Former Google engineer reveals the secret YouTube plot to kill Internet Explorer 6
Nearly 10 years ago, YouTube started displaying a banner to Internet Explorer 6 users, warning that support for Microsoft’s browser would be “phasing out” soon. It was a message that appeared on all YouTube pages, at a time when IE6 users represented around 18 percent of all YouTube traffic. Frustrated by supporting the aging browser, a group of YouTube engineers had hatched a plan to kill Internet Explorer 6.
“We began collectively fantasizing about how we could exact our revenge on IE6,” reveals Chris Zacharias, a former Google and YouTube engineer. “The plan was very simple. We would put a small banner above the video player that would only show up for IE6 users.” A group of engineers implemented this banner, knowing that most YouTube employees using the company’s staging environment wouldn’t even see it. At the time, Google had acquired YouTube a few years prior to the IE6 banner and the video sharing site hadn’t really fully adapted to Google’s infrastructure and policies.
YouTube engineers had created a special set of permissions called “OldTuber,” so they could bypass Google’s code enforcement policies and make changes directly to the YouTube codebase with limited code reviews. Zacharias and some other engineers were granted OldTuber permissions, allowing them to put the banner in place with very little oversight. “We saw an opportunity in front of us to permanently cripple IE6 that we might never get again,” admits Zacharias.
The banner appeared in July 2009, and the press coverage immediately approved of Google’s push to kill off Internet Explorer 6 support on YouTube. “The first person to come by our desks was the PR team lead,” explains Zacharias. Every major tech publication was asking why YouTube was threatening to kill of IE6 support, at a time when the browser was still used frequently. “We eagerly told them [PR] everything about what we had launched and helped them craft the necessary talking points to expand on the narrative already established by the media.”