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Beacon blog: A matter of compatibility

Last week I was frustrated trying to bring the news to as many people as possible. In preparing coverage for the upcoming election, I kept running into unexpected problems.

I'm talking about cross-browser compatibility. A quick summary: You use a browser to connect to the Internet -- popular ones are Internet Explorer on Windows, Safari on Macs and Firefox on both. These browsers, although they can each take you to the same website, don't all interpret the code that makes up the Web in the same way. Most often, this results in pages not looking the way the original designer intended. Less often, some advanced functionality may not work on some browsers.

This can be a big problem, especially with elaborately designed pages that have many components. That was one good thing about print design -- the page size is always the page size, and 99.9 percent of the time what the designer sees on the screen is what the printed page looks like (I'm young, but I imagine movable type and paste-up provided an even more direct path from design to page).

Imagine if there were three or four different sizes of newspaper pages a subscriber could choose from, and in addition to that, if some of those sizes required columns of a certain width or text to be a different size. Trying to format the day's news to suit those multiple formats is a little like what a Web designer must consider when building pages that display and perform correctly in multiple browsers.

A significant number of you use Internet Explorer to visit the Beacon, for example, and a significant number of IE users are using an old version. Some in the Web design community got so fed up with accommodating these older browsers that there is a movement afoot to stop supporting IE6 altogether, in the hope that, if many websites refuse to work in an older browser, people will get the message and upgrade.

But, it doesn't help the Beacon's mission if we somehow prevent you from getting the news. Just as we provide many ways to access our content, we don't charge for it and we don't remove news from the site after a certain number of days or weeks, we also want to make it accessible online, here at the site, and not hinder someone's access just because he isn't using the latest browser. So, we're doing our best to keep the site working in the browsers we see people are using.

But, as a plea on behalf of Web designers everywhere -- upgrade, upgrade, upgrade! And don't even get me started on mobile access. That's for another post.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Brent is the senior data visual specialist at St. Louis Public Radio.