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Archive: 18 August 2004

Of Site Styles and CSS Columns

Thanks to a post over at Simon’s weblog, I discovered that the Mozilla 1.8a3 readme file tells us of some interesting CSS-related developments:

       
  • Users can now disable CSS via Use Style > None or a global preference (bug 32372.)
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  • Mozilla now supports a at-rule for matching on site/document URL. Among other things, this makes site-specific user style rules possible (bug 238099.)
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  • Preliminary support for CSS columns has been checked in to Mozilla bug 251162.)

The middle of the three is what Simon wrote about, and it’s indeed very cool.  CSS signatures would never have been necessary if browsers had always supported per-site styles.  I’m not entirely thrilled about the syntax, but it’s a good start.  And for those who are wondering how I could support a non-standard extension, I’ve never been against them as long as they were clearly marked as such.  Microsoft’s extensions (behavior, filter, the scrollbar stuff) weren’t, which inevitably led to confusion.  The Mozilla stuff is marked in such a way that you can tell it’s an extension, and in a way that won’t conflict with future CSS.

I’m happy to see that Mozilla will finally let users easily disable CSS.  For those who need the text view, say because they have poor vision, it will be a welcome feature.  For those who want to quickly check the document’s unstyled rendering, it will be similarly useful.

But I’m most intrigued by the addition of “preliminary” support for CSS columns.  This would allow you to declare that a given element’s content should be flowed into columns, complete with auto-balanced heights and everything.  For example, if you wanted a list flowed into two columns, you could declare:

ul {-moz-column-count: 2;}

That would split the contents of every undordered list into two halves, filling the first column with the first half of the list and the second column with the second half.  Thoroughly awesome.  See the CSS multi-column layout module for more details, although I don’t know how much Mozilla actually supports at this juncture.

Update: it turns out that column support isn’t present in Mozilla 1.8a3, contrary to the release notes.  I’ve been told that it will be present in 1.8a4.

SES San Jose Corrections

A few days ago, I posted the entry Silly Expert Opinions, in which I made some snide comments and rebutted some points related in a post at compooter.org.  In so doing, I fell victim to one of the classic blunders:

Never take someone to task for saying something you weren’t there to hear.

…because it may turn out they didn’t actually say it, or didn’t mean it in the way it was reported.

In the comments on the compooter.org post, the SES conference organizer Danny Sullivan (founder and editor of Search Engine Watch) and two of the panelists have calmly and professionally explained the other side of the story—the one where some of the points attributed to them were never made, some were seriously spun, and others were taken out of context.  The comments are well worth reading from about #12 on, that being Danny’s first post.  See also the thread “SES slammed by designers” at the Cre8asite forums.  (Although I should note once more that I’m not a designer.)

Unfortunately, my post triggered other posts, such as one at Molly’s crib and a  WaSP Buzz post this morning (thankfully there’s a more detailed followup).  We all fell victim to the blunder, but I fully take the blame for kicking things into high gear.  I sometimes forget that the entries I post are read and taken seriously by a whole lot of people; that my words have, at least in some circles, a certain weight.  And sometimes I let my penchant for smart-assed commentary get ahead of my more sober desire to speak with intelligence and accuracy.  My post of last Friday is such an example, and I’m sorry it’s caused confusion.  I apologize not only to the panelists and to Danny, but to anyone I inadvertently misled.

In my post, I did posit the idea that I might get into the SEO conference circuit, and now I have that ability, thanks to Danny’s deep professionalism—he could have easily, and with good reason, flamed me in e-mail and left it at that.  He didn’t.  He treated me with respect (probably more than I deserved) and opened the door I’d tried to slam.

In the afternoon WaSP post, Chris Kaminski said:

Here’s an idea: perhaps we standards folks and the SEO crowd should do a bit of knowledge sharing?  In the comments, Danny Sullivan said he’s already asked Eric Meyer to do just that, with an eye towards a possible speaking slot at an upcoming SES no less. That’s a great start. But I think we can do more. I think there’s gold to be found at the intersection of SEO and standards, or at least some good web development.

Let’s keep the beginning of dialogue in the comments to the compooter.org post, throw out the flames and ignorance, and use it to build a better set of best practices for web development. One that accounts for standards, accessibility, usability and search engines.

I agree wholly with Chris: let’s keep the dialogue going.  We’re lucky that the opportunity arose and wasn’t soured by me shooting off my mouth.  It’s time to see what can be done to harmonize the two fields, and where things can be improved.  I’m going to see what I can do about taking Danny up on his offer to attend an SES conference in the future.

I’m particularly interested because it seems, reading between the lines, that standards-oriented design isn’t as search-engine friendly as I’d thought (although it’s certainly much better than most alternatives).  Peter Janes created a test of Google’s treatment of heading levels, and the results weren’t exactly encouraging.  It bothers me that standards-oriented design and search engine optimization might be at odds, whether partially or fully.  This is definitely something that needs to be cleared up.  The results could affect the future evolution of search engines, which is a goal worth pursuing.

If you have ideas about how to get there faster, or have search engine tests of your own to share, let us know.

August 2004
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