Looking Back, Moving Forward
With all these sea changes in the short history of web development, where we will be five years from now? Still using CSS-controlled layouts? Will HTML eventually give way to pure XML-written pages? Will Internet Explorer support transparent PNGs?
Over the years, my development techniques have made leaps and bounds with each new site I design and develop. It’s interesting to go back and look at historical work and see just how shabby, convoluted and uneducated my older efforts were. Out of the many sites I have constructed over the years, there are a few that stand out as high-water marks for certain techniques.
Site 1, circa 1997. This was for a company called Princeton Venture Research, which no longer exists (through no fault of mine). My first ever effort at HTML, built right in Netscape’s editor. Black backgrounds, Times New Roman and a clunky logo graphic that was captured from a video feed of the front door. The crudest of navigation and absolutely no sense of aesthetic. This was before I understood the power of table-based layouts, and everything was wrapped in unclosed paragraph tags.
Site 2 circa 1999. This site was an abomination from the beginning. However, I learned several critical things: how to nest three framesets (yikes), how to get a Perl script up and running (took a lot of experimentation), and how to develop for small screen resolutions and not have it look like shit. It also taught me several critical things about clients:
- Most have no idea how the web works, and using technical terms to explain something accomplishes nothing more than glazing eyes and furrowing brows.
- Meetings with clients go much better if you are more prepared than they are. When they have a question, have more than one answer.
- Be ready to announce budget overruns long before they happen. Then be prepared to explain 300 times why the site can’t be uploaded without graphics and content.
- Wealthy, bored housewives in New Jersey make terrible clients. I have worked with three different ones for three different projects (this was the first) and they were all disatrous. Heed my warning.
Site 3, circa 2002. The pinnacle of my table-driven layouts, this site still delivers tremendous ROI for the client. Witness my first clashes with CSS-based text formatting (dropping a class tag into a table cell), my inability to change the link color and the value of having a client that provides content complete and on time. Since I had developed this client’s visual identity and a thorough print program, this site was a natural evolution of that identity.
Site 4, circa 2003. My first CSS website for a client. At first I used a template from Blue Robot, but when I revamped the site I created my own fixed width version. The CSS was very crude, as I was basing my code off a few ALA articles and W3schools tutorials. Before I rewrote the CSS, every paragraph had a class definition and the divs were bouncing and floating differently in almost every browser. Still needs a few tweaks to properly validate.
With all these sea changes in the short history of web development, where we will be five years from now? Still using CSS-controlled layouts? Will HTML eventually give way to pure XML-written pages? Will Internet Explorer support transparent PNGs? In 1999, I knew that frames were the best way. In 2002, I knew complex, nested table layouts were the best way. In 2004, I know that CSS-controlled layouts are the best way.
To paraphrase Special Agent K in Men in Black, imagine what we’ll know tomorrow.