CSS4 is here!

I think that CSS would be greatly helped if we solemnly state that “CSS4 is here!” In this post I’ll try to convince you of my viewpoint.

I am proposing that we web developers, supported by the W3C CSS WG, start saying “CSS4 is here!” and excitedly chatter about how it will hit the market any moment now and transform the practice of CSS.

Of course “CSS4” has no technical meaning whatsoever. All current CSS specifications have their own specific versions ranging from 1 to 4, but CSS as a whole does not have a version, and it doesn’t need one, either.

Regardless of what we say or do, CSS 4 will not hit the market and will not transform anything. It also does not describe any technical reality.

Then why do it? For the marketing effect.

I think that announcing a new CSS version will bring desperately-needed attention to CSS, and will help the people evangelising CSS in the field make an impression on web developers who are otherwise not very interested in it.

Web developers are profoundly influenced by the cult of the new. The best way of getting their attention is announcing a new version of something, and that’s exactly what we would be doing here.

I have been given to understand that the CSS WG might be willing to support this narrative and confirm the existence of CSS4 — if we web developers can make a strong enough case that it will be beneficial to CSS. Today I am starting to build such a case.

Head, torso, long tail

Influenced by Ilya Grigorik’s excellent performance.now() presentation, I segment web developers into a head, a torso, and a long tail. CSS4 would help the latter two groups.

(These segments form by self-selection. Any web developer can become part of the head, but it takes more effort than being part of the long tail. Not everyone feels the need to put in that extra effort, and thus the three segments come into being.)

CSS is, and has always been, part of the head’s world. The head does not need CSS4 because it already follows CSS closely, goes to conferences, reads blogposts and articles about upcoming features, and knows what’s happening.

The torso does this to a much lesser extent, and the long tail doesn’t care one way or the other — they found all the answers when they selected their current toolchain. It’s them that we seek to influence by announcing CSS4.

In practice, all current outreach efforts such as conference presentations and blog posts or articles are aimed at the head. Not that the torso or long tail wouldn’t understand them, but they generally don’t seek them out. I would like to give them an incentive to do so.

In my opinion, “CSS4 is here!” would provide that incentive.

What do you think?

If you read this blog post you likely belong to the head. Based on your own experience you might not see the point of CSS4 because it doesn’t solve your problems. But CSS4 is not aimed at you; it’s aimed at the torso and the long tail.

When considering the pros and cons of CSS4, don’t reason from your own experience. Please put yourself in the shoes of someone whose time is limited, or who has never learned to pay a lot of attention to technical evangelisation. Will they be helped?

On the other hand, if your job, or your passion, includes evangelising CSS, you should definitely reason from your own experience. Will slapping on a “CSS4 compatible” tag help you?

So these are today’s questions. Will the announcement of CSS4 — new! shiny! cool! — spur on the torso and long tail to learn more about CSS? Will it help those who are already putting a lot of time and sweat into technical articles and presentations to reach a wider audience? Will it make a difference?

I think it will.

What do you think?

And if you agree with me, would you be willing to write something about it? That would show the CSS WG that there is developer support for this idea.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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