The Visual Web

In this blog, I will be examining the concept known as the Visual Web. Take moment and look around you – the web is changing, now more than ever. More and more, websites and even mobile applications are joining what is being called the Visual Web. This begs the question: What is the Visual Web, where does it come from, and what does it mean to you?

First, let’s take a brief look back to the design origins of the web. When websites were first created, they were designed to mimic documents; web pages were essentially sheets of paper in the giant filing cabinet of the internet. Even up until the mid-2000s, almost every web-page was devoted to a singular purpose: relaying text.

Then something subtle occurred. People received ever-increasing access to smart devices and high-quality media. With a camera in every pocket, it was no longer necessary to share these long, in-depth recollections of current events. YouTube had a big red ‘Upload’ button right on the home page. People didn’t have to host their own site just to upload some pictures onto a webpage. As media became more prevalent, the web began to reshape itself into the internet we know today.

At the time of this writing, Cisco cited The Internet of Things, A Study in Hype, Reality, Disruption, and Growth report by Raymond James that over 12.5 billion devices connected to the internet. That is a lot of devices, each with different form factors, resolutions, input devices, software and hardware. How are you supposed to show your Instagram selfie on 12 billion devices?! Luckily, this new ‘Visual Web’ thing accounts for this using something called responsive design. This means that the flow of the website can change based on the screen it’s on so you always get the best version. On top of that, many sites are designed mobile-first, meaning that the site is built to look good on a phone and then scaled to a larger screen to avoid compromise.

Another huge aspect is iconography. By representing well-known actions or ideas with images, a site can convey a great deal of information in a single element. Of course, people have been making icons for years – you have the floppy disk, the printer, clipboard, scissors, etc., but until recently websites could only display glossy images which were large, didn’t scale well and had a plethora of download issues. The icons used today are simply fonts; they’re rendered exactly the same as the letters you’re reading now, perfect on any screen.

Lastly, Visual Web sites are fast. Using content delivery networks, front-end code can be held on a central repository. This is so that if you browse to a site that uses a library you’ve already encountered, your browser can recognize the repository and load the library from cache. This is much faster, and saves a lot of data in the long-run. Many of these websites also use a one-page design so that most or all of the site is hosted on a single page; this prevents the browser from reloading everything when you click a button or link, and also means the site can respond to you in real-time.

So what does it all mean? Faster, cleaner browsing wherever you go and more access to the content you enjoy without the clutter. Plus accessible information in the form that fits you most. The truth is, it’s hard to say for sure what the limits are. People are finding new ways to use and improve the Visual Web every day, and it’ll soon evolve into yet another discernable version of the internet. Just be sure to pay attention; things are about to get really cool.

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