Saturday, March 28, 2009

Web needs a paradigm shift

I was browsing the [H]ardForum earlier today and something dawned on me. There's all kinds of buzz amongst web-heads about the new CSS/HTML/whatever standards and Apple is doing custom CSS additions to allow for animation in WebKit (bad Apple! follow the standards!). My realization is that CSS cannot be the future of the web.

CSS is an extremely powerful way of expressing design and layout for a site. However, from personal experience and seeing a bazillion posts asking for CSS help, it is just too complicated or confusing to consistently get correct. Long ago we learned tables were bad for layout, we should use div instead. However, there seems to be no agreement as to the best way to use them and sites are often accused of overusing them. That's just one example, forums are littered with people asking why they can't get item x to overlap, float, stay put, or any other number of things on their pages and it seems the solution usually ends up being something obscure or unintuitive.

Some stalwarts would write this off as people not knowing what they are doing. But isn't computer science about making things easier on ourselves? Programming languages have moved from the miserable days of low-level languages to the immense spectrum of high-level ones we have today. Why can't the web do the same thing and unburden some of the mundane work? Anyone who has looked at a CSS file from a large website cannot claim that it's easy to get the gist of immediately with a straight face. One example of a CSS failing may be that there's too many ways to do things. It should be moving more towards Pythonic thinking than C++. Yes allowing for 1, 2, or 4 arguments for, say, padding space is a good shorthand but it's not obvious as to which order they are in or how the 2 maps to handling the other two dimensions.

Right now I cannot propose a new solution or ways to fix this. But I do know that we can do better, much better.

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