Does using Internet Explorer make you stupid? I think not, but sometimes it can trick you. (See part 1 of this story here.)

I use a variety of browsers and operating systems, but my favorite is Internet Explorer 9 running on Windows 7. I like the feature that combines the address bar with the search box into a single text edit field. It allows me to just type a company name in the search box and the browser will resolve it into a domain name for me. (Of course, not everyone likes this design.)

Anyway, a few minutes ago I was using Safari on my Mac and typed “Ikea” in the address bar. Naturally, what I really wanted was “www.ikea.com”. Safari doesn’t automatically send invalid URLs to the search engine like IE9 does. I have Comcast broadband at home. Comcast detects and captures any invalid URLs and displays its own custom DNS error page, a practice called DNS hijacking. A portion of the page is shown below.

IkeaComcast

Custom DNS error page. Image from Comcast

Notice that the first item is a sponsored link that has the title “IKEA.com – Official Site” and has the URL www.ikea.com that I wanted highlighted in green. Naturally, I clicked on it. After a few redirections, this is what I see:

Ikeapromotion

It sort of looks like an Ikea home page. Image from rewardsclub.com

This looks like it could be the official IKEA site, but it isn’t. The domain name displayed in the address bar is not for ikea.com but for rewardsclub.com, one of those credit card scam companies that is basically a phishing site. The top part of the page is designed to look like it is complete. But you will notice that the scroll bar indicates there is more content below the fold. If you are willing to scroll down, you’ll see the following disclaimer:

IKEA is a registered trademark of Inter IKEA Systems B.V. BigBrandRewards.com is not affiliated with IKEA®. All IKEA® trademarks are the property of IKEA® and BigBrandRewards.com does not, in any way, claim to represent or own any of the IKEA® trademarks or rights. IKEA® does not own, endorse, or promote BigBrandRewards.com or this promotion.

This Gift Program is not endorsed, sponsored by or affiliated with the manufacturers and retailers of the gift items listed above in anyway. All trademarks, service marks and logos are property of their respective owners.

Well, I guess that disclaimer may protect them from lawsuits by Ikea (trademark infringement) or from disgruntled customers and state attorneys general (fraud and deceptive trade practices). But I doubt it.

This sucks. Only a credulous rube would actually purchase a prepaid credit card. But everyone is forced to waste time figuring out that this is not the Ikea website and either manually typing in the correct URL to get there or go back to Comcast’s search page and click on a different link.

However, I don’t blame Comcast for this travesty, at least not directly. I believe the search results on the DNS server not found error page are provided by Yahoo (which uses Microsoft Bing as its search engine) and that Yahoo and Microsoft run the keyword auctions that populate the sponsored links. Thus, it is up to them to ensure that the green text in the sponsored link ads matches to the domain that the user will be redirected to.

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Does using Internet Explorer make you stupid? I think not, but maybe smart people are willing to believe any lies about Internet users.

Recently, a Canadian firm called ApTiquant issued a press release saying that it conducted an online IQ test using over 100,000 people. It recorded the results and the web browser used by the participants. They produced a downloadable white paper that contains a couple impressive looking graphs that show people using Internet Explorer 6 had lower than average IQ.

ApTiquantIQ

Users of Internet Explorer 6 are getting stoopid. Chart from ApTiquant

The story was picked up by many media outlets including CNN, Forbes, and others. Some even included an explanation of why this data would be expected. For instance, it could be that Internet Explorer 6 was released in 2001 and so anyone who was still using it would be more likely to be poor and have lower educational attainment.

Another is that many users of Internet Explorer just use the product because it was installed by default when purchasing a computer. Users of other browsers often need to download it, install it, and use it. Only more determined people, who presumably are also of higher intelligence will do this. As they exit the population of Internet Explorer users, they leave behind a pool of less intelligent users.

Finally, certain companies and the government agencies require all employees to use a specific browser, like IE6, to maintain compatibility with line of business websites. This implies workers at organizations that lack IT resources to upgrade internal tools bring down the average.

But alternative views did appear. The BBC quoted Professor David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University’s Statistical Laboratory, who said: “I believe these figures are implausibly low – and an insult to IE users.”

Eventually, it was revealed that the whole story was a hoax. There is no company called ApTiquant. No IQ tests were performed and the white paper was a fabrication. The ruse was  perpetrated by an online shopping comparison website called AtCheap.com to raise awareness that Internet Explorer 6 was not compliant to web standards and rendered many web pages incorrectly. The company encourages users of IE6 to switch to a more modern browser in order to view more websites in a manner that their creators intended.

(See part 2 of this story here.)

There is a quote attributed to Frederic Goudy, “Anyone who would letterspace blackletter would steal sheep.” Mr. Goudy felt that the glyphs in Gothic script fonts which are intended to mimic handwritten text, were already perfectly spaced and that it would be a crime to adjust that spacing.

James Felici is one of the world’s leading experts on good typography. But this week’s issue of CreativePro contains an amusingly ironic lesson in bad typography.

Someone, probably not Mr. Felici, tagged all of his HTML special characters and replaced all of his apostrophes with the escape code ‘ which is wrong. It should have been ’ which is the right single quote. ‘ is the escape code for an apostrophe in XML, not HTML. This leaves the text of his article riddled with code. The ironic example is in the middle of his section about the incorrect use of straight quotes shown below.

If you view the page using browsers that interpret XML and display it as HTML, the page will look fine. Specifically, if you use the Firefox, Chrome, or Safari browsers (I didn’t actually check Chrome), it will display as an apostrophe. But if you use Internet Explorer, as over half the population does, then it looks pretty darn ugly. It’s a crime I tell you.

BadPunctuation    Image from CreativePro using Internet Explorer 8