Friday, March 16, 2007

Spotted: an HTML Button

"Good god, man... How a person can write so much about HTML buttons fascinates me." - A toli commentator
Per Google, I have an unseemly amount of clout when it comes to the subject of the HTML button born of 9,000 word folktales bemoaning its general under-appreciation and lack of use.

I've always felt guilty that I didn't offer more prescription to the 50-60 searchers who daily come across that piece. Still I thought I was only stating the obvious (albeit at length, and with tongue in cheek).

Thus I was pleased to note yesterday that Google Reader switched from its misguided use of simple hyperlinked text for its "Refresh" and "Mark all as read" functions to now use items that look like html buttons. I won't bemoan their developers not using native html buttons since they've at least recognized that it is best to have clear indicators for potentially unsafe operations. I wonder when Bloglines will follow suit...

google reader uses buttons

I'll echo Phil Ringnalda again:
Making the fire alarm look just like a light switch isn't an example of daring and innovative design, it's just dangerous.
These small usability tweaks add up to broaden the appeal of the web which after all is our great mass participation medium. My rule of thumb in systems design is that we should favour participation over control. I believe this notion extends to user interface design. Giving up full control of the user interface in favour of standards tends to benefit an application because it often meshes with user expectations. There is paradoxical joy to be found in a constrained design space.

A parting sidenote: for the past few months I've been working on the Dojo toolkit, that open source javascript toolkit. At a certain point it was vaguely suggested that I work on form widgets including developing custom buttons. As you might suspect, I immediately demurred and disqualified myself pointing to my paean to html buttons. My position is unchanged: in as much as possible, one should use the built-in browser components and lobby the browser vendors to implement XForms, Web Forms 2.0 or whatever standard can improve the experience of building form applications on the web. HTML forms have been second class citizens for too long yet they are essentially the equivalent of Mary Magdalene and the disciples - the foot soldiers of the web style (digression: Bill de hÓra has been grumbling of late that HTML forms are the original sin of the web). I am pleased to see movement on many fronts these days. Every little bit helps I suppose. Let's celebrate these small things:

Next: The ballad of the link

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