How it started
While I do have a formal education in information technology and programming languages, I learned essentially nothing about the internet. Because said education took place before the internet became the hot new thing. Yes, I am this years old.
I started to work in 1997, programming in assembly language and COBOL (look them up). My first printed business card didn’t include an e-mail address, nor did anybody else’s at the company, there simply hasn’t been any. A year or so later, my department got internet access, on a single computer, in a dedicated room. The internetification of Austrian companies was still in its infancy.
At home though, I got internet access a little sooner than I did at work. If you have read about me being »Online for Twenty Years« in 2017, you know that 1997 was the time when I started to learn HTML to build my first website.
In German-speaking countries, SelfHTML has been the resource to learn about HTML. Which is why I’d like to say the following.
SelfHTML's tagline has always been “Die Energie des Verstehens”, which would literally mean “The Energy of Understanding”, but is more likely meant as “The Power of Knowledge”. In any case, a great tagline indeed.
Back then, SelfHTML offered the ability to download the whole documentation for offline use. And download I did, so I could work on my site locally without being online.
How it progressed
Whenever I wanted to learn how certain things I saw on the web have been implemented, I used the browser feature View Source on the site in question to see its source code.
And there it was. With no compiler obscuring anything, I could look at the raw HTML somebody else had written. Understanding it may have taken a bit, but at least it was readable to begin with.
How it’s going
To this day, browsers still fetch the raw HTML and just parse it.
Viewing the source of today’s websites is no fun.
- Minifiers are usually first to blame, though to a certain degree you can get around them using the Web Developer Console. And if Source Maps exist, you may be even a bit better off. But all that means you need to learn about browser tools for debugging to begin with. Not great for those who are just getting started.
- You can consider yourself lucky if you have actual HTML to begin with. Many websites (and especially “web apps”) these days forgo the server-side rendering, just deliver an almost empty
I could go on. Not that any of the aforementioned techniques are inherently bad, my point is that the way I got into the HTML game no longer works for those starting out today.
On the other hand, things may have simply changed, nowadays someone just starting out will have alternate options, like interactive courses and the likes. Things I didn’t have.
Still, my gut says the barrier of entry is higher today.
Coming full circle
If you got here after having read my editorial »Zero Vulnerabilities Found«, you know that I did remove all dependencies from all my GitHub projects, with this website being the one that completed the list. As I didn’t want to write things like minifiers myself, I’ve decided to host my website without any minification and obfuscation, i.e. in a more readable way, like we used to.
I guess this is me trying to give back to the community. If someone decides to view the page source on my site, they may be pleasantly surprised.
- And also thank you to the people who followed him. SelfHTML is still alive and well for you to enjoy, and learn from it. ↩︎
- At the time, internet access has been expensive, and slow. ↩︎
- Sure enough, they need to fetch lots of additional files too, and make sense of them. Stylesheets, scripts, images, just to name a few. But you get the idea. ↩︎
- On this particular site, what accounts for unminified content the most is white space characters like tabs and line breaks in HTML and CSS. But these characters come in a predictable sequence. While I don’t have proof, I think today compression algorithms like gzip will make quite some unminified content neglectable. ↩︎
- Gut aside, this is also true for other reasons: Just look at how HTML, but even more so CSS and JS, have evolved in their capabilities, which makes them more difficult to learn. And let’s not forget about all the additional tech stacks that get thrown into the mix, which may be hard to ignore. ↩︎