In and Out of Style

One of the most fascinating things about the Web is how it has evolved. By that, I don’t mean so much the mind-blowing speed of growth, but rather how the foundational languages, APIs, and browsers have been able to adapt to an ever-evolving, ever-changing environment. With all the innovation going on, we somehow still managed to create robust foundational layers – like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript – that allowed for steady improvement but that also didn’t fail. And this is maybe the most amazing fact about the Web as a system of systems: it was resilient enough to persist and, at the same time, flexible enough to adapt.

For one, this is thanks to a lot of smart people who, despite all the arbitrariness involved in the creation of the Web, also made a lot of smart, foundational decisions. Like Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who recognized that the success of his invention would highly depend on how easy it would be for people to adapt it and who, therefore, not only based HTML on SGML, a language the folks at CERN were already familiar with, but who also decided that it would be sufficient for a hyperlink on the Web to go in one direction only, instead of being bidirectional, which would have made it much harder for people to link to a source.

But today’s success of the Web is also based on another principle: agreement. The agreement on certain standards that everyone will adhere to – the people writing the specs, the browser makers implementing them, and all authors writing code for the Web. Unlike in the dark times of the browser wars, what becomes a standard is today based on agreement. Agreement is what made it possible that new features like CSS Grid shipped in a short timeframe in all major browsers. Agreement on what should become part of the foundational technologies of the Web is also why we now have variables, aka Custom Properties, in CSS, or why we now can select DOM elements by querying for a CSS selector with Vanilla JavaScript (with querySelector and querySelectorAll) – something that had only been possible with jQuery for a long time. And only one of the many things you might not need jQuery for anymore.

Jeremy Keith has just given a fantastic talk at CSS Day about all of this: in “In And Out Of Style,” Jeremy not only talks about the foundational ideas and principles behind CSS, but also about how long-term trends always appeared and disappeared over time and how they have influenced and shaped the Web Standards we work with today. It is a wonderful talk, for one because of the way Jeremy tells the stories about the Web and its history, but also because of the underlying message: by hacking our way around the shortcomings of the Web, we influence what we agree upon and what ultimately becomes a standard. So, just like promoting the idea that Web Standards, CSS, or other best-practices are broken, is wrong, we should also not just accept things as they are. All the hacks, libraries, and frameworks that help us get things done today might well shape how the Web of the future looks like. As creators, we are actively influencing the future of the Web. What a great reason to become part of that feedback loop, share your thoughts and experience, and get involved in important projects that push the Web forward – like


6 Webmentions

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Jeremy Keith
In and Out of Style · Matthias Ott – User Experience Designer June 27th, 2022 Some thoughts—and kind words—prompted by my recent talk, In And Out Of Style.
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Adactio Links
In and Out of Style · Matthias Ott – User Experience Designer…