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!

Bookmarks for July 17th through July 23rd

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

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, ping.fm
  • @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?

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 WordPress.com, 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.

Flocking

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 del.icio.us for bookmarking, which is cool, though obviously that can be achieved with FF and the Del.icio.us 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…