Technology Web

Progressive Enhancement and Graceful Degradation

A List Apart has a timely article titled Understanding Progressive Enhancement discussing the perceptual differences between graceful degradation and progressive enhancement. I enjoyed seeing Steve Champeon’s idea given new light. Additionally, now is as good a time as any to have a go at these topics, with the many new enhancements being added to today’s browsers, while antiques still cutter cyberspace. I could have done without the cloyingly cute M & M analogy in the article, but that’s probably my inner Cranky Woman having a go this AM.

I’ve written about graceful degradation, previously. Graceful degradation means applying modern technology but ensuring the application doesn’t negatively effect those viewing a web site with an Antique (remaining nameless). However, contrary to the ALA author’s statement of Under this paradigm, older browsers are expected to have a poor, but passable experience, graceful degradation is just that: gracefully degrading, meaning that though the person using the Antique doesn’t get all the bells or whistles, their experience at the site is more than “poor but passable”.

Progressive enhancement, on the other hand, begins with the content, rather than the technology; ensuring that the markup used to organize the content is semantically correct and valid. Then, and only then, the web site developer progresses to the use of CSS and JavaScript, both to annotate and enhance the content. That’s been the primary difference between the two approaches: graceful degradation tends to focus on technology, first, while progressive enhancement focuses on content, first.

Of course, the two are not exclusive: one can use progressive enhancement techniques, beginning with the content outward, paying particular attention to the semantics of the markup, and then apply the technique of graceful degradation when applying CSS and JavaScript. In particular when using Content Management Systems, such as Drupal and WordPress, it’s important to not neglect the semantics by focusing overmuch on the themes, widgets, and other, frequently annoying, gewgaws.

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