Upgrade messages

Via Clagnut a few days ago, Richard Rutter summarized some interesting observations and conclusions on the “Upgrade now!” message often seen in the unstyled version of CSS-based designs. Contrary to the current snafu with browser detection scripts over at HotBot, Wired News relies on support of specific CSS methods to hide or display any messages regarding browser capability. View Wired News in a browser such as Netscape 4.x and — as of December 18, 2002 — you’ll see this message at the top of the front door:

Note: Wired News content is accessible to all versions of every browser. However, this browser may not support basic Web standards, preventing the display of our site’s design details. We support the mission of the Web Standards Project in the campaign encouraging users to upgrade their browsers. (Read More)

This upgrade message is normally hidden in browsers which support the CSS method of doing so. The message wording is a sensitive issue for which Wired was getting a lot of flack while I was still there. Even though Wired uses a class to hide this message via CSS, all Wired’s CSS files and images are hosted on Akamai. Akamai.net is a domain often blocked by spyware and ad-blocking software, preventing the CSS files from loading. Pulling in content from external domains may also be prohibited by certain security software. So some perfectly standards-compliant browsers (run alongside said software) were still seeing the upgrade message, and in tandem, the unstyled version of the site.

Wired can’t solve every unique problem. But they can change their message about the problem. To get around this issue of the message being incorrect, right before I left, I suggested changing the wording of the message to something like the following:

Note: Wired News pages rely heavily on CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) for many visual design details. This browser may not support CSS adequately enough, stylesheets may be disabled or blocked, or necessary files may not be loading correctly. Read more.

This newer version shortens the message and increases the percentage of cases where it’s completely correct. It states the CSS usage is for the visual stuff, allowing those who don’t need or care for those details to ignore the message. It also pushes the burden of presenting the browser upgrade push to the last line of the linked explanation page, (Read More) where the relevancy adds more punch:

If you’d like to ensure Wired News is displayed as we’ve intended it to look, we encourage you to visit the Browser Upgrade Campaign page from the Web Standards Project to learn how and why you should upgrade your browser.

As for the location of the original message itself, I chose to show it at the top of the page on the front door only — attempting to avoid the repetition Richard mentions when visiting successive pages of the site. Click through to any of the inside pages of Wired News, and the message moves to the footer. At some point, this message must reach a saturation point, and could probably be moved into the footer on the front door as well. But I’m not sure when that threshold gets crossed.

As Richard correctly mentions in his post, I decided any version of the upgrade message was inappropriate and unnecessary on Stopdesign. Some browser versions may display a less-styled design than others, (e.g., in Netscape 4.x). But I’ve tried sticking to properly structured markup alongside a complementary low-end stylesheet, creating subtle text-rendering details in those browsers. So I don’t mind the appearance of this site sans-stylesheet.