From “Web Development” to the “Web Platform”

Defining a powerful toolkit

The rise of the phrase “web platform” over the past few years makes me very happy.

For years, I’ve been looking for a good term that would cover HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and a few related technologies. The terminology has long been tricky, as the mostly-forgotten “webmaster” broke into smaller pieces: “web designer”, “web developer”, and sometimes “web administrator”. (Some web administration faded into general system administration, while other aspects have grown into their own discipline of web operations.)

The “web designer” side demanded an understanding of visual and then interaction design, while the “web developer” side usually meant more implementation, a closer relationship to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and assorted server-side frameworks. It wasn’t a perfect split, and the developer side included too many varied pieces for the category to have that much meaning. As more and more programming came to be programming for the Web, I encountered occasional developers who actively avoided HTML, CSS, or JavaScript to the extent that they could, but who considered themselves “web developers” nonetheless. 90% of their input and output was about the Web, after all.

A few years ago, with the rise of HTML5, it seemed like everything – HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and much more – was labeled HTML5. (It still is, in some conversations). Whether the Web included intranets was once a hot question, and then PhoneGap and similar tools for building mobile applications with web technologies blurred lines once again. There were front-end engineers, and a wide variety of designers and programmers, and for a while it seemed like every new book about web technologies needed to address an emerging job role.

Fortunately, the W3C and a group of stewards came up with a term that re-centers the conversation. gets it right: this set of tools is indeed the Web Platform. The components have separate identities, but they come together to define a common foundation for more and more applications. The core list on the docs page is the core list of technologies people need to build web applications, whether they run in a browser over the Internet or within a local setup that installs and runs like a regular application.

There are still boundary questions, of course. I could nominate a few technologies that aren’t covered in depth here, and I suspect that folks working on RESTful API approaches might also have a good claim on the phrase Web Platform. I’m also intrigued by “The Modern Web”, a different description appendTo uses for their newsletter. That feels to me like it includes recent practice as well as a great collection of tools.

Overall, though, when I’m describing the technology stack, “the Web Platform” is the way I go. It’s developing more and more traction, and people of all kinds get that it’s a foundation on which to build. We’re shifting the descriptions of our Fluent conference that direction, and I hope it will simplify the regular conversations about toolsets. It’s not just JavaScript. It’s not just HTML, or CSS, or the API collection. It’s the set of them working together.

If you’re building applications – whether they run locally or over a network – consider building them with the Web Platform. If you’re talking about tools for building applications, treat the Web Platform as a coherent toolkit that works across many different environments.

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