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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

Why I love working on the web

Yesterday I tweeted this: “The web is such an exciting place. It lulled for a while in the last few years, but major upheavals are afoot again smiley icon: smile And every time it’s passionate, clever, generous, and thoroughly nice people at the forefront. It’s what I love about the web. Even when I moan.”

It’s so true, and it doesn’t look like my experience is isolated:

The web as a technology environment

When I started doing websites seriously rather than as a hobbyist, the Standards Revolution was just getting started. It was a time of major upheaval in the way websites were thought about, designed, and built. For a few years there was a lot of thought and a lot of change on all levels - it was exciting. And then it all settled down as the industry matured, Standards became the accepted “ho-hum-well-how-else-would-you?” way of doing things. It got a little bit boring in some respects. And then Apple released the iPhone.

Understand that this wasn’t the true starting point, but it’s a major milestone in why the new revolution got started: it’s the point where the public begun to expect the web being on phones. Not crude WAP sites, but actual honest-to-god real websites that were easy to use - but on phones. And in order to deal with this, a new revolution has been kicked off. One that presents a major upheaval in the way websites are thought about, designed, and built. Sound familiar?

Responsive design is a buzzword, there’s no getting away from that. But it’s also fundamentally effecting everything, and just as Web Standards were a buzz-word as well as something real, Responsive Design is not just the latest snake-oil Web 3.0 bullshit. It’s effecting the very languages we write websites with; CSS, JS, and HTML are changing to accomodate the new requirements of vastly differing devices used to view one URL. The way we design and think about sites is having to change, how we deal with clients is having to change, “best practices” are again changing. It’s exciting, and this sort of thing is exactly why I love working on the web!

The people

The thing about the web that makes it truly good are the people. Honestly, the majority are awesome. As examples:

This week I’ve been struggling with SASS and Compass (again), trying to get to grips with it - and documenting my woes on Twitter, as usual. It resulted in Chris Eppstein (the creator of Compass and a contributor to SASS) Skyping me for an hour from California. He contacted me, interested in learning why I was struggling and to help explain things to me.

Yesterday I received an sneaky invite to a new project built by Harry Roberts for archiving Tweets. The guy’s a gold mine of talent and good thinking, continually sharing his thoughts and talking to people, and the project is very nifty too. Also yesterday, GridPak (which is an awesome and free tool to help web developers) got an update; five minutes after I reported a minor issue, Wil Linssen had fixed it. The day before I complained that CodeKit was confusing when trying to create a Compass project, the author of Codekit tweeted me about it, and the same day beta10 came out with a fix for that exact issue.

Previously in the week, I’d had a twitter discussion with three or four other people who are contributing from their free time to a group responsible for changing HTML so it can work better in a responsive context. These people are coming up with ideas for the future and producing polyfill code that can make it happen *today*.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at StandardsNext - because Bruce Lawson, who works for Opera Software, had asked me to speak - even though I’d no previous experience of speaking. I got to the event and everyone was incredibly nice, helping put me at ease and imparting various bits of wisdom, as well as being a great laugh. After a shaky start, I got through it, finished, and before I could leave the front I’d got a small group of interested people talking to me about Adaptive Images and their ideas surrounding the issue it tries to address.

Before that I’d joined the W3C’s mailing list to talk about CSS. It’s full of people who give up their time in order to help make the web technologies we work with daily, better. They have no other reason to be there than because they care about that, and they go out of their way to do it and to help explain a lot of nuances.


The web is a brilliant place to work. I moan (often) about the technologies, I moan (often) about organisations. But I don’t think I would ever say anything bad about the people who help make it. The huge majority are incredibly nice and talented people, with an enthusiasm and passion for what they do. For many, the web isn’t just a job - it’s something much more. And it shows. It’s a privilege and joy to be even a tiny part of that.


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  1. Katherine posted 6hrs, 55min, 4sec after the entry and said:

    Aww what a nice sentiment, and the best thing is - it's true! Web people tend to be very helpful, friendly and genuinely interested in how their field is progressing.

  2. Bradley Staples posted 10hrs, 47min, 58sec after the entry and said:

    I love how the web is such a fundamental force to change the way the world works and thinks - and it's made by all sorts of awesome people. Being part of that group is an honor.

  3. Kai B posted 13hrs, 24min, 56sec after the entry and said:

    Really resonated with me too. I think I had similar thoughts when I came up with Offscreen and hope that it shows, too. smiley icon: smile

  4. Eddie S posted 1 days, 8hrs, 55mins after the entry and said:

    Glad you focused on the people - you're probably right there. Frankly though I just can't stand working with web technologies. HTML / JS / CSS is like a satanic trinity. In complete seriousness, I'd rather code assembly. But I'm a bit of a hardware guy at heart anyway. I use and appreciate the web, but don't like coding for it at all!

  5. Andrew Johns posted 1 days, 9hrs, 40mins after the entry and said:

    I liked the article, but it really annoys me when I see the iPhone lauded as the thing that kickstarted something.

    In this case it's because I had a windows mobile based device two years prior to iPhone that had opera on it. I expected and got a pretty true web experience. But I guess I'm a gadget geek, and not the general public so my awareness of what is possible is generally ahead of the general public, which you do comment on with regards to it not being the "true starting point."

    One thing I guess I have to credit Apple with is making the public aware of what technology could do, which benefits everyone in the long run. It just annoys me when the adverts make it seem like the iPhone/iPad/iPod is he first of it's kind to be capable of something, when generally the feature has been available on an earlier device for some time, and all my iPhone owning friends claim Apple invented it and others copied. Similar to how first gen iPods were what the cool people had - whereas the geeks had iRivers which could do more, at a cheaper price.

    But yeah, that was a massive digression from the point of the article, which I agreed with. smiley icon: smile

  6. austin posted 2 days, 2hrs, 7mins after the entry and said:

    its not just web, ive noticed this with many open source projects (into which web projects tend to fall)
    for instance when i had an issue where the xdelta from the yum repository would not work on files over 2GB i messaged the creator (which is already a step in favour of open source projects over closed source…you can talk to the creator of the project) he suggested i needed the newest xdelta3, i messaged the server maintainers and they wanted to charge an arm and a leg to type "make && make install" into a console. so i emailed him again to let him know how it turned out and he went out of his way to build a red hat binary for me and to work with the red hat people to get xdelta3 on their repositories. he also helped me with another problem i had with xdelta3 and was generally quite friendly.
    it seems to just be something about open source projects, the people running it are usually making it because they want to contribute to society…and people who want to contribute to society tend to be nice guys.

  7. Emyr Thomas posted 71 days, 21hrs, 51mins after the entry and said:

    "This week I’ve been struggling with SASS and Compass (again), trying to get to grips with it"

    I feel like I'm in that boat too. I totally understand the benefits of using a framework like compass in the development workflow, but for some reason, I'm struggling somewhat to really grok compass. Any pointers to good tutorials, other than what's on compass-style.org would be appreciated!

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