Beyond the Browser Upgrade Campaign

Early 2001 was a difficult time for web developers. Although browsers that supported common web standards were in good supply there were a great number of browsers in active use that didn't fall into this category.

It is now the Spring of 2003 and the web has a much different complexion. Many, many computers now have browsers with acceptable support for web standards. Those computers that do not by now, may never. With this in mind we at the Web Standards project feel its time to retire the Browser Upgrade Campaign (BUC).

What was the BUC?

The BUC was created in order to give site builders a means for educating their visitors as to the existence of web standards and encourage those visitors to upgrade to browsers that supported standards such as HTML, CSS and a standard DOM.

What were its goals?

The campaign's primary goal was to help educate individual web users as to the availability of browsers that did a competent job at supporting common web standards and encourage them to upgrade.

Beyond that, the methods used provided a few options for web builders who wanted to start using existing web standards, but who also feared the impact that it might have on the significant portion of their audience due to poor standards support in the popular browsers.

How did it work?

This initiative promoted two methods of calling out older browsers.

In cases where lack of standards support would merely result in an awkward or loss of flashy appearance, site authors were encouraged to embed a short message in each page explaining that things would look and work better in a browser that supported standards.

In more extreme cases where this lack of support would result in the inability to operate the site, builders were encouraged to forward visitors to a page (hosted on that discussed why they were not able to access the particular site.

So it's over, huh?

The complexion the web of has changed — for the better. The percentage of standards supporting browsers in use has increased tremendously. The percentage of non-standards supporting browsers is low and doing nothing but decreasing. Those older browsers still in use are largely found in institutions where the choice of which browser to use is out of the control of the person using the computer. There are very few reasons to continue with the same course of action.

Did the BUC meet its goals?

It should be clear by the tone of this page so far that the campaign was a success. The techniques promoted for the campaign were deployed on thousands of web sites reaching hundreds of thousands of surfers.

Additionally, while not all site developers have made the transition to standards based web sites, those who want to can do so with much less fear then they may have had when this campaign was launched.

Where did it fall short?

The method of redirecting a visitor immediately—while its intentions were good and its use was applicable in some situations—was too easy to employ. As such it became an easy out for site builders who didn't want to bother with testing their sites in browsers like Netscape 4, even if they were not concerned with the use of standards based markup.

In a much more extreme case of misuse and abuse it appears that some spammers latched onto the redirect method promoted by the BUC documentation. They then abused it to redirect people both from inside their mail clients and from advertised sites, suggesting that the Web Standards Project was responsible for, or condoned, the unsolicited messages. None of the sites we've seen that abuse this technique have anything to do with the WaSP, and we condemn such abuse in the strongest possible terms.

Learn more about how The WaSP Hates Spam and Viruses.

What now?

Now that the playing field is more level, it is time for site builders to make more of an effort to educate themselves on ways to take advantage of the gains that have been made. In the coming months the Web Standards Project plans on helping site builders learn more about using standards intelligently and in a more inclusive manner.