I’ve spent a lot of time in my career writing and talking about future web features, from CSS3 to Web Components. But I’ve recently come to realise that, while I still think these features are important, I’ve been missing out on the bigger picture: the survival of the open web. That sounds hyperbolic, I know, but so many articles I’ve read, conversations I’ve had, and behaviours I’ve observed, have led me to the conclusion that the open web, in the form we know it now, is under threat.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the clash between idealism and pragmatism. I’ve been working on the Web for many years, and for much of that time I’ve tried to do things the ‘right’ way; standards-compliant, validated, mobile-first, responsive, accessible, clean, extensible, etc. I’m definitely not claiming that I’ve always succeeded, but the intention and effort was there.
In the past few years the explosive growth of the Web, and the devices used to access it, has meant a parallel increase in the power and complexity of the tools needed to build it. And of course we want to make sites that are fast and light and perform competitively with native apps. But I think in this sharp focus on the technical side of building, we risk losing sight of why we are building, and who for.
On the 21st of March I had the pleasure of participating in the Web Components panel at Edge Conf, and the privilege of giving the introduction to the panel. I’m a strong advocate of Web Components and it was great to be able to provide my opinion on them, alongside some real experts in the field, as well as hear questions and feedback from the community. The main concern which was raised is that, as developers create their own elements, some important considerations — accessibility not least — could get forgotten about.
There is a famous Portuguese-English phrasebook, published in the 19th Century, with the title “English As She Is Spoke”. It contains many unintentionally hilarious translations of words and expressions, including such familiar phrases as “that are the dishes whose you must be and to abstain”, and “I not make what to coughand spit”. The author, Pedro Carolino, had the best of intentions in producing this book, but suffered from one major drawback: he didn’t speak English. The book was apparently translated from an earlier Portuguese-French phrasebook, using a French-English dictionary.
The reason I bring this up is that I think this is a fairly common problem in coding. Many people know how to write code in order to get a result, but they don’t know the language at hand in enough depth to realise that the result doesn’t always make sense.
It’s almost the end of 2012 and I’m winding down for the holidays, so in lieu of new content I thought I’d share a few interesting quotations I’ve seen/heard/read recently, on professionalism, pride in your work, and being creative. Cheers to you all, see you in 2013.
Aesthetics are your problem and mine. Nobody else’s. I want everything we do — that I do personally, that our office does — to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or whether the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything; it’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.
Once [Steve Jobs and his adoptive father Paul] were building a fence. And [Paul] said, “You got to make the back of the fence that nobody will see just as good looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you’re dedicated to making something perfect.”
To be really creative you have to deal with loneliness and pointlessness and you need to be brutally honest and critical of your own thoughts and actions. It’s what makes great creators, inventors and entrepreneurs.
A new, lightweight datepicker widget, Pickadate.js, was released recently, and caused a few people to contact its creator, @Amsul, regarding a lack of accessibility features in the code. His reply was quite depressing:
Our target market doesn’t need it [accessibility], so its safe for us to use.
Most of us, I’m sure, would admit that we could do a better job of making our websites accessible, but to actively state that a11y isn’t required seems wilfully stupid. I don’t know how you get to serve pages only to your target market. I mean, this is the web; it’s public; stuff gets everywhere.
Through sheer serendipity I read an article by Karl Groves about an hour later, which states clearly why a11y should be something you concern yourself with: Yes, actually, it may be you one day. He sums it up perfectly:
If you market or develop ICT products and services and you’re still ignoring accessibility, you’re ignoring the coming reality. One day it will be you, or someone you know and love.