Six Questions: Eric Meyer on CSS3

Eric A. Meyer knows a thing or two about standards-based CSS and HTML development. He’s a distinguished expert on CSS and HTML, an author of numerous books on CSS, co-founder of An Event Apart, a coveted guest speaker, a member of the A List Apart crew, and  founder of Complex Spiral Consulting (I could go on – but I think you get the picture).

Eric Meyer on CSS3 - photo courtesy of Chris Jennings.

Eric Meyer was also a prominent invited expert for seven years in the CSS Working Group, the folks in charge of maintaining and developing CSS.

Needless to say, he’s a person you’d want to ask about the CSS3.

Today I ask Eric Meyer six questions on the topic of CSS3, and here’s what he has to say.

What do you think are the most exciting developments and extensions of CSS in CSS3?

[Eric Meyer]: This will confirm once and for all that I’m basically a big huge code nerd, but honestly, the advanced selectors.  Sure, sure, opacity and rounded corners and multiple background images and pretty things blah blah blah.  All very nice.  But the power to describe Web 2.0 designs in CSS is insignificant compared with the power to select every third table row starting with the fifth one.  Or being able to select the first paragraph within another element, even if it’s not the first child.  Or selecting any list item that’s the last item in the list.  Oh yeah, that’s the stuff.

Well, and Web Fonts are kind of cool too.  I’ll grant you that.

Let’s discuss the modularization of CSS specifications. The CSS specification for CSS3 is modularized (presumably after lessons learned in CSS2) – how has this affected the timeline, progression, and mainstream adoption of CSS3 specs?

[Eric Meyer]: It really means there is no such thing as "CSS3" the way there was a CSS2.  There’s no great big monolithic specification called CSS3. There’s just a bunch of parallel efforts, some of which move more quickly than others.

I don’t honestly know what it’s done to adoption.  We had a great big long pause in CSS advancement in the first half of this decade– I call it "the IEnterregnum"– and it’s only been recently that we’ve seen browsers pushing past the edges of CSS2 in any major way.

On the other hand, you could argue that the pause was good because it let vendors focus on fixing bugs and reaching consistency instead of running off in ten different directions.  Nor would I oppose that argument.  My real point is that because of how things have gone, it’s hard to measure CSS3 adoption against what came before.
I do think the split caused an overall slowdown in the development of the specifications.  No way to prove that, of course, but that’s the feeling I get.  It’s a big part of why I left the WG, and why I’ve been only peripherally involved in some of the other W3C’s efforts.

Just taking a peek at the proposed specs for new CSS selectors, it seems that a lot of complex object selection and targeting in the DOM will eventually be done with CSS instead of JavaScript.

For example, under the proposed specs, you’ll be able to select the first element of .some-class and give it a different style rule or accomplish zebra-striping tables without using JavaScript.

How has JavaScript influenced CSS3 (and vice versa) and what roles do you see each one taking in modern web development; do you see them being more distinct or more blended together than they are now?

[Eric Meyer]: From what I’ve seen, most of the influence has been on JS frameworks like jQuery, with that influence coming from CSS. However, there is some movement going back the other way– ideas like ‘:contains‘ that were first done in JS are starting to be considered by the CSS WG.

I think the much bigger influence on CSS by JS will be in people using JS to "silently" add advanced CSS to browsers.  I wrote about this recently, and I’m pretty sure it’s just a matter of time before it actually happens.  We’re already seeing things like using JS to natively turn browsers into speaking browsers, and to hack around ancient accessibility barriers.  Adding support for HTML5 elements and CSS3 features via JS is not far behind.

What resources should we check out if we want to learn more about CSS3?

[Eric Meyer]: http://css3.info/ is a good start.  There aren’t a ton of resources out there beyond that, I think mostly because so little of CSS3 is widely supported.

CSS is getting bigger and more complex, Do you think the status of CSS3 should be versioned every time major modules are completed (i.e. CSS3.1, CSS3.2), unlike CSS1 and CSS2?

[Eric Meyer]: Yes, I think that would be a good idea.  I just don’t expect it to happen because it’s not very practical.  You’d have to only capture those modules that are stable, and the odds of more than three modules being stable (as opposed to stagnant and abandoned) at any one time are pretty low.

What can we (as developers and designers) do to help with CSS3 development and mainstream adoption?

[Eric Meyer]: Write blog posts and tweets and forum posts about what you want to use now, but can’t. Find ways to simulate what you want and write about that.

Submit feature requests to browser teams.  File bugs you find on existing CSS3 features (like advanced selectors).

All that stuff is how we vote in our field, to the extent that we have a vote.

Further reading

By the way, if you need a quick refresher on CSS3, be sure to check out CSS3.info, a site dedicated to sharing everything there is to know about CSS3 or the Wikipedia entry on CSS3.

Also check out the CSS WG’s current work to see the latest schedules on CSS3 development.

More on Eric Meyer

Thank you very much for your time Eric! If you want to learn more about Eric Meyer, check out his personal website where you’ll find a variety of useful articles, blog posts, demos, and tools on standards-based CSS/HTML. You should also check one of his many books and consider picking one up if you haven’t already. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Additionally, be sure to check out An Event Apart, a web design conference co-founded by Eric Meyer (along with Jeffery Zeldman) held regularly (check out the schedule for next year) with top web professionals guest speaking as subject matter experts.

Credit: Picture of Eric Meyer in the lead image of this article, courtesy of Chris Jennings. Source image can be found here.