Monday, January 9, 2012

If 40% of our visitors use Internet Explorer, maybe I should test our site with Internet Explorer

You know that feeling when you hear about a problem that you know is likely big and messy and a lot of work to fix?  On occasions like these, great people rise to the challenge to solve the problem right away.  These people often look good too, reliably send birthday cards to friends and family, and soothe crying babies with a mere wink.  Mere mortals like me instead ignore major problems hoping they will go away.  But they never go away.  And I never learn.  Even as I type this, only the bare minimum number of my brain's neurons are aware of what I'm typing while the rest are doing the neural equivalent of covering their eyes and singing loudly to themselves so they remain blissfully ignorant that their strategy of ignoring major problems is itself a major problem.

Several months ago my friend Sandy told me the current journal issue would not appear on the CFN homepage on her computer.  I checked the website on a bunch of computers, and the site worked fine.  But I knew there must be a problem because Sandy is tech-savvy.  In fact Sandy is the Webmaster for the Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club, and she knows far more about servers, php, and other webstuff than me.  The problem was likely difficult to find and fix.  So I ignored it.

Over the holidays I replicated the problem on my in-laws' computer.  Then on another computer at my parents' place.  Not only was the main CFN home page not displaying the current issue automatically, but information in the "About the Journal" link was missing.  Uh oh.  I couldn't ignore this problem any longer.  What was common to these other people's computers that I couldn't replicate on my own or my colleagues' computers?  Internet Explorer.  I had never tested the CFN site with Internet Explorer.  I had used Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and a couple of mobile devices' browsers, but I had somehow neglected to test the site with the most common browser among CFN visitors (40% of CFN visitors use Internet Explorer according to Google Analytics).  I had pasted some information into the CFN site from Microsoft Word.  I now know, thanks to some help from the good people who developed our site's software, that this pasted not only the desired text into our website but also a lot of Microsoft junk code that messes with Internet Explorer browsers.  It was an easy fix once I figured out the problem - just delete the junk code - but it's embarassing to realize so many visitors were viewing a sub-optimal CFN site for so long because I hadn't tested it rigourously.  Lesson learned: no matter how much I dislike Internet Explorer, I must use it to test the CFN site.  Some (e.g., my wife) would say I should also learn to not ignore major problems.  To this my neurons close their eyes and shout "LA-LA-LA-LAAAAA."

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