John Allsopp raised an enlightening question the other day. He asked us who thought it was important that a website look the same across all browsers. It is one of those questions where you know that the answer isn’t what you want to say. You want to say, “Yes, that is pretty important”. Yet, looking at the guest speaker in your Web Usability class, you know what is about to come out of this man’s mouth is “Pshsh”, “whatev” or some other completely dismissive non-word. So, it was. He said whatever the Australian version of hogwash or bollocks is and asked us another question.
Who will know?
Will anyone know the difference if the site is different in Firefox or Internet Explorer or Chrome? Other than everyone in the class I was sitting in, of course. No. Simply, no. Normal people don’t have multiple browsers on their computers. They just use what was pre-installed. So, one looks fantastic, one looks great, and one looks nice. Very few people will know the difference. The example displayed (in 3 sections) is one that Allsopp provided in his talk to the UGA MIT class.
Time & Money working for Awesomeness OR Consistency
Allsopp contends that the work can be done to make a site fairly consistent across most browsers. Yet, it comes as a trade off. With an allotted budget, the time and money can be spent on making a great site for most browsers that has less pizzazz for any less capable browsers. Or the time and money can be spent creating consistency across browsers and providing a great deal less capability for all browsers.
Is it ever that simple?
If that’s all there was to it, a little pizzazz missing for the IE masses, I’d be ok with that. I just found out from some WordPress analytics that for my coffee company, my current visitors are by far more acquainted with Firefox and Safari anyway. Unfortunately for my everyday-secure-normal-go-to-an-office-with-company-computers-and-health-insurance job, we run into a problem. Our internal web-based software is IE only.
Why? Why would you do that?
Well, in asking just this question to the one remaining person who was within ears reach during those conversations, this is what I found; the software was designed for a company that worked in Microsoft products and would only be used internally. As it is an internally controlled environment, cross browser use wasn’t an issue or a goal. Internet Explorer offered this handy little menu feature that handled CRS’s needs. In comparison to the Java alternative that was deemed too slow and bloated, this IE tool was zippy and handy. Basically, it was what was available at the time. Other options have evolved now, but to change what is there will be time consuming and expensive.
Isn’t it fantastic the way a light bulb is a light bulb? When you have to replace said light bulb, you don’t have to buy a light bulb made by the manufacturer of a particular lamp, a standard light bulb will do. So for electrical cords (well, within a country) and DVDs and light bulbs, there is a standard that makes it possible for lots of companies to get in on the electricity and movie and light action.
Well, there is a standard for web browsers as well. The standard allows a business and web designers to just create one website that can be viewed by several different browsers. The Web Standards Project created the Acid2 and Acid3 browser tests to check browsers for their compliance to the various web standards. The major browsers, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome, all passed Acid2 (from 2005). The Acid3 on the other hand went well for all (in the 93 to 100 range out of 100) but IE (scoring a 20/100).
Of course, IE has the bulk of the traffic. So, for now, despite an assortment of failed usability tests, they win. We are forced to adapt to a certain degree. They have the control of the masses who just don’t think about how the internet is provided to them.
I like Allsopp’s who-cares philosophy. Yet, at this point, it doesn’t seem to be an available option for me.
So often we talk about how things should be done. Yet, this assumes we are starting with a fresh system. Here I am entrenched and increasingly aware of my situation. So here are my next questions:
- How do you decide when it is most appropriate to adapt?
- How do you decide when to start from scratch?
- Is there some sort of IT Magic 8 ball that could make the call definitively?