The Future of the Web Needs to Include the Past
As much as we all love cutting edge web technologies and modern browsers running on fast hardware, sometimes it’s good to step back and remember what really makes the web great is the fact that anyone — using any browser running on any hardware — can use it. As software developer and web evangelist John Allsopp recently put it, “the power of the Web is in its universality.”
Part of that universality means making sure everyone can access the web. That’s why standards exist; why accessibility is important and planning for a future of non-PC devices is a smart move. But universality also means supporting older web browsers, less capable hardware and slower internet connections.
Allsopp’s comment about universality is part of his larger pushback against what he believes is an alarming trend — developers leveraging the latest and greatest features of a specific web browser at the expense of all the rest.
Progressive enhancement has always been the hallmark of well-crafted websites. That means starting with the least capable devices — an older phone, Lynx running on Windows 95 — and then adding more sophisticated features based on screen size, bandwidth and so on.
We’d hate to see anyone limiting what their site can do simply to support older browsers, but at the same time don’t just abandon users who, for whatever reason, are still using Internet Explorer 6 or an old Nokia mobile browser. There’s a middle ground to be found and where that middle lies will vary from site to site. Finding that middle ground is the challenge all developers face. As Allsopp writes, “the truth is, the challenge of universality is daunting. It is hard work. But to me at least, paying this forward is the quid pro quo of the enormous privilege I’ve been granted to work on the web.
[Long Road in Montana by Stuck in Customs/CC/Flickr]