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From the Desk of Dino Baskovic

Say goodbye to graceful degradation

The Yahoo! Developer Network is busy wooing web developers back to basics. LTU Web Design reported earlier this week about Yahoo!’s new code libraries and companion blog, and in an unrelated post, observed the understated value of web content. Another Yahoo! article not only relates to both posts, but also offers a startling perspective on the decade-old practice of graceful degradation.

Graded Browser Support” proposes a letter-grade mentality for assessing a website’s compatibility with popular web browsers. While this approach to quality assurance has merit, the supporting background that prefaces the article is perhaps more striking:

“Support does not mean that everybody gets the same thing. Expecting two users using different browser software to have an identical experience fails to embrace or acknowledge the heterogeneous essence of the Web. In fact, requiring the same experience for all users creates a barrier to participation. Availability and accessibility of content should be our key priority.”

Later, in comparing graceful degradation to the increasingly popular method of progressive enhancement, the article states:

“These two concepts influence decision-making about browser support. Because they reflect different priorities, they frame the support discussion differently. Graceful degradation prioritizes presentation, and permits less widely-used browsers to receive less (and give less to the user). Progressive enhancement puts content at the center, and allows most browsers to receive more (and show more to the user). While close in meaning, progressive enhancement is a healthier and more forward-looking approach.”

Given the now-defunct mentality of supporting legacy (a.k.a. “Version 4″) Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers, web designers have struggled to find a balance between making content accessible to all users and ensuring a consistent user experience–regardless of browser yet frequently at the expense of content. Hence, graceful degradation remains a trusted tactic of web design. Nevertheless, Yahoo! and this blog share a common point: it is content that matters most and not presentation.

(This blog, for example, uses two separate CSS styles for displaying Technorati tags that are frequently embedded within posts–one for IE and another for, well, everything else. This is done so as not to disrupt the user experience in IE which cannot properly display icons with inline backgrounds.)

Congratulations to the Yahoo! Developer Network for taking the lead in this arena. LTU Web Design will explore progressive enhancement techniques and present them as opportunities arise.

In the era of MVC, UI, CSS and JavaScript frameworks, progressive enhancement has become a hotly contested topic.