January 7, 1999 - Newsletter #10

By Joe Burns

G O O D I E S T O G O ! (tm)
January 7, 1999 - Newsletter #10

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Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com.
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors

I had lunch with a colleague the other day. He's like me in that he tries to keep up with all of the new advancements coming across the World Wide Web.

"So, are you keeping up with all of this stuff?" he asked.

"What stuff?"

"You know, all that DHTML, XML, Script stuff that people are now running. I'm happy I got HTML down to a bit of an art." "I have to," I replied.

"It's getting away from me. I'll tell you that," he said lifting his Biggie Coke to his mouth.

Do any of you feel that way? Do you feel that the Web is getting away from you? Well, it isn't.

I still remember sitting in my first "New Technologies" class looking at this new thing called the WWW (it was still text- based then). We used this program called LYNX to "surf," if you could call it that, and I thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever tried. True story: I leaned over to the guy next to me and said, "This thing would really take off if they could get it to show pictures." I really said that! No one ever believes me. (I also once called out three numbers before the nightly lotto drawing and they came up. I'm not lying! But you probably don't believe that one either.)

So then the images hit and boom! The World Wide Web exploded into the hands of you and me, the Weekend Silicon Warriors. HTML was a great language that the average Joe could actually get his brain around, advancements were just a free download away, anyone could write and post a Web page, major sites were started in people's basements!

Then the first kick in the pants came down the line: A major computer company decided that the 16-bit PC operating system was not good enough and that we needed to go to a 32-bit system. What's more, these new things called "Applets" were available, but you had to have the 32-bit system to see them.

This, in my opinion, was the first dent in the Web armor. A professor of mine, who still boggles my mind with his ability to predict what's next, said "The computer companies are starting to take back the Web."

You see, Java, the language used to write those Applets, is rough. It's not something a buddy can show you in an after- noon. It's as cryptic as you believed it would be. So, there was the first Web element that stood up and out of the weekend user's grasp. Then came scripting language, then image animation, then DHTML, XML, SGML... who gives an ML?

"Ugh! I can't do all of this! I'll never learn all of these languages!"

You're right, you probably won't. The thing is, you don't have to. Stay with me here.

There was a great commercial that showed a young man (the computer wizard) and an older man, sitting at a computer screen looking at various home pages. The young man proclaimed that their company logo could be on fire! He could make the page dance around! He could perform even more phenomenal visual tricks!

The older man said it would be great if they could just set up the site so customers could find what they wanted easily and quickly.

And that's the heart of it all. That's why the Web works. All the bells and whistles are great. I love pages that jump, dance, and spin around, but that's not the point.

Above all, the Web is a form of communication. It is not static, like a printed book, it is not a one-to-many form of mass media like television and radio, and it is not even as much the Information Super Highway as people would like it to be. The Web is a computer-mediated form of human communication. It's people talking to people.

The Web allows us to keep the good stuff, like information gathering and interaction, while losing some of the bad stuff, like face-to-face confrontation. You don't know the other person as a set of stereotypes. You know them as another voice. Now, some feel this type of communication is lacking because it deletes the social interaction required of all of us. I do agree there. The Web should just be part of your human communication process, not the end-all.

So what is my point? My point is the same one I made to my lunch partner: The Web will never get away from you because the hardware, the colors, the animation, and the new languages will never be the point of it all.

The Super Bowl is coming up and I don't know why, but the big thing to do is to watch the Super Bowl on a big-screen TV. Why? Is the game going to be any more exciting because it's bigger? No. The big screen is simply the delivery device. If the game is boring, it's just going to be boring bigger. The big screen doesn't attract attention. It does attract your friends. That's the point.

You are listening to the radio and your favorite song comes on. Does it matter whether you're hearing it from a $5000 multi-speaker system or in your car? No. The song is great. That's the point.

You are surfing along looking for information regarding the upcoming Grammy awards. One site has flying DHTML images, multiple frame pages, new windows opening, color gradation, and XML tricks to beat the band. Another is a simple text- based site that lists the nominees as links to other text- based pages with short histories. There are also text links to short WAV format clips of the music. When all is said and done, the pages that offer the best content will be the winners. Yes, your page may have 20 animations, 15 JavaScripts, and whirling lights that practically blind the reader. Now, don't get me wrong, I think that's really cool, but if the flash is all there is to itthen I won't be back. That's the point.

Content is king. It always will be. All the fancy stuff is just support.

If you never learn anything past HTML version 3.2, you're up to speed. If your pages are text alone, but offer what people want to read, success.

So, should you take the time to learn XML, DHTML, and all that fancy stuff? Sure, if you have the time and feel it will be useful to you. You'll never do yourself wrong by learning something new. Just don't start to feel that if you don't learn it you'll somehow be left behind. You won't!

This past Christmas Eve, I spent the better part of an hour searching the Web for a baklava recipe. The one I chose was on a text page. It wasn't even an HTML page.

Man, that was good baklava.

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That's that. Thanks for reading. See you next week with an idea that'll help kill an afternoon.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: The reason there are no letters on the number 1 of a telephone key pad is because of a law (no longer in use), that stated there could be no public telephone number that started with 1. Thus the letters, used to help people remember phone numbers, started on the number 2. Buttons 2 through 9, with three letters apiece, add up to 24, yet there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Something had to go: Q and Z paid the price.

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