internet environmentalism / a tribute to the web

Read blogs, twitter like mad, keep up with the latest specs and immerse yourself completely in the weekly front-end soap opera. Before long you'll be completely brainwashed by bleeding edge css specs, revolutionary javascript apis and the ever returning front-end apocalypse. You'll see the web spiraling as it passes you by, sinking deeper and deeper in the distorted belief that this is what web design is all about. Now, take a step back and breathe. Slow down and regain your perspective.

the digital world

Our internet is unique. It's a man-made, cooperative attempt to build an entirely new world, from scratch. Over the years the web has evolved into a vast and almost endless collection of data that can be accessed from nearly everywhere, all day round. This digital world was conceived to be open and accessible by everyone, it was conceived to be robust and reliable. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity that should be cherished with the proper understanding and respect for the task at hand.

If you want to draw an analogy to the real world, the materials and textures of the web are core data. The language to describe this (raw or collected) data is html. The tool to sculpt them is called css and if these materials need complex functionality, we take our javascript machine out. These elements make up the factual reality of the web, but this is not always the way we perceive it. For that we need browsers (our virtual set of eyes), which come with some very peculiar distortions.

The important thing to understand is that a browser is just a single way of looking at the digital reality in front of us. Sure enough it sucks to get a distorted view of reality once in a while, but it's way worse to distort reality in order to counter a browser's visual distortions. Imagine becoming really fat just so you want to look normal in a thin mirror. Silly, right? Just as human eyes distort the real world reality, browsers come with their own unique set of defects. It's crucial to realize that the fault lies with those who perceive, not with what really lies in front of us. Reality is sturdy and consistent, as it should be.

Our digital reality (ie data and html) is the core of the internet and should deserve our utmost attention. In the grand scheme of things, the rest is just visual blah blah blah, semi-intellectualized so-called wisdom that, more often than not, fails on personal taste and preferences. Not to say that there isn't room for great design and ease of use, I'm just warning to get your priorities straight.

the digital world: monetized

When companies found their way onto the web they quickly carried over their real life role. I'm not much of a real world environmentalist and I'm not too naive to understand the value of money when it comes to progress and evolution, but at the same time I'm not blind for the price we pay for this luxury, ruining nature (and even ourselves) in the process. Not to spark a discussion on real world environmentalism, but it's important to understand that companies are influencing the course of the web in a very similar way.

Companies are only out to sell you their goods and services. It's all about image and perception, everything is allowed to convince you to buy their crap. Companies don't care about the web and its ideals, they care about making money. Even big companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft only promote the "open web" and "standards" to maximize their own profits (or in some cases sabotage the profits from the competition). Sadly the web made it even easier for them to cheat the consumer. In the real world a person can judge the quality of a product based on different properties (smell, sound, feel, looks, taste), on the web there is only looks. In the real world you can distinguish a gold-plated watch and a real gold watch based on weight and sturdiness (scratch a gold-plated watch and it loses almost all of its value), on the web one can't make such distinctions.

The same goes for websites. Companies don't care about semantic, flexible and future-proof html, they care about looks and image. It's why we keep asking standard bodies for new css3 properties, futuristic javascript apis and webgl support. Not because it makes the web a better place, but because these things give us a competitive advantage over other, less capable developers. They help us to promote the companies we work for as bleeding edge front-runners while leaving others in the dust. It's why issues like last week's vendor-prefix debacle keep turning up.

And that's fine really, as long as we can maintain a certain balance. I'm no idiot either. I know these companies pay our salaries. They provide my luxuries and hopefully they will (indirectly) provide me with a good pension. Their support even helped the web a great deal forward, no doubt preparing it for an unfathomable future of epic grandness. But at the same times these companies are destroying the web. Rather than cultivating a digital world with quality data, they are in the business of churning out quickly degenerating garbage, hidden behind a sparkling coat of hipster paint.

Which is why we need some internet environmentalists. People in the industry warning others for blatant hypes and blind adoptions of standards no consumer really needs. People who watch the web to make sure our core data remains untainted and sturdy. People who call out the garbage others put on the web, be it for semantic, accessibility or any other valuable reason. People who make sure the digital reality maintains a certain level or real.

conclusion

It would be nice if more people in our business realized that we don't really need 3d transforms, local storage or webgl to create a superior web. Except for a small percentage of people (mostly in-crowd too), people surfing the web don't care for superficial crap like that. They don't go online to be entertained by smart designs and nifty UX frivolities, rather they seek unique functionality and quick access to data. If you provide them with that, don't worry whether you're able to serve them rounded corners instead of regular ones, they'll keep coming back regardless.

Selling sound html code to our clients is difficult as there aren't too many direct advantages for the companies involved, but as web ideologists it's our job to make sure the work we do maintains a standard level of quality, even when the flashy surface is removed.If we can't do that, we'll just repeat the same mistakes over and over again.