Friday, June 27, 2008

Why should government care - how many people use Firefox/Safari/Opera anyway?

I've noticed a tendency in Australia for government agencies to focus on having their websites work perfectly in Microsoft Internet Explorer, but not always quite so well in Firefox, Safari, Opera or other web browsers.

This isn't limited to the public sector, private sector organisations face the same issue of cross-browser compatibility.

On one hand there is the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and a suite of other standards which relate to web accessibility, as well as state accessibility laws, that organisations - particularly government departments - are required to comply with.

On the other hand there are resource and testing limitations which constraint what organisations can do.

It is clearly important for organisations to support as many web browsers as possible, as the fewer the browsers supported, the longer the tail of people who will not get a satisfactory experience on a website.

There's also the possibility of legal risk. There's already been a high profile court case in Australia on accessibility, regarding the Sydney Olympics (for a great analysis of it by Joe Clark see Reader’s guide to Sydney Olympics accessibility complaint)

Applying web standards is te obvious approach, but not always the simple solution. The standards are quite complex and open to interpretation. Even when your web professionals believe you've met the W3C standards there can be variations in how your site will display in different 'standards-based' browsers.

Specifying which browsers you support is another approach. Simply choose the most used browsers and support those, with custom style sheets to address any page rendering differences. This will catch a good 95% of the market in the top four or so web browsers, but leave a tail of users with older web browsers or less well known products who may not receive the same experience.

So what is the best solution to ensure your organisation meets accessibility standards, delivers the intended experience and doesn't bankrupt itself in the process?

Unfortunately I don't have the knife to cut through for this Gordian knot, every organisation needs to weigh the considerations and decide its own best path.

I can provide a few further references to feed this decision.

Links to various accessibility legislation and guidelines are listed above. Most states in Australia also have government web standards they apply which can provide some guidance on the topic.

As for browser market share, below is a chart detailing the latest share figures from a major statistics collector.

Alongside outright browser shares, it is critical to consider web browser versions as well. While Internet Explorer has a 74% share (down from over 95% before Firefox was introduced), of this roughly 47% use IE7 and 27% use IE6 or earlier. Similar splits also occur for Firefox and other browsers.

Another good source for browser usage is your own web logs, which can provide a more audience specific view of who accesses your website. My agency uses Webtrends to analyse this data, but the majority of web log analysis tools will provide similar information.

Web browser shares
- Q2 2008
Wikipedia - Usage share of web browsers

1 comment:

  1. Working in the local government space in SA myself, I completely agree that its a real frustration: I want to do the right thing, but budget constraints mean I dont have the time to test on every browser. While this is by no means a silver bullet, I have had some good results by sticking to the classic 'best practices', and also using this website that allows you to quickly see what your site will render like on almost any sort of browser on different platforms:

    Hope this helps in some way.