Pre-Obsolete Design

Specifying a technology is a Chronos dream. It is an attempt to take a snapshot of the state of art, to create stability for a little while. Technology users (such as Web designers and Web developers) are then able to create products (Web sites) with the basic assumption that people will have a similar user experience what ever the products they use. Douglas Coupland has shared in a recent article in the Guardian his relationship to devices:

What I essentially experienced this week was an ultra-high speed lesson in techno-obsolescence. Instead of taking 18 months to become doorstops, my new machines arrived pre-obsolete. They now reside in a Rubbermaid bin, along with my Museum of Old and Incompatible Cords, Adapters and Laptops. In about five years, when the bin fills to overflowing, its contents will be sent to the local landfill to be unearthed in one billion years by whatever species it is that supplants us.

I have read on Dave Shea‘s blog about Mediatyping. Dave Shea relates is unfortunate experience trying to setup a stylesheet for his blog that will work on mobile devices. He first started his design by specifying the CSS media type handheld. Dave said:

But here’s the thing about media-specific style sheets: the browser in question has to support them. Mobile Safari grabs all screen media style sheets, and ignores the handheld media type entirely. So despite good intentions, my efforts were wasted on it. And that’s what led me down the road of user agent sniffing…

Dave went down the route of user agent sniffing. A discussion started on his blog to improve his code. A comment by Anil Dash triggered a connection with Douglas’ article:

what about what we’ve learned about the inadequacies of media types in CSS? Screen? Mobile? TV? Those aren’t useful distinctions. It’s another classic example of spec failure due to inadequate prognostication abilities. Someday we’ll have the ability to see the future and this will all be easy.

Chronos dream? We can’t predict the future. A specification is here to fix time for a little while. The challenge is even greater for Web designers with the rise of ubiquitous computing. Small devices with a tremendous diversity in forms, size, capabilities factors and very short lifespan. W3C Working groups are working on these challenging topics. For example, Ubiquitous Web Applications is working on a new version of CC/PP. CSS WG is working on Media Queries with more customization capabilities. If a specification takes too much time to be released, it will be obsolete by the time it is published. If a specification is changing too often, people can’t keep up with the changes and interoperability suffers. Finding the right compromise is difficult.

One thought on “Pre-Obsolete Design

  1. The most fascinating thing about the times we live in are that those people who create the devices that pre-obsolesce are much more worried about their obsolescence than the general population. The obsession with the new by people who create the new is at an all-time high because of the global, transparent competition.

    Yet the general public buys enormous quantities of very simple stuff to round out their lives all day long. Take for example, a simple little device my I bought my wife for valentine’s day last year–[… edited…] Now, you’d think that everyone in the world had pretty much moved on from creating new technologies for something as old fashioned as purses, but you know what–the public thinks at that level and not beyond.

    So let’s not worry too much about the speed of things. It’s all good.

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