Browser whores

The COI has launched a public consultation on browser standards for public sector websites.

Whilst the aspiration for such a document is welcomed, as a public sector employee who embraces web standards I must support the concerns echoed by Bruce Lawson, Chris Heilmann and Jon Hicks with this document.

The public sector must have an inclusive approach to web delivery that emphasises accessibility for all. Browser support statements, for me at least, go against this ethic.

Anyway, my response to the COI is posted below. Offer your responses to the document via the COI website or by sending an email to webguidelines@coi.gsi.gov.uk

Dear Sirs

I work in the public sector as a web developer/designer and looking over the consultation document – and the various responses that have subsequently emerged discussing it – I feel that this document has missed the point somewhat.

Working in the public sector resources are very limited so the numbers game (<2% usage) would theoretically be welcomed in terms of cutting off support for certain browsers (i.e. those we don’t have the resources to test on). However, in reality the best approach has to be adopting a web standards methodology (separating content from presentation, progressive enhancement, etc). This would ensure that all but a handful of browsers would be supported (although, ironically, those least likely to be supported will be those in greatest use, i.e. Internet Explorer).

It is important to state what browsers a site has been tested on but this is not to be confused with a list of supported browsers. As the public sector strives for inclusivity in the products and information we deliver online, we cannot turn to those users who favour a particular technology which falls beneath a certain demographic and say that their platform/interface is unsupported.

This is passive discrimination. In all likelihood less than 2% of our users are likely to be blind but there would be outrage if we were to turn around and say that we cannot support their use of the site because of their proportion in our overall demographic. We should treat the diversity of resources that the public use in accessing our resources as seriously as we do the diversity of the users themselves.

The only common-sense approach then has to be to develop and design with a standards-based methodology. To have solid foundations upon which we create and deliver our web resources. Browsers change but standards remain and the more we as a web development and design community work to these standards, the more the browser manufacturers will have to adhere to the standards which we utilise (and the less a browser support statement will ultimately be required).

By all means propose a statement that states which interfaces a site has been tested on and this could logically be part of a broader accessibility statement (I for one have always considered accessibility to be an aspiration for the inclusion of all users irrespective of means, ability or technology) but, and I must reiterate, do not confuse this with those interfaces a website supports.

Perhaps the issue is semantic but I, for one, would not want to be taking this approach on the web sites I manage and deliver to the public.

Comments

Please add your thoughts …

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Yep, it’s pretty dumb. Specifying an arbitrary cut-off point like 2% is the best way to perpetuate your current visitor browser profile.