That Web Dev Thing Where Everybody Says Something Clever Involving Toast

(Deliberately avoiding toast puns here. You’re welcome.)

Much ado about Toast

The not-for-profit I work for is a W3C member. One of the problems with the W3C standardisation process that we have encountered is that it’s incredibly slow and labour intensive. We have dropped out of participating in the standardisation processes because we just don’t have the people, time or resources.

The Chrome team at Google have long been very worried about how alienating and ineffective many of these standardisation processes are. Chrome’s Alex Russell has regularly written about this on his blog.

As a response they have actually made great strides towards making the process more inclusive and iterative: they’ve been in favour of incubation, where ideas for standards are developed in public forums; they’ve built processes where they can quickly prototype new ideas without the risk of them becoming de facto standards; and they’re very much in favour of an idea called ‘layered APIs’.

That last one is very interesting as it opens up the possibility of quickly adding basic elements and widgets to the platform without changing the dynamics of the existing APIs. It’s a tactic that lets browser vendors build up a standard library for web development that is competitive with native app platforms.

The first such API I saw proposed was the very useful kv-storage. Now Chrome has proposed two additional layered APIs:

The response online has been dramatically negative. A lot of that is due to increasing discomfort with Google’s dominance over the web. Some of it has to do with people’s annoyance at Google’s anti-competitive tactics with AMP. Edge switching to Chromium probably didn’t help.

But it’s also because most of these discussions happen on Twitter. The long form responses such as Dave Cramer’s “Are Web Standards Toast?” or Adrian Roselli’s “Scraping Burned Toast” are even-handed; critical but fair. They are sceptical without being too negative. They express concerns but also mention the positives.

You can read these posts without being prompted into anger. And reading them can give you an appreciation for what Google is trying to do even if you come away thinking that they did it badly.

But if you read the conversations on Twitter about these two features, which are in all honesty fairly minor proposed additions to the web platform, you are likely to come away angry and fuming. Either you get prompted into anger at how people are unfairly responding to Google’s efforts. Or you get angry at how Google is railroading the standards process and moving too fast for the people they claim to want to include.

And then you get angrier as the discussion escalates.

Twitter is designed to escalate responses and keep people engaged. This has the effect of polarising discussions online which in turn has, in my mind, made it completely useless as a venue for discussing web development issues. More than anything else, ‘toaster-gate’ has convinced me that it’s time for me to take a break from Twitter. Between my feed reader, micro.blog, and Mastodon, I am not relying on Twitter for web dev news in any substantive way so it isn’t as if I need Twitter to keep up.

It’s noticeable how different my emotional reactions to whatever I’m reading are when I’m not on Twitter.

And, yeah, the Toast element is half-baked:

But that doesn’t matter.

That isn’t something to be angry about. That actually makes it a good test candidate for what Google is trying to do. It either gets cleaned up over the next few weeks or it will die a quick death.

Stomping on these new layered API proposals won’t make Google any less dominant over the web. It won’t make Microsoft reconsider switching to Chromium. It won’t make Google’s search team stop their AMP shenanigans. There’s a point to critically discussing the details both of the proposals and the processes.

But Twitter drama? Always pointless.

I’m tired of what it feels like. It isn’t useful. It isn’t pleasant. It makes people angry at each other even when they are ultimately working towards the same goals.

It’s time for a break.