Have we lost our connection with the web? Let’s #webexcite

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 at 4:11 pm

I love the web. I love building stuff in it using web standards. I learned the value of standards the hard way: building things when browser choices were IE4 or Netscape 3. The days when connections were slow enough that omitting quotes around attributes made a real difference to end users instead of being just an opportunity to have another controversial discussion thread. The days when you did everything possible – no matter how dirty – to make things look and work right. The days when the basic functionality of a product was the most important part of it – not if it looks shiny on retina or not.

Let's get excited

I am not alone. Many out there are card-carrying web developers who love doing what I do. And many have done it for a long, long time. Many of us don a blue beanie hat once a year to show our undying love for the standard work that made our lives much, much easier and predictable and testable in the past and now.

Enough with the backpatting

However, it seems we live in a terrible bubble of self-affirmation about just how awesome and ever-winning the web is. We’re lacking proof. We build things to impress one another and seem to forget that what we do sooner than later should improve the experience of people surfing the web out there.

In places of perceived affluence (let’s not analyse how much of that is really covered-up recession and living on borrowed money) the web is very much losing mind-share.

Apps excite people

People don’t talk about “having been to a web site”; instead they talk about apps and are totally OK if the app is only available on one platform. Even worse, people consider themselves a better class than others when they have iOS over Android which dares to also offer cheaper hardware.

The web has become mainstream and boring; it is the thing you use, and not where you get your Oooohhhs and Aaaahhhhs.

Why is that? We live in amazing times:

  • New input types allow for much richer forms
  • Video and Audio in HTML5 has matured to a stage where you can embed a video without worrying about showing a broken grey box
  • Canvas allows us to create and manipulate graphics on the fly
  • WebRTC allows for Skype-like functionality straight in the browser.
  • With Web Audio we can create and manipulate music in the browser
  • SVG is now an embed in HTML and doesn’t need to be an own document which allows us scalable vector graphics (something Flash was damn good in)
  • IndexedDB allows us to store data on the device
  • AppCache, despite all its flaws allows for basic offline functionality
  • WebGL brings 3D environments to the web (again, let’s not forget VRML)
  • WebComponents hint at finally having a full-fledged Widget interface on the web.

Shown, but never told

The worry I have is that most of these technologies never really get applied in commercial, customer-facing products. Instead we build a lot of “technology demos” and “showcases” to inspire ourselves and prove that there is a “soon to come” future where all of this is mainstream.

This becomes even more frustrating when the showcases vanish or never get upgraded. Many of the stuff I showed people just two years ago only worked in WebKit and could be easily upgraded to work across all browsers, but we’re already bored with it and move on to the next demo that shows the amazing soon to be real future.

I’m done with impressing other developers; I want the tech we put in browsers to be used for people out there. If we can’t do that, I think we failed as passionate web developers. I think we lost the connection to those we should serve. We don’t even experience the same web they do. We have fast macs with lots of RAM and Adblock enabled. We get excited about parallax web sites that suck the battery of a phone empty in 5 seconds. We happily look at a loading bar for a minute to get an amazing WebGL demo. Real people don’t do any of that. Let’s not kid ourselves.

Exciting, real products

I remember at the beginning of the standards movement we had showcase web sites that showed real, commercial, user-facing web sites and praised them for using standards. The first CSS layout driven sites, sites using clever roll-over techniques for zooming into product images, sites with very clean and semantic markup – that sort of thing. #HTML on ircnet had a “site of the day”, there was a “sightings” site explaining a weekly amazing web site, “snyggt” in Sweden showcased sites with tricky scripts and layout solutions.

I think it may be time to re-visit this idea. Instead of impressing one another with codepens, dribbles and other in-crowd demos, let’s tell one another about great commmercial products aimed not at web developers using up-to-date technology in a very useful and beautiful way.

That way we have an arsenal of beautiful and real things to show to people when they are confused why we like the web so much. The plan is simple:

  • If you find a beautiful example of modern tech used in the wild, tweet or post about it using the #webexcite hash tag
  • We can also set up a repository somewhere on GitHub once we have a collection going

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