Primum non nocere

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The Latin phrase used in the title of this post, pri­mum non nocere, trans­lates as:

First do no harm. 

It’s often said that this is part of the Hip­po­crat­ic Oath, from the code of ethics fol­lowed by med­ical pro­fes­sion­als. While that’s not cor­rect, it’s a rule that’s gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered impor­tant to fol­low: do good, or at least do no harm.

Although what we do is not as crit­i­cal to soci­ety as the role of a doc­tor, I think we need to start con­sid­er­ing an oath like this for work­ing on the web. Let me explain why.

This week I’ve seen two ‘HTML5’ web­sites which fea­ture rich inter­ac­tions and ani­ma­tions; like Flash used to be, but now using open web tech­nolo­gies. This is a very good thing. How­ev­er, vis­it them with JavaScript dis­abled and you get a very dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence: that is, noth­ing, or next-to-noth­ing. Lit­er­al­ly. On one site I saw a logo and a mes­sage telling me I need­ed JavaScript; on the oth­er, a blank screen.

If all of your con­tent is in HTML, and styled with CSS, but you’re requir­ing peo­ple to use JavaScript before they can see it: you’re doing it wrong.

In order to ensure that we make web­sites avail­able to every­one, regard­less of brows­er type or capa­bil­i­ty, I would sug­gest we come up with our own oath — per­haps some­thing like this:

First make your con­tent accessible. 

This isn’t new, of course; this is basic stuff. But so keen are many of us to rush to take advan­tage of all the shiny new­ness of devices and fea­tures, we’re for­get­ting to do the fun­da­men­tals. We’re doing harm.

2 comments on
“Primum non nocere”

  1. Amen!

  2. So hap­py to see this mes­sage is still being spread!