May 12, 2008

Browser Support in MailChimp V3

My how technology has changed. In the early days, we had to hand-code everything ourselves: sortable table columns, animated visual graphs, WYSIWYG editors, form builders, pop-up help boxes, etc. That’s why we don’t have any of that in the old MailChimp.

Now, there’s a plugin for just about everything. It’s allowed us to make huge improvements in MailChimp v3, and fast.

Instead of wasting time on minutia, like how to make a checkbox clickable even if you just click the text to the side of it, we just plug that stuff in. Instead of using calculus and SVG and databases and Flash to generate a graph, we just plug graphs in. Another cool thing is AJAX. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically a way to make web applications run fast in your browser (kind of like software that’s installed on your computer’s hard drive). MailChimp v3 is so much faster than v2, thanks to AJAX.

Now we can focus on making email marketing better.

The downside of all this cool technology is that not all browsers are supported perfectly (the more things change, the more they stay the same). So we had to decide which browsers we’d support, and which ones to leave behind.

It was a tough choice for us to make here. We spent days debating, looking at server logs, trying to make code backwards compatible, etc. In fact, there’s still some debate going. And the engineers and designers haven’t given up. I still hear them whispering about possible workarounds and hacks to make older/obscure browsers work.

But in the end, management had to make a business decision. It’s not an elitist stance, or an immature "IE sucks" position. It’s about spending our resources on what matters most: useful email marketing features. Not hacking for browsers. So here goes:

Browser Support in MailChimp

MailChimp is best in:

  • Firefox 2 or above, Mac and PC
  • Safari on Mac
  • IE7 on PC

MailChimp will work (but not be pretty) in:

  • IE6. We got it to limp along and work in IE6, but we don’t plan to devote much more time on IE6 support. IE7 has been around long enough for people to switch (in fact, IE8 is just around the corner). If we spend time trying to make MailChimp look perfect in IE6, we lose functionality for the majority of users who are on IE7 and Firefox.

MailChimp just won’t work in:

  • Opera. Actually, MailChimp works okay, but the way we’re using our WYSIWYG editor (in a quick, convenient modal box that hovers over the page) does not. So you can technically use Opera if you never plan to use the WYSIWYG. Chances are, if you’re an Opera user, you’re gonna be coding your own HTML emails anyway, and "don’t need no stinkin’ WYSIWYG, thank you very much."

If you’re curious, here’s a recent report on browser usage on MailChimp’s site (application-side, not the public site) :

browser-usage-stats-mailchimp.jpg

It’s so nice to see Firefox (a MailChimp user, BTW) higher than IE. And to see Safari above 3%! Finally!

Internet Explorer is 43% of our user base, with 1/3 of that group on IE6. Yep, that’s significant, which is why we made MailChimp v3 work for IE6 users. But we’re not going to hack our code to make it pretty for IE6 users.

What about IE8? We’re researching, but not taking any action. Yet. If you’ve got some time, read this excellent article from Joel Spolsky on the matter of IE8, and developing for it. You’ll see what we mean.