The Internet Should be Platformless

It’s not hard to notice that the local news media outlets and their outdated websites has become one of my pet peeves. I suppose I should be a bit more honest about why this is a pet peeve of mine though. You see, it really boils down to the fact that I have a satellite dish and they charge extra for access to local TV stations, and signal for the local TV stations where I live is laughable. I suppose that’s the way of things when you live on the side of a mountain, but you would think that these things would improve with time as technology advanced. Here, they don’t. I’ve lived in this town for over a decade and I have never lived in a part of town where you could get good local television signal. When I first moved here, cable didn’t offer the local stations as part of any of their packages and then, when they did add them, you had to pay extra for them. So we just sort of gave up on network television and moved on to other things because we were broke then.

Now that we’re not, we honestly don’t see the point in paying our provider an extra 15$ a month to have something that we should be able to easily get over the airwaves for free, if the signal were decent enough for us to view it up here without special signal boosting equipment on our house, I’d watch, but since it’s not… we don’t. I’ve learned to deal with it, but I compensate for not being able to watch the news, by visiting the local news sites from the web.

I don’t know how many homes are like mine, but I do suspect that the number isn’t small.

In my circumstance, when natural disasters are occurring, like what we’re living through now, it is absolutely essential to me that the local news sites function with the technology I use and admittedly, maybe I’m a bit on the fringe here because I use a mac and an iPhone, but I don’t see why that should preclude my being able to use the internet to get the local news. Unfortunately, local news disagrees with me on this. Small media companies are heavily beholden to the Windows platform. So much so, that half the time, their video files won’t play on the mac.

I’ve never understood that. The internet really should be platformless. No matter how you access it, universal standards are in place that open the technology to all comers and yet, the massive money making machine that is Microsoft can’t seem to adhere to the standards that, often times, they had a hand in writing. The standards are there, because it should not matter how you access the internet. The standards were created to ensure that everyone could surf the web equally and yet, here we are. It’s been over 25 years since the world’s first web server went online and we haven’t gotten anywhere. In fact, if anything, the technology has become increasingly less open minded and more centric to Windows.

If you think about it, I suppose it makes sense. I mean, everyone uses Windows, don’t they? Heck, even macs can run windows these days, but if we sit down and look at how people really access the internet, I think you will be surprised by what you find. Yes, by and large, the internet is accessed from Windows machines that are running Internet Explorer, but some amusing numbers came out last month that should force every web developer to stand up and take notice.

First and foremost, is the fact that IE lost market share in December, but not just to Mozilla Firefox. Firefox saw its market share increase to 21%. This means that 21% of people surfing the internet at any given time, are using Firefox to do it. This is not an insignificant number. In fact, it’s significant enough that the days of coding web pages specifically to work under IE are long over. In fact, it was never smart to do to begin with, because IE has always had strong competition in the browser market up until the point where Netscape was bought by AOL and turned into a complete joke. What is particularly telling about the loss of market share for IE, was not Firefox’s gain, but the fact that Safari and Google’s new browser, Chrome, also gained market share from IE’s loss. Last month also saw the mobile browser market share expand to 1%.

1% of browsers navigating the web right now, are on cellular phones, and that number is climbing. iPhone’s market share increased by 58% in the month of December alone, and while that is still only .44% of browsers surfing the web at any given time, that massive increase in usage is nothing to scoff at. That number has been on an uphill climb since the 3g’s release in July and the popularity of the iPhone doesn’t seem to be slowing down, so odds are against us seeing a decline in mobile safari usage any time soon.

I have long believed that the world would soon come to a place where the operating system wasn’t going to matter. What will matter, is how well web site designers can keep the users coming to their sites. As it stands, I don’t have a choice but to pick the least obnoxious and most useful of the local news sites to me. Only one of them works really well from Firefox on the Mac, and only one of them is remotely usable from the iPhone. I’ll keep visiting that site until something better comes along.

Until then, I think that perhaps the local news media should take a look at this article by Jack Shafer on Slate. It details the history of newspapers and internet tech. It is an interesting perspective on how the world wide web suddenly became important to newspaper companies, almost overnight.