A Web for All

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.

Further reading

Aneurin Barker Snook also uses a cinema analogy in a similar post: The burden of responsibility

16 thoughts on “A Web for All

  1. I agree that the web should be for everyone. Everyone that follows the standards that is.

    To use the analogy with the car: If you car doesn’t have breakes you aren’t allowed to drive on public roads. If your left turn signal flashes when you are turning right, you should not drive on public roads.

    If your car, browser, client, whatever does not comply to the defined, required standards it should not be used.

  2. Hi Bjørn, thanks for your comment.

    I understand you extending the car analogy to show why IE6 shouldn’t be supported. However, I think it’s bit extreme.

    IE6 is a bit beaten up, sure, and sometimes the locks on the doors don’t work, but it still drives down that road just fine.

  3. But it doesn’t drive down the roads just fine. It might be more correct to use a train analogy: The wheel set does not fit to the standard axle width.

    As a developer I have to spend extra resources on building extra tracks for IE6.

  4. A well built site will still function in IE6, it’s not the completely broken car or train that you make out.

    So you have to spend more time on getting your to work in IE6. That’s what you’re paid to do.

    It sounds like you want to make life easier for yourself, even if that’s not in the best interest of your users. I think this is wrong and I discuss why in my “Why I support IE6″ post.

  5. Yes, I have to spend more time on getting web sites to work in IE6.

    I bet my clients, who are paying me, would rather use that money on other projects or builing even better web sites.

    Since those resources could go into building a better web, it is the web users who is suffering from IE6’s existance.

  6. You have to accept that there are IE6 users who can’t or won’t upgrade. As a responsible developer, you should building sites that those people can use.

    Is it better to save your client some money in the short term and ignore those users, or build a site that everyone can use, at a slightly higher price?

    Do you tell your clients that you are buillding sites that some of their customers can’t use, or do you just ignore the issue and hope they don’t notice?

    What if a potential new customer of your client never gets converted into a paying customer because they were locked out of using your client’s site, simply because you thought they weren’t worth supporting?

    How are websites “better” if they ignore some of your customers?

  7. I am accepting that there are IE6 users out there, but I want them to upgrade ASAP.

    You have to look at the ROI factor at all times, and at the current moment ignoring IE6 does not give you a better ROI. So we still have to build sites that IE6 users can use.

    But if everybody using IE6 would upgrade we could spend those extra resources on other projects or on building better web sites. At the moment we can not do that.

    There probably are still users using Netscape Navigator 4.0, but the group is so marginal that one can not defend the cost of supporting them.

    The number of IE6 users can not drop soon enough to the level of NN4.

  8. Exactly!

    No-one WANTS to support IE6 any longer than necessary, but right now it’s still necessary.

    Maybe when IE6 is < 2% we can consider dropping support, but certainly not yet. And even then, I’d still be hesitant; I don’t want to lock anyone out of using what I build.

    Sure, I’m an idealist about “A web for all”, but what would this world be without ideals?

  9. The premises of the analogy appear seemingly unsound.

    The driver of the old car is reluctant to get a new car, thus unable to watch a film at the first cinema.

    Is this reluctancy because of a) the old cars sentimental value, or b) the new car’s potential cost, or c) laziness?

    Either way, both a), b) and c) are absurd reasons for not updating to IE7.

    This is because a) the old car (IE6) holds no sentimental value – it’s a piece of software! – b) a new car (IE7) is free and c) it takes mere minutes to download and install IE7.

    Anticipating a criticism that would probably be posed before being properly thought through, only a very small percentage of the world’s population who use the internet don’t own a computer or don’t have access to a computer with sufficient computer specifications or an operating system capable of running IE7. In such a case, they simply download and install a Gecko based browser their computer is capable of running.

    Simple, no?

  10. I think you rather missed the point of my argument.

    My intent was to show that the browser you use to navigate the web should have no bearing on what you can do at the stops along the way. The important issue in my story is the cinema, not the car. It’s wrong for the cinema owner to disallow a customer from entering purely because their car is outdated. Sure, it’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, but do you see what I was getting at?

    Web sites should be built for people, not browsers.

  11. “My intent was to show that the browser you use to navigate the web should have no bearing on what you can do at the stops along the way.”

    This is an excruciatingly ridiculous statement.

    Internet Explorer 6 has an immense “bearing” on surfing the internet. The box model bug, no hover states, no alpha transparent PNG support – to name a few – are flaws in the browser that may hinder a surfer’s “stops along the way” to an often surprising amount.

    I would suggest that the old car is not unable to stop at the cinema, but is unable to watch the film in its entirety and complete beauty.

    Furthermore, what good is a website “built for people”, when the “people” are unable to interact with and utilise it to its maximum potential because their browser is behind the times. (In fact, IE6 wasn’t even in the times, so to speak, when it was released.)

    Granted, designers merely blocking IE6 users from their sites is petty and preposterous, but re-iterating my previous point, it really doesn’t take much effort to update to a more standards-compliant browser.

  12. Hover states, alpha trans PNGs and box-models do not a website make. All these issues can be catered for and worked around.

    Your argument might have some merit if IE6 was a wholly incapable browser and by that I mean that it completely fails to render websites. That’s not the case: IE6 is more than capable of rendering correctly built websites, even if it doesn’t support some of the fancier bells and whistles.

    If you’d like to make further comments, please do so with a real email address that doesn’t spoof my credentials, thank you.

  13. Firstly, you’re right, “Hover states, alpha trans PNGs and box-models do not a website make.” They do, however, have a vast influence on the appearance of many websites. I have seen many a poorly designed website made entirely out of alpha transparent PNG’s, for example. Although, please bear in mind I was using those three examples as a means of explaining my point, I’m sure you are aware of the hundreds of bugs IE6 is plagued with.

    Secondly, my argument has much more merit than the pathetically flawed old and new car analogy you cited. Ha, make sure of it, this analogy wouldn’t last a minute under the scrutiny of the the ‘expressed class’ I am in, made up of around twenty sixteen year-olds!

    Nevertheless, IE6 does in fact fail to render some websites properly. Take position:fixed for example. Many websites use this basic feature of CSS2 which IE6 fails to cater for. Moreover, it’s not always about the rendering of these page elements, but the degrading of them: some websites viewed in IE6 will have dozens of DIVs carelessly strewn across the bottom of the page… What good is this when trying to sell products or advertise a charity event? Having said this, I understand your point to a small extent, IE6 doesn’t completely fail” to render websites, but surely, neither does Lynx? (The text web browser.) It’s like saying an old shoe has no value. It does have a value, 0 value.

    And finally, please don’t jump to conclusions about me spoofing your “credentials”. My name, as it happens, is Matthew Hill and I found your site (which by the way I would describe as one with “bells and whistles”) when checking my search engine ranking on my newly built website, http://www.matthewhill.name. Why so ignorant to the fact that not everyone on the WWW is a childish, or perhaps fraudulent imbecile?

    “thank you.”

  14. If you’d like me to take you seriously, then please refrain from comments about the intellectual superiority of your ‘expressed class’. Smug condescension is not an attractive quality.

    You make some good points about flaws in IE6. As an experienced web designer I’m more than aware of all the problems, and more to the point how to get around them. The position:fixed example you used is nonsense – any decent developer can sort this problem out for IE6 if they choose to, by compromising on the design. It seems you feel that compromise should be unnecessary and are unwilling to cater for users who, for whatever reason, won’t upgrade from IE6. I think that’s a shame and rather elitist.

    You state that you consider my site to be one with “bells and whistles”. It’s completely accessible and usable in IE6. I think that proves my point: one can make websites available to older browser if one cares enough to do so.

    If you choose not to care for a portion of your audience, that’s up to you, but it’s not a view I share.

    Since this article was about “a web for all” and wasn’t about IE6 specifically, I’d be happy to hear your comments on the original subject. Otherwise, if you want to talk about IE6 further, please do so on my other “Why I support IE6″ blog post.

  15. My final thought on the topic in hand:

    1) I find it very important that I cater for all web browsers that are in common use by my target audience.

    2) I am more than happy to accommodate for the bugs evident in older browsers such as IE6, if they are in common use by my target audience.

    3) I am not, however, eager to tweak my websites to the extent that they are pixel perfect in every out-dated browser, as otherwise, the shift from old to new browsers in 90%+ of the population will never happen in the foreseeable future.

    4) Therefore I think it reasonable to adopt a middle ground as I have previously stated. I dislike IE6, but I am willing to put up with it until its users fall to a significantly small percentage of my target audience.

    5) Having said this, unlike you, who although claim to despise IE6, are unwilling to take any definitive action and would prefer pansy around like the Good Samaritan you delude yourself as being. “I am really caring, tender and thoughtful of others and their feelings… and outdated browsers.” Does this remind you of someone? No…hang on…not yourself, surely?

    6) I’m not sure if you’re a fan of Jeremy Clarkson and his brilliant Sunday columns, but I suggest you read/reminisce his article on gagging on the fabric of British life, and how we, as Brits, are so incredibly slow and unresponsive to actions that is of high priority, as indeed, you are the perfect example.

    I thought I might add a few finishing points to my final comment on this drastically depressing article.

    1) “Smug condescension is not an attractive quality.” Contradictory? You’re not my father.

    2) Less of the patronisation, perhaps? Coincidently, I too am aware of the bugs evident in IE6 and “how to get around them.”, by your standards making me an “experienced… decent designer”.

    3) position:fixed is not nonsense, it is a real flaw and a real annoyance, that costs me real time when designing websites. You clearly don’t understand my point, and the points of many others which you – oddly – have never directly answered. These hacks and fixes are a waste of time! Could we not be charging clients less for better quality websites when granted an extra couple of hours in place of implementing IE6 fixes?

    4) There are “users who, for whatever reason, won’t upgrade from IE6. Ludicrous! “For whatever reason?” I have already outlined there is none?!

    5) You are reading into my comments too much! Your site is one with “bells and whistles”. It is… Why assume I was implying a contradiction in your sites design and the ideology of this particular article?

    5) I am not an elitist. I am a realist, whilst you, unfortunately, are an idealist.

    6) Why would I want you to take me seriously? It would seem many people commenting on your uncannily similar IE6 articles don’t take you seriously.

  16. I’m confused by your seemingly inconsistent comments. I’m also pondering why someone who doesn’t want to be taken seriously has spent so much effort to make their voice heard.

    My position on all these issues are covered both in this article, my other IE6 articles and the comments on same. None of your arguments have convinced me that dropping support for IE6 is a good thing.

    I don’t want you to waste more of your youthful energy on arguing with an idealistic old fart, so let’s agree to disagree.