Don’t stop advocating best practices

If you look at the Web now and compare it to the Web of a few years ago, you will find that a larger number of websites make proper use of Web standards now than back then. However, the markup used on the majority of sites produced in the year 2006 is not very different from what I used to use back in 1998. In some cases it’s even worse (I used my last font tags in 1998).

In light of the appalling code quality that still plagues most websites out there, it is beyond my understanding how some people can say that we don’t need more talking and writing about Web standards. That there is no need for further advocacy, helpful tutorials, and explanatory articles or books. I’d love for that to be true, don’t get me wrong, but we still have years to go before we get there.

This has been on my mind for a while, so when I was asked to write an article for Vitamin, I felt that it would make for an interesting subject. The resulting article, Why standards still matter, was published today. Hope you like it.

It’s good to know that I’m not the only web professional to be of this opinion. Robert Nyman’s article The web standards war is far from over, also published today, contains the same message: keep sharing your knowledge.

Posted on September 20, 2006 in Quicklinks, Web Standards


  1. I agree with you and your article on Vitamin. We still need to share our knowledge, the web is far from being perfect :)

  2. A Standard is a good practice when one acknowledges its advantages as well as its limitations. Without acknowledging the boundaries and not knowing where to draw the line in terms of its real world application is no better then blind fully dissing the old methods.

    I will shamefully present a link to and article which talks about W3C’s specifications and its real-world applicability (remove at will)

  3. A call to action to everyone reading this site: Why don’t you start a site that teaches people about web standards? It’s very easy to get started and it’s certainly needed. Go!

  4. The web is still a mess…millions and millions of sites out there on the web which still appear to have been coded by someone without much of a clue about web standards or web design. And many people I know (who are not web professionals) would say ‘So what?’

    Web Standards is so important to the Web - on so many levels - that to abandon it out of sheer ignorance is just not good enough!

    There’s a very real need to continue the education of Web Standards to people around the Net….I’m solidly with you on that one Roger.

    I’m going to shout about this matter on my site, your site, Robert’s site…people will get sick of me saying stuff - and I don’t care - I’ll passs them the bucket and tell them: TOUGH! I’m not going to let Web Standards go down without a fight!!!

  5. If I’m reading your article on Vitamin right, what you’re saying is web standardistas not only need to keep advocating, but have to actively step up their methods of doing so. A lot of people who blog will also be involved on various forums/lists which is something that can be fit into their normal routine, but organising meet-ups and influencing local teaching institutions is going to require a different level of commitment. I take my hat off to those who find the time and have the energy to go that extra mile.

  6. I agree, there are a lot of people who still don’t know enough about this stuff and it would greatly help the web, as a whole, if they did.

    Although, I enjoy learning about newer, often easier, ways to do things I think at a ceratin point you’ll just be preaching to the choir. We read and we follow as best as we can, but that doesn’t do a thing for the others that don’t read and don’t know.

    Whats being done about those people?

    (Note: I didn’t mean to make it sound like we’re in a cult of something.)

  7. Brian: Relax….you can take the Goat’s Head and Hula Skirt off now! ;)

  8. Here I’ll quote myself.

    “Web standards is philosophy. The tenets of web standards are based on components of practicality: separation of structure and presentation, accessibility, unobtrusive scripting, &c. Those components existed before web standards. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) usage is part of the standards. CSS seems to have been the galvanizing occurrence of web standards: it was first; it’s practical. Standards may have been there for all history but CSS propelled it. CSS layout selectors are not Web 2.0; CSS designs are. That is the human nature of monkeying: copy simple, practical things; study doctrines later.”

    Shouldn’t The Web Standards Movement enter mainstream avenues, e.g., search marketing or banner advertisements, and venues, e.g., non-SXSW, with its message? like Missionaries visiting Pygmies in the Belgian Congo.

  9. Thank you, Roger, for writing the article. I’ve been advocating for standard code and semantic markup since the font tag came out (and even before if you go back to my time doing book production and trying to get writers not to deviate from our troff macro packages). I was creating standards-compliant sites in the 1990s. It’s been a pleasure and a relief to see web standards start to gain some traction in recent years. But every time I hear someone say that the fight for web standards is almost over, I think of the people I’ve worked with over the years. Many of them learned how to create killer web sites from David Siegel’s book and know how to fire up Dreamweaver but would be lost if you switched them to code view (one guy I worked with at a previous job used to actually yell at me when he walked past my desk and saw me in code view in DW or, God forbid, in HomeSite). Many of them learned how to make sites in 1997-98 and haven’t learned anything or read any books since.

    I consider myself a lifer and what I do on the web as almost a calling, but so many people I work with fell into working on the web without really any thought or any passion for it. They could just as easily be widget stampers. They’re happy to collect a check, and they get the same paycheck no matter what kind of code they crank out, so they continue to do it in what they consider the easiest way possible, or at least the one that doesn’t require them to learn anything new. I’ve made some effort to show some of the people I’ve worked with over the years the benefits of using web standards. One or two mostly got it; they tend to be lifers as well. (It seems to be a little harder to explain semantic markup.) The widget stampers nod their heads and continue to use two break tags to space paragraphs and nest tables and all the rest. The number of people who don’t care and who may never care about getting the benefits of using a standards-based approach is overwhelmingly large. It’s frustrating to work in such an environment, but it seems to be far and away dominant. The battle, such as it is, seems to me to be hardly begun. I’m glad to see that point being made in a prominent forum.

  10. On a positive note, I get daily emails from a big job search site in Australia about jobs that relate to web design & development and I’ve noticed in the past year or so that more and more are listing knowledge of web standards as a selection criteria.

  11. It’s catching on. When I got into development I didn’t know any better, but as I read and looked around I learned. Every day there are new developers being born (if that’s appropriate) just like I was. The more sites that talk about it, discuss it, promote it, and do it, the more commonplace it’ll become. These things unfortunately take a lot of time. It doesn’t help that most of the software out there produces crap mark-up, and even those that don’t, it seems that good mark-up is an option. I’m only guessing at that last part because I’ve always used NotePad, but that’s what I’ve heard.

  12. Oh, by the way, great article, Roger.

  13. It’s slowly advancing, sure. But many people used to tag-soup tend to say “ooo! cool!”, then revert to their old ways.

    It’s frustrating and, frankly, tiresome.

  14. September 21, 2006 by Pat Dobson

    Great article, very true.

    I think that the explosion of badly coded sites is in no small part due to the rise in popularity of WYSIWYG editors such as front page and (to a degree) dreamweaver. They turn people who have no real clue into instant ‘web developers’

  15. I love being a standardista - it’s so much more fun than being a sloppy coder! You get into so many lively discussions there’s never a dull moment. And it’s nice to be able to show all the other non-standardistas out there what can be achieved using Webstandards. And how fast things can be changed (i.e. CSS Zengarden). All the fun things one can do (CSS Play f.ex.). No, give me a fellow standardista anyday - together we’ll evangelize the world - together for a better world of standardized websites and webapps ;-)

  16. This is something I have been posting on recently as well (see the link in my name). I recently received the following comments from one of the listeners to my show:

    “I know CSS has been around for quite a few years already - but the whole “web standards” bit is new to a lot of people. My point is basically that you and your podcasts are helping to educate the public and web designers about the importance of web standards in web design.”

    For me this says it all. We still have a long way to go.

  17. I think one of the main problems, which Ralph alludes to above, is money. Or rather, a client’s money and the value they place on web standards. If a client doesn’t see the value, they won’t care if their site is web standards compliant or not, which surely removes the motivation for some web developers to learn web standards, CSS, etc.

    Also, I think conflicting information may hurt the Web Standards movement (right or wrong, I’m combining Web Standards with CSS layout and modern design here). For example, in a SEO newsletter I read, the SEO expert tells one reader, whose developer tells him layout tables (with their unnecessary code) hurt rankings, that “Tables have never been, and will never be a problem for search engines.” CSS designers and Web Standardistas would have you believe the opposite, but who’s right?

  18. Roger, your link in the article entitled “Zeldman” goes to Eric Meyer’s homepage :P

  19. The last couple of years may have seen an increase in the level of interest and action around web standards. But it still isn’t filtering down to the mainstream…

    Oh, yes, it is. (Living proof.) Indeed, though, please don’t stop writing about it, because I still suck at it myself.

    It doesn’t help much that the majority of my time (webmaster) is spent grappling with CMS systems that bury tabular layout code, etc. and so forth in their core, a subject about which you’ve spoken, I think. While popular systems are still lagging far behind, I am seeing a bit of rustling among developers of new systems to rise to the challenge and the miracle of all miracles happened on the home front this past year when the continual development of a six-year old business application site was all but halted to provide nine glorious weeks of uninterrupted standards overhaul time. (Of course, I’m constantly going back to tweak it. Had I only known then what I know now kind of things. Oh, but it’s so much easier to update now, not to mention 10 times faster for the users.)

    You - and others like you - are largely responsible for that. I’m constantly referring people to articles here (and there) in an effort to convince people that standards-based coding actually impacts not only user-experience but the bottom-line.

    You can teach old dogs new tricks, but - you’re right - there’s still a long way to go.

    Excellent article. As someone has said, there are those unavoidable real-world constraints, but the more time spent on education, the less narrow those constraints become.

  20. You know, the more and more I hear about promoting web standards, the more I can’t help but think about the old days. I remember reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading the SMTP RFC. Once you wrote programs that conformed to the standardized protocol, it would flat-out work with most every server.

    These days, things have gotten way more complicated. And it takes significantly more effort on the part of the developer/web designer to trudge through the standards. And a lot of developers will simply take the easy way out and not learn the right way.

    I don’t know where I’m going with this, but maybe it all has something to do with how people learn HTML. I imagine that 95% of people that have written an HTML file have never even seen the standards. BTW, nice article.

  21. There is one (counter-) argument I hear again and again (see for example comment 17), but which I find hard to take: “Clients only care about money, not how a site is build”.

    For the sake of the discussion, let’s forget for a moment that developing with standards will save development time (especially at some later point) and money and has other advantages.

    Even then: how can you justify using messy, non-standard code. Say you deliver a website to your client: would you dare to tell him/her “Well look here is your brand new site. Looks fine doesn’t it? Please don’t look under the hood or let anyone else do that. Bit messy there, but it works doesn’t it? Well, at least in IE and FF. Other browsers I’m not sure. Also, hopefully it will keep working in newer browsers, because we did make some errors in the code and didn’t find it necessary to clean them up.”

    So, let me know: who dares to say this to his/her client with a straight face? Who has clients who don’t care if you tell them this?

  22. Working in a corporate environment I have had a captive audience to work on over the last year or so. After presenting to developers, directors and anyone else who will listen we now attempt to implement web standards across the board from the website to our internet applications. It took time spent with developers to bring them up to speed and the business is now seeing the real benefits in terms of usability, customer satisfaction and ease of maintenance and customisation. So what am I saying here? Don’t give up, keep pushing for standards, support those who do!

  23. So, let me know: who dares to say this to his/her client with a straight face?

    Maybe I’m being cynical but I’m sure there’s people out there who do just what you describe and then when a problem is reported in say one of those ‘other’ browsers, they turn around and say: “Oh sorry, catering to those browsers wasn’t in the original price. That’s an added extra.”

  24. modern web development is certainly friendlier than is was 8 years ago, but why are we still fighting and hacking ie every day in the trenches?

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