Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

The Four Most Genius, Paradigm-Shifting, Industry-Altering Web Development Articles of the Entire Decade

Over the past ten years, we’ve watched the web design and development industry get turned on its head several times. Here are a few of the articles that provided “lighthouse” ideas for the decade.

The title is a bit grainy in its deliberate hyperbole, but the spirit remains. Having now slogged through 14 years of web design and development, and having watched the landscape tilt, turn over, rattle and buzz like a fifth-dimension pinball game, it’s time to look back on the 2000s with our 20/20 hindsight glasses and see which articles were the most influential.

2001: To Hell With Bad Browsers by Jeffrey Zeldman

This is less an article and more a call to arms: it’s ground zero for the standards movement as it exists today. I first read it back when ALA bore a flaming yellow motif and IE6 was the high-water mark of web technology. Stupid and obsessed with nesting tables, it still resonated like a midnight church bell on Good Friday; you just knew the veil covering something wonderful had been pulled back an inch. Not that it mattered too much at the time. You, like me, didn’t have the balls to actually start writing CSS-driven layouts until 2003.

2004: Real World Semantics by Tantek Çelik

A presentation, not an article. In 2004, Tantek introduced the concept of taking truly semantic markup to an even more granular level, and first coined the term “microformats”. It’s impact was small at first — almost unnoticed — but the ripple effects have been tidal. Millions upon millions of pages use hcard and other standards, Google uses semantic markup to index content more intelligently, and new formats like RDFa, rich snippets and data types in HTML5 are taking the technology to a new level.

2005: Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications by Jesse James Garrett

Unlike Tantek’s introduction of microformats, which took years to fully bloom into the garden it is today, the idea of asynchronous data retrieval was a carpet bomb to the web development world, and single-handedly reshaped the way web-based applications were built (almost literally) overnight. Eleventy-gajillion books, conference tracks and JavaScript libraries later, “Ajax” continues to define how applications operate, even as the definition of the technology itself continues to morph.

2010: Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte

“Really”, you ask, “you couldn’t find anything else in the past five years?” No. The idea of creating different layouts for different screen resolutions has been around for a few years, but Ethan, like Jesse James Garrett, was able to crystallize a swarm of buzzy concepts and technologies into a clear, compelling Big Picture view. We’re just now starting to see the ripple effects, and in the next ten years, the idea is going to grow beyond media queries in the same way Ajax grew beyond XML.

The only thing we can draw from these articles is that we knew far less than what we thought we knew ten years ago, and we most certainly don’t know what to expect to think we might hope to know ten years from now.

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