers cannot tell in advance how my system will be configured.) In my case I use no Microsoft products and (except at home) no Intel products; I have many "features" turned off for security or speed of loading (java, cookies, etc.) I use large fonts and a large viewing area to help me see detail more easily. My only obvious concession was not to try to load these pages with Lynx (a text-only viewer which is the fastest tool I have). This is not (only) curmudgeonry on my part; some limitations are dictated by those who provide my hardware and internet connections. I do, in fact, take the trouble to switch settings when there is something I really want to read (I'll even check a half-dozen very different machines to find one which works right.) Again, let me emphasize that my purpose here is to illustrate the limitations which some users of the Web will encounter when trying to read mathematical pages.

Apparently all this wreaks havoc with web pages (even pages by people who usually know what they're doing). Here's what I see when I try these:

So what does work? Well, there are a few options you might want to consider, but each has pros and cons like the examples above.

Sadly, I don't have a final recommendation. My own choice is

This web page is merely an attempt to highlight some of the ongoing trends. For further information, consult:

Last modified 2000/02/23 by Dave Rusin,