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Web Tribal Wars

Sep 14, 2009 In Development By Joshua Allen

People have used conflict as a storytelling device since the beginning of time. Many world religions describe the history of the cosmos as an ongoing conflict between two forces, for example. And in our personal lives, we often frame situations in terms of opposing forces. Joining a political party, cultural movement, or taking sides in an industry debate makes us feel that we are participants in a larger drama. It gives us motivation and meaning—especially if the conflict is ongoing and not easily settled.

As web developers and designers, we have plenty of stories to choose from. It seems that some debates will never die, and masses of web professionals join the battles with gusto. Here are a handful of my favorites:

  • Grid vs. Organic Layout – Few people today remember that HTML tables were originally intended to be a layout mechanism (sacrilege!).  For most of recent history, web developers have instead preferred flow or positional layout designs, while print developers have used grids.  No longer!  Grid designs for web design are here to stay, and have articulate and talented defenders.
  • Robust vs. Draconian Error Handling – This is one of my favorites.  Should tools like web browsers and web servers accept malformed content (Postel’s Robustness Principle)? Or should they fail miserably on the first error (Draconian Error Handling)?  HTML settled on one strategy, XML the other.  Both camps will convince you that the opposing system is a slippery slope to world collapse, and I think they both may be right.
  • XML vs. JSON – It’s the year 2009,but people still get sensitive about their data serialization formats.
  • Push vs. Pull – The Web is essentially a “pull” architecture,where you have to send a request to the server every time you want a web page.  But that doesn’t stop people from resurrecting the “push” idea every couple of years.  “Push” is like instant messaging, where the message gets pushed to you whether you asked for it or not.  My first memory of this was when Pointcast launched in 1996, and the press became convinced that it would replace the Web.  Neither pure push nor pull is ideal, so the topic keeps coming up.  On the Web, we have Comet, as well as the recent discussion around “fat ping”.
  • Functional vs. Imperative – This is a programming geek’s debate, but invades the Web space periodically.  Functional programming treats programs like math problems, while imperative programming treats programs like recipes.  Since programs are rarely math problems, most code is imperative – but many people like the “elegance” of the functional style. XSLT was designed for functional thinkers, and JavaScript gained new credibility when people like Doug Crockford showed that JavaScript is more functional than imperative.
  • Red Bull vs. Mountain Dew – Even when it comes to wearing out our adrenal glands, we like to take sides.

Now it’s your turn.  Which key battles am I missing? What are your favorites? Share your thoughts here, and make sure to follow us on twitter.

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6 comments so far. You should leave one, too.

Thirip said on Sep 15, 2009

Moleskine vs. ... oh, wait..

Ian Muir said on Sep 15, 2009

Oh come on, Mountain Dew''s got nothing on Red Bull!

The biggest conflict we''ve been running into here is MVC vs. N-Tier. The challenge is always setting our preferences aside and choosing what''s best for the project.

rtpHarry said on Sep 16, 2009

At the moment there is intense battle between asp.net MVC and asp.net Web Forms.

php vs asp.net
windows hosting vs linux hosting
flash vs silverlight
jquery vs ... well i guess that ones over already

Joshua Allen said on Sep 16, 2009

@Thirip: :-)

@Ian, rtpHarry: Wow; I''m really intrigued to hear that about MVC vs. WebForms/n-tier. Now that you mention it, though, it kind of makes sense.

Nishant Kothary said on Sep 17, 2009

My all-time favorite is RIA vs. Standards-based. How about, Above the fold vs. Below the fold? *gag*

Juicy Couture Watches said on Apr 25, 2012

You guys have a wonderful website intending the following, KIU!