CSS Naked Day and the Missing Wikipedia Page

Published on May 2, 2023 (↻ August 1, 2023), filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

This is the final draft of an article I had prepared for Wikipedia (draft snapshot, disclosure snapshot; references inlined for this edition). The draft was rejected, and at the moment, there’s no way to make meaningful progress. I’m sharing and releasing it to allow others to eventually continue the work. Find more comments—not part of the draft—, at the end.

CSS Naked Day is a full-day online community event observed annually on April 9 [cf. heise online, net magazine, CSS Day conference, SELFHTML, Eleven Ways]. During CSS Naked Day, participating websites don’t apply any CSS, and therefore appear “naked,” i.e., unstyled and not designed.

The purpose of the event is to advocate for improved maintainability through separation of concerns. Generally speaking, this is possible only if document structure is handled by HTML, and styling and design by CSS. Removing or commenting CSS code and references, as done during CSS Naked Day, leads to displaying only the document structure as governed by user agent styling of the respective HTML code, demonstrating said separation and maintainability, and appearing “naked.” (A website or app that mixes concerns by using presentational markup would still look at least partially styled.)

Screenshots of annevankesteren.nl.

Figure: Example of a website with and without CSS styling. (Copyright 2023 Anne van Kesteren.)

Implementation

Technically, participation can be signaled by manually removing CSS code or references to style sheets, as well as by tooling. The CSS Naked Day website itself provides tools and plug-ins that make the process easier.

History

The event dates back to 2006, when Dustin Diaz, an American web developer, advertised the first CSS Naked Day in order “to promote web standards.”

During the first two years (2006 and 2007), CSS Naked Day was held on April 5, when in 2008, the date was changed to April 9.

Until 2009, the event was organized by Diaz. From 2010 to 2014, Taylor Satula, an American web designer, is credited with having driven the promotion of the event. Like Diaz, Satula also put emphasis on web standards, as well “proper use of (x)html [sic], semantic markup, [and] a good hierarchy structure.”

From 2015 on, on initiative by Fabien Basmaison, a French frontend developer, CSS Naked Day moved to a new site, css-naked-day.github.io. At around the same time, Jens Oliver Meiert, a German web developer and author, worked on drawing attention to the event by a Google Groups mailing list for CSS Naked Day. In the months following the 2015 edition, and until today, Basmaison and Meiert have kept maintaining the site and promoting the event together.

Reception

Reception of the event appears generally positive, and many developers and site owners write about their support and participation in individual blog posts. From the first CSS Naked Day in 2006, which had 763 recorded participants, engagement went up to 2,160 participants in 2008. After another strong participation in 2009 (1,266 recorded participants), fewer people and sites are documented to have taken part.

In recent years (2020–2023), only a fraction of these participants is known, usually including a few dozen individuals and their sites. While there are no reliable ways to measure participation, it seems clear that while CSS Naked Day is still being observed, that is only the case for a small minority of people in the field.

Even during later years drawing less attention, CSS Naked Day received the support of some well-known web developers, like Eric A. Meyer, an American web design consultant and author known for his books about CSS.

Comments About This Draft

The experience working on this draft, and with the editors involved, was not a great one. I’m empathetic of the work Wikipedia editors do, and from a few edits on Wikipedia, I know first-hand how quality can be lacking, including in what has already been published. However, while incorporating the feedback I received, the changes didn’t actually seem to be checked, and there was no sense for teaming up. (You may feel that’s not a Wikipedia editor’s job, and yet it’s exactly how authors and editors best work—together.)

In the end, work on the draft felt like a poor use of time, giving a sense that at least in the environment I’ve found, it would not be accepted for publication, regardless of improvements.

Now—the draft isn’t done, let alone perfect. Most notably, it has been a challenge to identify more third-party reports about CSS Naked Day. Without quality feedback and the time to keep working on it, however, and believing that CSS Naked Day is significant, I like to save the work done as just shared, and therefore make it easier for like-minded peers to perhaps submit the next draft.

I’m releasing any rights to this draft—with the exception of the graphic displaying Anne’s website, which Anne was so kind to allow me to use and share, and inclusion of which I suggest to confirm with him again.

Finally, CSS Naked Day has a meaningful message—separation of concerns. The event has been around for nearly 20 years, thousands of developers have participated, and it’s still alive. It’s not clear whether it really isn’t significant enough for Wikipedia. But it does seem significant for our field.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!