The gap between web technology and tools
caution: rant ahead!
I am currently sitting in the middle of an emotional triangle of
- being in the midst of developing a website
- having seen this talk from Bret Victor about “having an immediate connection to your creation”
- having seen this talk from Ethan Marcotte about Responsive Web Design
And the sum of these impressions for me is frustration.
For the last decades we have seen technologies in the broad field of multimedia (including the web) explode. Nowadays we have HTML5, CSS3, WebGL, Flash, Native Apps, Native Desktop Apps, Sandboxed Desktop Apps and a bunch of more stuff at our fingertips. The limitations on what we can build are getting narrower and narrower. Of course, we have to look on performance here and there, of course we have to deal with limitations some environments put on us, but if you compare the current possibilities to what we had 10 years ago, it’s like we’re in multimedia heaven. Or isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, i love all of this. It is exciting and if you start to dream about what incredible things we can build with these, it is taking my breath away. But this complexity has a bad side effect: It is not possible to master all of these fields (except for some few geniuses who do, but unfortunately the most of us are pretty much average, aren’t we?!). Which is OK you might say, so there can be experts in every field. But every expert introduces another layer between the original creator (or author or thinker, etc.) and the actual result. And every layer most naturally always also functions as some kind of filter, taking just some tiny bit of idea away from the original, even if it is unintentional. Still the result can be stunning and innovative. But in too many cases it is not, because too much of the idea gets lost along the way of briefings, meetings, static photoshop layouts, concept documents and false or incomplete interpretations of the experts.
For an example, just have a look at the content industry, like magazines, news sites and so on. Go to their website or look at their tablet apps or mobile apps. The majority of their content is text, some images and sometimes a video. Every once in a while they feature an “interactive experience”, which gets promoted highly then. But most of the time, they have some standard templates with text and images. And who would want to blame them for it? It is extremely costly to produce highly interactive and dynamic pieces of content. Many work-hours have to be put into such a thing. Many people from various fields are needed. It is simply no possible to do that for every piece of content.
Instead we’re seeing an ever increasing gap between an explosion of new technologies and features and a just moderately evolving field of tools, that should help us using those technologies. Just think about it: What is the biggest innovation in tools, that you have seen in the last 10 years, when it comes to developing websites? And i am not talking about libraries, frameworks and the like, i am talking about tools! Here are some, that come to my mind:
- firebug (and the respective tools in the other browsers)
You probably know some more, but the fact is, it still pretty much comes down to manually hacking code into a text editor and then testing, what comes out of it. I remember, that sometime in the 90s, there where these WYSIWIG editors, like Frontpage, Dreamweaver and so on. But they produced ugly code and even today everyone i know, wouldn’t think of using these tools.
I think, if we really want to move forward with all these new possibilities, we need better tools for creating multimedia user experiences. As hard as it might sound to some of the experts, i think we need to get rid at least of some of the layers between the creator and the result to come closer to the creative ideas again and to be able to spend less time and money on the creation itself. Only better tools can make that happen.