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@media 2006 Report

June 27, 2006

Kazuhito Kidachi
Front-end Engineer, Web Development Team

I have many opportunities to participate and learn from events on Web design and Web development, in Japan and abroad. Two weeks ago, I flew to London to attend a conference called @media 2006 on June 15 and 16. As was the case this year, last year's event, which marked the launch of the @media conference, had such a great lineup of speakers that I was really intrigued, but unfortunately I was not able to visit the U.K. at that time. So I took part in this year's conference, after first making sure I had prepared thoroughly.

The two-day event had a total of 18 sessions. Some of them took the form of a seminar and others of a panel discussion. For some time slots, the hall was partitioned into two rooms to hold two different sessions at the same time. For this reason, no one could take part in all discussions. I often use markup languages and style sheets in my routine work and I basically chose to attend those sessions on closely related subjects.

This report focuses on several points that particularly impressed me.

CSS Prevalence - yesterday, today and tomorrow

CSS expert Eric Meyer gave a keynote speech entitled "A Decade of Style." It contained an abundance of episodes to showcase the history of CSS in the past decade since his first encounters with it. Web standards are now generally recognized as important. It is today becoming more or less common practice to use CSS for implementing Web content. But looking back, we find a history of struggle. Today's success is a result of efforts made by people from across the globe to put CSS into wider use.

At the end of his speech, Eric stressed the importance of sharing with the entire community new ideas that occur to individuals in the future. CSS technology is still being developed and has yet to reach its final form. Discussions are ongoing on best practice and bad approaches. From his lecture, I received a strong message that any new knowledge obtained by someone from such deliberations can lead to genuine progress only when it is actively shared.

Official Release of IE7 Draws Near

In a session entitled "IE7 and Beyond," Chris Wilson, a member of the IE platform team of Microsoft Corporation, offered detailed explanations on the improvements embodied in Internet Explorer 7 ("IE7") over its current version, and future plans on Web standards support implemented in the new version of Microsoft's Web browser. It is undeniable that Internet Explorer is still so inadequate in terms of CSS support that it cannot be compared with other browsers. Even so, the IE7 shows significant improvements over its predecessor, including bug fixes. Not only CSS support but also his lecture, the communications on the IEBlog, the gap between browser development engineers and Web designers or developers and the transparency of the browser development process now attained made me feel that the circumstances had changed utterly.

Use of the "CSS hack" Should Be Minimized

"The Wonderful World of Bugs" was the title of the session on troubleshooting in the process of creating style sheets. It was organized by Andy Budd, a user experience designer and a Web standards developer. Visual expressions implemented in CSS may be displayed differently from browser to browser or shown in a non-intended layout. He emphasized that not all these problems are attributable to the browser and that a CSS hack, a technique of applying or not applying styles to specific browsers according to the variance in interpretation of CSS specifications and to whether or not there exists any bug, should only be used as a last resort. He also asserted that it is far more important to understand the CSS specifications correctly than to know a large number of CSS hacks and that it is the best way to prevent any failure. I totally agreed with his argument.

How to Make Style Sheets without Affecting Accessibility

Web designer Dan Cederholm spoke about the concept of "Bulletproof Web Design" in a session with that title. I previously worked as a supervising editor in the translation of Dan's publication Web Standards Solutions. Using the term "bulletproof," he proposes the active use of CSS to ensure delivery of information even if the character size is set to large, if CSS support is disabled or if the image display is disabled on the browser. We can understand his intention behind the use of this word if we can grasp his point, namely robust implementation that is not susceptible to environmental factors. Some people may think that it is sufficient to use CSS solely to control visual appearance, but I think it is about time that more attention was turned to the reliability of information conveyance.

Importance of Semantic Markup Spotlighted by Microformats

Tantek Çelik is an engineer for Technorati well known for his work on blog searching. He gave a talk on microformats. Tantek is at the center of the efforts to formulate microformats. His speech entitled "Microformats: Evolving the Web" plainly described their outline, history and recent implementations.

Microformats are a set of formats devised for publishing and sharing specific data on the Web with the use of existing standard technologies in a more convenient manner. For instance, they allow us to provide richer semantic structures for information on people or events with the use of existing (X)HTML than the structure defined by its specifications.

Major search engines are already paying attention to microformats and are working to support them. These innovative formats are entering a new phase for fully-fledged expansion to widespread use. I believe and hope that the semantic markup will be of growing importance in this process.

An Exclusive Interview with Dave Shea

On the day following the close of @media, I conducted and filmed an interview with Dave Shea at my hotel. Dave is a designer renowned for running the css Zen Garden ,which had a worldwide impact on the Web design industry.

We had learned that he would come from Canada to take part in the @media 2006 conference, giving a session on typography and participating in a panel on operation of style sheets. So we asked him for an interview in advance.

Dave co-wrote a book entitled The Zen of CSS Design with Molly Holzschlag, the leader of the Web Standards Project. This book provides a nicely balanced explanation on techniques for using CSS and on the principles of Web design, with some look at several excellent designs submitted to the css Zen Garden.

I am now in the process of editing its Japanese translation, ahead of publication. The interview will be made available on the Mitsue-Links Videocasting website when the Japanese edition comes out in bookstores, or before.

The interview should be interesting to those who know Dave Shea only by name as well as to those who are already aficionados of his work. Thank you for your patience while we prepare to release it.