A web for everyone

Jeremy wrote a great piece (again) on progressive enhancement, and how it's often misunderstood.

I think I understand why Ola reacted so strongly to the suggestion that offline functionality should be added as an enhancement. I’ve seen the same reaction when I’ve said that beautiful typography on the web is an enhancement. I think that when I say something is an enhancement, what people hear is that something is just an enhancement. It sounds belittling. That’s not my intention, but I can understand how it could come across like that. Perhaps this is one reason why some people have a real issue with the term “progressive enhancement”.

I had my own little moment of progressive enhancement delight just today. Due to an obscure DNS error at our ISP, it meant JavaScript hosted on our CDN was not loading for some people. Our site is, like so many others, an essential sales channel. People make purchases through it. The upshot of JavaScript failing to load was that the add to basket buttons were failing to do their AJAX thing. Potentially disastrous, right?

Here's the good part: because those buttons are progressively enhanced, clicking on one meant the page refreshed and added the item to the basket anyway, despite the JavaScript failure. The experience was a bit more clunky for the user, but hey, it didn't completely blow up on them and we were still able to take orders. We didn't receive a single complaint as far as I know.

That in a nutshell is what makes progressive enhancement so essential. It's insurance. It's a failsafe. It just makes good business sense.

Also: is a shopping cart a web app or a web site?

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