Friday, February 16, 2018

Everything Easy Is Hard Again

Frank Chimero:

I had fifteen years of experience designing for web clients, she had one year, and yet some how, we were in the same situation: we enjoyed the work, but were utterly confused and overwhelmed by the rapidly increasing complexity of it all. What the hell happened?


Except with the websites. They separate themselves from the others, because I don’t feel much better at making them after 20 years. My knowledge and skills develop a bit, then things change, and half of what I know becomes dead weight. This hardly happens with any of the other work I do.

I wonder if I have twenty years of experience making websites, or if it is really five years of experience, repeated four times.

Oluseyi Sonaiya:

Two days ago this contention that web tech is self-obsoleting sparked a bunch of agitated responses from people who assumed I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Nick Heer:

Over the last five years or so, even the most basic website stopped being treated as a collection of documents and started being thought of as software. Over the same period of time, I have gone from thinking that I know how to build a website quickly and efficiently to having absolutely no clue where to start learning about any of this stuff. I can’t imagine being eight years old again and being interested in the web as something anyone can contribute to.

David Mack:

I appreciate now that technologies have a surprisingly short lifespan. CoffeeScript and AngularJS are our most obviously tired components (we plan to migrate to TypeScript and latest Angular). All of our technologies were fairly bleeding-edge when we adopted them and it’s a blessing that my predilection for hipster technologies has not caused any serious problems.

I’ve hugely appreciated the succinct functional syntax of CoffeeScript and believe it’s helped me achieve greater personal productivity over the years.

Building on the above, I now know that you need to budget time and strategize for the replacement of technologies. You accept long-term “technical debt” with the adoption of any technology.

Marc Edwards:

It’s amazing how much variation there is in blur radius across browsers and design tools. You can’t assume things will look the same.

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I can't say I'm that concerned about the complexity because, as Chimero says, a lot of the tooling is optional for the modest size of most sites.

Like Chimero, I started tinkering with HTML in the late 90s, but where he sees trends and cycles that have us ending up in the same place, I see two decades of progress that get me more excited about making websites than ever. Now that we have CSS Grid, static site generators, and affordable/free push-to-publish webhosts like Netlify or Surge, making a site with simple/semantic markup is a lot easier than it used to be.

I think there are two different complaints here, and I disagree with both of them, for different reasons.

Complaint 1: web standards progress too quickly, and it's confusing. I don't agree. I think web standards progress at the rate they need to progress. The web is the world's common, basic application platform now, and as such, it can't stand still. Things like flexbox fix fundamental issues with the web, issues we've complained about for decades, so it seems odd to now also complain about the fact that these things are getting fixed. Yes, you have to learn some new stuff, but new stuff isn't coming out that quickly, and there's always more than enough time between published specs and wide-spread browser support, so there's plenty of time to learn these things. Also, in many ways, these new technologies make web development easier, since you don't have to know all of the peculiar workarounds we needed to know in the past. Things are actually getting better, not worse. If you really think that 90s-style table-based layouts were easier to learn than flexbox, well, check your nose, because there must be a huge pair of rose-colored glasses sitting on there.

Complaint 2: tools like CoffeeScript and AngularJS are obsoleted quickly. Yes, that's true, but, you know, that's on you for using these crappy middleware libraries. You kinda should have known that CoffeeScript and AngularJS were terrible ideas without any long-term future; you can hardly blame the web for adopting them.

Halfway through reading this article I became certain he was going to mention CSS Zen Garden, which IMO has become a shibboleth for a certain set of web designers of that era who wish that the web still worked the same way it did in the early 2000s. One thing I think has radically changed since then is the kinds of sites people make. Web "pages," which really could just consist of a layout, some fonts and some images, aren't really as in-demand as web applications that benefit strongly from the kinds of tools and workflows that he laments as being "spaghetti."

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