Growing Up with the Web

by Sam Rayner — Feb 21, 2008

We're entering an exciting period in the history of the Web. Since the 90's, the Internet has embedded itself in our lives in ways we couldn't have imagined. I'd be hard pressed to find a lad in my school who doesn't have a MySpace, Facebook or Twitter profile, a Flickr account or a blog. Kids younger than me now interact confidently with the Web without fear of being labelled as geeks or nerdy.

Design on the Web has obviously come a long way too. The 'standards battle' appears to have been won, developers have been shown the light and it's only a matter of time before font tags and spacer gifs become a distant memory. We're past the 'browser wars' and Internet Explorer 6 is finally losing its stranglehold on the market, giving way to more standards-compliant contemporaries or at least IE7.

These two developments are linked. Society's dependance on the Web is affecting kids before they hit double figures. I've had the pleasure of showing my two young cousins the wonders of Google and watching their faces light up at the interactive content freely available to them. As more and more kids use the Web every day, they'll want to learn about the ins and outs of this fantastic tool and begin to dabble in HTML and CSS. The larger the user base, the more developers are bound to emerge.

There's never been a better time for this to happen either. Those who explore beyond the inputs of a blog entry form will find an industry very different to that discovered by the previous generation. Imagine going back in time and building your first Website with clean, semantic markup, separated CSS and unobtrusive JavaScript. The methods are no harder to grasp than were tables in the 90s, but not having to unlearn all those bad habits will give every budding developer a head start.

If we're lucky, IE8 will have taken hold and the new breed of developers will be designing for a purely Acid2-approved range of browsers. I won't speculate on the benefits future developments in CSS and HTML could bring alongside this but hopefully we'll see an increase in pace as result of the industry's increasing popularity.

It won't all be plain sailing; more young people getting into Web design is bound to bring problems too. A tolerance of bad design and usability seems to have built up amongst users of sites like MySpace. There is a danger that this will continue, filling the Web with deserted, poor quality blogs and Websites. Also, as formal education in the subject is lacking and cannot keep up with the latest Web technologies, quality work will only really come from those who have the passion and determination to pursue it in their own time.

I built my first Webpage in 2002 (unfortunately using old methods) just as the standards movement was picking up speed. I may have continued to design that way for years were it not for the community sharing tips on forums and personal sites. The agelessness of the 'Net breaks down barriers between experienced and teenage developers. I was able to get friendly advice on building my first site when I was 11, a testament to how the Internet can educate kids where schools let them down.

When I launched samrayner.com at the beginning of this year, the response from people I had never met was as positive as the reactions of my family and friends. For one of my first blog posts, Veerle Pieters and Elliot Jay Stocks were kind enough to let me use their sites as examples after receiving an email from me out of the blue. Its great to see the recently announced finalists of the SXSW Web Awards in a category devoted exclusively to the student Web designers who are refreshing this industry with new talent and new ideas.

This spirit of openness and encouragement is what I have come to love about the Internet. I look forward to the new generation of Web designers and hope to do my bit to help them bring creativity, innovation and a new perspective to what we do.

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