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§ Web standards · Browsers · Accessibility

I’ve no doubt mentioned before that I have an 1½ hour commute on the train. This gives me plenty of time for reading web logs via AvantGo on my Palm.

Most folks don’t create a mobile version of their blog, but that’s fine as the AvantGo browser does a decent job of making web sites readable and navigable. Most, if not all, of the blogs I read are coded with well structured (X)HTML, using CSS to provide layout and presentation. This makes AvantGo’s job even easier, despite the fact it only supports HTML 3.2 and has no support for CSS.

With these facts in mind, I am increasingly irritated by having to scroll past messages like this on What do I know (an otherwise top notch blog):

NOTE: Because you are using an outdated browser, you may only view the raw textual content of this site. In order to view, use, and enjoy this site to the fullest, we strongly recommend upgrading your browser to one that supports web standards.

Oi! I am using an up to date browser that supports Web standards (just not the latest ones). Splorp is a little more friendly and accurate:

Please note: The Splorp site has been redesigned using cascading style sheets and will look much better in a browser that supports web standards. However, the content on this site is completely accessible by any browser or internet access device – including a Newton.

Here’s a few more popular sites that run similar upgrade warnings:

  • A List Apart
    This site’s design is only visible in a graphical browser that supports web standards, but its content is accessible to any browser or Internet device. (Why we do this.)
  • Cuzza
    Sorry this site looks a bit dodgy.  It looks much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.
  • Wired News
    Note: Wired News content is accessible to all versions of every browser. However, this browser may not support basic Web standards, preventing the display of our site’s design details. We support the mission of the Web Standards Project in the campaign encouraging users to upgrade their browsers. (Read More)

There’s lots of other sites that run this message too. Here’s some popular sites that don’t:

So should we be including this message or not? Within the context of all browsing scenarios (not just mobile), here’s some pros and cons as I see it:

Cons

  1. The upgrade message is often the first thing that shows up in Google results (Cuzza uses an image to get around this).
  2. It appears on every page of the site. Such repetition is never appreciated. Any other context repeated like this would be frowned upon by a discerning designer or producer.
  3. The message will always need to be mentally or physically scrolled past before the real content can be reached.
  4. A text-based speech browser will read out the message out each time.
  5. The message is likely to appear if a reader is using a user-specified style sheet.
  6. Readers may well find the message insulting, patronising or worrying, depending on their savoir-faire. It will certainly illicit an emotional reaction of some sort.

Pros

  1. The message explains the lack of visual identity and general un-design of the page.
  2. It helps spread the Upgrade To A Decent Browser mantra.

The first pro is an important one for commercial sites with strong visual identities, such as Wired: regular readers deserve to have an explanation as to why their favourite site now looks pants. However the message could be removed later – or moved to a sidebar – once the majority of readers have been informed of the change. I wonder if that’s what Douglas had in mind?

The second pro is certainly laudable: there needs to be an education of users & admins that buggy browsers need replacing. But again, the message could be moved to a sidebar or some other area of lower importance. (I appreciate that a sidebar is not likely to be displayed as such, but if it’s marked up suitably the relative importance will be apparent.)

As for the cons. Well the first one is obviously important as no-one wants a search engine description of their site to be "Please upgrade your browser". The scrolling and reading issue could be partially worked around by placing a skip navigation link before the message, but does not solve the problem if one needs to use the navigation.

The repetition and subsequent emotional reaction is difficult to measure, but in my case was enough to spark me into writing this diatribe. User style sheets could have a good go at hiding the message by adding an ahem class with display:none, but that’s no guarantee.

So for personal sites, I say ditch the upgrade message. It’s only there for vanity – folks can still read and navigate your stuff right? All they can’t do is see your nice design.

For corporate sites, I say major thumbs up for switching over your build philosophy (you’ll appreciate it in the long run) but keep the message there for a while; loyal readers need to be told where the visual identity has gone to. However, do provide a way to skip the message and after a while (when the feedback trickles out) move the message to a less prominent area and be done with it.

What do you think?