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May 05, 2004

Message To The Messengers - Props to the old school

Of late, with the latest version of Style Master released, bedded down, and well received, I've been a little nostalgic about the old days of CSS. So I thought I might try to ride that wave a little, cast my mind back over my experience of CSS, and talk a little about some people you really should be grateful to if you work with CSS and web standards. Particularly some you might not have heard of.

Sometimes, as I read blog entries, articles and such like on the web, about web design and CSS I am reminded of the wonderful track by Gil Scott Heron "Message To The Messengers", a rap from the old old school to the new school of hip hop, asking that we remember those who went before, and building a bridge from the old to the new.

In the world of CSS and web standards more generally, I remember the early days, and a whole heap of pioneers, many of whom are not the household names that Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyer have become (no disrespect to those guys at all by the way, big up to you both). I can only admit to being something of a bit player compared with Sue Sims (now at Opera) and Jan Roland Eriksson who were the main force behind css.nu, the first (in my memory) really focussed CSS site.

These guys, along with a few others, were also real driving forces in the style sheets newsgroup in the late 90s, when belief in css was, in hindsight and to be honest, probably a little optimistic at best. They and people like Alan J. Flavell, Liam Quinn, Braden N. McDaniel, Todd Fahrner, Daniel Glazman, David Baron posted tirelessly on the newsgroup, started sites like the Web Design Group's CSS reference and css.nu, formed the CSS Samurai at the Web Standards Project and basically created a community that continues to this day.

Some of those names may be familiar, some more than others. Some won't be familiar at all. Some even have CSS techniques named in their honour (possibly a dubious honour I'd suggest, no disrespect to Todd at all.)

Look up some of their names at Google. Daniel Glazman is doing some very cool things with editors at Mozilla, from what I can tell. I feel I should, but I don't, know whether Alan is the Alan J. Flavell, professor of Astrophysics (something I wanted to do as a youngster 'til I realized I just wasn't smart enough). Liam Quinn was a founder of the WDG, and is disturbingly younger than I realized :-)

I don't know whether Todd needs any introduction. You've no doubt heard of the Fahrner Image Replacement technique (FIR), named I believe in his honor by Douglas Bowman, well known for StopDesign, and his Wired redesign a little while back. Not sure what Todd is up to now, but back in the day he was a professional designer at one of the big design firms, while many of us were hobbyists, students, interlopers and so on. I believe he may have worked with David Siegal, famous for foisting table based layouts on us with his "killer web sites" series. But the memory gets foggy after a while.

But the biggest respect has to go to Hakon Lie and Bert Bos, together the developers of CSS. Bert is at the W3C, still nurturing CSS, while Hakon is at Opera. And if you think they are just some bit player with a pretty cool browser, try loading your pages on a Sony/Erikssen mobile phone. It uses a version of Opera and it is a revelation. Do that and you'll understand, if you don't already, that the web is about a lot more than browsers on PCs.

Others came later, and did great, and really important things. A couple of people at Microsoft deserve much praise for going ahead and implementing CSS, Chris Wilson with IE3 for Windows, and Tantek Celik with IE 5 on the Mac, probably the first browser to show the real promise of CSS. Maybe he too should have got the box model wrong though :-)

And I'm sure I have missed many with this very potted and personal recollection.

But all you out there who read, write and care about CSS and web standards, stop for a moment and give some quiet thanks to these people, and all the many midwives who helped bring the possibility of web standards into the world. Sure that's gushing, but you know, CSS is something close to unique. It's a powerful, profoundly valuable addition to something wonderful, the world wide web, and its success, unlike say flash, and many other technologies is not due to a company promoting it, marketing it, making it happen. It's due to a community of like minded people. And these people I've mentioned were among the first.

So I thank you all. You have done something special.

If you have any stories, people to add to the list, or anthing to say at all, please just add a comment. Love to hear it,


Jeffrey and Doug have since written to me pointing out that it was Jeffrey who named the FIR, not in his honour but because Todd actually invented it.

Web Essentials web standards conference. Sydney Australia September 30 and October 1 2004

May 5, 2004 | Permalink


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I couldn't have said this better myself.

Posted by: Scrivs | May 5, 2004 3:26:17 PM

Mad love and respect to the old school for laying down the foundation.

Posted by: Donny | May 5, 2004 10:12:17 PM

Very nice article. I'm a bit proud to indeed recognize a fair number of the names :).

Only comment I have is that you picked a darn small font size. This is truely the first time I actually used Firefox's zooming abilities.

By the way, David Baron is one of the main driving forces behind the Mozilla project (you didn't mention).

Posted by: Laurens Holst | May 6, 2004 1:36:29 AM

The "Killer Web Sites" guy's name is David Siegel, not David Segal.

Posted by: Richard Cyganiak | May 6, 2004 5:29:40 AM

And probably the biggest thanks we can give is to use and push CSS (and kin) into everyday use. Show the benefits, convince the purse-holders and help co-workers to get over that first hurdle.

Thank you to the frontier men.

Posted by: Paul Watson | May 7, 2004 6:32:04 PM

If we go *way* back, there's Dave Raggett, whose demo of the W3C's testbed "Arena" browser blew me away at WebCon 2 ('94). Arena supported a draft of the proposed HTML 3.0 spec that later evolved into HTML 3.2 and CSS.

I don't remember if Eric Meyer was in that session--he and I were at the Con together, so he either saw it or had to listen to me babble about it later. Now that I think about it, that presentation (directly or indirectly) probably planted the seed that became Eric's career a few years later.

Posted by: Jim Nauer | May 8, 2004 11:33:30 AM

Very cool flashback. I remember a lot of those names too. You inspired me to dig up an article I wrote about CSS for the late lamented WebReview.com in 1997:


I can't believe it's seven years later and I'm still explaining to certain web designers what CSS is.

Posted by: Paul B | May 11, 2004 11:58:46 AM


great link, thanks for that,

plus ca change no?

Posted by: John Allsopp | May 11, 2004 1:50:20 PM

Håkon Lie has a web page, at http://people.opera.com/howcome/

Posted by: Alf Kåre | May 11, 2004 5:33:28 PM


I was only looking at that this morning,


Posted by: John Allsopp | May 11, 2004 5:40:11 PM

Fine recollections. I am a teacher and have no formal training in any of this, but I'm designing sites for myself and a few clients thanks to the work so many of you have posted, the names mentioned in the article not the least of them.

This is as appropriate a place as any to bask in the nostalgia of early days, say a quiet thanks, and squint ahead to where we go next. I remember several of those mentioned and am always thankful (and I try to express that in my comment tags...).

Posted by: Todd | May 15, 2004 5:08:24 PM


Posted by: news- | Aug 3, 2004 1:17:46 PM

Thanks for remembering. Without the strong community that formed around CSS, the specifications would not have seen much use. Thanks to the efforts you described in your blog, the web is a better place to be.

Posted by: Håkon Wium Lie | Aug 13, 2004 6:12:27 PM


thanks for stopping by, and thanks again to you and Bert for CSS.

Opera on mobile devices in particular kisk ass as they say in the US. Keep up that great work,


Posted by: John Allsopp | Aug 14, 2004 11:35:29 AM

Very nice article, good to have these nice recollections. I am a developer and have some basic training on this + designing sites for myself and a few friends thanks to the work you and so many others have posted, not many as easy to follow as you :) . Keep the good and uninterested work!
Cheers, Esteban from Perú

Posted by: Esteban from Perú | Jan 2, 2005 8:34:33 PM

And forgot to ask you a favour if you may: I would like to receive good or bad comments on design issues about my website:

Posted by: Esteban | Jan 2, 2005 8:41:05 PM

php coding
learn more HTML

Posted by: mihey | Mar 23, 2005 12:28:08 PM

Seems I missed that great post. Thanks!

Posted by: Daniel Glazman | Aug 20, 2005 2:24:47 PM


the beauty of archiving,


Posted by: johnAllsopp | Aug 20, 2005 2:29:14 PM

CSS guidelines still valid today. Nice work guys!

Posted by: Alan Garcia | Oct 25, 2005 8:06:16 AM

Yes, I also belief in practicing good web standards, both in CSS and HTML programming... It's a shame so many commercial packages "missed" the point and made "quickfixes" instead of playing it right. They sure made things far more difficult for us all...

Posted by: Luis Alberto Barandiaran | Feb 7, 2006 2:39:21 AM

I'm just starting to understand CSS and love it. Don't know how I did things before. :)

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