The web isn’t a platform. When we design and build for it, we should remember that.

This content originally appeared on Ethan Marcotte’s website and was authored by Ethan Marcotte

Jeremy said something yesterday that’s been rattling around in my head since he posted it:

The web isn’t a “platform” like a native OS: it’s a continuum. Varying support levels work with progressive enhancement.

As he usually does, Jeremy put words to something that’s been bugging me for some time.

As I see it: we play the long game in this business. Standards get authored, browsers implement them, often at a varied, staggered pace. Over time, we learn to rely on those standards in our work.

Despite that, we keep focusing on perceived short-term failings in various browsers. No, IE6 doesn’t have document.querySelectorAll support; no, we don’t have wide in-browser access to a user’s camera; no, there isn’t a way to reliably detect touch; no, we don’t have reliable insight into the user’s “context.”

Often, that leads to people deciding the web is being “held back.” So there’s some hopscotching of, say, progressive enhancement—which, in addition to being a great philosophy, has been shown to have real, practical benefits to businesses—in favor of “not being held back.” So, in response, we make the same arguments—good and great arguments, mind, but we’ve been making them for some time now.

I don’t really have any answers here—hell, I’m not entirely sure what I’m griping about. But I do wonder if our collective short-term frustrations leads us to longer-term losses. And seeing the web not as a “platform” but as a “continuum”—a truly fluid, chaotic design medium serving millions of imperfect clients—might help.

I mean, ages ago John Allsopp wrote about “[embracing] the ebb and flow of things” on the web. But it’s taken me some fourteen years to realize he wasn’t just talking about layout: our attitude toward the web has to be as flexible as our designs. And maybe it’s worth remembering that the web’ll get there, eventually—we just need to keep playing that long game.

My thanks to Scott Jehl, Jeff Lembeck, and Mat Marquis, who reviewed an earlier draft in Editorially.

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This content originally appeared on Ethan Marcotte’s website and was authored by Ethan Marcotte

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