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Chapter Four. XML Conquers the World (An... > The Browser Upgrade Campaign

The Browser Upgrade Campaign

In February 2001, The Web Standards Project launched its Browser Upgrade campaign (www.webstandards.org/act/campaign/buc/). As its name suggests, the campaign was intended to foster consumer trial of newer, more standards-compliant browsers, thereby also encouraging designers to use standards instead of HTML hacks and proprietary code.

In some cases, the campaign did this by encouraging developers to act as if their entire audience were already using standards-compliant browsers and nothing but. A JavaScript fragment in the <head> of a document could test the DOM awareness of any browser hitting that page. If the browser “got” the DOM, it also got the page. If it didn't, the visitor was bounced to a page his browser could understand.

That page advised the visitor to upgrade his browser to a more recent version of IE, Netscape, Opera, or other compliant browsers, and it also told him why such an upgrade would improve his web experience.

Unlike the “Best Viewed With…” marketing campaigns of old, the WaSP's Browser Upgrade Campaign was manufacturer agnostic. We didn't care whose browser you downloaded, as long as that browser complied with standards.

This brute force technique was recommended only for sites that correctly used CSS layout and the DOM, and only for noncommercial or nonessential sites that could afford to risk bouncing visitors in this way. Participating designers and developers were encouraged to build their own “Browser Upgrades” pages, customized to their visitors' needs; to use such techniques only on valid, standards-compliant sites; and to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of taking such a step.

Browser Upgrades Used and Abused

Alas, all too often, lazy developers used the technique to bounce visitors away from sites that were not even close to complying with standards. Compounding the damage, instead of creating their own upgrade pages, these developers invariably sent them to WaSP's. As you might expect, such efforts more frequently resulted in consumer frustration than in the desired trial of compliant browsers.

Among the offenders was a site featuring pictorials of cheerleaders. Raiderettes.com [4.9], a top referrer to The Web Standards Project's Browser Upgrade Campaign page, is a nice-enough looking site, but an attempt to validate its markup (http://validator.w3.org/) results in the following report:

								Fatal Error: no document type declaration; will parse without
I could not parse this document, because it uses a public
identifier that is not in my catalog.

4.9. Raiderettes.com, official site of the Oakland Raider cheerleading team (www.raiderettes.com). What have cheerleader bios and pin-up shots to do with web standards? Read on.

Raiderettes.com, like several other commercial sites, had used the WaSP's browser-bouncing code, not in the service of standards, but simply as a convenient means of rejecting browsers that could not handle its DHTML menus. Needless to say, The Web Standards Project received much mail from testosterone-maddened men who had hoped to ogle ladies, not read about CSS and ECMAScript. Nothing is uglier than the rancor of a lonely man denied his ogling time (except maybe the man himself).

A Kinder, Gentler Upgrade Path

Such failures aside, the campaign succeeded in encouraging thousands of designers and developers to give standards a try. It also raised standards awareness in the business community by seizing the attention of the trade press. And once in a while, it persuaded consumers to download compliant browsers.

Although the Browser Upgrade campaign achieved notoriety through its browser-blocking antics, it was a multilayered effort offering consumer-friendly tactics that got less press but did more good. To support the newly launched campaign and demonstrate its more consumer-friendly side, A List Apart (www.alistapart.com) simultaneously redesigned using CSS layout and valid HTML (which soon gave way to XHTML), as described in Chapter 2.

In an attempt to demonstrate the campaign's flexibility, ALA deliberately avoided excluding any visitor. Instead, the site merely hid its layout from noncompliant browsers. Readers using IE5+, Netscape 6, Opera 5+, and similarly capable browsers got content plus layout. Those using older browsers got content sans layout. Non-compliant browser users also saw a discreet “browser upgrade” message that was hidden from users of more capable browsers. Standards were in full force, yet everyone was welcome.

To pique designer interest, ALA cloaked its consumer-friendly approach in the garb of propaganda, describing its redesign manifesto-style and making much of the fact that its layout would henceforth be hidden from non-CSS-capable browsers, which the magazine indignantly consigned to Hell [4.10 and 4.11].

4.10. “To Hell with Old Browsers!” This ALA manifesto challenged designers to use CSS for layout, the DOM for code, and let markup be markup instead of forcing HTML to serve the needs of layout (www.alistapart.com/stories/tohell/).

4.11. The CSS front piece to ALA No. 99 as it appeared in February 2001, concurrent with the launch of the Browser Upgrade campaign (www.alistapart.com/stories/99/).

A List Apart challenged its 70,000 weekly readers to stop making excuses and start incorporating standards on their sites. A prologue [4.11] that had been hastily written on a napkin at a web conference (and then laid out in CSS) reads like this:

In six months, a year, or two years at most, all websites will be designed with standards that separate structure from presentation. (Or they will be built with Flash 7.) We can watch our skills grow obsolete, or start learning standards-based techniques now.

In fact, since the latest versions of IE, Navigator, and Opera already support many web standards, if we are willing to let go of the notion that backward compatibility is a virtue, we can stop making excuses and start using these standards now.

At ALA, beginning with Issue No. 99, we've done just that. Join us.

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