Friday, 7 August 2009

ie6 isn't going anywhere

It's well understood in the web community that Internet Explorer 6 is an atrocious browser to code for. I'm Not A Developer (IANAD), but I've spent plenty of time hearing them complain about how badly it renders code which performs properly in more standards-compliant browsers. For those of us building websites, it's a terrific (and expensive) bore having to find ways to get code lookin' good in ie6.

While I applaud the general intention of initiatives such as ie6nomore , which aims to persuade people to switch to more modern browsers, I don't think their latest idea is particularly helpful. They've provided code which developers can add to their websites that invites visitors to upgrade to a modern browser, which is only seen if they're using ie6.

This prompts the question: of those people who are using ie6, how many of them actually have the option to upgrade? I'd think not many. I'd wager that most people using ie6 are working for large corporates, and have a locked-down PC with ie6 installed, without admin access. This is the browser of choice for the IT department, whose complex IT systems (such as the intranet, timesheet system, finance systems, etc.) need to be tested and probably fixed before a company wide browser upgrade can take place.

Until the benefits of modern browsers outweigh the cost of testing and upgrading internal systems - and this could easily run into the millions for large companies - IT departments will naturally resist upgrades. So adding these code snippets won't make much difference, and will just frustrate and irritate the people who visit your site who'd dearly love to upgrade.

If people want to put this code on their personal or project websites, then I think this is fine. Your personal website is a form of self expression, and wanting the world to upgrade to standards compliant browsers is a worthy cause - one I very much support myself. But I wouldn't recommend this path to clients, or anyone for whom the general public are the likely audience.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Social networks supporting innovation

The New Scientist has an article claiming that social networking stymies innovation:
...certain patterns of social interaction make radical innovation more likely. Bold ideas are typically incompletely formed when first conceived and easily shot down by criticism. Hence, they emerge more readily in communities in which individuals work mostly in small and relatively isolated groups, giving their ideas time and space to mature.
I'm not sure I agree with that. Radical innovation can flourish in a small, isolated group, but there are plenty of examples where radical innovation flourishes in a larger, well connected group - pretty much every successful open source project contains some element of radical innovation. And survivorship bias suggests we should consider the myriad of unseen examples where innovation failed in small, isolated groups.

The article continues:
The problem, says social scientist Viktor Mayer-Schönberger of the National University of Singapore, is that today's software developers work in social networks in which everyone is closely linked to everyone else. "The over-abundance of connections through which information travels reduces diversity and keeps radical ideas from taking hold," he suggests.
We ought to make a distinction here between the activity of finding suitable collaborators and the process of developing the idea to maturation. Just because someone has a well established network on a social networking platform, it doesn't necessarily follow that they'll share their ideas with all their contacts there. It's far more likely that they'll cherry pick the individuals with whom they wish to collaborate - and the social networking tool will have allowed them to connect with a more diverse pool of talent, improving their ability to identify the best partners.

As for incomplete yet bold ideas being "easily shot down by criticism", I don't see much evidence of this. On the contrary I think the act of preparing an idea for public review helps the author tighten the idea considerably, to a point where - if it has merit - your audience is more likely to debate the finer points rather than shoot it down completely.