The Norwegian web changed in 48 hours – how is that possible?

On the 17th of February 2009 FINN.no – one of the largest websites in Norway put out a signal to all it’s Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) users (I’ve just taken the translation from an article in The Register, it’s about 99% correct translated) :

Heads up: You’re using an older version of Internet Explorer.
In order to get the most out of our website, you can get a free update of Internet Explorer. If you’re using a work computer, you should contact your IT administrator.

Actually The register seems to have copied this translation from a blog post by Christian Johansen

At the same time as we put out this message, we released a post on FINN labs (our public feedback and experimental area) which described in detail why we are showing this information to our IE6 users and also gave a list of alternative browsers. The code to display the message was also available.

The background
Before I continue let me say a couple of words about the background for this. FINN labs launched in September 2008 and we have published monthly browser statistics and focused on how the figures are for IE6. In January 2009 IE6 had about 17,1% share. So we discussed if it was possible to give our IE6 users a message to increase the speed of upgrades from this 9 year old browser. So on February 11th, my colleague at FINN labs Erlend Schei put out this message on Twitter:

To everyone with control of mayor Norwegian sites: What about a spring cleaning to get rid of IE6? One week of encouragement on our homepages?

Anders Brenna at Teknisk Ukeblad got this tweet and wrote an article (in Norwegian) where he focused on the problem with IE6 and challenged the websites to do something pointing to the tweet by Erlend.

6 days later we initiated the campaign and Schei put out another tweet:

We have now put out a big green “upgrade IE6” box on FINN.no frontpage. Dagbladet, VG, AP are you willing to join us in this?

This message was pointing to the biggest news-sites in Norway.

One minute later I also put out this tweet:
#IE6 – We are following up our initiative and actually give all the users with IE6 at #finn.no a message on the front page!

The initiative got massive support
Late on the 17th I got this message on Twitter:

I’ll do my best to get it on vg.no as well

VG.no is the biggest website in Norway, and the next morning (18th) vg.no had put a green box on the top of it’s front page. We used Twitter to tell about VG and the reaction was amazing and perhaps scary. One hour earlier A-pressen a big Media Company with over 50 local newspapers gave me a message that they joined and they also blogged about it (in Norwegian). This was actually the breakthrough and it happened in just a few hours, with Twitter as the communication medium. FINN, VG and all the local newspapers has an enormous reach among the population and that means every person in Norway with IE6 will see the upgrade signal. During the 18th more of the biggest websites in Norway joined the campaign and late that day FINN.no sent a press release.

One day later the initiative had spread to more sites and in the evening of 19th it spread to Sweden when Aftonbladet.se – one of the biggest news site in Europe joined in. Late on the 19th when we saw that our initiative had started to spread outside Norway we sent a new press release – this time in English for the international press. Microsoft Norway also sent out a press release where they gave their support to the campaign (MS Sweden has done the same)

During the week people blogged about this and a wiki was established for the campaign where it’s possible to follow the initiative and how it is spreading world wide. Most of the newspapers in Norway was writing about this, and we got a lot of international publicity (for example in Wired)

How is it possible to get a whole Country to unite in just a few hours?
Anders Brenna has blogged about how this could be possible (in Norwegian), and he focus on the following:

  • latent need
  • Debate across the websites (news) and blogs
  • Generous linking and crediting of those who contribute

I really agree upon this, all these elements seem to have been present. In his article he gives thorough description of it. What I would like to point out in this blog post, is how much more momentum and spread this initiative has had in Europe (Norway, Sweden, France, Germany and The Netherlands) than in USA. First of all I think that when FINN.no as one of the biggest players first did this, it was much easier for other to join. The hardest part is actually to get one big player to just start this kind of initiative. Second I think Twitter has had a huge impact in the fast and widely adoption of the campaign. Norway and Sweden is small countries and when big websites initiates this kind of action it spreads rapidly to the national twitter-sphere. It’s easy to get in contact with the right persons on Twitter they encourage it by re-tweeting the information.

Europe vs USA
If we look at the spread we can see that Sweden, France and Germany has some momentum, but in USA nothing happens. Why? I think it is at least two causes. One the twitter-sphere in the US is different from Scandinavia and Europe. That some weird country are starting some campaign is not that interesting in US. If you follow the campaign on twitter (without #) you will see that most of the tweets is from outside the US.

I think this is strange, because this campaign and the huge and massive success of it in Norway and its spread to Europe has been covered a lot (at one time Friday it was on the front page of Wired, Slashdot and Digg at the same time). Also blogs/sites have been covering it (Christopher Blizzard, Ajaxian.com among others.

I think that it’s a big difference in how the Scandinavian (and maybe European) twitter-sphere and the US is working. The twitter-sphere in Scandinavia is quite small so it interesting things get spread rapidly. And of course the people that has the most followers do not have 100k + followers. This means they actually follow the tweets that is directed to them. Maybe the Americans are only looking to San Francisco? Everything outside that area is not worth mention – at least not on Twitter. 😉 But the viral effect is powerful and I think this will continue to spread world wide. Feel free to follow me on twitter – @larre

Update, 26th of february 2009: Teknisk Ukeblad have just received an email from Steve Ballmer supporting this campaign. Her it is (inside the article): Email from Steve Ballmer If you are not willing to scan through the Norwegian article here is the actual message from Steve Ballmer:

Microsoft recommends end users that are browsing the web with Internet Explorer 6 to upgrade today to benefit from numerous improvements including security features and usability enhancements.

Interoperability is key to enabling developers to continue to create great user experiences on the web. Our commitment to the technical community continues with our significant investment in Internet Explorer 8.

We continue to believe in the importance of supporting the end users and encourage the technical community to work with us in securing a good transition for the users that today are using IE6.

Hope that helps

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