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When we learned HTML, we read that it was a subset of SGML. This detail was presented as a historical footnote. Another subset of SGML, this scary thing called XML — Big Enterprises use it — rolled out in the 1990s. When we moved to XHTML Transitional, there was never any sense that something might have been lost in the translation, or that there could be a bigger payoff if we stopped to appreciate the big picture. There’s more to XHTML than lower case text and religiously closing tags.
Twelve years after the debut of search engines, we have Google representing the current best-of-breed index of web pages. It is faster, smarter, and it has raised the bar for web usability several times over. And yet, we are still paging through search results ten or twenty records at a time. Unfortunately, this style of navigation has been adopted by every site that returns records from a database, regardless of the amount of data being served.
Haml is a new templating engine for Ruby on Rails. It is designed to be a high-level semantically awesome templating language that you would use in preference to RHTML in certain highly structured instances.
In 1994, WebCrawler launched and became the first search engine most of us had ever used. Yahoo arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, but was initially focused on maintaining the definitive hierarchical index of sites on the web. Soon, all of the early players (Lycos, AltaVista, and eventually HotBot) were waging a war over who could index the most pages. The push for quantity completely overwhelmed any notion of quality, either in terms of search relevance or the user experience.
As web developers, we have a serious issue to contend with: completely all-over-the-place support for Ajax. Prototype does a great job of abstracting the various browsers, but there are several pitfalls coming our way. XMLHttpRef is implemented as an ActiveX control inside IE, and that means that if a user has IE set to High Security mode, it’s not going to work - even though it's an internal component! Further, the new changes Microsoft is being forced to implement as a result of a lawsuit ruling would see IE users having to click a response each time ActiveX is used in the browser. It’s unclear how this might impact how we use Ajax in our web applications.
Refactoring is a term that has its roots in mathematics. If you take the romantic view and choose to see math as a set of patterns designed to bring order to chaos around us, then to refactor becomes a radical concept. It implies that you are imposing a new perspective; that by shuffling entrenched structures and simplifying data to its most basic essence, you can make things 'better'. 'Better', meaning faster, more logical, and easier to understand.
Historically, data sub-forms are not something that have been presented well on the web. Pop-up windows and browser page refreshing are a significant regression from the interfaces which have been provided by client/server desktop applications for over a decade. Luckily, with the advent of Rails and its partials rendering, we are in a position to do something about this usability shortfall.
Ryan was invited to the Seneca Free Software and Open Source Symposium in October 2006 to speak about how Unspace works.