The rise and rise of the web developer

In the Beginning there was HTML

When I first started out in web design, things were different. It was like the wild west – small groups of frontiers men still dipping their toe into the waters of what was possible. It was a fairly well established industry at the time, but it was something that the general public didn’t get all that involved in. What was even more interesting, at the time, was just how much money could be made – but that is another story.

Web design and development was a pretty specialised thing at the time. Previously the domain of techy bedroom coders, companies were beginning to show a more professional side to what could be achieved on the web. When I started the animated flaming gifs were being killed off in exchange for elaborate flash driven monsters. HTML 4 was king, JavaScript was all but forbidden and CSS was just a nice idea that would never take off. Also, there were only really two browsers you had to consider. Internet Explorer and Netscape. If you were really consciences you would check your work on the Mac version of Internet Explorer as well.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The thing was, no one knew any better. Accessibility was hardly a consideration, nor were things like SEO or even monitor size (you always designed for 800 x 600 or if you were being clever you made a fluid design). SEO consisted of submitting your site to Yahoo, Altavista and possibly DMOZ. Google was just a fledgling search company at the time, so you didn’t really think about it. You would make sure that each page had a title tag, some keywords and description metatags and that was it. If you knew what you were doing you would create a load of landing pages on related web addresses to try and direct traffic your way, but again it was not al that needed.

Tools of the Trade

There were very few tools available that made web development much easier than hand coding. Dreamweaver was around, which could help with design and also some of the more complex server side stuff. Also we had Flash. God how we loved flash. At one time, everything I did was in flash. Whole sites with not text that could be seen if you didn’t have flash. It was seen as making sites cross platform compatible. As long as you had the plug-in, the site would look the same on any system. There were no smart phones, so you didn’t have to consider them.

WAP, CSS and realising how wrong we were

Soon we started seeing mobile phones that could handle a language called WML. These WAP phones were going to be the next big things. People started to learn how to create WML version of their current sites. It was around this time that the idea of separating layout from content began to gain momentum. Rather than using font tags and tables, we had to start using CSS to format out pages. Layers became DIVs and xHTML was beginning to take hold.

From there it just snowballed. More and more people began to learn how to develop for the web. Companies finally realised how important having a website was and the cat leapt wholesale out of the bag.

The road ahead is bumpy

Today web development is a huge industry. However, it is now a whole lot harder to do. There are so many things to consider. HTML, xHTML, HTML5, CSS, AJAX, not using flash, mobile devices, tablet devices, dozens of server side languages, frameworks, CMS, online builders, eCommerce, Silverlight, Firefox, ie6, ie7, ie8, ie9, ie10, Safari, Chrome… the list is endless and growing every day.

Now using JavaScript is a given, flash is banned and Silverlight is just a thing Microsoft does (although even they are ditching it). HTML5 is what everyone should know, but no one does because none of the dozens of browsers support it completely. xHTML was the next big thing until it wasn’t (because people found it too hard to please the vaildators). There is so much to know now that it is really quite frightening if you sit down and think about it.

SEO is an industry in its own right. Social Media plays as big a part in your web strategy as the web site its self. You have to think about your Klout, your Peerindex, your influence and your usage metrics. It is a never ending process!

To those of you starting out, I salute you. To the guys like me who are trying hard to continue to keep their heads above water, I say this. As easy as it used to be for us, now we have the opportunity to really show the world what we can do. We got there first, let’s not get lost in history!

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