Netscape-Friendly Sites Leave Online Service Users Cold

By: Steve Outing

Yesterday I wrote about newspaper Web sites that aren't friendly to visitors who arrive with graphics loading turned off in their Web browser software (or who use text-only browsers like Lynx). This column looks at a closely related topic: the many Web sites that code pages with Netscape-specific commands.

This is getting to be an annoying problem on the Web. What has happened is that Netscape dominates the browser market today; the majority of Web users run Netscape as their window to the Web. (It's a nice browser; I use it myself.) Netscape has built in a number of Netscape-specific HTML tags that only Netscape users can appreciate. For example, using Netscape you will see THESE WORDS BLINK; if you're using any other browser, you probably won't. There are Netscape-specific tags that create tables, change font size, place images with more flexibility, etc.

Netscape adds wonderful and much needed functionality to HTML, the page description language of the World Wide Web. The problem, of course, is that Netscape is trying to drive the standard independently. Many other browsers only support HTML 2.0 specs today, so the Netscape-specific tags are not usable by many Web users -- including, most significantly, users of America Online, eWorld and Prodigy's Web browsers.

If you check out a random sample of newspaper Web sites, you will find that many of them are "Netscape enhanced." In other words, if you don't use Netscape, viewing the site is going to be a less than optimal experience.

A long-running argument on this topic has taken place in recent weeks on online-news, an Internet list I operate that deals with online publishing. The debate comes down to 1) should we use Netscape tags to make our site as visually compelling as possible and not worry about the minority of non-Netscape users, or 2) should we restrict our pages to HTML 2.0-compliant tags so that everyone can access our sites equally?

Every Web publisher has to make that decision for him/herself. My own view is that Netscape-specific coding adds significant design flexibility that should not be dismissed. I believe you can have it both ways by designing a Netscape-enhanced site AND creating a "lite" version for users of other browsers. Keep in mind, though, that my recommendation today could be different tomorrow. Netscape is king of the browser market today; it could be Microsoft's browser next week.

Browser usage stats

It might help you make a decision about which strategy to employ by looking at some stats about browser usage. I found the following on Dave Garaffa's BrowserWatch Web site, a good place to learn about the browser industry. From BrowserWatch, I found several sites that have tracked browser usage of people visiting their sites.

Random Yahoo Link reports for the last 27.5 days: Netscape - 77.6%; Mosaic - 8.5%; Lynx - 4.0%; other - 10.0%. reports for September: Netscape - 82.5%; Mosaic - 3.7%; Lynx - 1.3%; other - 12.5%.

Craig Knudsen reports for September: Netscape - 61.5%; Microsoft Internet Explorer - 18.5%; Lynx - 4.1%; Mosaic - 4.0%; other - 1.95%.

Jayfar's Web site reports the following for May and June of this year: Netscape - 71.5%; Mosaic 14.7%; WebExplorer - 6.4%; NetCruiser - 2.6%; Lynx - 1.9%; other - 2.8%.

The Creative Internet site reports for a 1-week period in May: Netscape - 60.3%; America Online - 11.1%; Mosaic - 7.0%; Lynx - 5.1%; other - 16.5%.

Take these figures with a big grain of salt. They run counter to what I see on the logs of the Editor & Publisher Interactive Web site, for example, where America Online and Prodigy Web browser users are the most frequent visitors.

And one last point. Creating a site that looks good to Netscape users and not so good to others can be a self-fullfilling phrophesy. Netscape users may continue to come back, but other browser users won't return if they have a bad experience viewing your site. Your stats will appear to confirm that most everyone out there is using Netscape; but in reality, all those other people are visiting other Web publishers' sites.

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This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at


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