Web developers have their stories, this is mine, and I’m sticking to it.
Ring bell for change.
Every time a bell rings an angel gets their wings and the rules of web development change. Much of what we once knew as a ‘best practice’, how to get positive reviews on Google versus Yelp, how frequently to update content, how to best leverage social media and so forth, changes regularly. Additionally, every time that angel gets their wings a new mobile device is born requiring new display style settings, more site testing, etc. All of this is actually good news. Once upon a time web developers were having to spend far too much time deciding which of the vast array of burgeoning technologies to adopt and which to ignore. In the early 2000s it was a luxury to actually carve out time to focus on our clients’ ranking in search engines. We were, to one degree or another, awfully busy programming our little corner of the web, essentially in the dark.
AOL, Flash and Netscape, oh my!
In those early days several different entities were vying for control over the direction the internet would take. For the web developer, this meant reinventing ourselves every couple of years, crossing our fingers and hoping this time we’d picked the winning direction. “Should I spend time on Flash? “, “Should I debug using Netscape?”, “Is there an AOL API I should focus on?”
Along with countless other web developers, I had placed my bets on Flash. I was drawn to Flash first by its whizzbang animation capabilities, then by its ubiquity and finally by its powerful set of data tools. Before long I was using Flash and its proprietary language, ActionScript, and a server-side language known as ColdFusion to collect and store data through my websites. In no time I had become a full-fledged ‘rich applications’ developer (essentially meaning that my sites were data-driven). One of my first large-scale projects was the development of a rooming list application for Outer Zone Sports. This app allowed them to book tens of thousands of rooms in a single weekend, offering separate levels of access to these reservations for OZS, the hotels and the traveling teams; features hotel websites at the time were unable to offer.
Next on the chopping block was the development of an easy-to-use content management system. This CMS tool allowed my clients to login and update their own websites, dragging and dropping content around their web pages willy-nilly, saving them a bundle each year. Shortly thereafter, I found myself partnering with local businessmen to develop a private Facebook-style group management application called GaggleTRUST. In no time we had thousands of members managing all kinds of groups online, empowering group managers to completely control who had access to what information.
We were chugging along swimmingly!
Next slide, please… BOOM!
Then, along came this weird device. It had no keyboard, no wires, just a screen. This was followed in the Spring of 2010 by a letter from Steve Jobs slamming Flash in an open letter to the world. This was followed by the headlines, “Flash is Dead!“. I remember firing up my computer that morning, seeing the headlines and just staring at the screen, frozen. I was in shock. It seemed a shock wave had rippled through the web, stunning the entire Flash community that day! Which was funny, because one of the main applications for Flash was called the Shockwave Player. Well, it’s funny now. But at the time, I sat there dumbfounded for hours. Then I began hitting the forums asking the same technically saturated question most other Flash developers were asking, “Wait … what?”
After the dust settled, the lot of us considered ourselves betrayed. Though in truth, what had happened was nothing more than a painful lesson in the hard realities of technology’s evolution. But we felt we had done our part. We took the online courses. We read every Flash book and manual ever published. We took the security concerns seriously and participated in the ongoing discussions focused on the improvement of Flash. And now? Now we were the Hadrosaurus having just watched a colossal asteroid strike our world. Now we were the wildebeest chased from the protection of the herd by a new predator. Now we were… well, you get the point. But what about our clients? One by one, the emails went out alerting clients to “the impending changes” and “the path forward”. I consider myself fortunate. Most of my clients stayed with me but there was much work to do, much to learn.
There, there now…
We struck gold! As it turns out Steve Jobs had done us all a favor by insisting on a limited set of web development tools, eliminating Flash and others. This forced most internet developers to work on the same page allowing us to build upon each others progress. Now with HTML5, JavasScript, CSS and other shared tech in our collective tool boxes we could present our clients with not only “the path forward”, but a far smoother and better supported information highway than ever before. New words and phrases began crawling towards us out of the ooze gurgling in the pond of new technology; words like “responsive”, “cloud” and “optimization”; and phrases like “user experience”, “organic content” and “feature rich”. All of this meant better tools and better solutions for our clients; for my clients. I was not only able to offer a recovery from Flash but a way to better fulfillment, faster turnaround, and higher quality, longer lasting results. As if out of no where (though I am sure that the Powers-That-Be would hardly call it “no where”) a virtual consensus as to how the internet should be programmed began to coalesce. New standards were set in place, as if carved in stone, freeing the web developer from many of the worries inherent in those early days. We could finally spend entire chunks of life studying these new standards and the relevant programming languages, then sleep peacefully knowing that we had not wasted a moment of time. We could rest our heads knowing we were building an arsenal of solutions to better serve our clients. So while much still changes, and does so frequently, all (well, most) changes are now moving towards a better overall experience. Better for the developer, better for our clients and better for our clients’ clients! You could argue that the internet has always been moving in this direction; but having been a web developer since 1997, it seems we are now moving in this direction together.