Jul 21 2012

IE10 flip ahead and standards

Category: Software,WebdevelopmentSpiller @ 23:13

According to within windows IE10 has added a new feature to simplify page navigation. It is called “flip ahead” causes the browser to automatically find the next page if you click on the right side of the page. (It also makes a fancy slide animation which I guess tablet users will enjoy.) To quote within windows: “There are no futile attempts at tapping tiny links or looking for “next page” links on a badly designed website.”

There were two kind of responses in the comments, the ones praising the feature and the ones noting that this feature have been in Opera for years. As a avid Opera user I of course know about this feature and have been using it for a long time. (The main difference is that Opera doesn’t do the fancy animation and have like 10 different ways of activating it.)

But I’m not trying to be a Opera fanboy and rant about IE copying this feature. Rather, I’m happy that they do and hopefully the other browsers will too. Because this is an awesome feature, well, when it works. Sometimes the page you end up on can be completely unexpected.  And that is the issue, it isn’t really that reliable, and it is not really that strange when you consider the implementation.

The way Opera implements it (and most likely also IE) is, according to users on the web, by using a list of words which are likely to be in links pointing to the next page (in several languages). So if it finds a link which matches one of those entries, it will use that as the next page.

So this works when the page uses something commonly like “next page”. However one specific site might use “more destruction” instead of “next”. Will it work now? Perhaps, but in that case, what if another site didn’t have more than one page but did have a link to a site called “More destruction”. You could end up on a completely unrelated site or page. Such cases could be fixed, but there will always be some other special case.

So as a webdeveloper you will either have to carefully test the site in IE (and risking different behavior in Opera), or wait for some way or standard to specify the next page with some form for meta-data. Within windows says to lurk on the IE blog for tips on tailoring your site to this feature, however there is no need to wait on the bloging about it because there already is a way to specify this. Actually, it have been there for about 15 years, it is a part of the HTML 4 specification. It is a single element placed in the HEAD: [Document relationships: the LINK element]

<LINK rel="Next" href="Chapter3.html">

Lets quote the spec: “Next Refers to the next document in a linear sequence of documents. User agents may choose to preload the “next” document, to reduce the perceived load time.” Seems like it took the IE guys 15 years to notice this…

So why do browsers guess? Because way to many sites does not provide this information. And worse yet, a lot of people got it wrong, so several aliases was added to the HTML5 spec… (and I therefore recommend you to use the HTML5 spec as a reference to this instead.) Opera does support it, but because of the amount of websites that doesn’t provide it, the feature still seems shaky at best. Now when a bigger browser like IE gets support hopefully this will change, but it will still take time before the majority of websites adds it. And the “poorly designed” websites Within windows mentioned might never do it…

To conclude this rambling: It (again) saddens me to see the state of the web today.

EDIT: seems like MS really wants to try the impossible and get it working on all sites, just hear this: “Using Flip Ahead requires end user opt-in, and sends your browsing history to Microsoft to improve the quality of the experience.” [Web browsing in Windows 8 Release Preview with IE10]