The browser problem

Delib share some interesting stats on browser usage of their products.

Here you can see that IE6 is used by more than a third of our Citizen Space administrators, but only about a tenth of the total visitors. At the moment, there is clearly a need to continue supporting IE6 for our clients, but it does seem a shame when this investment could be put towards improving the user experience of the site’s end users.

What is possibly more worrying is that administrative users of Delib’s stuff (ie the folk in government) operating with IE6 and IE7 combined is 82.9%!

As Steph pointed out to me the other day, from a web designer’s point of view, IE7 isn’t much of an improvement on version 6, and Google are already dropping support for it in their web apps like Docs and Gmail.

I still really don’t understand why it would be so hard for public sector workers to have a second browser available to them, even if it’s hidden away so only the really keen can find it. The support overhead would surely be minimal.

After all, if you want people to do a good job, give them the tools they need to do them!

Some interesting reading

Some dead interesting stuff popped up when I logged in this morning – all worth giving a read:

Facebook buys FriendFeed

Lots of people seem to be quite upset about this one. Friendfeed is still a pretty niche service, even by the standards of the social web, so this isn’t that seismic a change. The interesting thing about FriendFeed is that it was founded and developed by a really skilled team of ex-Googlers and it is probably those guys’ brains that Facebook are after.

Read more…

Google makes new search engine available

Google have responded to the threat of a revitalised Microsoft web search (in the form of the ludicrously named Bing) by starting to re-engineer their core search product. You can test it out on the sandbox site – I found it noticeably quicker and the results are different.

Read more…

IE team ‘defends’ IE6

There have been a whole bunch of memes on the web around the fact that Internet Explorer 6 sucks and that people should replace it. This was reflected in the UKGovWeb scene with Tom Watson’s parliamentary questions asking when government departments would be upgrading from this ancient bit of tech.

Microsoft’s IE team have responded to this chatter on their blog, not necessarily defending IE6 as a product (they would prefer people to upgrade, too) but explaining the reasons why big organisations – and indeed individuals – might be happy sticking with what they know.

Read more…

Add LGSearch to your browser


LGSearch is a search engine for the UK public sector that I developed quite a while ago. It’s built on Google Custom Search, and isn’t particularly clever, but is rather useful.

Anyway, inspired by Simon’s recent efforts on behalf of DirectGov, I thought I would make it easy for Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 users to add LGSearch to the list of search engines they can access from within their browsers.

Simply click here to install LGSearch, or visit this page to find out more about it.

How do you start yours?

Browser, that is.

I was rather interested to hear what people used as their ‘home page’ in their browser – ie the page that loads when you first open your browser. Firefox makes this more interesting with its tabs, which allow you to start several sites immediately, each one in a different tab.

Personally, I start with my webmail (Gmail running through Google Apps for your Domain), Google Reader, FriendFeed, and the admin dashboard for this blog. I asked others on Twitter what they like to use, and here are the responses I got:

  • @dominiccampbell iGoogle
  • @rohan_london my ‘fox fires up with gootodo list and googlereader. I then have facebook, twitter and gmail addons so I can scope updates
  • @simonwakeman gmail, blog admin, statcounter,
  • @justingsouter I use Session Manager in FireFox, and invariably have web pages from previous browsing session…
  • @paulhenderson 6 tabs BBC news, Cricinfo, Bloglines, ruralnet|uk, delicious & twitter
  • @watfordgap igoogle can access everything else from there
  • @citizensheep With all the tabs I had open in the previous session. Usually includes Gmail, Twitter and MonkeyGTD

Interesting mix… what do other people use?

Create your own Firefox search plugin

The search box on the FireFox toolbar is a pretty useful thing, giving you quick access to various search engines and other sites, like Amazon, eBay and Wikipedia. It’s based on a Mozilla project called Mycroft (that being the name of Sherlock Holmes’ brother) and if you have a browse around, you’ll find plugins to enable you to search loads of different sites using that single box on your browser.

Well, I found out today just how damn easy it is to make one of these for yourself. You don’t even need to know any XML – the format used to code the plugins – just fill a form in on the Mycroft site. I did this to create a search box for DavePress, which you can install by visiting this page.

The form is simplicity itself to complete, with only one tricky field, which is where you specify the URL to use when carrying out searches. Here’s a tip for WordPress users, you need to input:{searchTerms}

For a less-than-five minute job, you’d be mad not to. Might be a useful thing for local councils, government departments etc to do to make their stuff that bit more simple to find.

Better Browsers update

A little while ago I posted about a little survey I had set up using Google Docs, which aimed to find out about what browsers public sector folk are using, and what problems they have been running into as a result, especially where web 2.0 bits are concered.

I’m pleased to say that there have been quite a few responses, and probably would have had were it not for the fact that quite a few government folk are blocked from using Google Docs with their work machines. I don’t know how to get WordPress to do an eye-rolling smilie, but if I did, it would be here.

Indeed this sparked quite a bit of discussion on the UK & Ireland eDemocracy mailing list, with various horror stories being shared. Some of it is quite frightening, including this message sent out by a local authority IT department:

An increasing number of PCs and laptops have been found with internet browser toolbars such as Yahoo or Google installed. These toolbars should never be installed on [our] computers as they are not required for business purposes, can significantly reduce the performance of your machine and can stop the remote distribution of critical software and security updates.

Still, I am compiling all the results as they come in, and will have a think about what to do with it all. If anyone has any ideas, let me know. Almost all of those who have responded would like to be a part of a campaign of some description, which gives further fuel for thought. I’ve started tagging these posts with ‘govgetfirefox’ so if anyone else is writing or bookmarking related stuff, it might be cool to start collecting it together that way.

If you haven’t already taken the survey, please do.

In the meantime, as I started typing this, Google Reader spat this post from Read/WriteWeb at me:

ComputerWorld is reporting that Firefox is set to hit 20% market share next month according to metrics firm Net Applications. In some communities, Firefox is already well beyond the 20% mark. W3Counter’s global web stats, for example, puts Firefox usage at closer to 29% and over 50% of ReadWriteWeb readers use Firefox.

And Firefox isn’t resting on their laurels. The Mozilla Foundation is planning a major release push for Firefox 3, which is expected to drop this month. Firefox is gearing up to set a world download record by encouraging all 175 million users of the browser to upgrade in a single day. They’re actually encouraging users to host download day parties, with nearly 200 planned already even without a firm release date.

I’d really like to know the reasons – the real reasons – why, bearing all this in mind, FireFox isn’t at least available as an alternative to Internet Explorer. FireFox is quicker, more secure, more useful. It’s better. Why can’t we have it?!

Better browsers, please

There has been a conversation going on in the forums of the Public Sector Social Media Community of Practice for little while now about the browsers made available to public sector workers. Most folk seem to be running something like internet explorer 6, but there is evidence that much older technology is being used.

This must be holding people back both in terms of being able to make the most of web 2.0 technology as part of the way we work, as well as using social web tools to better engage and increase participation.

To try and garner some more views on this, I have set up a simple survey using Google Docs to try and assess where we are with things, and to see if it is worth setting up a little campaign to get Firefox onto public sector workstations. We can dream…

If you are a public servant, or spend a significant amount of time using public sector IT, do please complete the survey – it won’t take five minutes, I promise.

Breaking down the browser barrier

The problems of accessing social websites is often discussed by government webbies, and I dare say it is an issue for the private sector too. How can we be expected to engage with online communities if they can’t get past the firewall?

However, a bigger issue in my view is the fact that even if one can access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or, one’s ability to use the site is quite likely to be totally hamstrung by the browser that you are using. If you work in the UK public sector, this is likely as not going to be Internet Explorer, and probably version 6, if not 5.5. IE6 was launched in 2001, 5.5 in 2000.

That’s right. The vast majority of people are using a browser that is at least seven years old. Imagine what has happened on the web in those seven years. It’s unbelievable that we are still relying on this crap. I mean, given the moaning that goes on about potential loss of information that is often heard when using social web services is suggested, it ought to be quickly pointed out that the knackered, outdated browsers that are being used are a far greater risk than a document that’s being edited on Google Docs.

Anyway, the browser usage figures are pretty depressing, especially in the UK. Take this map of Europe, for example, which has been produced by XiTi Monitor. It shows the percentage takeup of Firefox in each country:

Firefox map

Yup, we as a nation are second only to the Netherlands in our slowness to switch to a better browser. Makes you proud, doesn’t it?

If we want to be able to sell social media and web 2.0 to people, we need to make sure they have the infrastructure in place to ensure it works properly. This links in partly to issues around accessibility, which Laura Whitehead wrote about recently, and also the potential digital divide. But here’s a challenge that could have a massive positive impact on the use of the web in the public sector: get your department to switch to FireFox.

What browser do you use at work? Has it caused you any problems? It’d be interesting to find out.


Flock On the advice of David Wilcox, I am giving Flock a go on my MacBook. Not because I am unhappy with FireFox, but more to see if it resolves some of the issues I have with NetNewsWire and the various blog editors I have been trying.

Flock, for the uninitiated, is a browser based on FireFox, but with loads of social media stuff built in. There’s a ‘People’ sidebar, for instance, which gives you little updates on what your contacts have been up to in Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc. It’s quite nice, but the Twitter aspect of this isn’t as nice, I don’t think, as the Twitbin plugin for FireFox. There is also integration with for bookmarking, which is cool, though obviously that can be achieved with FF and the plugin.

There is also a built-in RSS aggregator for the sidebar, which I am curious to know how often it updates the feeds – it hasn’t done so yet. When I imported my 350-odd feeds from NetNewsWire the folders I had sorted them into got lost, which is a bit of a pain. In fact the element of the people sidebar also seem to update most irregularly, which is annoying. For example, my status update on Twitter shows on the website but not in Flock – even though I did the update within Flock itself!

There is also a nice way of integrating with Flickr (and other media sharing services) in terms of the ‘Media Bar’. This lets you search for media along the top of the browser window, with little thumbnails of images appearing which you can then click on to see the original, or drag into other things, like blog posts, for example.

Ah yes, blog posts! Flock has its own blog editor built-in, and while it is a fairly unflashy affair, it does at least have some basic functionality missing in the others I have tested. There’s no option to add title tags to links from the hyperlink dialogue, which is a pain, but at least the editor is reasonably usable. Even if I don’t use Flock for all my web browsing, the blog editor will most certainly get some use.

The final cool feature of Flock is the “My World” homepage, which lists the latest feeds you’ve been reading, favourited sites you have visited, media viewed etc. Handy to get to stuff you want quickly.

Overall, Flock is pretty cool. The only problem is that whilst Firefox doesn’t have the social functionality built in, there are plugins available for it which do the job better, for a minimal investment of effort. But I will certainly keep using it, not least to blog with!

Edit: one major annoyance with the blog editor is that when you add tags to a post, it uses Technorati rather than the internal tagging system in WordPress – meaning a trip to the WP editor after posting…

10 Great Firefox extensions

I love FireFox, because not only is it faster and more secure than Internet Explorer, it’s also a lot more powerful, especially when you consider the many extensions you can use to add functionality.

Here’s a list of some of the ones I use:


This is a brilliant add-on which works in two ways. Firstly, it adds a button to your FireFox toolbar which allows you to tag a site with a small popup window and without having to visit itself. The second button it adds opens up a sidebar in the browser, showing your latest tagged links and a search box to hunt out stuff bookmarked years before.

2. Download statusbar

This makes downloads appear in FireFox’s status bar, rather than in a pop up window. Makes life much tidier, and offers more information on what’s happening.

3. Copy plain text

As a blogger I find this invaluable. Selecting text and right-clicking allows you the option of copying text, while stripping out any formatting, which makes copying it into a blog paste a breeze, without the fear of weird formatting messing things up.

4. IE Tab

I try not to use Internet Explorer wherever possible, but sometimes you just can’t get out of it – when, for example, the site you need to view doesn’t work so well in FireFox. This cool extension allows you to switch the rendering engine in a tab to IE, so you are running it within FireFox.

5. Colorful tabs

I don’t know about you, but I often end up with tonnes of tabs open, and sometimes it can be a nightmare telling them apart. But with Colorful tabs, they are all presented in a number of delightful pastel shades, making it easy to switch to the one you want.

6. BlogJet this

This is installed along with BlogJet, the desktop blog editor I use. It makes it easy to reference a particular web page in a blog entry, by pulling the URL and the text from the page in question into the editor for you.

7. ScribeFire

This is an honourary mention, because I don’t currently use this. ScribeFire is a blog editor that runs as a Firefox add on. It works really well, but I’m a dedicated Windows Live Writer guy these days…

8. Twitbin

Integrates Twitter into your FF sidebar, so you can keep up to date with your friend’s tweets without having to leave your favourite browser!

9. Evernote Clipper

This plugin makes life much easier when copying snippets of the web to Evernote for future reference.

10. Search extensions

The search box in the FF toolbar can be added to so it becomes even more useful. I’ve added GodDaddy, Wikipedia and Mahalo to mine so far.

Can anyone recommend FireFox extensions that they couldn’t live without?