The web doesn’t wait. It didn’t wait when we took 3 months out to travel around Australasia this year, and like some weird insomniac zombie locomotive it’s still thundering forward. Here are some pertinent points from the year gone by, along with some utterly unqualified ruminations for 2013. By the time I finish writing it, this article will be obsolete.
EU privacy legislation
2012 saw the expiration of the UK grace period for enforcement of the EU’s well-intentioned-but-ultimately-bonkers privacy legislation, often referred to as the ‘cookie law’.
Whilst the UK’s implementation of the EU Directive has come under ceaseless criticism from all sides and is, thankfully, a dilution of the original Directive, it is, (however ineffectual), now law, and you must obey it. There’s been an absurd level of alarmist nonsense and naked profiteering surrounding this law, but ultimately Lex iniusta non est lex is not going to cut it here.
2013 may see more of those brash ‘click here to accept cookies’ banners, but we’re more likely to see unobtrusive notices of implied consent that don’t vandalise the user experience in such a jarring way.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the ICO takes any enforcement action in 2013 against organisations who deliberately continue to do nothing, as well as those whose solutions are at best barely scraping compliance.
It’ll also be interesting to see whether any of the high profile sites which implemented ‘super-compliant’ highly dynamic solutions very early on will scale those back in favour of improved user experiences.
The ‘mobile web’ is dead…
After a lengthy incubation, 2012 saw device-independent responsive web design go mainstream. No longer will browsing a site from a smartphone redirect you to m.domain.com or abruptly halt you in your tracks to demand that you install their app instead of using their regular site. The regular site will just adapt itself to your device (as well as your location, language, context, and, erm… hairstyle and body temperature).
Building responsively is still technically and creatively challenging, espcially in the realm of backwards-compatibility. However, those challenges are diminishing on a daily basis, thanks to the work of some brilliant pioneers, as new best-practices emerge and seemingly countless responsive frameworks reach maturity.
The best content management systems have always been sophisticated enough to allow for a Create Once Publish Everywhere approach, but now, coupled with responsive design, the ‘everywhere’ part rings much truer. Dedicated mobile sites and applications aren’t going away anytime soon, and there will always be use cases that justify such an approach, but 2013 will see them decrease in frequency.
As the extra expense and ongoing maintenance of separate sites becomes commercially stifling they will eventually become the exception rather than the rule, despite huge growth forecasts for mobile internet as cheap android devices flood developing countries.
SEO is also dead (again)...
Search Engine Optimisation has always had a hard time; often tarnished with a bad name and snake-oil image. It’s unfortunate that some high-profile designers still seem to associate SEO only with its bad neighbourhood.
It’s taken a relatively long time for Google to tighten their algorithms to prevent unscrupulous gaming of the system, and there are still (and always will be) exploitable holes. However, this year’s improvements will be pushing SEO specialists deeper into ethical, or ‘white hat’, strategies (as well as pushing SEO cowboys to even more desperate pursuits). There will still be ways for cowboys to game the system (or for genuine SEO’s to make short-term gains on churn-and-burn domains), but the battle lines will be shifting further in 2013.
The SEO industry is already evolving to deal with this shift: where once you could buy thousands of inbound links from an offshore firm and have them periodically drip-fed into the veins of the internet to elevate your site’s rankings, now your SEO tactics need to be more natural than ever before, as well as diverse, targeted and co-ordinated.
Modern SEO tactics are so natural that even the phrase ‘SEO’ is losing its relevance. This is marketing. Good old-fashioned reliable marketing that’s been around since 2000 BC, just like The Internet and David Attenborough. Isn’t it…?
Content Strategy is not new, but (on the web at least) it’s becoming increasingly indistinguishable from the new SEO. Content strategists would probably insist that their discipline encompasses the whole of SEO. An SEO expert might put it the other way around. It doesn’t matter, but it’s nice to watch them fight over the same thing…
Creating goal-driven content that is engaging, valuable, free, regular, modular, shareable, indexable, findable, semantically machine-readable, accessible, accurate, viral, and of appropriate length, depth and style both for its mediums of presentation and its myriad of intended audiences is a tough job.
It’s even tougher if creating such content is not typically part of your core business. Tougher still if you don’t have an internal framework to identify ownership, governance and lifecycles of that content, and almost insurmountable if the content editors have no expertise in web content or user experience.
2013 may see organisations beginning to embrace these changes more fully than before, diverting budgets reserved for link-building, article syndication and social media to more mature and connected content strategies that focus on longer-term ‘slow-but-steady’ gains that create stable foundations for growth.
Content management evolves
As browser makers move to automatic upgrades and race to implement modern standards faster than ever, and as talented developers and designers build on top of each others’ shoulders, publishing and managing web content continues to get easier, and, generally speaking, the total cost of ownership of web properties continues to decrease.
Enterprises of all sizes no longer need to spend enterprise amounts on enterprise software running on enterprise platforms based on enterprise infrastructures supported by their enterprise technical team. In the context of web content management (note the lack of capitalisation - ‘WCM’ is NOT a thing) the lines are so blurry it’s not even clear what ‘enterprise’ means anymore and frankly that’s a great thing.
2013 will likely see further advances in content management as more vendors move away from old-fashioned ideas of web ‘pages’ and embrace the management of content in more abstract, atomic ways in order to decouple content from its medium of presentation.
If we’re lucky, more CMS vendors will realise that the value of features is insignificant compared to the value of creating a robust development platform and fostering widespread community support and uptake. The answer to “what does it do?” should be “anything you want” - and given the current technological landscape there’s no longer any reason why ‘anything you want’ should be accompanied by enormous enterprise price tags.
Unfortunately though, decision makers and committees responsible for software purchasing are likely to still be hoodwinked and seduced by feature sets that match their list of think-tank-derived checkboxes and complex service-level agreements to ensure that blame can be shifted outside the organisation. Without sufficient foresight, technical knowledge (and a certain amount of courage), the “no-one ever got fired for buying Brand-X” mindset will prevail: there is a difficult culture change that needs to happen to prevent this.
Advances in content management technology only represent a small step towards Content Utopia, and technology alone will never be enough. The biggest barrier will remain in 2013, and that’s the difficulty of envisioning and creating truly engaging content that’s tailored to your audience. Without appropriate content strategy (including training and governance), poor quality content will still flood the web and user experience will suffer.
Magic and Unicorns
The terms ‘cloud computing’ (WEB!) and ‘SaaS’ (WEB APP!!) and all their variations suffer from some of the most horrible excesses of marketing doublespeak, and have been subjected to absurd obfuscation by those looking to make them sound complicated in order to justify high prices.
(Sure, technically they may be complicated, but the whole point of encapsulating all that complexity in ‘the cloud’ (ugh!) is that the enduser doesn’t need to know or care about any of it.)
It’s Magic. Not only that, it’s infinitely scalable, resilient, geographically dispersed, high-performing Magic that’s also becoming more affordable with every HP Blade that gets added to the server farms and with every large corporate sponsor to inject cash into the infrastructures.
It might not happen during 2013, but
cloud computing and SaaS will soon be transforming the way that even the smallest business manages and deploys its web stuff.
The arrival and proliferation of superfast broadband in 2013 and beyond will make designers and developers even more complacent in terms of website performance - it certainly happened last time. The optimisations we make now will become micro-optimisations subject to the law of diminishing returns: it’ll be interesting to see how this works out, especially when you throw legacy mobile devices and developing countries into the mix. If we’re not careful it could end in ghettoisation of the web. Yes, it’s a word. Now.
3D, animation and Web Standards
OK, so it’s not very high-level, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more pseudo-3D websites and effects in 2013 (especially in the b2c arena) as support for 3D CSS, SVG, Canvas and authoring tools improve. 2013 will also further expedite the long, slow, drawn-out deaths of proprietary technologies such as Flash and Silverlight in favour of proper web standards. Then again, we’ve all been saying that for years already…
Whilst the return of 1999-style ‘splash’ intro pages is unlikely, I wouldn’t be surprised if we enter a brief horrible period where everything is animated and interactive and users have to spend time figuring out how the mystery meat navigation works on each site. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it’s those horrible periods that enable true progression.
Death of a click
It’s been around forever, but 2012 was the year when touch technology really hit the big time with the release of countless tablets and hybrid laptops, Windows 8, Microsoft Surface, and continued high sales of iPads. Windows 8 even seems to shoehorn touch paradigms right back into the desktop environment, which has naturally upset the godfather of usability.
Your SEO expert, your usability and accessibility gurus and your web copy writer have been purging the words ‘click here’ from web content for years already. Now though, we need to go a step further and obliterate ‘click’, ‘touch’, ‘tap’, ‘press’ and ‘swipe’ completely from our vocabularies. There are already some hugely disruptive technologies in the pipeline that will eventually transform human-computer-interaction and render even the most dynamic touch devices archaic. You can at least ensure your copy is ready for that revolution (and don’t forget your micro-copy!).
The high-definition ‘retina’ displays introduced by Apple are the beginning of a resolution revolution that will end with all screens being this incredible. In the meantime, designing sites and apps that take full advantage of increased pixel density whilst still catering for the majority of ordinary displays is yet another difficult challenge that all web designers and developers will need to be able to deal with in 2013.
The kinds of things I’ve mentioned so far are exactly the sort of known unknowns that we envisaged over a decade ago when pushing for the proper future-friendly web standards and accessibility, which despite widespread adoption of HTML5 and CSS3 remain more important than ever. It’s really pleasing to see that thanks to the web standards revolution we now (mostly) have websites that are easily able to adapt to these changes without needing to demolish everything and start from scratch.
Though in some cases, that’s still the best solution.
Have a great holiday season and a prosperous 2013