Once upon a time, the Internet was invented. The Internet was simply a collection of computers, connected together via phone lines, with information copied and shared between many, far-flung storage devices. In case of war, this distributed information system would prevent a single bombing strike from disabling or destroying key systems dependant on the free flow of information. All government, educational, and research institutions were to be connected via the Internet.
The Internet was not designed for the business and advertising communities, or even the general public; it was created to serve scientific, educational, and governmental ends. No one foresaw the impact the Internet would have, one day, on business, publishing, entertainment, and the world at large.
When the Internet was still a medium primarily for scientists and educators, information was mostly conveyed through digital text, or raw data files; presentation of this data was crude as display devices were fairly primitive and data transmission rates were slow. As the technology improved, some people working at CERN, in Switzerland, developed a slightly more sophisticated language for combining text with pictures and other digital media, which they dubbed "HTML", or "Hyper-Text Markup Language".
Not only did HTML provide a language for displaying text and pictures SIMULTANEOUSLY (wow!), it also devised the notion of "hyper-text", clickable words which could be used to summon OTHER digital resources, such as HTML pages, pictures, and sound files. It was felt, at the time, that this would provide scientists and academics with a convenient way to create automated footnotes and tables-of-contents, as well as a more sophisticated means of accessing data files.
Within just a few years, HTML, it's "World Wide Web", and the Internet transformed our society, affecting everything from business to entertainment, communication and communities to publishing and pornography. Technological advances on the Internet have moved so quickly that it is easy to lose sight of certain fundamental truths.
HTML is, at heart, a structural language. It was designed for scientists and educators, not for print publishing professionals. It is easy to mark-up a list of bullet points. It is simple to mark a paragraph of text. It is child's play to insert a picture, link to another website, or create a spreadsheet-like table of data. It is impossible to create an absolutely 100% consistent appearance for any of these things. Different hardware and display devices, different operating systems, different software, all contribute to variations and inconsistencies in appearance and layout which can not be completely reconciled at this time.
That doesn't mean that people haven't tried to buck the system. Workarounds and kluges to control HTML display have been attempted from the first, and persist, embedded in publishing software, books, and industry habits which, like rats, seem impossible to kill.
New HTML and XHTML standards which address many of these display issues have been ignored or perverted. Incompatabilities between old and new technologies have slowed adoption of new methods. Development of the Internet and the Web have occurred so rapidly that people have unrealistic expectations, and cling to old habits which may actually impede development and the adoption of new technologies, technologies which are so desperately needed.
It will take many years to stabilize web technologies. In the meantime, we, as responsible professionals, must adopt coding practices which support future-compatible standards, yet acknowledge the technological limitations of the past and present. In the past, HTML has been very forgiving of syntactical variations and errors; no longer. Strict coding practices are the only means to the most consistent, well-formed, and "well-behaved" websites.
This twelve week course will lay a foundation of conservative coding practice which will serve you for many years. Remember that, historically, web coding practices have become MORE strict over time, not less. Time spent now learning careful coding practices will save you the toil of broken pages and painful debugging later on.
Copyright © 2001 Michael Masumoto. All Rights Reserved.