As web developers, we live in a constantly changing world and have to keep up with the latest technologies. Recently we’ve been challenged to adapt to HTML5 and mobile, among other things. Sometimes I find this maddening, but most of the time I welcome it. It means there’s always new stuff to learn, and most importantly that I’m unlikely to get bored.
Along with ephemeral technologies themselves, there’s also ephemeral trends. Though not as fickle and ever-changing as the fashion world, us web developers have our peculiar trends that come and go.
Do you remember graphical visitor counters, web rings, guestbooks, and animated construction worker icons? When I started messing around making websites on the 2MB given to me on my AOL account around 1997, these were all the rage. Most pages in the “Geocities” era of the web had at least one of these components. If they were hip, that is.
Graphical visitor counters are still around in some shape or form, I think most prominently on sites such as eBay. But where there still exist page counters of some sort, it seems they’ve been mostly superseded by text counters (“This entry has been viewed X times.”).
Web rings were kind of like free advertising for your site. You submitted a banner advertisement of your website to be shown on other sites related to yours. The only catch was that you yourself had to embed the web ring on your site to shows ads for other sites. This is closely related to the idea of a “link exchange”.
A guestbook was simply a place where visitors could write a simple “hello, I enjoyed your page” type of message, just like a real-life guestbook. These have mostly been superseded by more sophisticated commenting systems that allow users to comment on specific articles.
I also remember frames being all the rage. When I started to learn HTML, my father also started to pick it up, and he seemed to learn the frames syntax pretty well, but it was something I never quite understood, mostly because I was afraid of the syntax and was convinced there were simpler ways to build a page. You can guess that I’ve been happy that frames are now deprecated (iframes still exist, but those are a bit different).
And who could forget animated construction workers! Before Geocities shut down for good, someone amassed a collection of these guys and entombed them in a sort of virtual mausoleum. (Ok, apologies for the overdramatic language).
Those were the trends of yesteryear, and it’s easy (and fun!) to mock them, but at one time they were taken seriously. So what are the things we’re doing today that will likely be looked back upon as passing trends?
The now fading “Web 2.0” era of the web seemed to feature sites full of rounded corners and shiny gradients. As a result we now have these built into CSS3, which is quite handy actually. We’ll certainly still see plenty of rounded corners and gradients, but but it seems to me we’re slowly getting away from the paradigm where we think of these as being the thing that makes pages “cool”.
Another relic of Web 2.0 seems to be the “tag cloud”. While it’s a cool visualization of tags and their relative importance highlighted by the text size, it seems to be a passing trend. But it still definitely exist as a buzzword.
Social media buttons have been around for a while, and personally I’ve never liked these. I guess this is my main reason for hoping this will be a passing trend. Like everything else, these can be overdone, and they have been overdone all over the web. It’s not uncommon to see an array of icons alongside an article, but it’s unclear to me why it would be easier to hunt the icon of my favorite service (Reddit, Digg, etc.) and submit it through there. Far easier, it seems, to simply copy and paste the URL.
Facebook “Like” buttons. These are now all over the web, and sometimes they’re proudly displayed next to my Facebook picture. It still shocks me while browsing CNN or any other site and seeing my mugshot appear at the bottom of the page. Maybe I’m just getting older, but I don’t like this. This is another thing I hope is a passing trend.
Give it a few years, but whatever turns out to be the passing trends will be clear in hindsight. And it will simply remind us once again that most everything is short-lived, no matter how popular it seemed at the time. Jump on the bandwagon while it lasts, but don’t overstay your welcome, and get ready to jump off the bandwagon when the time comes!