Michael J. Ross: Web Is Still in Beta

The Web Is Still in Beta Michael J. Ross 2024-01-04

Back in the early 1990s, when the World Wide Web was being discovered by the worldwide computer users — at least those with Internet connections — new websites were being crafted and made public at a rapid pace that accelerated as a growing number of creative or just plain curious people taught themselves how to format text and images using simple HTML. Only later did Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) allow for a much cleaner separation between content and its layout and other visual styling.

At that time, most websites — including those of major corporations — suffered from a clunky appearance that, by today's standards, would be judged as rather primitive or at least unpolished. This was much more pronounced in sites created by overenthusiastic amateurs who couldn't resist spicing up their web pages with jarringly bright colors, annoying auto-playing music tracks, and an assortment of groan-inducing images, such as animated mailboxes, spinning envelopes, or any of the other aesthetic sins characteristic of the personal web pages that composed GeoCities. Even the most staid websites would use various "under construction" images to indicate that a particular page or entire section of the site was still under development.

Image removed.

While few Internet users today would lament the passing of the more garish GIFs and other appalling web page decorations, it is notable that we almost never see the relatively conservative digital construction signs anymore, or even text notifications that a page is unfinished . And what about the web applications, such as Google Maps, that would remain for years in a state of "beta" — which presumably means the app is unfinished and has not reached the stage of an initial release, version 1.0 — and yet is being used by millions of people? Nowadays, simple sites and rudimentary web apps will be published with no mention of being in beta or under construction. Why is that?

Is it because all websites are now operationally and aesthetically flawless and all web apps are performing wonderfully, with no need for future planned updates? Clearly not. Instead, it is probably due to a combination of factors, including the following:

  • The state of web flux is now a given. Most if not all of us, especially web designers and developers, learned long ago that the sites and apps that we create will be called upon to meet ever-changing needs, whether necessitated by paying customers, demanding project managers, or just our own evolving sense of what we want the software to do and how it can look even better than before. The functionality and thus complexity of our present-day sites and apps are multiples of what was deemed acceptable three decades earlier — to say nothing of the ever-increasing security vulnerabilities and needed countermeasures. Any expectations of reaching a final state of perfection are simply unrealistic.
  • These days it is easier than ever to build a new website or web app, using a wide range of tools, including tried-and-tested web frameworks, content management systems (such as WordPress and Drupal), and third-party services to do much of the heavy lifting. Through the use of prepackaged themes, products built with a modest or even no budget can be quickly given an attractive look and feel.

The Web is unfinished, and that's a good thing.

Copyright © 2024 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.