Primum non nocere

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The Latin phrase used in the title of this post, primum non nocere, translates as:

First do no harm.

It’s often said that this is part of the Hippocratic Oath, from the code of ethics followed by medical professionals. While that’s not correct, it’s a rule that’s generally considered important to follow: do good, or at least do no harm.

Although what we do is not as critical to society as the role of a doctor, I think we need to start considering an oath like this for working on the web. Let me explain why.

This week I’ve seen two ‘HTML5’ websites which feature rich interactions and animations; like Flash used to be, but now using open web technologies. This is a very good thing. However, visit them with JavaScript disabled and you get a very different experience: that is, nothing, or next‐to‐nothing. Literally. On one site I saw a logo and a message telling me I needed JavaScript; on the other, a blank screen.

If all of your content is in HTML, and styled with CSS, but you’re requiring people to use JavaScript before they can see it: you’re doing it wrong.

In order to ensure that we make websites available to everyone, regardless of browser type or capability, I would suggest we come up with our own oath — perhaps something like this:

First make your content accessible.

This isn’t new, of course; this is basic stuff. But so keen are many of us to rush to take advantage of all the shiny newness of devices and features, we’re forgetting to do the fundamentals. We’re doing harm.

2 comments on
“Primum non nocere”

  1. Amen!

  2. So happy to see this message is still being spread!