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

February 23, 2009
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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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33 Responses to The Norwegian web changed in 48 hours – how is that possible?

  1. Christian on February 23, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    This whole thing is so cool. Very nice job on this!

    Not to steal your thunder or anything, but I actually think the translation came from me :)

  2. Anders Brenna on February 23, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    It is never easy, but I believe it is easier for us in Norway to get the critical mass because we are a small country.

    If we succeed, then it will be easier for a bigger country, and then the international snowball will start rolling and gain size. The biggest countries will be among the last.

    Sweden is about twice the size of Norway, and should be the obvious next “bowling pin”.

    Best regards,
    Anders Brenna
    Teknisk Ukeblad

  3. larre on February 23, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    re Christian, yes it did, I will put it in the post right away!

  4. larre on February 23, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Anders, yes I totally agree. When the response came we maybe got too eager to actually push this outside Norway.

    My closing of the post is kind of short, but I put it in to get some debate ;)

  5. Spill on February 24, 2009 at 1:05 am

    Great stuff! Im spreading the word;) I dont think its easier to spread this kind of stuff in a smaller country then in a large one..But,that a different story..thanks for the great blog post..

    -morten

  6. Thomas Hansen on February 24, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Nice writeup, and I completely agree. Also I think it’s weird that US is so “silent” – but I guess we shouldn’t complain too much, we’ve done a great thing here (congrats to Anders and Finn for initiating this) and at least we’ve got quirksmode in the US … ;)

  7. Dave Woods on February 26, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Great work but how many businesses in Norway rely on IE6 and simply don’t allow their employees to update their browser because they’re using legacy systems which only work in the older browser?

    I know that in the UK many businesses have this problem which is why the take up of IE7 so far has been so slow and I suspect that the reason for the silence in the US is for the same reason so it’s simply not an option for the bigger sites to discard their IE6 users.

    This isn’t to disregard the efforts of developers in Norway, I commend everyone for the work put in to make this happen but sadly the same thing is impossible at the moment in some countries.

  8. mark on February 26, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    The dramatic success of this initiative comes up a lot but there is no evidence that it is actually successful. Having a bunch of big name sites joining the initiative does not make it successful. Having a large number of people upgrade their browsers is what makes it successful and there is no mention of that at all. Are these sites seeing any change in which browsers their users are using?

  9. larre on February 26, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Hello Dave and Mark. Thanks for feedback. You have some good points! I’ll try to give you some answers or at least some thoughts around the issues.

    First of all I think it’s at least three important factors here. If a country shall be able to force or increase the speed of phasing out IE6 (and other technology) there must be a broad debate around the problems we have today both from a technical perspective and from a more social perspective. To do that it’s not enough to just get one content provider shouting out. It’s important to have huge reach and broad support. This is a tricky part. How do you manage to do that? This actually happened in this campaign as I have described above. That’s probably very unique and amazing! Right now 12 out of Norway’s 13 biggest sites on alexa.com has joined the campaign and has a signal to the end users with IE6.

    When we look at our statistics the decrease in IE6 share it goes slowly. In January the share was 17,1% at FINN.no. What we see is that on weekends and at the evening the share is about 10-12%. During the day it’s about 24-25%. So this means that it’s the organizations and companies that is the biggest problem.

    So we have to manage to speed up upgrades both on home computers and in the office. Our goal is that the shares on home computers using IE6 is way under 5%, and I think a national campaign like we now how, could manage this within the end of 2009. When it comes to the business it’s a different story. If this campaign can ensure that Norway get’s a transition sooner than without it, then I will say that the campaign is a success. Broad coverage and debate because of the campaign may help in this matter. But this is definitely the most tricky part.

    When we look at our statistics the figures for IE6 is a decrease of 1,2 – 1,5% since we started the campaign one week ago. And the last week and this week we have a holiday in Norway so it will take some weeks before we can tell exactly how big effect this campaign is having.

  10. Dave Woods on February 26, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Hi larre, Thanks for your response. Going on those statistics so far, do you think it’s probably fair to say that the problem with IE6 nowadays isn’t so much that people are unaware that they can upgrade but more the fact that they are physically unable to do so? And if that’s the case how do we propose a solution?

    Maybe the use of the meta tag in IE8 could be a solution to the problem so that IE8 renders in non standards mode (or quirks mode) but can we really expect businesses to update their apps especially considering that they may not be built on template systems and would be harder than simply putting one line of code in their header include file?

    Also, even if this was a possibility, would businesses trust Microsoft or would they be more likely to take the approach that their apps work fine in IE6 at the moment so is there any point in upgrading and risk breaking years worth of development?

    It’s a tricky one which doesn’t seem to have an easy answer sadly :(

  11. larre on February 26, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    I do think that a lot of people using IE6 on their home computer does not have any clue that they have the ability to actually make an upgrade. I do not have any figures here. I’ve got some reactions from people trying to upgrade on very old computers that it was not a smart move :) Hopefully 50% of the home computers should be able to make an upgrade.

    Last day we had a really great session on digi.no (tv) where Rune Zakariassen from Microsoft Norway talks about IE8 and also relates this to the ongoing campaign. It’s really sad that it’s in Norwegian!
    The quirk mode may be a solution for some companies that has applications specially implemented for IE6 and that’s what he points out also. Microsoft will help companies in the transition with the upgrade and he also points out that all developers should stick to the standards for all new developments.

    The time for this campaign should have been started when IE8 is ready in a couple of weeks, but that’s too late now. And also with the financial situation the companies will probably not throw money into big and expensive upgrades. So I think that it’s a very tricky situation.

  12. Nicholas on February 27, 2009 at 1:15 am

    I am disappointed that you guys are not promoting Opera more. It’s your own child. You should love it and cherish it. The stats on FINN say only 3.2% of Norwegians are using the browser from Norway.[1]

    On a similar note of patriotism, why is it “sad” that Rune’s conversation was in Norwegian? If you think it would have been better if it was in English so that it could reach some hypothetical wider audience, then in your mind you are already on the slippery slope to losing your cultural identity.
    Look what happened to the Cornish people and country after they decided speaking English to their children would be better than raising them in their own language. They’re all gone now! You guys have to learn Swedish and English at school. Sweden and England don’t reciprocate. Don’t lament important things being done in your language, it is critical to your own survival as a people.

    [1] http://labs.finn.no/blog/nettleserstatistikken-finn-no-januar-2009

  13. larre on February 27, 2009 at 7:40 am

    Hi Nicholas,
    several of the other websites do promote Opera among others (like Firefox). That FINN is only showing a link to IE in the “box” has made some debate. Inside our article on Labs (that we link to in the box) we do promote all the big browsers. We think that the 10-12% of the people still running IE6 on home computers are not very technical. Getting them to upgrade is probably easier if they get one choice not 6. That is the rational behind it. Getting people to start using Opera (witch is a great great great browser) is not our goal in this case

    We do not learn Swedish in school, but we do learn English that is correct. We also have to learn our very ancient language also. I think Norway is quit patriotic and when reading about the Norwegian history it is not very difficult to understand that. But that is another topic :)

  14. ZJ on March 16, 2009 at 10:45 am

    BUT WHY THE F.CK DO YOU WANT US TO THROW AWAY IE6??? Because it is an old browser? Well, none of you guys are exactly newborn and the idea to upgrade regardless need or time is not new either, but you don’t seem to want yourselves upgraded or replaced.

    I have read the article above and see no reason at all to do any upgrade, besides the fact that the browser is 9 years old. What you failed to mention is the fact that newer browser might be more demanding on system resources, on user skills etc. It’s the same “upgrade, upgrade, upgrade” mantra that everybody has been feeding us with – in order to sell new junk, more junk, other junk. To what avail?

    And just in case somebody tries to tell me I know nothing about computers… I’ve been in the business for almost 35 years, I’ve seen hardware and software come and go – and believe me, “newer” is not always equivalent to “better”.

  15. larre on March 25, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Hello ZJ.
    I think you point out a really important issue here. Why on earth should I as an end-user upgrade? The reasons to upgrade from this browser are actually several; From security issues (like secure), lack of support for standards and the huge amount of time and resources that is wasted trying to support it. You can read more about IE6 on Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IE6

  16. Dan Mihai Ile on April 8, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    This is wonderful. It inspired me to create this project on google code: http://code.google.com/p/ie6-upgrade-warning/

    I want to translate it to as many languages as possible so that any web developper could add it to the webpages created. The initial language is very polite and suggests the use of a newer browser.

  17. ortlieb on October 16, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    this is a great history. I never heard about it. but anyway, I agree with mark above. To say it was succesfull, much more people should join the initiative and not only big companies

  18. Din startside on November 26, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    I really like the IE8, it´s closer to the FF regarding behaviour reading codes and output of a website. Let us all upgrade :-)

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