Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Modern Web, by Peter Gasston

The Modern Web


What would you expect in a book titled ‘The Modern Web’? A discussion on the connected world? the global village? How openness and the social web is bringing down levels of violence and crime, raising levels of transparency and honesty, and in a very small way bringing about the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth? How the wide availability of information is disrupting commerce, education, and our social structures?



I read The Modern Web, by Peter Gasston, from O’Reilly publishers in exchange for a public review. I was quite surprised to find the author describes the Modern Web from his perspective as a front-end web designer with only passing familiarity with server-side or any other aspects of the web. In other words, the view from the coal-face or interface between creative design agency and content deliverer.


The book is a revelation of the jobbing skills of the agency web developer!

  • Why every other web page looks the same these days, like a pumped up WordPress template.
  • The trials of implementing creative concepts within the confines of the web standards committees.
  • Playing catch-up as feature after feature leapfrogs into the www.
  • The nuts and bolts of what works today in ccs, html5, the rival browsers
  • Javascript with or without jquery

My first instinct is to review the author, not the book, and ask Peter whether he realises that a developer with front-end and no back-end will soon be obsolete. My second instinct is to speculate whether the emerging additions of local storage, webRtc, and beyond will in fact make everyone else obsolete. Maybe much of legacy software development will soon be swamped by the rising tide of html5 and javascript?

Interesting questions, all raised by the writing of this book, but none of them directly answered. Instead the author makes a workmanlike job of explaining the snapshot that is today ( actually the day before yesterday ) in the web developers world.

Some really useful sections:

  • Ever wondered why wikpedia authors insist on those strange video formats? Peter Gasston nails it in his ‘Format Wars’ breakout box in chapter 9 where I read the most concise and enlightening explanation of the codecs and patents and their impact on your design decisions.
  • Ever wanted an overview on modern Javascript on a ‘need-to-know’ basis rather than ‘learn the fundamentals’ basis? Chapter 5 is your friend, even upto and including explaining Polyfills and Shims.

There is not much else in this book that I did not know already, and I am not even a web developer. But it is useful to have all this stuff in one place.

The Modern Web is also, fittingly, a brilliant source of links. I was intrigued from the start by the retro typeface of the frontis (New Baskerville, I think), the name of his publishers ( ‘No Starch Inc’ ), the name of Gasston’s blog ( Broken Links-, his technical reviewer, David Storey, and his disarming acknowledgements (“Although I’ve never met him, I’d like to thank David Walsh for maintaining an excellent website that I have used a lot.”)

A brilliant read for following avenues of links, and a great single point of reference for current practice in html coding.

I bet he uses Notepad.