Why IE – sorry – Firefox is blocked

UPDATE: A different take on Firefox blocking.

Blocking users who have certain browsers is a rather baffling practice to me. Recently a site explaining why Firefox should be blocked and how it can be done was featured on digg and it got me thinking about the issue. The practice of blocking Internet Explorer is actually substantially older than blocking Firefox so I'll cover both.

Blocking Firefox

The only reason to block Firefox appears to be that Firefox users have the option of installing Adblock Plus, which will block ads on any website you visit. I think this is my favourite paragraph:

While blanket ad blocking in general is still theft, the real problem is Ad Block Plus's unwillingness to allow individual site owners the freedom to block people using their plug-in. Blocking FireFox is the only alternative. Demographics have shown that not only are FireFox users a somewhat small percentage of the internet, they actually are even smaller in terms of online spending, therefore blocking FireFox seems to have only minimal financial drawbacks, whereas ending resource theft has tremendous financial rewards for honest, hard-working website owners and developers..

Let me go through some of the things wrong with this:

Further to these statements on the site, it is claimed that Mozilla's "active endorsement" of Adblock Plus is dishonesty. How? Are they lying in some way? Are they claiming that if people used Firefox then site owners would have greater revenues? It is also claimed that the ads are in some way the site owner's intellectual property. Or perhaps that on-the-fly modifications of the DOM (or however Adblock works) is infringing on intellectual property. I'm not a lawyer but I'm pretty sure this is a steaming pile of crap. For one thing, most ads come from a third party, so the site owner has no intellectual property to speak of there. I also believe that browser modifications to a conversion of plain text markup into a DOM representation would not stand up in court as copyright infringement.

Users are instructed that they are free to use Netscape (in IE mode), Internet Explorer, Opera or the IE Tab extension for Firefox to view the site that was blocked. Safari doesn't warrant a mention but that's OK because I'm sure Mac users (and the new Safari Windows users) are considered inconsequential from a statistical point of view. Similarly, Linux users – who can only use Opera from the above list – are not worth bothering with. I'm won't even mention users of BSDs, Solaris, SkyOS, Haiku, and every other operating system out there. I'm also curious as to whether text-browsers like Lynx or screen readers are meant to blocked as well. Those damn blind people and their stealing of all our intellectual property!

Really, this a terrible reason to block someone from your site. I doubt most Firefox users would even bother loading up a different browser to view such a site – meaning that not only have you lost revenue, you've also lost a possible frequent visitor and advocate for your site. Instead you'll more likely have "oh, don't bother visiting that site" recommendation given to someone else.

I obviously run Google AdSense on this site but I'm hardly going to complain if people want to block the ads – I'd much prefer people actually read this stuff! Whilst I do enjoy advertising revenue I'm not willing risk annoying readers by blocking half of them! (For this site, IE accounts for only 40% of the traffic, next to Firefox's 52%.)

If you'd like to visit one of these sites with Firefox, then may I suggest you install User Agent Switcher. Then you can even keep using Adblock Plus if you wish.

I wonder how long it will be before someone creates an ad blocking plugin for Internet Explorer? Or Opera? I'd like to see sites blocking users who view the site in anything except IE6.

Blocking Internet Explorer

This is a much older practice that has been put forth by sites like Explorer Destroyer and Kill Bill's Browser.

Wanting to block IE stems from a few different things:

  1. IE has traditionally been atrocious at rendering standards-based HTML, meaning more time (and hence money) wasted on developing web sites.
  2. IE has had plenty of security issues and removing it from the web makes it a nicer place in general.
  3. People hate Microsoft.

I guess the first point is pretty valid. I've had all kinds of fun trying to get pages to render correctly in IE. This doesn't mean that you can block IE users though: it means that you have to put in the extra hours, charge the extra money and make sure everyone is aware of why this is the case. Microsoft actually has made efforts to improve their rendering engine due to user complaints and people's willingness to leave a browser that isn't up to scratch. It's not, however, the job of a site owner to try and force visitors into making this decision.

The second argument is also an issue of education: people need to be aware of security concerns and how they can protect their computer. I think this is gradually happening now and Microsoft are also putting more effort in to making their browser and operating systems more secure.

The last one is obviously just dumb.

As a web designer, I can understand the frustration of trying to get sites to render correctly on multiple platforms but I think it's ethically wrong to actually attempt to block users from using whatever browser they desire. It also makes no sense from a business perspective because, like it or not, IE still accounts for the majority of most site's traffic.

What to block?

So what should you block? Should you try and get more revenue by blocking Firefox? Should you make the web a better place by blocking Internet Explorer? Hell, maybe Apple pisses you off with their non-Mozilla rendering engine and you wonder if you should block Safari?

Don't block anything. Please. This is not what the web was created for. If you're dumb enough to try and enforce your own particular view point on someone visiting your site then you don't deserve their patronage. You also don't deserve to be part of the web.