HTML5 makes it possible to build applications in the browser that were previously unimaginable. Drew Neil believes that to do so, we must first abandon progressive enhancement
In native applications, and gaming in particular, it's commonplace to list system requirements: the minimum specifications of operating system and hardware that are necessary to run a piece of software. Why should it be any different for web applications?
Google revolutionised online mapping when they introduced the 'slippy map' interface of GMaps. Today, we can use progressive enhancement to embed a GMap on our own web pages, but it wasn't always so easy. Consider this timeline:
- February 2005 – Google Maps was released
- June 2005 – Google Maps API was released
- February 2008 – Google Static Maps API was released
Web developers had already been embedding slippy maps on their web pages for almost three years before Google released the Static Maps API. Up until 2008, if you wanted to embed a GMap using progressive enhancement, you would have to look elsewhere to source a static map image.
Can I get a show of hands from developers who didn't bother? I'm unashamedly guilty.
The web is composed of documents, mostly the written word. Accessibility comes practically for free, but only because of the intrinsic nature of text, and the accessibility features of the software with which we consume it. Since text documents are so readily accessible, we've come to think that everything else should be too.
Applications and documents are different. Accessibility is not a right; it's a feature. The first features to be implemented are the ones that define an application and determine its success.
Would Google enjoy such dominance in the online mapping space today if they had focussed on accessibility over dynamism? Someone else would have been first to market with a slippy map interface, and today we would know it by another name. GMaps succeeded because Google focussed on solving the problem well, rather than solving it twice.
You won't find many people boasting that they've abandoned progressive enhancement. After all, nobody wants to be caught desecrating the sacred cow. But people are doing it today.
Consider Trello.com from Fog Creek. Joel Spolsky says:
"The business goal for Trello is to ultimately get to 100million users. That means that our highest priority is removing any obstacles to adoption. Anything that people might use as a reason not to use Trello has to be found and eliminated."
Picture of Drew taken by Lena Ganssmann.
Designer and developer Jim Newbery doesn't quite agree with Drew. Read his response, Progressive enhancement is more relevant than ever, and let us know what you think below, in the comments.