The IE6 Decision

More and more website publishers are deciding to drop support for Internet Explorer 6. This browser has notoriously poor, incomplete, and outright missing support for modern standards in web design and interactivity. Thus making a site that works well in IE6 and current browsers requires significant additional effort. Many web design firms are moving to a model of charging extra for IE6 support on top of regular design fees.

IE6′s days are numbered.

However, many organizations wrestle with when to drop it from the list of supported browser for their site. Total traffic from that browser version is often cited as a metric to use. Only 6% of our visitors use it? Drop that browser like a hot potato!

Hold on though, what if those 6% do something important, like making 20% of your online purchases in your store? Do you want to walk away from that income? Probably not.

Here are a few criteria to use in assessing if you should continue to support IE6 for the time being while we wait for it to finally die off (which is happening more rapidly now).

Do a significant proportion of IE6 users on your site:

  • Login to a members-only area or frequently use other core functionality?
  • Make purchases in your store? Representing how much revenue?
  • Represent key constituents or prospects for your organization?

You get the idea. If IE6 users are not part of a relevant audience for your key goals online then you are safe dropping them even if they are a somewhat high percentage of your traffic. If IE6 users are valuable to your organization, then you very well may be better off investing in supporting them.

NYT API – FTW!

I saw via Twitter last week (sorry, can’t remember who posted it!) this post about the New York Times Newswire API. In essence, the Times has published an interface with which you can access their latest headlines, including tons of meta data options to slice and dice your query.

This kind of API tends to result in a lot of experimentation and new value in presenting the content available via the system. Twitter’s API is a great example of this.

Pretty innovative stuff. If you are in the business of moving content this is something to check out.

R is for Open Source Statistical Analysis Programming Language

I read in the New York Times today about an open source programming language and environment for conducting statistical analysis. R, the Software, Finds Fans in Data Analysts:

R is also the name of a popular programming language used by a growing number of data analysts inside corporations and academia. It is becoming their lingua franca partly because data mining has entered a golden age, whether being used to set ad prices, find new drugs more quickly or fine-tune financial models. Companies as diverse as Google, Pfizer, Merck, Bank of America, the InterContinental Hotels Group and Shell use it.

But R has also quickly found a following because statisticians, engineers and scientists without computer programming skills find it easy to use.

This is pretty interesting stuff on a couple of levels. One, it is a programming language created by and for statisticians and data analysts rather than programmers. The story indicates it is easier to use by non-programmers who want to do custom analysis. Two, it is an open source project begun over ten years ago that is now starting to challenge the dominance of SAS, the dominant stats package. It is a classic example of an established firm being disrupted by an upstart, innovative, technology.

The R Project web site. This might of interest to your in-house statisticians, if you have them.

Guides, Not Straight Jackets

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard bemoan the limitations of draconian style and design guides for their corporate web site. It is a very common complaint and always happens to a certain extent. However, when the complaints are endemic it’s usually because the department that manages the site has determined their job is creating compliance rather than results.

The best web teams are those that focus on generating results above all else. Guides and standards can be very useful tools and I’ve helped to generate a bunch of them. However, they are a means to an end. Don’t let your guidelines become straight jackets that limit your ability to achieve fantastic results online.

6 million reasons to pay attention to accessibility

A nearly three year old lawsuit has resulted in a $6 million settlement over accessibility problems at Target.com.

Target has settled a class action lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind over accessibility complaints with Target.com. Despite the law being unclear as to whether the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites, the company will pay a substantial fee and update its web site to make it accessible to the blind.

Another case study in how building accessible, standards compliant, web sites is not only the right thing to do but can save you millions. Plus, doing the right thing in this regard is easier to do than ever before with improved browsers, web application frameworks and agreed upon standards.

A complicating factor for some organizations can be that they are using systems for their sites that have been developed and added to since the early days of the web when accessibility wasn’t even an afterthought. However, committing to upgrading your system before the lawsuits were filed would have allowed Target to invest a portion of that $6 million in improving their site rather than paying a fine.

(Spotted via Gadgetopia.)

Building Credibility Even When You Can't Say Anything

Great example from the Direct2Dell blog of listening to the online conversation about their future products, summarizing the discussion, and simply stating what they can share about it right now (not much):

Dell’s Secret Mini Laptop: Speaking of D6, a Gizmodo post about a forthcoming Dell mini notebook sparked hundreds of reactions in the blogosphere. Anne B. Camden reacted and shared a few more pictures in her post on Your Blog. Reaction was pretty positive. Seems like a lot of folks are interested in a small notebook at an affordable price. Still, others in the blogosphere want a sub-notebook that doesn’t skimp on performance (take a look at the comment threads from Gizmodo and Engadget to see what I mean). When we can share more details on this product, we’ll blog about it.

(Emphasis added by me.)

This is a great way to acknowledge a topic while being truthful about not being prepared to share anything. This kind of post builds credibility with their most dedicated followers (pro or con). Staying silent would miss an opportunity to build trust, at best, or actually harm their reputation.

I’ll be discussing Dell’s customer idea generation web site, which uses Salesforce.com’s Ideas application, in the next issue of my newsletter. Be sure to sign up this week for David Gammel’s Web Strategy Report to get the next issue. You can read the first issue If you missed it last month via the same page.

Wiki Markup: What You See is Hard to Do

James Robertson has point out the obvious weakness of wiki tools: Wiki markup has no future:

The lack of WYSIWYG editing is a big barrier to adoption within organisations, and on the wider web. There are only a limited number of users that have the time, skills and inclination to learn wiki markup. It’s a fundamental usability problem, and the spread of wikis will always be niche as long as wiki markup remains.

This is a rather heretical point of view among wiki aficionados, however it is right on the money. If the outcome of using a wiki is to make content creation easy for a distributed group, wiki markup gets in the way of achieving that outcome. Most people can use a WYSIWYG editor if they have used a word processor in the past. This covers most Web users, especially in a corporate environment. Using obscure text code is an unnecessary and anachronistic hurdle to put wiki users through.

Vista/IE7 Support Lagging in Content Management Systems

The good folks over at CMSWatch report that many content management systems still do not fully support authoring on Vista/IE7.

As they point out in the post, this will be a growing problem for telecommuters as new PCs with Vista are purchased. Most corporations are sticking with XP for now (with good reason) but the home market is another story.

If your staff work on web content from home, you should do some testing with your system on Vista so that you can anticipate any problems and lean on your vendor to get a fix into place if needed.

Web Analytics Definitions or A Page View by Any Other Name Is Not Allowed!

The Web Analytics Associations has released an expanded set of 26 standard definitions for measuring web traffic and usage (PDF). This is a useful document for providing consensus definitions of common terms used in the web industry.

However, I find it rather ironic that they released this document only as a PDF. Come on folks! You should know better, being an association of web professionals.

(Via Shawn Zehnder Lea.)

Update: What would I recommend in addition to a PDF? A sub-site on the WAA site for the definitions, providing an index and a separate web page for each definition. Having a page for each definition would allow people to link to them directly as references. This would improve the usability of the content and enhance search engine results for those definitions (ahem).