Internet Explorer – stop locking content NOW!
The past couple of years I have really noticed browsers gain more and more attention in the public eye. When I used to speak to people about web browsing, they weren’t even aware they had a choice – they either had a PC (so used IE), or a Mac (Safari). Or if they were particularly tech-savvy they might use Firefox and consider themselves enlightened for doing so.
Then along came Chrome, and things changed. A few months back it was Update your parents’ browser day, and fortunately enough, my parents were actually visiting. Here’s a quick run-down of my parents and technology – my Dad recently almost missed a cricket match he went to with a friend, because he hadn’t checked his phone in a week, and thus had not seen the text with updated meeting instructions. My Mum tends to stay away from computers, she recently got an iPad (which she loves), and emails through photos from it very regularly, which will almost always come through to me upside-down (I don’t even know how that happens?).
I would actually say my parents are quite tech-friendly by parent standards, but regardless of this, on Update your parents browser day, when I reached for my Dad’s laptop to find not only was Chrome installed, but it was open and being used alongside IE, I was shocked to say the least. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see them using “The Google” as my Dad put it. But how can we explain this sudden increase in awareness? It’s pretty simple I think, and I may have my history wrong here, but I’m sure we never used to see such huge advertising campaigns just for browsers as we have done in the past couple of years.
Yes, there have always been ads for computers, for technology, but never specifically for browsers, not on the scale we have seen recently anyway, using media other than just online banner ads. Both IE and Chrome have really gone all out in trying to reach every Tom, Dick and Sally with an internet connection (which, lets face it, is every Tom, Dick and Sally).
IE have released a few pretty kickass TV spots, such as this one for IE9, and had the balls to release ads completely laying in to older versions as part of their The Browser You Loved to Hate campaign.
Both have had regular appearances on billboards all over London, and I remember even seeing an ad for Chrome wrapped around the BFI IMAX, the largest advertising space in the capital.
And of course, what better way to advertise a browser than allowing users to witness the benefits themselves. Both IE and Chrome have been behind some of the most impressive sites showcasing the power of the web in the last few years.
All of these sites are awesome – great examples of the power of new web technologies, and I am all for them. They give the lay man an idea of what the web is really capable of, and raises their expectation for future web experiences, which is a good thing, and they also give younger web designers/developers such as myself something to aspire to.
Both the IE and Chrome-endorsed sites are good-looking, well built, highly interactive and pushing current web technologies to the limit, but that is where their similarities end:
The Chrome-affiliated sites are marketed as “Chrome experiments” and “Made with some friends at Google”, with a couple of subtle footnotes.
To my knowledge, there are no restrictions on site content with these – if your browser isn’t technically capable of running the sites, you may be ushered in the general direction of downloading Chrome, The Wilderness Downtown message states that – “It was designed with Google Chrome in mind, you may need to download Google Chrome…”. You may need to.
ROME displays a couple of error messages, the first is much similar to the above, gentle push to downloading Chrome, the second doesn’t even mention Chrome:
We are sorry, but it appears that your browser does not support WebGL. This could be due to a number of different reasons. For more information visit this page.
The link is to a neutral WebGL troubleshooting page, and talks about browser capabilities, not browser vendors.
IE on the other hand, seems to see the endorsing of these sites as basically a glorified banner ad – slapping their logo all over the place, constantly making completely unnecessary and out of context references to IE in the site copy and more links to ‘download’ than you could shake a really big stick at. And this goes in to some of the ‘making of’ features as well, as Seb Lee-Delisle points out in this article on CreativeJS: “The making-of video sometimes makes for slightly uncomfortable viewing – it comes across as a somewhat contrived Microsoft advert.”.
This all annoys me, sure, but the annoyance is more at some bad marketing decisions which kind of spoil such good sites as these than anything else. I think it would be more than sufficient to subtly brand the sites as IE, then let the quality of the sites do the talking, rather than shoving the endorsement down the users’ throat, it just seems a bit desperate. And maybe change the call to action to ‘learn more’, rather than ‘download’ – not all of us are unlucky enough to be visiting these sites on Windows machines, don’t shove a ‘download’ call to action in my face if I can’t even make the download.
But what really gets me (and the whole point of this article, sorry it took so long to get here) is that IE have had the audacity to lock content to users visiting on IE9. This isn’t a browser capability thing – it’s not a case of “Sorry, your browser isn’t good enough, maybe try IE”, it’s more like “I don’t care if your browser is good enough, you want to see this site you have to play by our rules”.
All of the IE-endorsed sites I have reviewed have had exclusive content only available to IE9 users (Cut the Rope (although they seem to have now opened this up to all platforms, not sure when this happened and what the reasoning was), Project Prometheus, Brandon Generator, Just a friend), and this exclusive content isn’t even hidden behind technical browser requirements – these sites continually reiterate that they have been optimised for IE9, which is fine, but to just arbitrarily decide some content is only available to IE9 users just …because, really bothers me. And it irks me even more to know that as IE9 isn’t available cross-platform, this content will simply never be available to non-Windows users.
This goes against everything the open web stands for, and just comes across as a cheap trick to lure users in to downloaded IE9. Especially when the copy continually drops buzzwords, particularly “HTML5″, every other sentence. Those of us working with the various browsers on a daily basis will just disregard this, but my worry is that people who are less aware of the various browser differences, may actually believe that IE9 is leading on the HTML5 development front, when in reality the opposite is true (I particularly like this article and accompanying infographic by Paul Rouget to illustrate this point), and that this cheap trick might actually work.
The only saving grace is that this trick is done so blatantly that I believe most users will simply see straight through it, and probably leave the site immediately after feeling alienated as their browsing experience was no longer in their complete control.
Joke’s on you, IE
And besides – open Chrome DevTools > Options > Override user agent – switch to IE9 and then BOOM I’m viewing your secret, extra special, exclusive features Internet Explorer, IN YOUR FACE. And you know what? They work FINE on my Mac!
Long story short, I think it’s great that these browser vendors are choosing to market themselves through developing these amazing sites, and long may it continue. And the marketing seems to be paying off as both IE9 and Chrome have seen recent positive usage stats.
I just think from an IE point of view it could be done with a bit more tact – a Mac user is never going to run out and buy a Windows machine just to get a few extra levels of Cut the Rope, and if you tell them to ‘download’ IE then they will probably just be annoyed that in the end they actually can’t. But create a great IE-endorsed site and don’t alienate any of the visitors, then they may in fact think twice before buying their next non-windows machine, or perhaps not be so quick to switch from IE to Chrome when Update your parents’ browser day comes along again.