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Internet as the medium

Maybe the error will surface soon. I have had some mild rants against Jeff, and I think he got the point now. Let me add a tiny disclaimer first: Jeremy Keith needed no less than two days to fully convince me that I was wrong myself. So, if anything, believe him.

The common mistake

A common mistake is, you may have guessed with my current layout, wanting to be pixel-perfect. This is a myth. With the current spread of browsers, resolutions, OSes, colour settings and all possible combinations between all of these, there is no such thing as a pixel-perfect layout. Yes, you could try and achieve it by making it all image-based. However, that will mean a massive loss in terms of accessibility. I won’t even mention Flash here. The foundations of this mistake are very clear: print.

What’s wrong with print? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s in fact my secret passion. However, internet was not made for print. Oh yes, do go ahead and make all your web pages a PDF. Accessibility? Sod accessibility! … Exactly. The point is, you can’t say “this thing goes to the left a bit, and everyone will see it like that”. You know it cannot be like that. With the vast amount of browsers alone, you can’t go pixel-perfect.

In the end, the conclusion will be clear and maybe a bit harsh to some: internet is a new medium. Yes, I can explain that, even though it’s been around longer than I have. Simple: people tried to feign other media on the Internet (internet with a caps ‘I’ is the medium from now on – with a lowercase ‘I’ it’s the thing we use this very moment), trying to make it do what print does, what TV does (remember those portals that offered you the news as video files? Doesn’t work, does it? Anyway, this trying to make it look and function like something else is the exact reason why the internet hasn’t evolved as much as it should have yet.

Let’s make some sense

Here’s Jeremy Keith’s account in the story then. Liquid design is an example of the advantages of the Internet over any other medium. Liquid design (up to a certain extent) safeguards a layout of sorts on any resolution. Liquid beats Paper. If Jeremy doesn’t beat me to it, I’ll get a write-up done on liquid design as well. Anyways. Why treat Internet as a newspaper or a magazine when there’s so much more to offer (direct commenting and other media mixed, and various other sorts of interactivity with that, to name something)? Alright, do create your newspaper style website, but don’t sacrifice the Internet for it. There’s more to the internet than just ‘other media in the mix’.

Another example. Accessibility. Accessibility is a hot issue, mostly because most people don’t get it and because governments finally do get it. Come OS X Tiger, accessibility will take another step, an ‘in your face’ step. Tiger will have a built-in screenreaderesque program, so Sites That Suck will not be loved by blind Mac OS users, and even though they couldn’t even get there before, they have now spilled their credit.

A newspaper is far from accessible. TV is even worse. Internet is not even remotely comparable. It indeed can be accessible, something that makes it stand out from the others.

So, mister know-all, how do we treat this new medium then?

I am not the one to decide, however, there are many of you already doing it correctly. The trick is to fill the gap that exists between the other media, and to build on that. Extend. Ajax (I still hate the name, but that aside) is a fine example of that, with the geniuses over at 37signals doing a great job with it. Also, Wikis. Yeah, that’s all I’ll say. Wikis are a fine example of what the Internet is meant to be about (if anyone opts for a post by me about money and content, go ahead ;)): free content by little effort.

For those of you who skimmed to the end just to read the dirty words (penis, titties, bum), here’s the lowdown: as my good buddy Seth Rasmussen once said (or something along these lines), Internet has much more potential than to just be Television++.

(To those of you (I’m looking at you now, Anatoly) thinking “Gee, that Rob sure does seem to like liquid layouts,” yes I do. I just picked that as a prime example, because it’s something unseen before the Internet was there, and it still needs its promotion. Do no see this post as a billboard for liquid design, but as another point on the map towards the new medium.)

More on this topic

The end of web design?

I was surfing and saw this comment on Digital Web. And I strongly disagree. Data is the future. XML is data in it’s purest form.

So home pages will die? No they won’t. Neither will blogs. Maybe people prefer to read the XML-based feeds, but the site could still be pure XML with some XSLT. Nothing wrong with that, pure content and you still keep the flexibility of a home page (that is, with some static and unmanaged content as everybody has). It’s ridiculous to think (at this time, maybe in 5 years all will be different) that content will eventually kill design. I don’t think that design shall be adapted to content more than it’s already being done too. It’s just no point. Content is of course what people want to see, but believe me, design is attested.

I have nothing against Richard MacManus and his opinion. I just think design can’t be killed in favour of content. Design still can be a crutch. Hell, you’d put 95% of all web dev companies out of work! ;)

Old-fashioned HTML?

HTML is not outdated, ye mangy gits

Faruk and Hayo were teaming up against Anne and me the other day, and it was about HTML. Now, you might say, that fight is already over, is it not? Well, it seems it isn’t. Anne is a lover of good code, and that’s no secret. He writes HTML occasionally and writes perfect XHTML too (be it with Arthur Steiner). Faruk is against the former, because, he says, HTML is obsoleted by XHTML.

Now I’m asking you, why is that? Of course, clients want to see XHTML, the big new buzzword that’s spread the web. HTML is nothing less. Okay, it isn’t eXtensible, but for most corporate sites (that have to get their designers elsewhere – bigger companies tend to have their own coders), that same extensibility isn’t needed at all. I know the battle has been fought, but if you’re as good as convincing your clients to ‘upgrade’ to XHTML, you should also advice them to use HTML if they have no use for XML or whatever spankin’ technology they might never need. Of course, the marketing trick is XHTML, but as soon as they know that HTML is nothing less, you’ve come a long way as a developer. But you did use HTML, and that’s what Hayo and Faruk didn’t like. “It’s deprecated,” “it’s so 90s”. Utter bull. HTML isn’t dead. HTML is still alive and evolving. There is no point in using XHTML instead of HTML when the advantages are lost.

(Short rant on semantics and forward-compatibility…)

HTML can be as strict and semantic as you like. Get your client to know that HTML isn’t necessarily tag-soup, table-based and outdated. It’s stupid to think that HTML is not forward-compatible. Why deprecate HTML when it’s still in use on 97% or something on the internet?

(That be all on that matter.)

I can’t ignore the fact that clients ‘prefer’ XHTML, but if you don’t try to convince them, they will soon be nagging about faulty code. And then you are the culprit. Of course, you can make your client one spiffy XHTML 1.1 spitting CMS (Faruk, I look at you here), but that’s not the case for all developers. Web Standards aren’t about XHTML. HTML is a standard too. Web Standards is about compatibility, usability, semantics and (discussably) validation.

Arthur told me that XHTML is one of the means of progression, but I’m not saying one should not use XHTML. I’m saying that it’s not wrong to use HTML. Thank you Arthur ;)

Just before posting: In the nick of time, Jacques Distler makes the case for HTML. Somewhat.

MIME-types on the Zooiblog

On another note, I’ve recently switched to application/xhtml+xml. It works like a charm. However, faulty code is still bugging me. Please be valid with your comments, and if you’re not, mail me ASAP. Your response will be highly appreciated.