A web for everyone
I gave the closing talk at the Render conference in Oxford a few weeks back. It was a very smoothly-run event, the spiritual successor to jQuery UK.
In amongst the mix of talks there were a few emerging themes. Animation was covered from a few different angles by Val and Sara. Bruce, Jake, Ola, and I talked about Service Workers and offline functionality. But there were also some differences of opinion.
In her great talk—I’m Offline, Cool! Now What?—Ola outlined the many and varied offline use cases that drove the creation and philosophy of Hoodie. She described all the reasons why people need the web; for communication, for access to information, for empowerment, and for love. “Hell, yes!” I thought.
But then she said:
So since when is helping people to fulfil a basic need, progressive enhancement?
And even more forcefully:
This is why I think, putting offline first in the progressive enhancement slot is pure bullshit.
Strong words indeed! And I have to say I was a little puzzled by them.
Ola had demonstrated again and again just how fragile the network could be. That is absolutely correct. All too often, we make the assumption that people using our sites have a decent network connection. That’s not a safe assumption to make.
(I remember Alex pointed out that Hoodie was intended primarily for web apps rather than web sites, and my response—predictably enough—was to say “Define web app”.)
I think I understand why Ola reacted so strongly to the suggestion that offline functionality should be added as an enhancement. I’ve seen the same reaction when I’ve said that beautiful typography on the web is an enhancement. I think that when I say something is an enhancement, what people hear is that something is just an enhancement. It sounds belittling. That’s not my intention, but I can understand how it could come across like that. Perhaps this is one reason why some people have a real issue with the term “progressive enhancement”.
I wish we could make offline functionality a requirement. But the reality is that not everyone is using a browser that supports the necessary technology. I wish we could make beautiful typography a requirement. But, again, the reality is that there will always be some browsers or devices that won’t be capable of executing that typography. Accepting these facets of reality might seem like admissions of defeat, but I actually find it quite liberating.
It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
That’s how I feel we should approach building for the web. Let’s accept that network connections are unevenly distributed. Let’s also accept that browser features are unevenly distributed. Pretending that millions of Opera Mini users don’t exist isn’t a viable strategy. They too are people who want to communicate, to access information, to be empowered, and to love.
It’s a privilege to be able to use breaking edge technologies and devices, but let’s not forget basic accessibility and progressive enhancement. Ultimately, we’re building for the users, not for our own tastes or preferences.
I strongly disagree that this has anything to do at all about empathy. Instead, it’s all about resources and priorities. Making a JS app is already hard enough, duplicating all that work so that it also works without JS is quite often just not practical.—Sacha Greif
I am a web developer. I build web applications not web sites. What you say may be true for web sites with static pages displaying images and text.—R. Fancsiki
Ah, Medium! Where the opinions of self-entitled dudes flow like rain from the tech heavens.
While they were so busy defending the lack of basic functionality in all the examples that Karolina listed, they failed to notice the most important development:
Let’s build a web that works for everyone. That doesn’t mean everyone has to have the same experience. Let’s accept that there are all sorts of people out there accessing the web with all sorts of browsers on all sorts of devices.
What a fantastic opportunity!