Do you remember this fish?
Since this blog is primarily about web standards and and usability, I thought this would be a good time to give you sort of an anti-webstandards, anti-usability insight. It’s a journey ten years back into time, where no web standards existed, and I learned how to make “killer websites“.
A few moments ago I saw a job posting over at ajaxian.com. Note the final line:
Please send a short note and your resume (IN THE BODY OF YOUR EMAIL – NO ATTACHMENTS!) to firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m just curious here. Whould this be David Siegel, as the “inventor” of the transparent 1-pixel spacer gif?
To be honest, I’m not aware if he invented the trick, but I remember that his book introduced me to it back in 1996-1997. Seen in today’s perspective, some of the review comments for his book on amazon are simply amusing:
Do you want to know about how to use tables for layouts, use transparent 1-pixel GIFs as spacers or “shims” to keep everything from getting wobbly, and how to use GIF-text images in conjunction with actual text to make your page look just the way you, the designer, want it to? All those techniques are explained here in great detail
Also, check out the Wikipedia entry on spacer.gif (which sadly also lacks evidence about who invented the trick).
I’m suddenly seriously interested in this of purely historical reasons. It’s amazing how much effort everybody put into aligning tables and serving up spacer.gif’s. In this perspective, the wikipedia article has links to some amazing articles. Here’s from David Siegels website “The Single Pixel GIF Trick“:
Never Use the Standard HTML Constructs
If you want machines to read your web pages, use things like definition lists, unordered lists, headers, etc. If you want people to read them, don’t do it. They take away your typographic control. Specify your own font sizes when you want a size change. If you must use bullets, make your own bullets (I don’t see much point in bullets if your vertical grouping is good). And try not to number your list items. It is hardly ever necessary.
If the standard HTML constructs delivered true typographic results, I’d use them, but since typographers don’t get invited to sit on the committees that make the decisions, I work around them to get what I want.
This is dated March 14, 1996. Note the original code that he used: It’s a <br> followed by a spacer gif just below the heading. Fantastic stuff at the time being, so I thought. Definately worth to retro check out. And remember to look out for other retro words like Netscape 3.0 and Photoshop 4.0.
Thus, to me, David Siegel invented the trick, printed it in a book and he was my first web design superstar (it was not until years later I heard about people such as Tim Berners Lee, Jakob Nielsen, Eric Meyer).
Also its kind of interesting that the transparent pixel has almost gone away again (perhaps with the exception of Disney and a few other websites). To put it in the words of Jakob Nielsen from one of his first Alertbox articles (1995):
The only certain trend on the Internet and WWW is that there are no trends on the Internet. It changes so fast that it is impossible to predict what will happen, and new trends may bloom and die overnight.
So please help me out here: Post anything you know here in a comment that can lead me closer to enlightment on who invented that gif and what happened!