Buzz Archive: December 2004

Inaccessible sites creating 'Net underclass?

UK IT rag The Register is running an article about the potential for inaccessble web sites to create a 'Net underclass'. The article is speaking primarily of UK-based sites, but the problem it discribes is hardly limited to a single nation.

The article leans heavily on quotes from Deri Jones, CEO of web testing outfit SciVisum. Jones' comments are, for the most part, spot on: he recommends using Flash judiciously, ensuring that your main site is accessible rather than relying on a text-only alternative and so on. One comment, though, gave me pause:

[The problem] has arisen because web designers are building increasing complex sites optimised to work a specific browser, typically Internet Explorer. Inevitably the viewing experience is reduced with other browser types and so sites are increasingly being locked down to work with limited browser types.

There's no question that optimising sites for a single browser is a Bad Idea, but are sites really being increasingly 'locked down'?

A quick stroll over to Meyerweb reveals a whole list of high-profile sites that have redesigned with standards-friendly (if not always strictly valid) CSS layouts: the Disney Store UK, the San Francisco Examiner, Chevrolet and ABC News.

The trend extends beyond the Zeldmans and Davidsons of the world, too. It wasn't too long ago that JR Ordoñez dropped me a note regarding Pixel Plain's beautiful, valid and elegantly-constructed redesign of Epocrates' web site.

More, it seems hardly a week goes by without some nifty new standards-friendly technique popping up, like sIFR and JavaScript image fading. As fellow WaSP Simon Willison observes, the latest trend in client-side scripting is intelligently enhancing structural markup, rather than loading up pages with animations, drop-downs and other heavy gewgaws. A quick browse about Digital Web, SitePoint and A List Apart confirms the trend: the web biz is most defintely moving away from IE/Win-only enhancements, inaccessible tables'n'GIFs conglomerations and heavy, inaccessible scripting. With alternative browsers like Firefox growing in popularity, the move is only going to accellerate.

I certainly agree with the main point of Mr. Jones' quotes, and of the article: as of today, the web isn't nearly as accessible as it should be. But more and more working web developers are getting the message that standards and accessibility aren't pie-in-the-sky ideals, they're practical techniques for improving ROI. Hasn't the time has come to put aside the gloom'n'doom? Instead of the usual 'things are bad and getting worse', isn't it time to start saying 'things are so-so, but getting better quickly'?

After all, nobody much likes joining a losing cause; people much prefer joining up with a winner. From recent evidence, it seems standards and accessibility are doing just that: winning.

WDW2004 Sessions Online

Full streaming video feeds of some of most noteworthy sessions at this month's Web Design World 2004 have been published for your education and entertainment.

Keynotes from Jeffrey Zeldman and Kelly Goto are joined by sessions on rich media web apps (Tom Green), defensive web design (37signal's Jason Fried), as well as sessions on accessibility, XML and more.

Of particular interest on the web standards front is The Marriage of Presentation and Structure by WaSP's own Molly Holzschlag and Ethan Marcotte.

So there they are, an early Christmas present from Web Design World to you. Grab a mince pie, some mulled wine and kick back and steal some free education. You lucky, lucky thing, you.

CSS reference on your iPod

If you’re on the lookout for cool technical references that will draw the occasional puzzled glance at parties, then the folks at WestCiv have some great news for you. They’ve recently released their popular Complete CSS Guide in a format that can be installed on your iPod. If you’ve been looking to justify the purchase of an iPod, this might be it: now, you can quickly scroll through a comprehensive reference of every property, selector, and @rule in the CSS2.1 specification.

And yes, I'll be unproductive all morning in order to play with this. Please don’t judge me.

The perils of browser-specific code

Chad Dickerson, CTO of InfoWorld, calls developing IE-only web apps the 11th biggest IT mistake one can make:

Many enterprises may not be able to avoid using IE. But if you make sure your key Web applications don't depend on IE-only functionality, you'll have an easier time switching to an alternative, such as Mozilla Firefox, if ongoing IE security holes become too burdensome and risky for your IT environment.

Just so.

Doffin' the cap to: WaSP member Drew McLellan.

So long, Joe

After over 8 years of publishing one of the top web design 'zines going, Joe Gillespie is hanging up his text editor.

Along with sites by former WaSP project leader Jeffrey Zeldman, David Siegel and Lynda Weinman and books by the latter two, WPDFD was part of the canon of early web design. Joe's clear, concise prose and conversational style made quasi-techie topics like bit depth and antialiasing accessible to the art school set. As a result, WPDFD was both introduction and inspiration to a generation of web designers.

Throughout the second half of the 1990s, Joe could often be found in places like the old Webmonster Web Design mailing list, diligently anwering all manner of design-related questions from newbies and battle-scarred vets alike. Joe never failed to be friendly, informative and patient. While WPDFD earned him fame, his contribution to various web design communities earned him respect and admiration.

In 1998, Joe teamed up with my erstwhile employer, Tomas Caspers, to found Browser Buddies, a spiritual forerunner of the WaSP. Later that same year, Tomas lent a hand with the early WaSP efforts and Joe returned to his work on WPDFD. That year saw WPDFD transformed from a collection of tutorials into a full-on 'Zine and it's been home to some of the best practical web design writing ever since. From its pages, Joe has been a tireless friend of web standards and best practices.

Joe is also famous for his contributions to web typography. His Mini 7 was the first widely-adopted 'pixel' font designed specifically for the web. It has inspired an entire typographic subculture and countless variations, but none has surpassed its legibility and utilitarian beauty. While pixel fonts today are more often than not an illegible affectation, back in 1997 Mini 7 was a vauable tool in legibly cramming captions and the like into the scant space available on 640 x 480 displays.

I found WPDFD not long after Joe started it in mid-1996. It was Joe's site that introduced me to the intricacies of palettes and the rendering of fonts on-screen. He's been a hero of mine ever since.

Good luck, Joe. You will be missed.