Current discussions around the “Support IE6?” debate have elicited strong opinions on both sides. I’m not going to repeat my position, since I’ve documented that elsewhere, but I thought it would be worth taking a step back to get a sense of the bigger picture.
Andy Clarke wrote an interesting article In Defence of IE6 in which he used the analogy that a web browser could be thought of as a car. The argument made some good points but many felt the analogy did not hold up to scrutiny.
Here’s a slightly different take on the car analogy that I think goes some way to addressing the criticisms of Andy’s post.
Driving in my car
“Driving in my car” by Madness
I like driving in my car, it dont look much but Ive been far
I like driving in my car, even with a flat tyre
I like driving in my car, its not quite a jaguar
I like driving in my car, Im satisfied Ive got this far
Imagine that the Web is a road, a long road filled with all sorts of wonderful places to stop and explore. Shops, hotels, libraries, cinemas, tourist spots. Now imagine that your browser is a car on that road. All cars can drive on the road and the drivers can choose to stop anytime to explore what they find.
Now imagine an average guy, Bob. One day Bob is out in his beaten up old car and stops at a cinema to catch a movie. The owner of the cinema comes out to him and says “Hey buddy, you gotta get a new car before you can watch movies here.”
Bob is confused. “Yeah, my car’s old. But how does that stop me from seeing a movie? Please give me a ticket so I can watch a film.” he says. The owner smirks. “No way buddy. Get a new car or you’re not coming in.”
Bob’s angry. Why should he have to get a new car just to watch a movie? He’s about to argue but realises it’s pointless; the cinema owner is eyeing him strangely. Bob reconsiders: “If this guy is setting barriers like this and getting shirty about my car, he’s not getting my custom.” he thinks to himself.
Bob sighs, returns to his car and drives down the street. Eventually he finds another cinema, parks up and enters the welcoming picture house. “Can I come into your cinema, even though I’ve got an old car?” he asks the ticket seller. She looks at him, confused. “Sure! Everyone’s welcome” she says brightly, “What’s your car got to do with it?”
The Web is for Everyone
There’s a little bit of mixed metaphor here, but it does at least demonstrate why barriers put in front of users generally aren’t a good thing. The policy of the first cinema owner was not only silly, it cost him a customer.
Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the web, had a vision about what the web should be:
The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished.
There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialize. That was that once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyse it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together.
Many web developers seem to have forgotten what the web is about. I get the impression that some of these developers think they can decide who gets to use the web and on what terms.
I strongly disagree with this. What you might wish for as a developer has absolutely nothing to do with what your users want or need.
Users first, technology second.
Aneurin Barker Snook also uses a cinema analogy in a similar post: The burden of responsibility