What’s happened to the egalitarian Web?

When Tim Berners-Lee developed HTML and the browser, his goal was to free us from the constraints of software and hardware incompatibility. This is the essence of free market “perfect substitution.”

During the height of the browser wars, Microsoft and Netscape sought market share by offering features not compatible with the other browser — a tactic specifically designed to introduce imperfect substitution.

In the U.S., the federal government has developed accessibility guidelines; the goal is that any web site built with taxpayer money should be accessible to every taxpayer. Businesses, unless they have to meet ADA laws or receive federal grants, are exempt.

So I guess I should just swallow my frustration at my latest “technological incompatibility” — courtesy of But I’m not going to.

Platform preference
There are three major platforms in personal computerdom — Windows, Apple, *nix. It seems logical to me that a business would not knowingly prevent potential customers of one platform from using its site. But that inexplicable action is exactly what has done.

I recently subscribed to’s News. Got my first mail and found a story I was interested in reading. Clicked this link. Nothing happened (blank page). [PC users, the redirect will work for you.]

I sighed … mumbled something about supporting Safari and tried Mozilla. Same thing; blank page. Exasperated, I launched the no-longer-supported Internet Explorer. Imagine my surprise .. when it, too, rendered a totally blank page!

After being told that this site works in Firefox/PC, I tried it on the Mac. Result remains the same: a blank page.

So I forwarded the mail to the PC sitting at my left elbow … clicked the link in Internet Explorer 6 … and was redirected to SmartPhoneToday.

So has implemented a redirect system that works only on Windows. Not just on this newsletter — but others as well. Wonderful.

Deliberate? What else could it be — certainly these people TEST their code?

Browser preference
For more than a year, my preferred browser on the Mac has been Safari and second choice is Mozilla. My preferred browser on the PC is Mozilla. I like tabs, and I like CSS standards-conformance.

It seems that MSNBC doesn’t want my eyeballs. We’ll skip Safari for the moment and start with Mozilla. An MSNBC story renders in Mozilla on the Mac just like the site: a blank page. Well, there is one difference — there is some code when you view source.

Is the experience any better with Internet Explorer? Not much. Stories render but the “interactives” don’t. Mac folks, try Building the Bomb (scroll). The same interactive partially works in Safari; at least you can see the content (unlike in MSIE). However, try the (only partially) “interactive” feature espionage. We can click those highlighted countries ’til the cows come home — no new copy for us.

In Mac Firefox, however, the “build a bomb interactive” works.

I guess the fact that Microsoft has decided to cease updating Mac Internet Explorer means it’s ok for a different corporate division to stop supporting it (if it ever did). But MSN has never been coded to standard — remember, its redesign launched a controversy when it failed to load for any Netscape browser (except those set to spoof MSIE). “It’s because we’re coded to standards,” asserted a (clueless) VP. Not! The site, and its CSS, flunked W3C validation.

And don’t give me some line about “server logs” showing that these customers are a minority and thus not worth the time for coding to standards — because the site has never support alternative platforms or browsers well, of course those visitors will go somewhere else. It is possible, of course, that the demographics of the Mac, Mozilla or Safari user aren’t predisposed to MSNBC news; it’s certainly never been my news source of choice.

In the spirit of the Web Standards Project, I urge you complain (loudly) when you encounter web applications or sites that discriminate based on platform or browser.

While there might be an excuse when dealing with secure sites (some bank sites will work only with MSIE, not Netscape/Mozilla), there is no reason for general, all-purpose, no-sign-in required sites to discriminate based on platform or browser.

HTML and CSS are open standards. It’s a shame that there is no “body” that can force sites to conform to the standards. Instead, there is only the possibility of the collective of many bodies, united in protest.

[amended at 5.13 am 04-12-2004 to provide links to and msnbc screen shots. amended at 9.25 am on 04-12-2004 to provide links to firefox]

[Tried W3C validation at 9.41 am 04-12-2004. The redirect works for the validator but the smartphones site flunks validation. Is using some obscure redirect that Mac browsers can’t understand? Is this a fault of the four browsers I used? My configuration: OS10.3.3; Safari 1.2.1]

[Update: 2.02 pm pacific 04-12-2004 — the link now resolves with Safari, Mozilla, MSIE and Firefox on the Mac. No explanation — guess someone found the buggy code.]

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

6 replies on “What’s happened to the egalitarian Web?”

Interesting in a timely way … in current issue of The New Yorker (April 12, 2004) on page 82 is a review by Nicholas Lemann called “Spheres of Influence” in which he introduces sociologist Paul Starr’s new book “The Creation of the Media: The Political Origins of Mass Communications (Basic; $27.50) in which Starr “produces a history that stretches from 1600 to 1941.” The historical perspective it (Lemann’s review) gives on:

“In the U.S., the federal government has developed accessibility
guidelines; the goal is that any web site built with taxpayer money
should be accessible to every taxpayer. Businesses, unless they have
to meet ADA laws or receive federal grants, are exempt.”

… is extremely enlightening, empowering even, for anyone’s view of an “egalitarian web”. Not to mention it whets the appetite for Starr’s book. Says Lehmann in his review: “Starr is strict, however, about the winning formula: communications does well only when it follows his American model, in which neither the government nor private monopolies gain absolute control. Instead, the government sets up a decentralized regime that encourages free and open communicaton among ordinary citizens … The American advantage, in Starr’s account, began in Colonial days … Starr’s book stops in 1941, the point at which, he reports with a sigh, it became inevitable that broadcasting would always be dominated by a handful of national networks. But the contemporary implications of his account are clear …”

Now the link is working. I just fired it up in my Linux Mozilla and it happily displayed the page.

Perhaps it wasn’t maliciousness on their part… Just piss poor testing ?

It isn’t limited to Mac, that link doesn’t work in Mozilla on Windows either (but it does work in Opera).

It would appear that they pretty much ONLY work with IE (My Opera returns nothing for the browser type).

I agree with you about the questionable use of MSIE when it has documented security issues … but since I don’t know a lot about implementing security, it is one area where I might be persuaded that browser-specific solutions were necessary.

The operative word is “might”.


I see no reason for banks to only work with what continuously proves to be an insecure browser: IE. I happen to use linux/firebird or linux/konqueror and it works with my bank’s site. I went to the Bank of America site and it approved my browser: linux/firebird. I agree with you wholeheartedly and I often complain when sites don’t work.

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