Preparing for the future of connectivity
What is Web Acumen?
Web Acumen is an understanding of the materials of the web that leads to good decisions about how to do web-friendly work.
The Web is a mature medium
- [[QnAQ]] The World Wide Web (as created by Tim Berners-Lee) celebrated a major birthday milestone last year. How old was it?[[/QnAQ]] [[QnAA]] The World Wide Web celebrated its 25th birthday last year. source[[/QnAA]]
- [[QnAQ]] When was the first Windows operating system officially launched?[[/QnAQ]] [[QnAA]] Windows 1.0 was released in November, 1985 (30 years old this year) source[[/QnAA]]
- [[QnAQ]] AUTODIN was one of the earliest email ancestors. When do you think it began?[[/QnAA]] [[QnAA]] AUTODIN started in 1962 and was handling about 30 million messages per month (53 years ago) source[[/QnAA]]
- [[QnAQ]] What year was the PDF created?[[/QnAQ]] [[QnAA]] Adobe released the PDF in 1993 (22 years ago), though there were earlier versions released under a different name source[[/QnAA]] [[/QnA]]
What is the Web made of?
Every web asset is made of these things:
- Data source (grocery store)
- Data (the groceries)
- Markup (the cookware)
- Style (the recipe)
- Rendering (the chef)
These are the materials of the web. Web things that skip or combine the materials above lack material honesty.
What this looks like today
- Data source = Database + API (Application Program Interface)
- Data = Content/Information
- Markup = HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
- Style = CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)
- Rendering = Browser or App
These will certainly change and improve, but we can be flexible in the face of change.
How does this affect me?
If you create things that people access with a digital device connected to a network, you're creating Web things. Creating things in harmony with the materials of the web means they are more future-friendly and flexible to meet the great diversity of demands in the digital world.
An important consideration
You probably don't have the tools you need to do this yet. There are staggering amounts of tools that are dedicated to recreating old media in the digital world. There are few that allow us to use the natural materials and strengths of the Web as a mature medium.
But Web Acumen is about a change in perspective. How can we look to the future instead of at the past?
The Rules of Web Acumen
- Separate information from presentation
- You have no control over the output or input your audience uses
- You are an information designer
Rule #1: Separate information from style
Of the five materials of the web, we often only have control of the information and how it appears (style). Many digital formats combine them, making it difficult to reuse or change either part.
We all want complete creative control, but using strict formats like PDFs and Word docs that rigidly combine the content with style sacrifice future-friendliness.
Rule #2: You have no control over the output or input your audience uses
- Output means screen or device. Input means interaction methods like mouse, keyboard, or touch.
- Making something look perfect in only one output risks a poor experience in thousands of other outputs.
- Making something that only works for a mouse (like hover) risks a poor experience for touch and keyboard users (and emerging inputs like speech and gesture)
People often don't have a choice about the output or input method they use. Web Acumen means sensitivity to these realities and not creating or settling for inflexible products.
Rule #3: You are an information designer
- Think "information," not "content." Content implies a container, and you think only of how to fill a specific output. Instead, think about the information you need to distribute.
- Create information patterns and packets. Don't just look for patterns, create them and be brutally consistent. Consistency is easier to adapt.
- Assume the information will be used in many ways. When information is well designed, you can style it for many different renderings.
How could Web Acumen help in these situations?
- Creating a video tutorial
- Creating a policy document in Microsoft Word
- Don't put text in images (Rule 1)
- Challenge vendors with accessibility and responsive design (Rule 2)
- Use SharePoint lists before documents (Rule 3)
The Results of good Web Acumen
- More "Yes, we can do that" (and at lower cost)
- Future-friendly everything (change any material without affecting the others)
- More accessible everything (information and markup not frozen in one rendering)
- You're more ready for every other medium, including the unknown
More to come