Browser Oversight and Web Design

I learned a valuable lesson in the wake of launching my redesigned company site – there is more to the web than Internet Explorer and Firefox. A number of people eMailed to tell me that the site was broken in Opera.

In one of my less-enlightened moments, I thought to myself, “Opera?!?! Isn’t that one of those hippie browsers created by people who hate capitalism and that only use Macs? I specialize in Microsoft technologies, why should I worry about what a bunch of Mac users think of my site?”

Well, hit me with a clue-by-four, because not only was I wrong about who uses Opera, that browser wasn’t even on my radar screen during the redesign.

However, thanks to those sharp-eyed folks who alerted me to the problem, I massaged my stylesheet a bit and voila! My company site is now Opera-friendly.

But then I started thinking; would it matter if my site weren’t Opera-friendly? Did I just use my time wisely, fixing the site? After all, I work with small to medium businesses, and the vast majority of those people use whatever browser just so happens to be on their computer – which is IE. A growing and dedicated number is using Firefox, so having the site work in that browser is a no-brainer too. Who are these Opera folks, I wondered, and is it even worth my time to make the site work for them?

Well, duh.

I went in and had a look at my browser stats. A quick look will tell you that most of my visitors are using Firefox, the next significant contingent is using IE, and that waaaaaaaay down at the bottom are the Opera users. A less-empathetic developer might shrug at this point, conclude that the visitor sample is too small to matter, and drop the whole issue. But not me! I pushed on, taking a look at the actual numbers. Sure, Opera users are in the minority, but how minor is minor in this case?

The numbers don’t lie: 921 unique visits came from Opera browsers last month.

921. Not quite one thousand people, but close. Even if I were questioning whether or not to fix the site for Opera – I wasn’t, by this time I had already done so – what it came down to is: do I want my company to tell 1,000 visitors per month to buzz off? Sure, the nature of the web is that you can’t possibly please everyone, but am I really prepared to hand walking papers to 1,000 people every month, without even knowing who they are? Is that an effective business practice?

Again, duh.

Sure, it took a few minutes out of my day to download Opera, fiddle with my stylesheet, check the site in Opera, then re-check it in IE and FF to make sure it still worked in those, too. Sure, it took a minute to ftp the new stylesheet to my web server. And sure, there is almost ZERO chance that any client will ever tell me "I hired your company because your site works in Opera". I still think it was worth it.

This has been a nice example of the power of public feedback. It’s a great time to be participating in the web.