Follow-up to “Microsoft Proposes a Browser Ballot” Post

October 19, 2009

It seems that my previous post has set up a lot of debate on the topic of Microsoft’s proposal and the browser space overall. I’ve been reading through the feedback and have been impressed by the constructive and insightful comments (as well as some less constructive). It’s clear that this is a subject people care about and have many excellent ideas on, and I’m thrilled to see this debate playing out. The nature of innovation and user choice on the web and how it pertains to the operating system and corporate interests is one of huge importance.

Many people agreed that changing the order of browsers on the ballot would mainly effect users uninterested in deciding what browser they use. This being presumably a majority of current internet users, what I want to avoid is systematic bias – particularly one that causes the majority of users to receive an outcome that is not optimal for them. That’s essentially the problem with having a ballot: it forces users to make a decision they likely don’t care about, and thus end up with an experience that may not be right for them. As a user experience designer, my rule of thumb is that if the user is ever asked to make a decision he doesn’t care about, the design has problems.

Naturally, I’m very happy to admit that I do believe Firefox is the best browsing experience available. That said, my proposals in which Firefox received ordering preference according to market share were intended to be illustrative of the problems with having a ballot rather than as highly desired solutions. Any ballot is likely to contain preset systematic biases that swing certain voters. Normalizing for all of these is unlikely to be possible, so how to best minimize them is a good discussion to have.

The wider issue of how to best help users make appropriate choices without needlessly overburdening them with the complexity of the choice is itself exciting: we face it daily in politics, economics, medicine, etc. It’s a space that I hope we can continue explore on this blog and in the wider internet community.

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19 Responses to “Follow-up to “Microsoft Proposes a Browser Ballot” Post”

  1. John Says:

    How about having a different browser start up for each link until the user makes a decision 😉

  2. Eice Says:

    It is interesting that someone who claims to be concerned about “majority of users receiving an outcome that is not optimal for them” pushes for solutions that unfairly favor Firefox AND snipes at Safari with unfounded criticism. It is pretty clear that the “optimal” solution for the majority of users has already been decided by a Mozilla employee, and the whole point of the ballot screen should be to push that pre-determined “optimal” choice to end users, with the necessary talk of promoting user choice added merely as garnish on top.

    I think we understood your motives well enough the first time, Jenny. Perhaps far too well for your liking, which necessitates this second post to explain yourself.

  3. Pino Says:

    How can an outcome be be not optimal for people who do not care about the outcome? That’s the first question to be answered.

  4. dave Says:

    this is the whiniest, most retarded thing i have read in a damn decade. plz, someday consider getting over yourself. life will be better after.

    are you the same “boris” that i just met in SF recently? that would make sense.

  5. Herman Says:

    What your saying is that Windows should be bundled with IE to prevent the average guy from getting confused.

    Good point. This whole browser debacle is retarded anyway.

    Next thing you know we are going to have to chose between all the notepads, explorers, calculaters and solitaires out there, making the installation process a pain in the ass.

    It is not exciting for anyone, how the hell did you make that up?

    The people that do care about all these things get better stuff themselves. Firefox is one of the first things I download after a fresh install.

    This whole thing is costing tons and tons of money, and in the end it doesn’t make a significant difference.

  6. Sebastiaan Says:

    Dear Jenny,

    I agree that FF is a good browser, but it’s persistent memory leaks really puts it off for me. I only use it for some of the add-ons when developing webapps. For me it’s Opera all the way, and of course I have to have three versions of IE installed to cater to the rest of the world who doesn’t care which browser the use, ’cause the use the “Internet”.

    😉

    PS: Good topic you’ve chosen, lots of feedback!

  7. MarcB Says:

    C’mon, I’ve use FF for years now and eliminated IE. I install FF on a clean PC straight from the USB w/o even launching IE!! But I think it goes TOO far to say that Apple now gets a head start with the way M$ presents the browsers in Win7. C’mon, get real. Don’t play it this way, it makes FF look bad.

  8. Herman Says:

    Lots of feedback because the entire thing is so ridiculous.

    Steve Ballmer could donate a billion dollars to the mozilla foundation and people would complain Microsoft is trying to win market share by being friendly, those basterds.

    The wordt thing is that random people with retarded opinions get so much media attention on the web.

  9. jboriss Says:

    Sebastiaan – Thanks for the comment! Opera is indeed a great browser – some of the features they’ve implemented, like in-content navigation, is way ahead of its time!

  10. Joel Maher Says:

    This is a much better post than the previous one:) I wish you would have been a bit clearer in your previous post.

    I don’t think there is any right choice to make here. Personally I think voting in general is flawed as people vote for what they are familiar with, not for what best serves their interests.

  11. jboriss Says:

    Joel Maher – I wish I’d been clearer too. If I had foreseen the response this would get, I would’ve spent more time carefully phrasing that post to prevent misinterpretation – but live and learn. And I agree with you that there isn’t a good choice. A ballot can’t solve this problem. For a browser to gain market share because of unwitting responses on a ballot would be a win for that company over what’s right for the user.

  12. bas Says:

    This site is best viewed in Internet Explorer 3.0.


  13. Jenny, don’t worry – no matter how you phrase it, as soon as certain websites start pushing masses of uninformed people (particularly ones that aren’t interested in reading) in your direction it’s over. The only thing you can do is picking out the constructive comments while ignoring the rest.

    Anyway, yes: the ballot won’t help, no matter how you do it. Its current design is skewed towards Safari which is a disaster. But even if you eliminate this factor (which is easy enough) you still force people to choose – particularly the majority that isn’t interested in choosing and will likely end up unhappy with their choice regardless of what it is. “Why does your Internet look different than my Internet? How do I change it?” My experience is that people will often not remember choosing anything (yes, they didn’t care about that choice in the first place), even less associate this choice with their current internet experience. And they will often feel the need to redo the choice – without having the slightest idea about how this can be done.

    I don’t know whether we should count this disappointing experience as “useful user education” or whether it is better to keep the status quo and educate users in more traditional ways. Seeing the lack of good options I would rather stick with the latter and only make sure Microsoft never undoes the choices that users already made (in particular, Windows Easy Transfer should transfer the browser choice if it doesn’t already). Maybe combine that with additional measures to alleviate the problem like requiring OEMs to install additional browsers so that switching browsers becomes a two-click affair (still triggered by the user however).


  14. Honestly, I’m surprised that anybody could think that a ballot was in any way a good idea, what with all the Google data on people’s reaction to “What is a browser?”

    -Max

  15. Chris Says:

    Hi Jenny,

    This post does clarify your position somewhat. I still respectfully disagree, here’s why:

    1) The best browser choice for any user is just as subjective as which car to buy or which fridge or stove to buy. No one else can determine what constitutes a ‘poor choice” for someone ellse.

    I submit that no matter the selection process, there will always be bias. I further submit that, regardless of the ballot, people will chose the browser they want either initially, or over time as they use one, become dissatisfied and or hear about another and dec ide to change it.

    2) you stated “The wider issue of how to best help users make appropriate choices without needlessly overburdening them with the complexity of the choice is itself exciting: ”

    In my opinion, the best way to do that is for each vendor to effectively market their browser. As the internet continues to mature, the perception of the web browser (and, I suspect, the OS) will shift. It will come to be viewed as simply a means to an end. You don’t see raging debates over which brand of microwave or washing mashine to buy. People look for the particular features they want/need, and select accordingly. The same thing will happen to browsers.

    In case you’re wondering, I use or have used Safari (WIN & MAC), Firefox, Opera and IE (haven’t used Chrome yet), and I can see why certain people would choose each.

    Chris

  16. Herman Says:

    I think the main issue here is that time and money is spent in something trivial.

    It’s like starting a riot about the different brands of milk you can buy in a store.

    There comes a point that you can over-analyse a product. Too bad that in the case of software it tends to matter, while complaining about the position of a certain brand of milk in a store will be kindly ignored.

  17. jorgusch Says:

    “The wider issue of how to best help users make appropriate choices without needlessly overburdening them with the complexity of the choice is itself exciting: ”

    Well, if MS would have justified including IE into Win7 with this argument, they would have saved us all a lot of time…

    You are still trying to justify your position with the exceptionality of FF. Serious question, but do you know the word tautologic?
    MS is not allowed to tell the user would to do, but Mozilla is, because it has FF. Apple can use the same argument, by replacing two words. Wheter it is true or not, who cares. It might be today, but what about tomorrow?

    However, in the end you get what you asked for: COMPETITION.
    Earlier you competed with IE as the standard browser. Now you are competing against all those listed on this unnecassary start page.

    You asked for competition, do not be whinny about competition. Please, try not to say in your next comment that competition should be somehow in favour of FF.
    Competition means, all are on the same level. No backery, car manufacturer, iphone programmer or person in the telephon book is complaining about being on the second, third or fourth place in the alphabet. Only you are.


  18. […] with a ballot in which they could choose which browser to install. I said at the time, and in a subsequent post, that creating a ballot would not successfully address the EC’s concerns nor provide a good […]


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