Here’s the bottom line:
The reason why I titled the two pieces I’ve written so far about webfonts for AListApart, “Web Fonts At The Crossing” and this one, “Webfonts On The Prairie” is because I’ve always seen webfonts as a mass movement similar to other mass movements like the one touted as “manifest destiny” in American history. Manifest destiny was the idea that European settlers and their descendants were, for good or ill, destined to occupy the entire North American continent, from sea to shining sea.
And so far, as fonts on the web have edged out further and further, site after site it looks more and more like my initial instinct about webfonts was correct.
As a quick aside - I was recently reading the Master’s Thesis that Google Font’s Dave Crossland wrote some years ago while studying type design at the University Of Reading. Early on, it mentions thinker and theorist of social psychology Eric Hoffer’s contention that mass movements - usually political, but other kinds as well - arise out of a widespread feeling of frustration. (From Hoffer’s book “The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements”, 1951.)
It runs like this: a whole bunch of people have been frustrated about something for a long time. Finally, path away from that frustration appears navigable, and a mass movement is born.
In that vein, webfonts are a mass movement within the design community. And every movement has its doctrine and it has its fanatics. There are web designers - good ones - who are perfectly aware that webfonts will adversely affect the performance of their pages, but frankly they don’t give a damn. They are perfectly willing to sacrifice some users experience in exchange for not feeling frustrated anymore and advancing the cause. Also, some designers see the performance issues as somebody else’s problem to solve, not theirs.
If they can use webfonts, they are going to use them. Period. It’s a callous attitude, but I’ve seen it firsthand.
Once a mass movement gets going, it marches forward ruthlessly and relentlessly. (Eric Hoffer suggests that at least some fanaticism is a necessary catalyst for bringing about abrupt and radical change.)
It’s an attitude summed up by the old expression, “You want to make an omelet? Well then you’ve got to break some eggs!”
Webfonts are not a passing fad, they are not a niche technology like Flash, they are now a part of the fabric of the web. And, very importantly, unlike Flash, @font-face is not proprietary, it’s a standards-based solution and that makes all the difference in the world.
Yesterday, at the ATypi Conference in Warsaw, what amounts to a peace treaty between Adobe, Microsoft, Google, and Apple was announced in the form of agreement on the new OpenType 1.8 standard. This marks a level of cooperation that’s unprecedented. And a lot of the change is driven by having to move font data more efficiently across the network - webfonts as destiny, once again.
I acknowledge here and in the article, certainly, that much of what you’re complaining about is either totally or partially true.
Forgive me for not evaluating each point you touch upon, individually.
Perhaps a “Webfonts: Pros and Cons” article should be written to deal with it all most efficiently.
But the bottom line is that there is nothing inherently flawed about webfonts themselves. A font on a server is an asset just like any other so there is no reason why the problems you outline can’t be remedied.
I’m a former Certified Systems Engineer and I understand latency and bandwidth issues same as you. Have those problems not lessened over the years?
Of course they have.
Get used to webfonts, learn to like them, have some of them over for dinner.
A mass movement isn’t stopping for you, or for me, or for anybody. Find a way to make webfonts work as best you can today, and then go forward knowing that they will work even better tomorrow.