The Once and Future Web — Keynote Presentation at Front Row Conference, Kraków, Poland 20 October 2011

Although I'm usually more comfortable diving into a specific subject and hiding behind slides of HTML and JavaScript code, I had the pleasure of changing gears a bit, taking a step back and turning a philosophical, introspective eye on the recent state of web development technologies in my keynote presentation on The once and future web at the Front Row Conference in Kraków last week.

Setting the scene for the following two jam-packed days of inspiring presentations all about the latest technological marvels like HTML5 and CSS3, my presentation cast an eye on the challenges of web development in the "good old days" – when designers had to employ all sorts of tricks and techniques to achieve certain effects and functionalities, how the now hated (by some) Flash was actually invaluable in pushing the web forward from a simple static document repository to a host of interactive and animated "experiences". Fast forward to today, and despite all the new standards, designers and developers are still (ab)using technologies to do things they weren't originally meant for. Standards development is always retrospective (providing designers and developers with what they've been trying to do in the past), and there's always a tension between what designers want to do and what the technology allows.

The web is in constant beta, and we seem to always end up with similar stages of technology use, abuse, and refinement. With new technologies come new transitional periods of adoption, where we still need to cater for older browsers (I fondly remember how, even in the first edition of Jeffrey Zeldman's "Designing with Web Standards", CSS-only layouts were considered too volatile, with the advice of still using a table or two before the technology is wide-spread enough). For those of us who have been in web development for a long time, it seems a case of history repeating. Let's not forget the lessons learned in the past, and let's build a web based on the age-old principles of progressive enhancement and graceful degradation. Use the shiny new stuff, but not at the expense of the users and of the web as a whole.