Wednesday, 20 June, 2007

Why Web Development Still Sucks

Amongst information technology careers, web development continues to be one of the least popular career choices. That used to be partly due to the office Dilbert atmosphere that goes with any office cubicle job. But web development is now very nearly dominated by freelancers. You can work out of your home and consult and bid contracts on a case-by-case basis, free of a pointy-haired boss breathing down your back. And yet web development still elicits a cringe from the tech-savvy.

The state of tech books doesn’t help. For those of you not in a coding career, you should know that tech books are a significant business expense. They cost just as much as textbooks in college do, they have to release new editions every year because technology changes so fast, and they weigh about ten pounds each. You never hear somebody in a geek home say “Toss me that book over there!” But web development books have the added problem of being ten years out of date when published. You can only tell this after you get them home and read them.

There’s the author, serenely cruising along in 1995. He lives in a world where the only web browsers are still Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, the only Internet services are Compuserve and AOL, and every page, though it contains but three elements, must be formatted with a table. He has heard of CSS, but has decided that it’s a wild rumor of a passing fad. He is aware that the “blink” tag is out of fashion, but covers it anyway. PHP, Ruby, AJAX, Firefox, blogs - no news of these has reached his hairy ear.

The languages of the web leave a lot to be desired as well. Why is it that we only have to use one language (like C++) to build a web browser in, and yet to make the page that browser will display, we have to combine XHTML, CSS, Javascript, XML, DHTML, Java, Flash, and script it all from the server with yet another language just to make one web page? Everywhere else, we have languages that can do it all, but get onto a server and the language is divided up into tiny little Balkan domains that handle about five functions each.

Ah, but the customers! That’s the icing on the mud! The customers who cannot understand that they don’t need dancing smurfs, pop-up boxes, tinny MIDI music, 15-minute Flash intros, or to have all the navigation buttons shaped like little hamburgers. The customer who will never comprehend that scrolling red text in Comic Sans on a purple background is hard to read in the first place and makes anybody with a shred of aesthetic taste want to rip out their eyes with a cherry picker in any case. The customer who doesn’t know that web visitors want that page to be as simple to use and navigate as possible.

Bah, and this is only the beginning! there’s so any annoyances to web design, that they’re going to overflow this blog post and spill into the comments, provided by visitors venting their frustration. In 3, 2, 1…

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