Flipboard flips, and so does the web.

Flipboard has decided to join the Web, sort of. Their app adventure has had a good run but not much seems to have happened recently. Small iterations to improve an already pretty good formula or have they run out of steam? Moving to the web makes sense either way as lots of people still seem to be using it.

However, the slippery scrolling all dancing webpage just sucks. Did they come up with a way of dealing with a slow DOM? Yes, they went the canvas route and ignored the DOM altogether. For Flipboard this is, how annoying it may seem, a reasoned approach. I can think of at least two: First, it’s crazy fast and second their content doesn’t need to be indexable. The one thing that’s less reasonable is that they forgot to bring the accessibility.

That smells like a plugin

Some may see this as an unforgivable failure in adhering to standards. However, we can, we should, consider the reality of browser performance. The DOM simply doesn’t allow for this level of animation performance but the Web, the standard W3C recommendation for the web, does allow us to work around it. In fact that’s what we’ve been doing since we considered using floats instead of tables for layout. We traded one evil for a lesser one and gained considerable benefits through compromise. This brings me to the lack of accessibility with the Flipboard approach. It seems that it may still be added and if it does and if they can make it happen then this Canvas approach is a game changer. It will have succeeded where Flash and JavaFX have failed. A browser native, accessible and entirely self contained high performance application layer. Will single page apps on the web via the canvas usher in the return of the document and application devide? Does this spell doom and gloom? Maybe, but I’m more optimistic.

What’s interesting about this is that we still have a DOM and the content it contains, albeit virtually. For the first time we now have a way to start changing the how and why of HTML. Just like SASS is influencing the CSS specification and similar to how Coffeescript has played a role in ES6. Manipulating the canvas this way can give developers a way of imagining what the future of the web stack could look like. When some say that the Web is doomed it now sounds even more misguided then ever. The web is alive and future is more open then it ever was because Flipboard has now given us another way of looking at it. I for one will not look a gift horse in the mouth.

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