Chris Peters's Blog

Rant: The early adopters are grumbling about the web's going mainstream

October 14, 2006

Nerdy comic book guy says, My avatar is cooler than yours.

As techies are starting to see more widespread adoption of web standards, they are starting to run out of things to complain about. They have been fighting the good fight for years!

Now we have a cluster of comments on Signal vs. Noise complaining about how standards and RSS are making designs and content on the Web “boring.” Some have gone as far as saying that they miss the inconsistent page designs found on 1990s Geocities sites. I know at some level that it’s just conversation, but give me a break.

Most designers obviously have an interest in keeping their work interesting for themselves. Web designers obviously use the Web a lot. I feel like some designers are designing for themselves or, worse yet, other designers. They are becoming less interested in designing for their sites’ visitors. Visitors’ needs create restrictions on placement of common page elements, font sizes and types, etc.

I hate to sound like a fuddy-dud, but I would argue that these complaints about widespread adoption of standards indicate that the Web is finally going mainstream. We in our upper middle class status have taken the Web for granted and have often believed that everyone uses it. I’ll admit that I sometimes forget that I am an early adopter and that my experience with the Web is way different that most other peoples’. To meet more demand for content and services on this medium, more and more companies are investing large amounts of resources on Web-based technology.

Now that we developers are finding fewer cases in which we can say, “I know standards, and you don’t,” some of us are trying to find other means of differentiation. (Hint: Learning technology is fun, and I encourage it. But knowing technology will not guarantee differentiation for you in the long run.) Missing the spirit of a time filled with flawed designs is a weak argument. Sure, there was some fun there, but we have since matured.

Now that we have more people developing ideas and technologies for use on the Web, we have a wider pool of people who borrow ideas from those more talented than themselves. I don’t condone theft of ideas and designs, but the reality is that site designs influence other site designs.

Let’s step into the shoes of your average American using the Web. In their point of view, what is the impact of all of this consistent design? In most cases, there is no negative impact. Most people check their Hotmail, go to MySpace, close their browsers, and get on with life. Their chances of seeing more than one site with the “Web 2.0” theme are slim. The people that care about these issues are other designers. Techies and designers make up a niche market, and there is some value in it. But those outside of this niche don’t care. And most of us are not designing for this niche.

Design for your site’s visitors. If you’re thirsty for innovation in design, run it by a representative sample of visitors. But the days of all the pleasure being for ourselves are over.

Written by Chris Peters, your friendly neighborhood digital marketing professional with over 20 years of experience of web design, programming, SEO, and marketing.