Please badmouth CSS more in developer talks

John Ohno
3 min readOct 6, 2016

A response to a popular article.

The appropriate response to a perceived competence gap between web development and application development is not to fake admiration for the worst tools of web developers, but instead a concerted effort to improve tools and knowledge in both communities. If someone’s complaints about CSS make you feel like your skills are being belittled — well, that’s probably an indication that you need to improve your skills, and learning why your preferred tool is bad is a good first step.

The fact that some people are capable of making impressive things with a tool does not make the tool good. Making impressive things with bad tools (or with good tools that are intended for a completely different purpose) is a tradition in the tech community; it’s called hacking. Writing a text adventure in postscript is impressive only because doing so is a terrible idea. Likewise, modern web development is impressive because HTML and CSS are limited enough to make most things that would be easy in other domains very difficult in a browser. This is not a point in favor of CSS; it is a point against it. A tool is good if easy things are easy in it and hard things are only slightly harder; CSS fails this test.

Normalizing the use of a poor tool in which a great deal of effort is necessary to solve common problems has knock-on effects. If an absolute beginner can’t perform extremely common tasks (in other words, if new users are buried under an avalanche of gotchas), those tasks are…

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John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net