Fear of web standards

When I made Developing with web standards (and the Swedish version, Webbutveckling med standarder) available online, I didn’t really know if anyone would care, and if I would get any feedback, positive or negative. So far, the articles have been read by thousands of people, and the feedback I have received has been very positive, which is great.

However, when I’ve gone through my referer logs, I’ve found links to my documents from discussion forums where some of the participants clearly do not want to understand what web standards are about. Instead of learning something new, these people try very hard to find reasons not to use web standards, and accuse web standards advocates of not living and working in the real world.

That kind of reaction is probably to a large extent caused by fear of the unknown, and the feeling of not having enough time and energy to spend on relearning how to do your job. Well, the good news is that you don’t have to learn it all in one week. Just get yourself started, and then move towards web standards one step at a time. Eventually, you’ll find that web standards are ready to use, even in “the real world”.

For me, web standards made the web interesting again. After years of working with tag soup and presentational markup, I was fed up with it. Building websites wasn’t fun anymore. I kept trying to explain to my colleagues that we were doing things the wrong way, but I didn’t do a very good job of it, because I didn’t know how to make them understand. Then I read To Hell With Bad Browsers, and realized that Zeldman had just written what I was trying to say.

After that, I started learning more and more about web standards, and using them more and more for every new website I worked on. And that has made building websites much more interesting for me. It’s very unlikely that I would still be doing what I do if the push for web standards hadn’t come along.

What made you start using web standards, and how has it changed the way you feel about web development?

Posted on April 24, 2004 in Web Standards


  1. The reason I turned to Web standards was frustration born out of constantly inheriting horrible code.I’ve worked on so many projects where I’m having to monkey around with something that someone else built. I got sick of having to worry about breaking things because the tags were improperly nested, for example. Or, I’d be frustrated trying to find something in a page with thousands of lines of code, all font tags and nested tables. I didn’t want to have those who came after me (which if I stayed long enough would be myself) to have to deal with it. Thus Web standards. My first Web standard remake took about 1500 lines of HTML code down to about 200 (with another 50 or so lines of CSS) — now if that isn’t a “real world” benefit, than I don’t know what it. People who are afraid of moving to Web standards simply don’t know what they are missing. If you just move to standard HTML markup you can save yourself a huge amount of time and effort. Time and effort you can put into learning CSS and really, truly, making your life easier. I’m almost sick of talking about it. Web standards has made my life easier. Period. I spend less time and get more done. I sometimes feel that the nay-sayers are just lazy — you simply cannot convince me that there is any other way to go. Sure at first it can be a lot of work and there is a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve made the move and are working with all standard sites all that time will be made up right away….it’s a fact. Period.

  2. April 25, 2004 by Wade

    I agree with your comment about web standards making the web interesting again. I certainly welcome all the issues that come with browser compatibility over the hassle of creating table-based layouts.

  3. Form me, it was Todd Fahrner with his work on style.tigris.org that made me start using web standards “for real”. I didn’t understand much about what was what in the css code in the beginning, and was scared to be accused of copying his code, :] so I renamed everything and started learning that way (e.g. what could be renamed and what couldn’t ;), which also got me replacing and adding code of my own.

    Hm.. just a though: how about linking to this article from those sceptic forums, Roger? Maybe “they” could read up on some positive experiences here and start making “the switch”, who knows?

  4. Your question already contains the answer!Standards exists for that everybody’s to use them. Basta! For me standards are always more than just recommendations. They’re like rules to follow.Okay, of course, I’m not an idiot. I’m developing websites for many years now and when I wrote bad, nasty MarkUp it was, because I didn’t know any better. But from project to project I tried to make little steps forward, towards progression.What can I do more besides the active usage? Advocacy is the only thing coming to my mind. And that’s the reason why people like you and Jeffrey Zeldman, to name 2 out of very many, are worth to be supported.

  5. Most people (in this case web designer) are just lazy… Especially if you talk about those web designer that came from the graphic designer experience and background and still design the web like the way they did design on their previous media. They are used to work with WYSIWYG tools and never care about the crap code those tools are created. I’ve met several of them that proudly said that the knowledge of HTML is not needed as long as you can create ‘cool’ looks. sigh. And don’t even try to talk to them with other than web standards like usability or accessibility… It’s no use. But I also believe that many web designer that actually know their stuff (ex. know how to write HTML without WYSWYG tools - the ‘real’ web designer) are really appreciating the web standards. They really embrace it and try hard to implement it. I could be wrong but that’s the way I see the situation now.

  6. When I first started hearing about tableless designs, I was actually pretty annoyed by the notion. All of the examples I saw of standards-based, tableless designs were hideous in my opinion, so my investigation ended rather quickly. It wasn’t until the wired.com resign that I took another look at web standards. Honestly, I gasped when I loaded the wired site in NN4 and the styles were peeled away — ”it’s brilliant!”, I thought to myself. The very idea of an elegant degradation for one of my most disliked browsers was immensely seductive; so I pressed on.

    Slowly, I waded into trying out my own styles and experimenting with the whole concept. Beginning with my homepage a considerable amount of time was spent testing and experimenting. Through the course of my investigations, I started collecting links to all these really terrific sites which then linked to more great sites and so on and so forth. Eventually the information poured in and it was even possible to sneak some standards-based designs onto the servers at my day job.

    It’s really only been recently that I’ve begun to really grasp the depth of all that web standards has to offer through some of my personal work — so I can understand the complaints about the difficultly to some degree. There’s an added bonus in that all this investigation has helped my understanding of other topics such as usability and accessibility (So, thank you too, Keith [comment #1], it’s slowly seeping in). All that time-equity paid itself off in the end and I’m excited to be learning more everyday — I’m actually excited about development again.

    That article really is an impressive piece of work; you should be very proud of it.

  7. May 2, 2004 by Roger (Author comment)

    Yes, there is a learning curve when you start using web standards, but that’s just the way life is. If you want to be good, really good, at anything, you have to learn it properly and keep practising. Anton: I’m sometimes tempted to get involved in the discussions I have seen, but I’ve decided not to. It would take a lot of time, and I’d have to register at a bunch of different sites, which is a hassle.

Comments are disabled for this post (read why), but if you have spotted an error or have additional info that you think should be in this post, feel free to contact me.