Notes on notes (of smart people) about web components

The Extensible Web Summit happened in Berlin yesterday. This prompted written words from some big thinkers and doers. Jeremy Keith wrote a piece on Web Components followed up by a uncomfortably excited response from Alex Russell.

On Piffle and Tosh and feasting upon Fetid code

While I am as excited as the next nerd by the potential of web components. Their development and marketing appear to follow the same depressing pattern of ship first, oh yeah we better tack on some ARIA to cover up the cracks.

Alex stated yesterday:

Jeremy’s argument, if I can paraphrase, is that people will build Web Components and this might be bad [for accessibility].

Piffle and tosh.

I cannot but agree with Alex piffle wise. Jeremy’s argument does not go far enough.  Web components are being built in the same development culture that web stuff is usually built in, and this is bad for accessibility. This is not to say that web components are by definition bad. It is the same story for any implementation of accessibility support on the web, in browsers and in UI libraries: it usually comes after, often way after a product has been shipped and distributed to millions upon millions of people and 100s of thousands of developers have gorged on and regurgitated the code in their own projects.


Some tweets I wrote in June (in usual diplomatic style) upon initial release of Polymer Paper web components which may well be fantastic examples of what can be achieved with this new technology, but were sadly lacking in even the most basic accessibility considerations (this situation has improved but they are still riddled with issues):


Alex stated yesterday:

Luckily we’ve been thinking very hard about this at Google and have invested heavily in Polymer and high-quality Material Design components that are, as I write this, undergoing review and enhancement for accessibility.

The economics of the new situation that Web Components introduce are (intentionally) tilted in a direction that provides ability for cream to rise to the top — and for the community to quickly judge if it smell off and do something about it.

As Alex stated “Google … have invested heavily in Polymer” and also invest in accessibility (see references). What I can’t comprehend is why that investment of big smarts and big bucks by Google did not include the integration of accessibility and usability into the core development cycle? Why is it considered the community’s job to polish the turds?

Further reading/watching

Categories: Technical

About Steve Faulkner

Steve was the Chief Accessibility Officer at TPGi before he left in October 2023. He joined TPGi in 2006 and was previously a Senior Web Accessibility Consultant at vision australia. Steve is a member of several groups, including the W3C Web Platforms Working Group and the W3C ARIA Working Group. He is an editor of several specifications at the W3C including ARIA in HTML and HTML Accessibility API Mappings 1.0. He also develops and maintains HTML5accessibility and the JAWS bug tracker/standards support.


Jeremy Keith says:

Man, even when people agree with me they call my writing “piffle”.

Tough crowd.

karl says:

Alex is forgetting something in his high optimism about the good fray in terms of usage. As well as for accessibility, for semantics or just simple down to earth Web compatibility, people will develop for the lion share, aka the main browser(s) of the day.

“Good” JQuery plugins still will fail in some scenarios for browsers which are deemed not important. Alex might say tough luck for those. It’s market law. It’s the rule of competitions, etc.

But what the Web allowed with its initial design is specifically to break the power hierarchy of participation by allowing anyone to participate.

So yes I’m like you on this one. Jeremy is right. It’s exciting but will create a mess not because of freedom of creating things, but because people will create for specific browsers.

I guess the danger about seeing un-accessible Web Components spreading around exists. That said I’m not sure what would be the solution here. Just as for Web application development, for Web component development you must count on the developers / owners and lobby them…

Virtuous Web Components can definitely be made, and our deliteful components are trying to do so as much as possible.

Steve Faulkner says:

Hi Christophe, thanks for the pointer to the deliteful web components!