A client of mine called this week in in full crisis mode. It seems that while editing their WordPress blog using IE7 the site’s pages were transformed into a typographic nightmare and any attempt to re-format only made it worse. A quick scan of the user forums showed this is a known problem with IE7 so I suggested he use Firefox instead. An hour later the phone rang again, this time because after installing, rebooting, and loading Firefox he couldn’t authenticate on his Comcast account. Adding insult to injury Comcast customer service (sic) curtly asserted “We only support IE7 so you can’t use Firefox with our Internet service.”
Say what? Hearing this made me sputter and after a few searches for IE7 and WordPress, then for Comcast and Firefox, I found we were hardly alone. “Pure corporate arrogance. Don’t they @#$%!^& get it?” I fumed, and remembered an illustration of the Web that I saw recently that mapped it all out.
This graphic is just a fragment from The Web is Agreement that Flickr hacker Paul Downey created, and it’s full of sly humor. There’s also an annotated version on Paul Downey’s Flickr page and a high-resolution version available from Internet Archive that prints very nicely if you need a holiday gift for the geek on your shopping list who has everything.
The point of this rant is that the web works only because of a mutual agreement to use the World Wide Web Consortium’s interoperable specifications and guidelines that define how web pages are built, transmitted and displayed. To the degree those standards are followed by everyone the Internet is an invaluable platform for business, education and fun. Likewise, when those common standards are ignored we all suffer, ultimately including Microsoft, Comcast and other fast-and-loose players who will also reap what they sow. Or as John Wayne might deadpan, “Go back on your agreement, Pilgrim, and you’ll face web justice.”