Ethics in the Web Industry
“Thou shalt not steal.”
Boom. Article finished. Well, not quite…
A Shift in Perspective
As I was going about my morning review of topics, articles, and tweets in the web industry, I came across this list by @adamdscott called “Ethical Web Development”. If you’re not familiar with it, go read it now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you to finish.
[Cue the elevator music…]
Great, you’re back! If you haven’t read it, then seriously: Stop and go do it now, it won’t take long.
The Depths of Ethics
As soon as the page rendered in my browser, I felt my jaw drop, my brain-cogs churning and a beaming light bulb appear over my head.
Web ethics isn’t a matter of stealing. Web ethics deals with the broader range of topics that inform how we should be building the web. They inform how we go about building a better web for our users. Some topics deal with user perspectives and some topics deal with designers and developers. In the end, the goal is the same: To end up with a universally better experience on the web…for everyone.
We Work For Our Users
If you actually followed my directions and read “Ethical Web Development” (and I sincerely hope you did), then you’ll see that the majority of the topics (the first three) are related to our users. And that makes total sense. The web is about it’s users. Our users drive what we do and why we do it. If we’re so arrogant to think that a group of people don’t matter, then we’re doing the entire web community a disservice. When I go to work every day, I am fighting every moment to do right, for the users. Every pixel drawn, every line of code, every commit, every push…it’s all for our users.
So, what issues do we need to consider as we think about our users first? At the most fundamental level, the web needs to be accessible to everyone. Period. Whether you’re on 27” 5K Retina iMac tearing through fibre optic or browsing on an (at-best) limited ‘feature’ phone on a 1x network, the web needs to be accessible. What about a blind user who is using a screen reader? How can you improve your underlying markup and progressive enhancement to be inclusive of the diverse means of accessing the web?
As you design, remember that colorblindness is far more common that you might think. Are you relying on color in ways that are painful for someone who is colorblind? How does your design span cultural divides? Have you given thought to your site as it responds and changes throughout the browser landscape?
These questions need to be revisited on a continual basis. Repeatedly ask yourself how you can improve the experience for your users.
We Improve Our Industry
Web ethics extend beyond the fabric of our userbase. It permeates our industry and how we work together as peers. That’s a fundamental concept: We are peers. Keep your pride at bay. Fight the temptation to demean and tear down others. Instead seek to support, encourage and help others. Share concerns, comments, feedback and correction in a way that is helpful and uplifting. Through every conversation we should seek to walk away having bettered those we interact with and ourselves.
Be courteous in your code as well. Courteous in your code? Yes, even in your code. Leave comments. Explain what you’re doing so when the next person comes along, they are not left scratching their heads wondering what is going on. Ensure your code is thought-out and planned well. Test, retest and test again. When you fail, seek to understand ‘why’, then share that knowledge with others.
As you interact in the open-source community, don’t be afraid to submit bugs or contribute to repositories. It’s a huge benefit when people contribute together with each other. We can learn and grow at a far greater rate when we work together.
Finally, it should go without saying: Don’t steal. I’m not diving into the conversation of intellectual property rights because that’s an entirely different (and very lengthy) topic. Most software and code has a license. If you want to use it, read the license and then follow it. Even if you think it’s ridiculous, that’s not your decision to make.
Wrapping It Up
In the end, it comes down to respect. Ethics is a matter of respect for the users and your peers. As we design, build and deploy do we respect those around us? Are we going out of our way to hold others in a high regard? Every day I fight to keep my pride in check and my focus on doing what’s right. I focus on helping the client, the users and the industry. Because, if I lose focus and perspective it’s all going to implode. If I get lazy and form bad habits the web will suffer.
If you haven’t given thought to these issues, I hope this has helped broaden your thoughts. I hope you walk away feeling bettered. I know this has helped me.