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.