If you’re a conservative in tech, it is next to impossible to live in an echo chamber.
Over the last week, my Twitter timeline exploded with rage over the two big GOP topics of the week: net neutrality and the big tax bill. If I was to believe my timeline, these two items were doomsday-grade events. There was no way that a human could stand by this massive tax bill or against net neutrality. Not a single dissenting voice.
Sometimes this is a real sign that something is truly important and should be stood for or against. Sometimes this is a sign of a lack of diversity in thought or ideology in your news feed.
Seeing all these voices — voices that I greatly respect — freaking out over the tax bill, I started to wonder if the GOP had truly jumped the shark. So I went to a few major news sources and a few minor ones. I sought answers and tried to understand the facts from my worldview. And found myself agreeing with the majority of the included items, while also understanding how others would see these as bad.
Echo chambers exist when we surround ourselves with a homogeneous group of voices. As a conservative, it is next to impossible to live in an echo chamber. If you want to follow anyone in tech that matters, you’re going to hear opposing views on political matters.
What are you doing to stay away from echo chambers?
The web, at its best, should be resilient. Nothing warms my heart more than a 20 year old page that’s still kicking, a 10 year old link that redirects properly onto a completely new domain or platform or a modern site that can serve something useful to a 15 year old browser. To me, that’s the web at its best.
Someone replied to my big #bbd17 post yesterday about my advocating for sites that work in IE 6. To note, it’s the quote above that this is in reference to.
As a front-end web developer, I do not test regularly in IE 6. I haven’t tested in IE 6 in a very long time. However, I write structured HTML that can be displayed without CSS. I write JS that isn’t necessary for the display and functionality of the page. So these things gracefully degrade.
No, my pages are not pixel-perfect in 15 year old browsers. But the content is accessible.
This year we saw Groupon, Spotify, and DirecTV decide to only support Google Chrome. For the web standards crowd, that should enough of a rallying cry for the cause. But how did we get here? Does anyone give a shit anymore?
Last year, Jeffery Zeldman wrote:
Many web developers have “moved on” from a progressive-enhancement-focused practice that designs web content and web experiences in such a way as to ensure that they are available to all people, regardless of personal ability or the browser or device they use.
And this is the foundation for what has happened. Many web developers have moved on from Progressive Enhancement. Supporting multiple browsers is much easier with Progressive Enhancement. You rely on the error recovery that HTML and CSS provides. You build on that. Layout your page for your Lowest Common Denominator. Mobile. Then, if CSS Grid is available, enhance the layout. Provide a zip-code-based location lookup tool. Then, if the Geolocation API is available, add a button to use your location.
This was one of many big pushes of the Web Standards movement. Before the Web Standards movement, "Best viewed in Internet Explorer" was a common badge. Developers would choose to only support and test for one browser and, often, block anyone coming from different browsers. As I wrote in June, I remember when I first got my Mac in 2004, many sites blocked me altogether. IE 6 didn't exist for Mac and many sites required it.
So what? “What’s so bad about only supporting Chrome?”, you may ask. It represents over 75% of web traffic, right? So did Internet Explorer back in the day. That would be the same argument many used at that time. Back in that day, there were major feature differences between IE and Firefox/Netscape. Because standards didn’t exist, Internet Explorer and its competitors invented new features. Lots of new features. The features that were the same were often implemented differently. So supporting multiple browsers required lots of effort depending on what you needed. IT departments would prevent employees from installing other browsers and then build internal applications to run on IE only. But IE wasn’t available everywhere. My Mac couldn’t access my bank’s website in 2004 unless I set it to spoof the IE user agent. So the features that the bank needed were supported in Safari, but they had a block for browsers other than IE. If I didn’t know how to change my user agent, I’d have been blocked by something as important as accessing my bank.
Today, Edge, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari are relatively the same. Build something for Safari and it will mostly just work in Firefox. I built a project this Fall that took two months worth of work to build and only a couple hours to fix a few minor things in Firefox and IE/Edge. No big deal. But if I want to access the desktop site for Spotify on my 13" iPad Pro, they block it. I cannot install Chrome. Or Firefox. On iOS, my only option is Safari.
We— those that believe in Web Standards, those that fought in the first battles and pushed our fellow developers to learn more and produce more inclusive, accessible, cross-platform websites— we need to stand once again for Web Standards. We need to make it clear what the best practices are and fight against the bad practices where we work. There are no excuses in 2017. Web development has gotten easier. Forking code for multiple browsers is significantly less necessary today. Changes are, usually at best, a few hours of work for big projects. No excuses.
Two years ago when Web Tools was released, CSS Grid was not supported in its current form by any browser. Now it is supported by all of them. But, in my opinion, unlike most features of CSS that have come before, Grid needs some good tooling around it to help ease work with it in development. So I have started to work on some tools to help with Grid and along the way, I have been dabbling a lot with Grid.
Below is a basic experiment: reproduce the layout of the new App Store on iOS. Along the way, I also found good use for CSS Custom Properties — Variables. I hate that they aren’t called variables. — in setting the background of articles, the background and text color of the text block on each, and more.
CSS is getting more and more powerful. But, along the way, it is getting more and more simple. Where old layout techniques (tables, floats, flex box) were truly ill-suited for layout, CSS Grid is 100% made for layout. So go, dabble with Grid. Grab a comic book and reproduce the layout. Or a poster from the 70’s. Learn the ins-and-outs of it because this is the future of where front-end web development and web design is.
I've been feeling this hard lately. When we are talking something like WordPress, we care about a few metrics. Page load speed and size being the primary. Memory usage and performance on server matter, but often — sadly – much less.
However, when we are talking the client, the browser, much more should matter.
I am responsible for the code that goes into the machine, I do not want to shirk the responsibility of what comes out. Blind faith in tools to fix our problems is a risky choice. Maybe “risky” is the wrong word, but it certainly seems that we move the cost of our compromises to the client and we, speaking from personal experience, rarely inspect the results.
Yeah, we also rarely analyze the browser memory usage or repaint counts of our pages. I had my laptop fan turn in this morning as I quickly opened a half a dozen tabs from ComicBook.com and they all auto-loaded dozens of trackers and started playing video. Each tab. Safari instantly ran up gigs of memory and my CPU hated me.
But this is modern web development. Who gives a shit anymore?
I needed the break. Our second child is scheduled to be delivered on December 18th. Of course, that means a ton of prep over the last couple months, including much-needed cleaning, a lot of furniture building, and rearranging everything. And then there is Christmas. Which I kind of love more than any other holiday.
So with an extended weekend because of Thanksgiving, we got a lot done in the Finley Home. Mostly during (well-fought) naps of our daughter Lottie. But I also got some good development time in to work on a couple of projects. I pushed two of the first updates Web Tools has seen in almost a year. For an app that I barely touch, it is still pulling about $200 a month in sales.
I also built a dresser, cycled 30 miles, got our live Christmas tree (see above), and ate a fair amount while attempting not to gain any — regret-inducing — weight. I'm down 25 pounds since the start of Summer and would prefer to keep it that way.
So: great weekend. Relaxation, code, family, and food. I give thanks to God for all of that. My wife is amazing, my daughter is a dream that I enjoy daily, and we have so many blessings in our life that I cannot begin to list.
Damn. That hit close to home.
Perfect. I spent most of my summer using my iPad Pro as my primary computer. I love the bewildered look on “professionals” when they see what I can do on it.
One learns a few things.
Of the last few years, I have pushed hard against using jQuery. Simply put, most browsers have solid support for new technologies that emulate many of the great features of jQuery. Those native features do it faster, better, and require less code. Remove jQuery and you remove 30+kb of resource load.
I have pushed against Bootstrap. It is a large beast of a library when most sites that include it use it for a grid system and not much else. A grid system can be written in less than 100 lines of CSS that’ll achieve the needs of your site specifically, so why include 200+kb of resources?
I have pushed against WordPress. It’s not good for the developer and offers a not-great experience for the client. There are better CMSs.
So this Summer and Fall, I decided to dabble.
I hadn’t built a website on WordPress in many years. The last one I built was before ACF took off. So I built a client a site in WP and I didn’t hate it. Much of what I have said against WP remains true. Especially after launching a large site on Craft earlier this year. But, for what it does well, it does well. Build a couple of custom plugins was a breeze. ACF made storing complex data from two third-party sources easy and displaying it easier.
I have never used Bootstrap but always maintained that it is best suited for prototyping and administration panels. So as I started building an admin panel for a current project, I decided to try Bootstrap. And I didn’t hate it. There are parts that I won’t touch. The grid system is actually one of them. The spacing utility classes, while useful if you are not writing a lick of CSS, are another. But, the component structure isn’t far from something like Atomic CSS and is actually a welcome thing for the needs of the project. Unfortunately, it requires that the page resources weigh over 300kb, which means I will likely scrap Bootstrap in a few weeks and rewrite with my own CSS.
We must, as developers, not become set in our ways and get dogmatic about certain things. There are things that we should be more opinionated about than others. I wasn’t necessarily wrong with either WordPress or Bootstrap. But, now that I have worked more with each, I can see the lure of them when it comes to getting something done quick and dirty. Atop that, I now have a more solid argument against some points of them.
So if you haven’t dabbled with something in a while or at all, maybe try. You may learn a few things.
But the core principles and mechanisms [of CSS] are no more complicated than they were a decade or even two decades ago. If anything, they’re easier to grasp now, because we don’t have to clutter our minds with float behaviors or inline layout just to try to lay out a page. Flexbox and Grid (chapters 12 and 13, by the way) make layout so much simpler than ever before, while simultaneously providing far more capability than ever before.
I built my first couple of layouts with Grid over the last weeks. Hot dog. Things that would have taken me forever with floats took me just a couple lines of code with Grid. I’ve been using Flexbox for a while, to the point of mostly knowing the syntax, but Grid is a brand new beast.
It is astonishing that we have, for almost 20 years of CSS, never had a native layout system. Now we do. Instead of complex (and large) libraries like Bootstrap, we can now do complex layout with simple syntax. Hell, we can do far more complex, asymmetric and two-dimensional layout with Grid that we would never consider doing before. A renaissance in web design is coming. But are front-end developers up to snuff?