An Open Letter to WaSP

This article is co-written with Vlad Alexander, co-founder and in charge of development at Belus Technology, the company behind the highly successful XStandard WYSIWYG editor. Web Standards are failing to break into mainstream development because the Web Standards community does not speak with a unified voice. When Web designers, Web Developers, IT managers and software vendors find information about Web Standards, instead of a succinct common approach, there are endless discussions and flame wars driven by individual interpretations of what the specs mean. So instead of getting the information they need, they see bickering over the importance of valid markup, nit-picking over DOCTYPE and MIME types, and squabbles over the role of accessibility. Of course, debates about Web standards are healthy, and it's natural that Web developers should consider some aspects of Web development to be more important than others. However, we need to agree on core Web Standards values that everyone can trust because they represent the consensus of opinion of the developer community. This does not mean that we should stop debating amongst ourselves, but newcomers to Web Standards need the confidence that comes from knowing that there is a single, agreed-upon approach to implementing Web Standards. So how do we arrive at this single, agreed-upon understanding of what Web Standards are? We compromise. And we locate our core Web Standards values in one place - WaSP. We therefore ask that WaSP put together a task force to create a Web Standards Charter. The Charter will define what Web Standards are and recommend a single implementation approach. When necessary the Charter will be updated as dictated by the current state of the art and the latest best practices. The Web Standards community will then be able to direct newcomers to the Charter as a solid starting point from which they can proceed to implement standards-compliant projects with confidence. Once they have gained confidence, newcomers can join us in ongoing debates about Web Standards, adding to the strength and diversity of our community.
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40 Comments

  • Robert,

    A very compelling propostion. Any chance you'll be at SXSW in March? We are planning to have our meeting in the open, and begin working on ideas like this with the global community. I'm very excited by the possibilities.

    I think what will happen is for those that don't come, we'll be setting up an email and encouraging bloggers to do just what you've done here. We will then take all that feedback and study it, see what we as a group feel, then open these comments up for discussion at the meeting as well as continuing that discussion on the new WaSP site which WILL HAVE COMMENTS (yes, you heard it here, folks!)

    So, anything we can do together in the meantime to support that effort, let's do. Thanks Robert,

    Molly E. Holzschlag

    WaSP Group Lead

  • inoodle says:

    Hey that sounds like a great idea! It would probably have saved me about a year of browsing google groups to come up to speed.

  • Very well put! I always direct beginners to two articles that explain essential ideas such as webstandards and the new way of building websites, but an official document would not only be better for them, it would also be better for the decision-makers you mentioned.

  • In theory it sounds reasonable obviously it will have to be open to the public to debate since obviously WaSP is not an official standards body, so obviously only recommendations can be published.

    The idea of the "comments" system seems intriguing and a step in the right direction.

  • Kalle Wibeck says:

    That truly is a great idea!

    The problem today is that if you redirect a newbie to any blog about webstandards. He/she will get to many contra instruction from the comments, and that can indeed be a bit frustrating if you're trying get on the track…

  • Sound idea and worthwhile acting upon, though I think we still need to address those who don't *get* the message at all… more tricky perhaps?

  • andr3 says:

    Robert and Vlad,

    That was very nice to read. That is indeed a necessity and i never even thought of it.

    I've been wondering what could i do to help the webstandards cause in my country (a website of a zoo just launched today that doesn't even support firefox. looks awful) and if when this comes to life, i'll have to direct people to just one place. :)

  • Jens Meiert says:

    Might indeed be helpful. I support this approach!

  • DL Byron says:

    I appreciate your passion about the post. As Molly said, we'll be at SXSW and I'd like to note that I think Web Standards has made much progress this year, especially with blogging and we'll see more progress with new versions of IE 7.0 and developer tools. What your suggest may need to come from the W3C or the vendors themselves.

  • Gildas says:

    When you mention

    Web standards… instead of a succinct common approach…are driven by individual interpretations of what the specs mean

    isn't the problem really one of clarifying what the specifications provide?

    There is a disconnect between vendors, developers, and implementors creating new tools and being critical of their implementations. Surely if they follow a specification and they are interpret it badly, it can't just be their fault.

    I'd venture to say your mission statement isn't being used and perhaps you should be focusing on the W3C standards you reference. Participate in their creation. Be critical. Offer solutions. Reinvent the wheel if you can't participate, they want to hoard your ideas for profit, or if your goals differ. I don't think they do in this case.

    Regards,

    Gildas

  • <blockquote cite="http://www.robertnyman.com/2005/10/04/an-open-letter-to-wasp/"&gt;…current state of the art and the latest best practices.

    I think that for many it makes more sense than specs and recommendations.

  • A good idea, one thing we need to ensure though is that the right audience really reaches these documents. The problem with web design is that it is also a business and many high-traffic web sites advocate dirty quick win solutions to new developers to bind them to a certain community or even products.

    So to make this work, we don't only need a charter but also a proper distribution framework for the charter and its ideas. This also means that we swallow our pride and throw out outdated information to link it to the real good stuff.

    I tried doing this after @media with the "obsoletely famous" offer:
    http://www.wait-till-i.com/index.php?p=98 http://icant.co.uk/of/

    So far, the response was next to nothing.

    A lot of web design is based on narcism and the want to "do it ourself". You won't make people change their ways with a charter and wise words, we also need to give compelling – pretty – examples for them to compare themselves with and learn from.

    I honestly can tell that the first year as a developer was looking at other people's stuff and ammending it.

  • Kim Kruse says:

    I would be great with a "non-technical" charter understandable for people outside the community.

  • Brett Merkey says:

    This charter idea is ill-advised. It will not push forward the ideas advocated and may result in just one more area of contention and frustration.

    WaSP, with the help of other organizations and individuals, has done incredible volunteer work in prosyletizing, popularizing, and organizing useful paths toward standards enlightenment. It is not the purpose of WaSP to construct the One True Way to Web heaven. Let's leave that to the many eloquent people on the Internet who seem to confuse religion with cool technology.

  • RonL. says:

    Hi Vlad,

    First of all, let me quickly note that I am a proponent of standards. I have chatted with some of the folks at WaSP and I really appreciate the work they have been doing and the time some of them take to explain that work. That's good stuff!

    However, I guess I'm kinda missing the point driving the need for this charter thingie.

    Lets say it happens. Now, either everyone agrees with everything in the charter … making it one of those wishy-washy "Accessibility is good!" kind of non-documents.

    Or … it has some teeth. But if it makes specific points, then not everyone will agree with it.

    Then what? Do the folks who disagree write their own 'minority opinion'? Do we fragment the movement into different camps? Each with their own slightly different charter?

    I'm not seeing a lot of value to either one of those choices.

    As someone else noted above, *having* a charter isn't enough. Getting the word out, (Educating folks), is a far more important activity. Why not put this energy into training efforts instead of writing manifestos? (Excuse me, I meant 'charters'.)

    Becoming a viable resource that designers, developers, and vendors turn to for help and assistance with real standards related problems will, (IMVHO), go a heck of a lot further to promoting standards than trying to force folks to read some charter.

    Sorry, but I think I'll pass for now,

    RonL.

  • Isn't this what the W3C is for?

    Not sure what a seperate standards group would be good for.

  • Paul Boag says:

    This sounds a great idea at first glance, but I have to say after some consideration, I am not so sure. I would like it to work, but then I would like there to be a single browser that is perfectly compliant! Doesn’t mean I am going to get my wishes 

    Take for example the issue of accessibility. The majority of disagreements come from the interpretation of the WAI guidelines, which were created to bring a standard approach to website accessibility. Surely, a WASP charter is just going to replicate the problems we see in this area.

    Unless the charter becomes a massive unreadable legal document it is going to be open to interpretation and so people will be arguing about this in the same way as they argue about W3C guidelines.

    For better or worse, the web is full of people expressing opinions and they are going to disagree. I do not believe that a "charter" will prevent that.

    The reality is that there are many ways of implementing both web standards and accessibility. In fact, it is fair to say there is no single “right way” of doing things. It depends on many factors from target audience to available budget! If a charter took these different approaches into account it would leave itself open to interpretation.

    I really wish a charter could help bring clarity but I am just not sure it will.

    Sorry.

  • Randal Rust says:

    Paul makes a very good point in regards to WAI. At first glance, I thought this was a good idea too, albeit target to the wrong people. In the end though, this would probably cause more trouble than it's worth, and probably do more harm to the cause than good.

  • Paul Bennett says:

    Hasn't[1] this[2] already[3] been[4] done[5]?

    [1 ]http://www.alistapart.com/stories/netscape/
    [2 ]http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0735712018/002-8166287-0556009?v=glance
    [3 ]http://www.andybudd.com/archives/2004/01/the_business_case_for_web_accessibility/
    [4 ]http://www.happycog.com/lectures/access/
    [5 ]http://maccaws.org/kit/

    In any case, having some sort of 'manifesto' we can wave at clients and other developers to prove the 'rightness' of our position smacks of elitism, and ridiculous rigidity.

    We can't all build blogs for a living, and real-world development with all its foibles and imperfections doesn't often lend itself well to the 'Give Me Standards Compliance or Give Me Death' mantra espoused by so many.

    The influence that Zeldman and others (eg: WASP) have had is due in large part to the way in which they have engaged the community, eg by appealing to real-world benefits and speaking in a voice of common sense – not zealotism*

    * not a real word

  • Zach Inglis says:

    I've had my own say on this matter.

  • One of the aims of the <abbr>W3C</abbr> specifications are to provide a common reference point for browser developers. Fundamentally, a web standards approach is about marking-up content with reference to the same <abbr>W3C</abbr> specifications[1]. Personal preference as to markup semantics aside, there is little room for 'values'.

    Rather than fragment the discussion and implementation of a web standards approach further, perhaps pressure/guidance (or even collective assistance) could be provided to the <abbr>W3C</abbr> to create more meaningful 'views' on the specifications. This would involve defining key audiences and creating support materials that talk to the concerns and responsibilities of each audience. Why web standards matter to your business manager, how a web administrator can maintain web content integrity, etc.

    I'm not convinced that a charter for WaSP's views on web standards would be a productive or meaningful exercise. A voluntary 'code of conduct' (no pun intended) for web developers when discussing or promoting web standards would not doubt seed some fascinating blog comments, but would be unlikely to moderate the more vocal egos that are a necessary evil when engaging with web communication issues. Voices of dissent [2], at the very least, provide food for thought, and challenge the assumptions that are core to a prescriptive, checkpoint-based (or chartered?) approach.

    The promotion of embedded validation tools, such as the HTMLTidy extension for Firefox [3], is perhaps a more meaningful step toward empowering clients (those who are keeping this whole industry afloat) to participate/contribute to the web standards discussion. Without visible feedback as to code validity, the concept of web standards quickly becomes academic to the web administrator, browsing with Internet Explorer.

    References

    [1] Defining a web standards approach

    [2] March to your own standard

    [3] Firefox HTMLTidy extension

  • I agree whole-heartedly with Andy. Also with what RonL said about education:

    <blockquote cite="http://robertnyman.com/2005/10/04/an-open-letter-to-wasp/#comment-1199">(Educating folks) is a far more important activity [than writing a charter]…

    That is where my energies lie and will for the forseeable future: spreading the word and helping more people understand and use standards methods on their sites. Ultimately the spread and increased usage of standards will begin to tip the scales and make them the true "standards" for the web of the future.

    If the charter idea helps with education, them I'm all in. Otherwise, it's a waste of energy in my humble opinion.

  • nortypig says:

    I'd be concerned this didn't turn into another circular debate between different schools of obsessive thought (ie HTML vs XHTML, liquid vs fixed layout, font sizing) – as concensus will always be quite hard for any set in stone manifesto on behalf of all.

    But I would hope compromise could be achieved at least with a document stating what is considered best practice I guess. What about a situation where the W3C say one thing and WaSP another? And I did note the comment mentioning elitism – something to avoid as it can quickly alienate some developers quite effectively.

    But I'm tired from overwork today so I may just be seeing the negatives when I know there are also positives as well. I guess you can only sit down with Molly at SXSW and see what comes out – and don't forget to take a devil's advocate.

  • Tommy Olsson says:

    I'm sorry to say that I think this will only result in preaching to the choir anyway. How many people that are not already clued-in to web standards visit WaSP?

    The only way web standards and accessibility can become commonplace is if publishing tools generate standards-compliant, accessible markup. Beginners use <acronym title="What You See Is What You Get">WYSIWYG</acronym> tools. After a while they start looking at the generated markup to learn. If that generated markup is bad (which it usually is), they will write bad markup when they start hand-coding.

    Of course, another prerequisite is that browsers support web standards. If Microsoft deliver on their promises for IE7, that may become reality in a few years. Opera, Firefox and Safari are almost there already, but that doesn't matter as long as the majority keep using the browser that comes with the computer.

  • Jens says:

    I think one major player in this is the people and companies who build CMS systems, as most large websites today use some kind of CMS system I think they need to start fixing their system to support web standards as default. If large sites is using web standards I think small ones will soon follow.

    I think that WaSP should start a task force, similar to the one they have with MS and the former one with Macromedia. Start fixing the tools the forms the web as many people have no clue at all, and is not even interest in this 'technical' talk about standards. I know a few websites 'owners' that are only interested in communicating and content, they care less in what is behind the site.

  • Ian Lloyd says:

    Tommy wrote: "… this will only result in preaching to the choir anyway. How many people that are not already clued-in to web standards visit WaSP?"

    And how many people's names do you recognise either personally or professionally who are commenting on this very post? When I see posts like this, or rather the comments on posts like this, it reminds just how much we can be 'preaching to the choir'. We could debate/argue/discuss amongst ourselves, but it's 'the other people' that we want to get the message out to. As you correctly say, only the people who 'get it' will go to WaSP or similar standardistas sites.

    Try this for size – imagine you are a beginner, imagine you know *nothing* about web standards. Whgat would you search for on Google to find out more 'beginners guide to HTML', 'how to build a web page/site', 'how do i make my own website'. Give that a whirl and see what bad advice you get back.

    So, perhaps something we could consider is this – a tutorial of some sort, perhaps hosted on WaSP site (note: I haven't even floated this idea yet with WaSP members – stream of consciousness here!) that a number of peers agree on. It would not be a spec, but a subset of that a – a best advice, covering the absolutely unambiguous right ways of doing things. Then, we collectively do our best to link to said articles with the most appropriate phrases so that we hijack thoses dodgy articles that would currently come up for those search phrases mentioned above. Wouldn't it be great if searching for "how to build a web page" came up with a WaSP-approved tutorial? We *could* make this happen, folks. Comments?

  • Peter Krantz says:

    I think Tommy Olsson touched an important subject above. So far my impression is that standards advocacy is mostly about preaching to the choir. A-list bloggers do presentations about basic HTML/CSS stuff for people who already know that.

    If you really want to increase the number of sites using the W3C recommendations I suggest the following:

    * Adopt your favourite CMS manufacturer and help them out with their WYSIWYG tools and template system.

    * Give presentations at developer conferences where actual developers go instead of designer conferences where everyone already knows about web standards. Developers create software (such as CMS tools) that output HTML.

    * Talk to your country's government organization that coordinates public web initatives. Teach them how to evaluate a CMS tool with the ATAG2 specification. Make sure guidelines for public web sites promote the W3C recommendations.

    * Volounteer to do presentations at your local media college/high school. These young souls will be developing web apps soon. Teach them how to get it right from the start.

    I realize this may have turned into a rant, but I am getting tired of reading S5 presentations on the advantages of HTML+CSS handed out at media conferences for the already initiated.

    There, I feel much better already.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thank you everyone for good and valid input!

    Not to go into detail, but the Charter isn't supposed to be the single solution to everything, nor is it meant to be instead of education or spreading the word. It is rather intended as a starting point and a unified approach to web standards. Then, naturally, we need to build on that.

    All these details will have to be thorougly discussed, and I eagerly anticipate such a debate! Please continue to write your comments here, as I'm sure they will be valuable feedback for WaSP.

    Molly,

    I plan to go to the SXSW, but it's not a 100% confirmed yet. I really look forward to you having an open meeting there, and also to you having commenting functionality on the new WaSP web site.

    Ian,

    Intriguing idea! Definitely something I'd go for (and I'd love being part of writing such a tutorial).

  • After reading your post and its comments, I'm feeling desperate. You're talking in a different world then mine. I have checked every news site here in Portugal and I didn't reach any that resembled using Web Standards. I have posted my results here: Web Standards In Portugal.

    I really think that spreading the word is more important.

  • Greg Reimer says:

    Ian, I think we're way past due for that. If Wasp sponsored a set of tutorials for absolute beginners, I for one would do whatever I could to help it succeed.

  • Paul Boag says:

    Ian, you are a genius! What a bloody wonderful idea. It would get my vote that's for sure, that and the biggest link to the site I could possibly create :)

  • I agree with many of the points made in both the post and the comments and I thank you for your interesting thoughts, opinions, and ideas about the issue of Web Standards, regardless of your position.

    In fact, I am thrilled. Some are actually brilliant in that they are citing some of the guiding principles used in Social Change and Advocacy work.

    Ian Lloyd's comment "…Stop preaching to the converted" is spot on. I add to that, stop preaching to those who disagree with the same passion and conviction on the OTHER side. They are both "unmovable"

    However, they do NOT represent the majority in the first place. The "undecided in the middle" consists of the majority on most social issues. Winning them over, or enough of them, to constitute the overall majority or critical mass will determined the outcome: They win (with the exception of the 2000 Presidential Election. Bush won without a majority vote and by stealing-an oddity).

    Andy Kirkwood's statement …"defining key audiences and creating support materials that talk to the concerns and responsibilities of each audience…" is one of the most important tenets of Social Marketing and Social Change Advocacy efforts-he nailed it.

    It is clear that certain members of the Web "community" are starting to understand that this is a "social change" issue; it needs media and communications advocacy if it is to go anywhere. Advocacy involves people, not just technology, specifications, valid code, etc.

    This means gaining knowledge and experience about human behaviors; specifically, how people form opinions, how to influence and change these opinions to become decisions to take a "desired action." While this could be as simply as taking a certain position on an specific issue, there usually involves more than just "picking a side." For instance, actually going out and voting on a proposition of some sort vs. just deciding to take a position on the issue.

    I wrote an article for Digital Web Magazine titled The Web is a Human Creation. It deals with this very issue. I use Web Standards as the main example in the second part of an article which applies principles used in Social Marketing Advocacy campaigns to issues of concern to Web professionals.

    I don't have the solution to this "controversial" issue, but applying some of the ideas, principles and effective strategies that are used in social change efforts is a good place to start. If you want to "win."

    But what is "Win" in this case? This needs to be clearly defined and there is certainly no consensus; but that's what advocacy is all about.

    Anyone involved in social change advocacy efforts would suggest that you must have a strategy that identifies key goals, key obstacles, key target audiences to reach with messages that are tailored for different audiences and communicated in ways that speak directly to them. (not the same message across the board). These messages should inspire and motivate them; set examples, assert values and ideals, provide knowledge and act like a winner.

    Well, I practically wrote an article here, given the length of this comment, so I should stop. Last thing I will say is "get some help from people and organization who have worked in this area for decades. For now, I'm just so pleased to see a change amongst ourselves. Thank you.

  • Quick Link: An Open Letter to WaSP

    An Open Letter to WaSP Robert Nyman posts an open letter to The Web Standards Project to create a web standards charter…

  • Jeff Louella says:

    I’ve personally took this matter into my own hands here in Philadelphia. I have started a standards group called “The Philadelphia Standards Organization”. We currently meet monthly, on the first Thursday of every month (which is tonight!), to discuss topics such as Standards, Accessibility, and Best Practices. Currently we are 68 members strong and growing. We are currently working on creating our identity in the Philadelphia area.

    We are not necessarily “Preaching to the Choir” either. We are bringing together designers, developers, and consultants. Our goal is to educate the local web designers and developers and give them to power to influence their own companies from the inside out. We do this with face-to-face meetings. The internet is great, but meeting people in person is even better.

    For me the best way to teach people is not by sending them a link to a site somewhere, but to actually meet them in person to enlighten them. I know I can’t do it all my self, but I now have my group of almost 70 by my side fighting the good fight.

    If you are in the Philadelphia area and want to help out with our mission, go to <a href="http://www.phillystandards.org” target=”_blank”>www.phillystandards.org for more information.

  • Greg Reimer says:

    <blockquote cite="#comment-1237">Andy Kirkwood’s statement …"defining key audiences and creating support materials that talk to the concerns and responsibilities of each audience…" is one of the most important tenets of Social Marketing and Social Change Advocacy efforts-he nailed it.

    The vast undiscovered country for web standards at my company is the development community. In other words the people who are J2EE and XML gurus, but as part of their job are required to write HTML. They look at it as a crude presentation language. I've always wondered if presenting web standards as "design patterns" might get their attention.

  • karl says:

    A lot of good input in the this letter and the ongoing comments. I invite you to participate and send your letter to public-evangelist@w3.org

    Agreeing on "Best Practices" seems to be what you are asking for. The specifications often already give the right way to implement things, but are sometimes difficult to grasp by the "Web developers". This point is taken. If more people like you were participating in the review process of specifications that will help to leverage the quality of these documents, to make them more user friendly, and to have better implementations in the future.

    The thing is that we often hear about the problems of specifications already done, created and used (which we have to give answers) but this is also the result of a lack of comments and reviews from the community before hand. Basically what you are saying will happen again if the community doesn't review the specification which are in development now.

    So two efforts to drive at the same time:

    * Review of specifications in development.

    * Creation of Best Practices guides for old specs in use.

    It seems a very good mission for the W3C Education and Outreach (QA IG) group which is in rechartering and that will restart in a few weeks. You will be welcome to participate. Stay tuned.

  • [...] Published on Wednesday, October 19th, 2005
    About two weeks ago, I published An Open Letter to WaSP, and the feedback was very good and the following discussion [...]

  • [...] eling » Open letter to WaSP Robert Nyman and Vlad Alexander has written an excellent letter to WaSP where they ask for a united voice in the web st [...]

  • boagworld says:

    Web standards Charter

    Robert Nyman and Vlad Alexander have published An Open Letter to WaSP, in which they call for a unified way of promoting web standards through a web standards charter.

  • [...] open letter Robert Nyman sent to WaSP got me [...]

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