4 Sins of Website Interoperability

“If a website goes live but large numbers of people can’t access it, will anyone on the internet hear it?” This take on website interoperability is part of our Website Design Errors series. And while it might not be as sexy as web design aesthetics, or as motivating as website content, website interoperability is something that anyone running a 5 star site needs to pay attention to. What follows is a brief-yet-essential list to help you bring out your site’s A Game.

Not Everyone Uses Windows

It’s true. Not everyone does. Personally, I love Firefox but others dig Safari. Soon, we might all be using Google’s new browser. Any way you slice it, multi-browser testing is a must. There is absolutely no reason why a page cannot be coded to standards and perform well displaying consistently in all browsers.

Your Site is Only as Good as Your Most Stripped-Down Browser

You have downloaded a series of services and browser plug-ins over the course of time. Let’s call this combination of technology along with your browser type, settings, etc your Browsing Footprint. Chances are some of your audience have narrower Browsing Footprints than others. The best-run sites will cater to them all. Don’t forget the narrow footprint.

The number of sites that are unusable on anything but Windows is insane. Yeah it may look cool in IE 7 with all the bells and whistles installed, but it’s completely non-functional in Firefox with no Java and the no-script plug-in that many use for security’s sake. – David Kennel, Systems Administrator at Los Alamos National Laboratory

What’s Plan B?

Some users forgo certain browser technology for security reasons. Others cannot use it for reasons of visual impairment. If you do decide to make use of browser plug-ins or options like Flash, Active X, JavaScript, etc, then be prepared to code up an alternate display for everyone who does not have that technology installed or activated.

Some Assembly Required

Jenna Tollerson, a Web Developer and Consultant at Famous Web cites websites that require additional software to see the information you are looking for as a common interoperability design error: “Providing PDF reader (or .doc, or other format you need a new application to open) files for online reading. If you can’t be bothered to format it to HTML, you’ll often find that your end users can’t be bothered to read it.”

So there’s your interoperability checklist. Now go to work. Or, leave a message at the sound of the beep.

I’d like to also thank Jonathan Cheung for contributing to this article and for a great email exchange about deep-linking and url path variables (that’s a conversation to share on another day).


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