Personal websites - a thing of the past?

It used to be easy to publish on the web. HTML was simple, and even if you made mistakes, browsers were very forgiving.

You didn't need specialized tools to create a website; all it took was some text editor, a couple tags (you didn't even call them elements back then), and a bit of server space.

That's what HTML was all about: A simple way of publishing stuff for everybody to see. The ease of use, the simplicity of HTML, has led to thousand and thousands of personal sites full of creative garbage, nonsensical utterings, and the odd truly poetic and mind-boggling gem. Basically, it was free publishing. I believe this free publishing is responsible for the incredible success of the web as we know it today.

But go and try read the now current specifications, XHTML1 and CSS2 (XHTML2 and CSS3 will be there in a few months). They are hard to understand, have a very high number of important details, and take a lot of time to learn.

If you manage to create something that complies with these standards, you'll still have to try and get your site working (not to mention presentable) in several incompatible browsers! But they're not only incompatible with each other - they're also getting more strict! The old, self-healing versions tried to make sense out of confused tag soup, and present the content it in some hopefully sensible way. But the newer breed of browsers is less forgiving. If you're lucky, they'll at least show the text, but don't count on anything beyond that! So a non-valid page might not even be visible on the web anymore.

Simply put, creating websites is no longer free. Either you invest a lot of time and energy to keep up with the ever-changing specifications. Or you invest a lot of money in an editor - only to realize that it can't even write valid code. HTML is no longer easy to understand, obtain and use. It's the end of free publishing*.

Sure, online tools like blogger are fantastic and fun and make publishing dead easy again. But their very success threatens to monopolize the personal web. And their surface appeal of instant, zero-knowledge publishing keeps people in blissful ignorance of the inherent simplicity and power of basic HTML.

What's more, there are currently no visual editors in existance that can handle all of the XHTML and CSS specification. And the half-witted visual editors that do exist are much too expensive for most people; no hobbyist is going to fork out hundreds of dollars just so he can publish his cactii collection on the web.

No, I don't want to abolish XHTML, XML, Ruby, XSLT, SVG, and all those other geeky standards with funny names. By all means, go ahead and churn out more mind-boggling specs by the minute; us propeller-heads love it, and we even get paid to work with it.

But please, for the sake of all those goldfish lovers, please keep a simpler, gentler Markup version alive. HTML4.01 is good enough for most of us.

Alternatively, make sure browsers can handle tag soup until the end of time.

If all else fails, hand out free copies of a simple, easy to use, validating, visual XHTML2/CSS3 editor.

Thank you.

*Slight dramatisation. Don't try this at home.

© Matthias Gutfeldt, February 2003