Friday, February 20, 2015

When your browser acts differently from other browsers

There is a particular online service - I will not name the online service, but its name rhymes with Racehook - which derives its revenue by strongly encouraging you to do things that you would rather not do otherwise. Frankly, all services do this. For example, they all want you to make all information as public as possible, and provide as much information as possible, so that they can target you with specific ad content. Some people are very comfortable with this, while others are not.

To meet its financial objectives, the "Racehook" online service has implemented a particular feature related to videos. When a video shows up in your newsfeed, it automatically starts playing. Yes, the sound is off, but the video is playing. The idea is to lure you to watch the video, and if the video just happens to be from a Racehook advertiser, then that advertiser will make money (provided its video is compelling), you'll get a wonderful product, and everyone - Racehook, the advertiser, and you - will be happy.

There are drawbacks to this idea, but I'm not going to get into them right now. For my purposes, let's just note that I was approached by a Racehook user who asked me how to stop those videos from automatically playing on her Macintosh computer.

It's relatively easy to find out how to stop video auto-play on mobile phones, but it's a bit harder to figure out how to do this on desktop/laptop platforms. However, using my Windows computer running Internet Explorer, I was able to figure this out, and sent the woman an illustrated email that showed how to select Settings in Facebook, how to then select the settings for Videos, and finally where to find the specific control that governs auto-play video settings. I was pretty danged proud of myself as I sent this email, which included three pictures. Here's the third picture, the one that shows the "Auto-Play Videos" control.

What could go wrong?

Well, I'll tell you what went wrong. When the woman opened up her browser on her Mac - the browser happened to be Safari - no such control appeared. There was just the "Video Default Quality" setting, and then...nothing.

The problem was eventually solved when she opened Facebook on Firefox, found the setting, and then set it to her desired preference.

I'm not completely up to speed on Mac stuff, and I don't know whether this is a Facebook issue, an Apple (Safari) issue, an Adobe (Flash) issue, or something else. But it boils down to this - something that works on one browser doesn't work on another.

As I've noted before, this is a complex issue, and developers (Facebook developers, Adobe developers, Apple developers, whatever) incur additional costs as they support additional platforms. As you define every new configuration that you want to support - for example, to support videos on today's version of Facebook on Internet Explorer 11.0.15 on a 64-bit Windows 7 Enterprise Service Pack 1 operating system - every new configuration supported adds to the time required to deliver the product. We're talking about planning time; coding time; testing time; implementation time; sales, marketing, and proposal time (this category is near and dear to my heart); support time; and probably some other times.

The user, however, doesn't care. All that the user knows is that he or she has a perfectly good version of Oracle PowerBrowser 1.5, and the computer won't play the latest Taylor Swift video.

Of course, if you're still running Oracle PowerBrowser 1.5, watching Taylor Swift videos may not be high on your list of things to do. Maybe you watch Grateful Dead videos on PowerBrowser. Or you THINK you're watching Grateful Dead videos on PowerBrowser.
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