The original web was pretty ugly. Structured information was powerful, but the look of a basic browser window pushed people away. Within a few years, though, designers and developers figured out techniques for creating more visually interesting sites.
- Web design started out in what Jen Simmons calls the no-layout layout era, because there was no layout. There was no capability really for layout. There was structured information. And how that was presented was really completely up to the browser. - I remember vividly, my boss taking one look at it, you know, gray backgrounds, centered text. He was a designer. He didn't want any part of this you know, it was boring, and awful, and terrible. So what did he do? He gave it to the student to do.
And that's how I into the web, it was forced upon me basically. Because I was the student, and nobody else wanted to touch it. - And then David Siegel, who was a designer, he was a type designer, and had done a bunch of other stuff, really interesting Maverick personality, he started a blog in 1996, called Web Wonk, in which he talked about using tables to create columns, so that you could do page layouts.
- I remember reading a book, Creating Killer Websites, by David Siegel, which introduces the idea of table-based design, and this kind of slice it, dice it spacer gifs, and all of that. - People started to immediately figure out okay wait, if we have tables, and tables are kind of a grid, and we can make things go in places on the page using these table cells, so David Siegel actually more or less, codified this with Creating Killer Websites.
- In 1996, this was the number one best-selling book on Amazon. Not for web design, not for technology, for all books right? The number one book was a book called Creating Killer Websites. - And suddenly that opened up a new world. Because of course marketeers hated the Web, because you had no design control whatsoever, and suddenly you could start introducing design elements into it, using table-based designs. - I'm very proud to say that I was designing my own website at the time, and you have to know that there was going to be an animated gif at the top with rainbow colors, and like a, and like palm tree, and it was going to be really hot.
(laughs) And I have David Siegel's, Creating Killer Websites to thank for that. - Once all that became possible, and people like David Siegel showed other people how to do it, then there was just this huge you know, let's make everything look the way we want it to look. Let's design pages right? That actually became a thing you would talk about, without it being a joke.
- The thing that was really important about that book in a lot of ways, was that it gave solidity to this idea that websites weren't going to just be all text, you know like turning websites into this more kind of immersive, more kind of robust experience for people. - And immediately, page markup became incredibly complicated, and weird with all these tables nested, and tables nested, and tables nested, and tables, you know, it used to be that if you wanted a box with rounded corners, it took a nine-cell table with at least four images to round off the corners.
Clearly there was a need for some, for presentation. - That kind of thing was necessary, just because at the time there was no other way to do it. It was necessary to prove that it was something that the Web wanted, that it was something that the Web needed. - On this, this period as CSS emerged, you know, (mumbles) kind of 96-97 in particular, you know, it was as if this sense that that approach of the table-based layout hacks just, they weren't the right was to do this, there had to be a better way.
- By using CSS, people were able to get equivalent layouts without like, tons of mark-up tricks, and simplify their markup, make it better. - It was a gold rush era with CSS. It was kind of this big boom you know with, we could leave HTML tables as a layout, if we could only find ways of using CSS floats used to make layouts, and so everyone was trying everything to make great layouts.
- CSS was the ability to do things smarter. You know, this ability to define one single look and feel in one place, and apply that to all your documents, was fantastic. - These were the sorts of things that started exciting people, because that meant the Web, you know, Web technologies like CSS, kind of took us beyond what tables could do. - One of the things that we've seen, browser developers understand, is that once there's a need identified, this stuff slowly will move into the native Web.
- There are some things in original CSS that clearly came from what people were doing with their table layout. Some of them even explicitly say so like floats. The specification basically said that is the thing that you can do with tables, and you can do that same thing, except you can do it with anything. (bright music)
In the film, Matt Griffin knits together a narrative from dozens of conversations with important figures from throughout the web's history. He interviews Tim Berners-Lee, Denise Jacobs, Jeffrey Zeldman, Ethan Marcotte, Chris Wilson, Lyza Danger Gardner, Eric Meyer, Irene Au, Alex Russell, Trent Walton, Val Head, Jonathan Snook, and many more. The result is a series of unique insights about why the web is structured the way it is, why standards matter, how mobile disrupted everything, and why the web isn't done growing.