Simon Willison’s Weblog


Advocating Standards

28th August 2003

Ian Lloyd: Designing for the future, and the training gap. Ian highlights the frustrations faced by all web standards advocates when trying to encourage their less web-enthused co-workers to take the leap. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that both Incutio and LJ-World have a remarkably forward thinking approach to web standards, but I can still identify with the spirit of Ian’s article.

Advocating web standards is a phenomenally difficult task, for a number of reasons:

  • The principle message, no matter how hard you try to hide it, is “you’re doing it wrong”. No one likes to be told that they’ve been doing things the wrong way, especially when they’ve probably been using their current techniques for the past three or four years.
  • Web standards come with a steep learning curve. Not for new developers—I’ve written before about how quickly my girlfriend picked up “correct” HTML and CSS starting from no previous knowledge—but for people who must un-learn several years worth of previous experience. Giving up hard learned table hacks and cross browser tricks in exchange for a new set of CSS workarounds for the current crop of browsers is a pretty tough cookie to swallow.
  • The existing techniques work. 95% of the sites on the current web use them, and the current web is a huge success.
  • Until recently, standards compliant sites were for the most part pretty ugly. Thanks to the work of some very talented, public spirited designers this preconception is on its way out.

Faced with those hurdles, what can we do? Jeffrey Zeldman put it best: Show, don’t sell. Redesigning a site to use CSS can slash more than 50% off the size of the page. When I was first learning CSS I rebuilt a numver of popular sites using it, and each time the resulting page was well under half the size, with less images to boot. Structural markup (in particular properly used header tags) boosts your search engine ratings. A single global CSS file allows the design of an entire site to be tweaked by altering a single file. Accessible markup opens your site up to visitors (aka customers) who could not visit it before.

People who develop with web standards are currently riding well ahead of the curve. We know it’s the right way to do things, but telling people to do it because it’s right won’t get us anywhere. Demonstrate the benefits and the theory can sneak in by the back door.

This is Advocating Standards by Simon Willison, posted on 28th August 2003.

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