Traditionally divided, browser authors and development teams have recently come together, trying to outline the basis of common interface and technological principles that would provide users, no matter their browser and platform of choice, with a common set of clues as to which sites they can and cannot trust. Generally speaking that initiative is laudable, as it would make it easier for less experienced Internet users to pick up on potential dangers and on the significance of similar situations across a wide variety of sites.
Interestingly, the real world is full of certification bodies, all of which do various jobs to keep us all on the same level. In the States as well as in France, Belgium or Norway, a red traffic light means “Stop” and a green one “Go”. A black silhouette, bent in pain within a yellow triangle means “Electric shock”, etc… Some of these resemblances are purely coincidental or simply decided on a “good sense” basis while others actually stem from a worldwide effort to standardize and normalize. Up until now, the online world has seemed mostly oblivious to these practices and every developer has gone his merry way, implementing what he felt was best, sometimes with wonderful results — and sometimes, well, with less wonderful ones.
Today, more than learning how to use “the Internet”, a user has to learn how to use “a browser”, which makes the switching between platforms and browsers extremely complex. The irony, of course, is that the sites themselves are being pushed towards technical harmony through the efforts of groups such as the W3 Consortium. Schematically speaking, we are all staring at the same machinery but through different sets of distorting glasses that make it look as if we were looking at completely different things.
In that light, I would love to see a standardization body for interfaces, across browsers and clients. Specifications that would tell “make the buttons for secure forms yellow” or “put the padlock icon in that place” would make it much easier for users to find their way around and, ultimately, protect themselves. Of course, there are limits to that and one cannot go to the point where all browsers would look exactly the same — such extremes are never good. There is however, I believe, a lot of distance to travel before bumping into that wall.
Let’s hope interface consistency will slowly become a reality. If we could do this, add SSL to login forms and encourage users to user stronger passwords, the Internet would be a much happier place.