Thursday, September 16, 2010

If you design it will they be able to ..?

Someone I follow on twitter remarked this morning that Microsoft came out with a beta of the next version of Internet Explorer; her comment included a statement that I should care about it. My immediate reaction: why? After thinking about it for a while longer (another 30 seconds or so) my reaction remains the same: why should I care?

In my instructional designer role I serve two audiences: learners in-house and readers of the social media to which I post including twitter and facebook and, to a much lesser extent, linked-in.

In the case of my first audience the government agency for whom I worked locks the browser down very tightly: the standard here is IE 8. Though it supports a variety of rich media the agency allows only HTML rendered text, PDFs, JPGs, GIFs, and Flash to appear within it. Other types of media including MP3s, Quicktime, RealMedia, and so on aren't supported. I expect that whenever IE 9, currently in beta, goes live it's going to be much as it is now.

The second audience I hope to reach on the internet includes, well, people much like you. I have no clue what type of browser you might use now and in the future. With this in mind I keep things pretty standard: text and Flash. I'm learning/experimenting with HTML 5 (on my iPad) but to date, with work and my doctoral studies taking up much of my time, I haven't been able to get much beyond "Hello world".

Which brings me back to IE 9 beta and its capabilities. Within the firewall, sure, you have to go with what your infrastructure people tell you is the standard. I don't think it's a good design decision to tailor content to a specific browser on the public internet, however. The reason is simple: you'll lose the eyeballs belonging to the folks whose browsers don't support media in the same way as IE 9. Microsoft has a long history of spinning standards their own way to make people dependent on their technologies far into the future. Making a learning experience dependent on one specific browser is, well, oppressive.

A mindful instructional designer will consider what the (instructional) message is and how best to create an online environment in which the learners she supports can experience it. Designing a learning experience around a technology like IE 9 that all learners may not possess or be able to use (my iPad, Android, and other mobile devices can't use it) isn't a good idea. It makes more sense to format your message in the rich container (mp3, Flash, HTML 5, etc) that makes sense given your target audience.

One more thought: the iPad doesn't support Flash. So yes, Apple is limiting my media options. I don't think this is a bad idea, however, given the iPad's form factor and touch-interface. How does one implement a roll-over when there's no mouse to roll? Anyway, my head is beginning to hurt. Perhaps I have to do some more research and reflection on the issue.


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