The One Webdesign Practice Most of Us Forget

Don’t you hate it when you’re trying to see a picture, watch a video, or listen to a song, only to see a warning that reads “You need [this random browser plugin] to view this content”? It’s an unpleasant shock to any user, even (and maybe especially) for us webdesigners and developers who know the inner workings of such programming.

What compounds the frustration, however, is when a website that needs a special plugin does not tell you anything about how to get the plugin–it just tells you that you need it and leaves you to fend for yourself. At that point, most users simply exit the site and find another one that isn’t so picky about how they view content. And who can blame them? Most Internet users (and that includes us, too) don’t want to have to work that hard for information or entertainment!

It’s easy to point the finger at other websites for inconveniencing their users like this…but we who create websites often forget to provide that exact same service for our own users. We often forget to make our sites as easy and convenient as possible for our users to view.

The Solution: Plugin Links

Whenever we include media content on our websites, such as a photo gallery that requires a script to run, a video, or an audio track, we should always take the following steps:

  1. Check your media content in as many common browsers as possible, to make sure it will appear and run correctly with the right plugins installed. Today, most people use Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Google Chrome, but also include Opera and Safari.
  2. Be aware which browser plugins process which content. For instance, Adobe Flash Player is most often used to run Youtube videos, and Quicktime still runs most audio tracks; most photo galleries use jQuery or something Javascript-related.
  3. Include plugin links for these common browsers–for example, if you’re running a Flash video, make sure you have Adobe Flash Player plugin links for Firefox, IE, Chrome, Opera, and Safari located somewhere just below the video in plain view.

This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s important that we do this backend work so that our users don’t have to. It’s all part of providing a more convenient, informative website.

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