An Event Apart: Web 2.1 The Medium Comes of Age

by Luke Wroblewski March 29, 2011

In his opening keynote at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2011 Jeffrey Zeldman provided a historic perspective on the development of the Internet, Web, and Web standards culminating in today's exciting opportunities for Web designers and developers.

  • It’s an amazing time to do Web design. Designers are mature –they understand the profession. Webkit-enabled mobile computers let people experience HTML5 & CSS3 wherever they are. How did we get here?
  • Before the Internet: Creation of movable type by Gutenburg (1452). Gutenburg created the press from paper, block print, wine press, and ink. As this illustrates, most inventions are integrations of prior inventions. Before this knowledge belonged to the few (hand-copied volumes). We’re in an information age where there is more information than we can deal with but things started with this "one-way Internet".
  • In 1836, the telegraph heralded the “Victorian Internet”. 1866, the first transatlantic cable was laid and started a global interconnected world. Data became more important than objects. The data about objects could stand in for things themselves. This is the age we live in now.
  • 1876, Alexander graham bell created the telephone. In 1945, Vannevar Bush’s conceptual machine proposed hyperlinks but the technology to create it was not there. Many people, however, read his thinking and it influenced future technologies.
  • The Internet: In 1962, the Internet was developed. ARPANET was developed so that bomb shelters could talk to each other. 1965, Ted Nelson thought of the idea for the Web (links, library of human knowledge, and micropayments). 1966, Robert Taylor allowed scientists to exchange paper electronically.
  • 1978 Apple developed the personal computer with point & click (mouse), typography (great fonts on computer), and apps.
  • 1981 news groups, 1986 Gore touts the information superhighway. 1988, T1 cable was laid and IRC was released. 1989, the first search engine (open text) is created. 1990, Tim Berners Lee developed the Web. 1991, AOL brought the Internet to the masses –news group information. 1993, NCSA Mosiac came out and provided the first graphical Web browser. Some people looked at Mosiac and thought “publishing” –it was very democratizing. 1994 Netscape comes out, and so on... If it hadn’t been for really great content, the Web would not have taken off.
  • Web Standards: In 1997, IE3 support of CSS allowed designers to create layouts with type and code. It was the first CSS compliant browser. Not just images & tables.
  • In 1998 Internet traffic doubled every 100 days. Mobile rate of change is eclipsing this today.
  • XHTML in 1999 was a very effective teaching tool for learning proper mark-up standards. Though it didn’t take off, we were able to teach Web standards and semantics on the back of XHTML.
  • In 2000, IE5 Mac, Opera 5, and Netspace 6 supported Web standards. This was a big leap forward. In 2001, the W3C came up with the CSS3 roadmap. After 2004, nothing was happening. Microsoft announced there wasn’t going to be another IE. Because of this lull, people had time to evangelize Web standards and spend time thinking about how to make it better. In 2004, CSS Zen Garden made it really clear what you could do with Web standards.
  • The period of stagnation in 2004 was good for us because it allowed people to catch up and get Web standards.
  • Now: The Web working group (WAHT WG) started working on HMTL5 then the W3C chartered an HTML working group to tackle the same agenda. In 2010, we have Webkit powered browsers on mobile browsers that support HTML5, CSS3, Web fonts, and more. IE9 will support standards. They are now an established part of the Web so beautiful design no longer requires Flash.
  • HTML5 is forward-looking and backwards compatible. The first HTML page by Tim Berners Lee is valid HTML5 (minus the doctype). New semantics for content are part of HTML5. They are modularized and more publishing orientated. 2012 there will be an HTML5 candidate consideration but you can use it now. CSS3 is modular, you can use a number of these elements now.
  • We’re in a new era of Web design –thanks to Web standards. Designers have grown up and are aware of and focused on user experience and content strategy. CSS3 allows for vector UI design that helps support faster performance and flexible Web layouts. HTML5 semantics and mark-up can be used today in many browser/devices.
  • Now you can interact with the Web anywhere you are and we know that the Web does not have to look the same on every browser or device. This is a new era of the Web and you’re all a part of it.