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-itis Abuse : About Diseases And Semantics

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With the floatitis series finally coming to an end,I think it's time for some critical introspection. Even though I'mquite happy with the series itself, there's one thing that dawned on mywhen writing the series. If I could start again, I'd drop the whole-itis thing, as I believe in the end it could be harmful to the pointyou're trying to make. Let me explain. make.

Birth Of A Disease

The whole -itis fad started back in the day when front-end developerswere changing from table layouts to div layouts. Rather than grasp theidea behind semantics, they merely substituted all tables with divs andembraced the div like it was a gift from God. Paragraphs, headings,lists ... none of that existed, the div ruled all.

Of course this was not best practice and the standardistarose again to fight the battle of semantics once more. To win theirfight, they created divitis. The disease of abuse and overuse of thediv element. The terminology stuck and convinced many developers totake another good look at what html semantics was all about.

When writing the series on floatitis, I came acrossclassitis, another variation on the same theme. Reading replies on thesubject made me change my mind about the whole "turn it into a disease"fad. The -itis is a disease in itself.

Semantic Issues

While it is an effective way to raise heads and make people takenotice, it seems that most people miss the meaning of the term.Divitis, classitis and floatitis are all about abuse and overuseof elements. But it is not always interpreted that way. It does nottake long for these elements to become a taboo. People start popping upclaiming they've made templates without using any divs or classes.While that is nice in an experimental no-use-at-all kind of way, it'sharmful when implemented in the real world.

I've seen it happen a couple of times, which should be aclear indication that the use of -itis has some very unwanted sideeffects. Rather than curing one disease, you're merely replacing theoriginal disease with a different one.


Theirony here is that while we are trying to fight for recognition ofsemantic value, we are doing it with weapons that are misunderstood bya large part of our audience. While I wrote a series on alternativesfor using floats, it was not my intention to demonize or discourage theuse of floats altogether. Sadly, it's very likely that this is exactlythe message I'm sending to a large group of people, simply by using theterm "floatitis".

So from now on, I'll refrain from following the whole-itis fad. It's nice for quick gains, but in the end it's probablycounter productive. A good thing to think about, seeing as we are allso concerned with semantics. 

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Published at DZone with permission of Niels Matthijs, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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