Why do we have to fight?

Why do we have to fight to be allowed to make things right? I mean, really? Look at all the web standards advocates out there, fighting to get their message through; People lobbying for stylesheet-driven web sites and accessibility.

And all these battles are not about trying to have something in line with cool scripts animating things all over the page, not about doing something to show off to your friends. These things are about keeping development costs down, vastly reducing bandwidth usage by having all presentation in CSS files that will be cached in the visitor’s web browser, and reaching a lot more potential customers with web sites that are accessible.

I can’t believe I’m using my spare time, as do many other very talented persons, fighting to get the message across. Everyday, there are web sites/blogs all over the internet showing you how to better adhere to web standards, to write the leanest and most efficient CSS and tutorials and recommendations how to reach a higher accessibility (thus also gaining goodwill as well, which will result in even more business).

But we’re met by a wall of decision makers and Project Managers that just don’t understand what it’s about (or are to weak to take the discussion), tool manufacturers whose products deliver terrible code because they lack the skill to do it correctly and it’s too much of a hassle to learn and to eventually set things right (because no one asks for it).

I mean, even Microsoft, with its history, understands the importance of this. Next version of Internet Explorer will have a greatly improved web standards and CSS support, next version of the .NET environment will encompass web standards and accessibility improvements and their MSN Search is the only search engine out there that delivers valid XHTML code and where the presentation is contained in its own CSS.

Of course Microsoft still has a long way to go, but at least they’re on the right track. And if they can go through this, with their immense size as a company, what holds you small companies back from upgrading your skills? From learning how things are supposed to be done and how you will make much more money? From having some tougher demands on your web developers and tool manufacturers to deliver something that isn’t ghastly?

If you agree with me, give me a “hear, hear”, put your foot down and tell your managers that this can’t go on anymore. It’s business suicide to be in the web development business producing web sites, without even having the know-how or even interest in creating a good, effective front-end layer.

26 Comments

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Martin,

    Thanks for the compliment! 🙂

    A friend of mine recently did some work at DN.se, but there were some circumstances that led to that he couldn’t take it all the way.

    Martin Janner is a very nice and competent person, we’ve met once. I think Eniro.se will be very pleased with him.

    maybe WE need to re-think how we’re spreading information?

    This is a very good question. I’ve been thinking about writing a semi-related post to this question in the near future. Stay tuned! 🙂

  • I recently had an interesting discussion with my dad –who's a product manager/technical support manager at the leading security equipment company in The Netherlands– and he made a good point saying that not everyone wants to cut down on costs, time and everything else.

    Like lawyers, some people are paid by time. The longer it takes and the more problems arise, the more they're paid. It's not as much as the company willing to go a certain direction, but the people not not willing to go.

    Of course, not everyone is like this, but it is a common problem in his field of work and I can only imagine it to be the same in ours.

  • Martin S, says:

    I think many developers use tools such as Dreamweaver , Frontpage, Golive etc. which creates non-standards code. Microsoft, Macromedia (well, Adobe now) and the providers of these tools first must adapt web standards in their development tools and after that we'll be able to see an increasing amount of web sites following the standards. Microsoft is on its way as you say, but there are still much to be done.

    However, it is quite a large step from providing standard based web sites to understand accessibility, availability etc. and the benefits with it, and implement it such as it should be implemented.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jeroen,

    That's an interesting angle!

    I guess it's true in some cases, but mostly, at least the projects I come across, have a time estimation, fixed price, tight budget etc.

    And when it comes to saving bandwidth, everyone should be for it (except the <acronym title="Internet Service Provider">ISP</acronym>s, of course).

    Martin,

    Well, those tools aren't really a dream to work with. But I really think very few web sites (at least any interesting sites, size-wise) use them at all. It mostly comes down to ignorant web developers handwriting the code in conjunction with terrible output from the <acronym title="What You See Is What You Get">WYSIWYG</acronym> tools.

  • A theory I have is that many decision makers and project managers in the web industry aren't really all that interested in the web. They just happen to work at a company that creates websites. They could just as well be working in any industry. Making decisions and managing projects is what drives them, not building websites.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Roger,

    Long time, no comment! 🙂

    Unfortunately, you're probably right. And that's, aside from a sad thing, a problem when someone who isn't really into the line of business is the same one making the calls.

  • Martin S, says:

    Robert,

    You're probably right. I was kind of naive there I think. 🙂

    But whatever the knowledge todays old school web developers possesses, someone needs to make them re-think. We've got some pretty amazing sites (like this one) writing about web standards but how should we make the web developers behind for instance Dn.se adapt web standards when they read posts like yours today?

    Eniro.se employed Martin Janner and that's a step in the right way.

    Apparently our way of spreading the benefits with web standards isn't enough – maybe WE need to re-think how we're spreading information?

  • As a web design newbie (only 6 months experience, but by no means a youngster at 36), with no historical baggage per se, I found the web standards argument an oasis in a nested table, spacer gif desert when I stubled across Web Standards Solutions by Dan Cederholm, which in turn led me to Roger, A List Apart and many other sites including yours Robert (though I lost you for a while until recently?).

    But I think Martin is right, the why web standards message needs massaging for those who do not find the current arguments compelling.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Steve,

    You… lost me…? *sniffles*

    Seriosuly, though, it's good to hear that web standards helped to bring order for you when it comes to the web interface development chaos.

    Martin definitely is right: there's a huge need to reach out to people who aren't listening right now.

  • Fighting for Standards

    The gist of this article applies to a lot of different areas.

  • Mats says:

    Zooma zoomar in Salmings kalsingar

    Considering that <a href="http://www.salmingsports.com” target=”_blank”>www.salmingsports.com was voted "Outstanding Website" we still have a way to go! :S

    Oh well, be sure to check out http://www.su.se tomorrow, it might lift your spirits a bit.

  • Rob says:

    My favorite tactic is to have decision makers use their own product. I asked the VP of Sales to show me how a customer could bookmark a specific page on a static site dependent on frames for navigation. He couldn't do it because of the frames; I got the OK to drop the frames later that afternoon.

    Most project managers and decision makers aren't blind, and few have to use the products they produce. They fail to realize how hard it is to use a site because they never use it. Requiring their participation in the usability testing (if only for 15 minutes) can sometimes help them understand the need for easy-to-use and accessible web sites.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Alpha-Geek,

    Thanks for the trackback.

    Mats,

    When it comes to salmingsports.com, I just hate it when there’s a script that resizes the web browser window. Then the web developers have a mindset that says:

    The user isn’t qualified enough to choose his/her own prefered window size: let’s do it for them.

    And I have to say that, after a quick glance, http://www.su.se looks really nice. Your work?
    However, I really wish that writing in just su.se would lead to the same page…

    Rob,

    Sounds like a really good approach! I don’t know how many companies I’ve worked for that have produced/sold their own portals, CMS etc but just refused to use it themselves internally.

  • Mats says:

    Thank you! Typing "su.se" has been fixed, we noticed it too just after the release.

    It's not my design but mostly my css, there is alot of fixes just waiting to be released. Especially for MSIE-Mac, Safari and Konqueror.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Mats,

    Good work! 🙂

  • Whoops. Can you believe that I used to work at Zooma? 😉 Damn I hate window resizing scripts.

    And yeah, good job on su.se!

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Roger,

    Can you believe that I used to work at Zooma?

    Ha ha! You did, did you? 🙂

  • Part of the problem is that we (Web standards advocates) don't provide a unified message to others. If we continue to argue publicly among ourselves, our message to others looses its impact. Some standards advocates can't even agree on what the definition of Web standards is. To some, valid markup does not matter. Others are fixated on MIME types. Some advocates promote new standards while others use fear tactics to advocate sticking with the outdated standards. As a result, if you are an IT manager or a tool vendor, championing Web standards can appear to be a risky proposition.

    As advocates of Web standards, we have strength in numbers, but we need to speak with one voice for our message to be clearly understood, and to give others the confidence to join us.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Vlad,

    First, I'm happy to see you here! 🙂

    Very, very good and thoughtful comment.

    I would say that many people do fight for the same things, but that they express themselves differently, or, more important, prioritizes differently from each other about what and how it should be communicated.

    I guess all (read: most) would agree on that we need valid and semantic code, with at least some effort gone into accessibility.

    But the key part is that you wrote: how do we provide a unified message about this?

    I really don't know, and part of me says that it will be hard because some people find it more important to stand out than to express their standpoint together with others. I guess the future will show if we succeed in this or if it goes on the way it has been…

  • Robert,

    One way we can achieve a common, unified message is to have a charter/constitution whose clarity of focus will encourage Web designers, IT managers and tool vendors to adopt standards with confidence.

    The charter would clearly spell out the long-term goals and a single path to get there. This document will be a compromise for most advocates, but it will have the strength of a single, unified voice. Working with a single set of rules gives confidence to Web designers, IT managers and tool vendors and helps all of them succeed in their projects.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Vlad,

    Sounds like a great idea!

    Just some ponderings about it:

    <ul class="listitems-with-bottom-padding">

    Who would set that constitution together, to give it the necessary credibility and respect?

    Which people would take part of it, so everyone else would accept their contribution as unbiased?

    How would we convince the high-profile names to follow it and communicate it?

  • Well, the first thing to do is to float the idea to the community to see if there is sufficient interest. I suggest it should start with a blog posting asking others to blog the idea. The blog postings should focus on getting readers to respond to the idea of a charter, not what goes into a charter. After a few weeks, evaluate the interest in the idea.

    <blockquote cite="Robert">Who would set that constitution together, to give it the necessary credibility and respect?

    I think it should be done by WaSP or in association with WaSP.

    <blockquote cite="Robert">Which people would take part of it, so everyone else would accept their contribution as unbiased?

    Acceptance of the charter does not have to be unanimous, and like any endeavor, there is going to be bias. For example, W3C's specs are biased because the organization represents the interests of its members who pay a lot of money to be members. That's okay, so long as there are benefits to the Internet community as a whole. As far as who should write the charter or play an advisory role, I suggest the blog postings ask for nominations.

    <blockquote cite="Robert">How would we convince the high-profile names to follow it and communicate it?

    High profile individuals became high profile because of their interest in representing and shaping the Web standards community. If there is strong interest in the charter from the community, then high profile individuals will participate as well.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Vlad,

    I really like the sound of this!

    We'll see what this will all lead to then. 🙂

  • Jens Meiert says:

    Little late, but – regarding MSN's search, what we see there is rather forced by and work of an or few individuals than an indicator for a shift of thinking at Microsoft. I don't necessarily want to sound negative and I'm surely happy about that improvement, but experience tells me that individual spirit is the far more likely cause for that. (As always, anyway.)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jens,

    Most likely, but Microsoft has gotten a lot better with MSN Search, Visual Studio.NET etc, so I think it seems to be going in the right direction.

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