The web standards war is far from over

Lately, and especially evident in the beginning of the summer after the @media conference, people proclaimed that the war of web standards is won and that we should move on to focus on other things. Let me please say that the war is so far from over.

Let me first discard the notion that it is a war. Anyone who regards it as a war and as something we have to win will ultimately fail to spread the word. The whole idea of informing people about web standards and the advantages gained from using them is that they will feel that they truly benefit from them; not that it is forced down upon them.

And to say that the word of web standards is spread enough now, that we have reached every web developer out there and that most people use them, is very far from the truth and the real world (as opposed to web developer conferences where everyone are die hard fans, agree all the time, join hands and sing “Kumbaya”…).

I’ve worked for a number of companies here in Sweden, have had a broad range of assignments and frequently evaluate different web sites, and can honestly say that I know of maybe only 20 web developers in Sweden that follow and truly understand web standards. Then, of course, most likely there’s more, but they’re definitely a minority in the web developer community. I would say that the word and purpose of web standards have gotten through to no more than a couple of percent of the web developers in Sweden.

I also believe that the level of web standards knowledge in Sweden is in no way different from the rest of the world. Visiting numerous international web sites and from knowledge gathered through web developers I know all over the world, it seems like it’s the same story everywhere.

Why are web standards important?

A problem is that people seem to think that validation is for the good of the web developer. To slap on a badge of being valid, boast about it to your fellow web developers, maybe show-case it in some conference and that’s it. However, having valid content is not to have something to be proud of; it’s a given cornerstone for stable web sites and for doing your job properly as a web developer.

I think one of the answers to why web standards is important was expressed best and most concise by Tantek:

How can anyone possibly expect CSS or DOM-based Javascript to work reliably with an invalid (X)HTML?

Also, when you have a web page with invalid HTML code, all you can trust to hold it together is the web browser’s error handling; i.e. a program’s guesswork of what you were actually trying to convey. And, even if it works in one web browser, there’s a myriad of other web browsers, platforms and devices out there that it should work in too, and then you have to hope that the error handling in them will be exactly like each others’. Doesn’t sound very likely, does it? And it sure doesn’t sound like a professional approach to developing web pages.

Tools for validating

There are many options out there to easily and swiftly make sure your HTML code is valid. A number of the most common ones, and the ones I resort to, are:

Spread the word

You may know everything there is to know about web standards, but remember that you are indeed a minority. Spread the word to other web developers, use best practices and show system developers and decision makers all the benefits of using web standards. Most people are interested in a lot of time saved and money gained and/or saved, so it shouldn’t be hard to sell.

We all want web developing to go as smoothly as possible, and there’s a solution for it. Please, let other people know about this.

 

Related reading

You should also make sure to read Roger Johansson’s opinions in Don’t stop advocating best practices.

43 Comments

  • Standards make sense — economical, social, political, and even common sense! We live in a global society built on standards – but built on many different standards that aren’t together or even independently standardized. We live together on a respectively small and confined space, earth, – yet we have over six thousand different languages, thousands of different forms of currency, hundreds of different forms of batteries, a multitude of different types of power outlets, and a variety of forms of measurement for time, distance and even temperature. Web standards make sense – they just are not natural. It is in our nature to try and break the standard; to be better, unique or special – even if it doesn’t make logical sense. For every standard in place, it will be easy to find hundreds of exceptions.

    Inspired by a similar post, I wrote more on:

    Web Standards – an unnatural feeling!

  • Nice write-up, I totally agree. I too know only a few Standards aware web developers in the Netherlands. It's a shame we're still a minority.

    I also want to note some interesting points regarding the HTML Tidy Validator extension for Firefox. Its validation differs sometimes from the W3C's validator.

    For instance; an empty will throw no warning or error in the Firefox validator, but W3C's validator tells you it's not valid XHTML Strict. The same goes for input fields that are not encapsulated in a block-level element (a fieldset being the best candidate for this job).

    I use the Firefox validator a lot, as it is quick and easy to use, but I think it's important to use the "real" validator from time to time, to ensure you also caught the errors that slip through the FF extension.

  • I was a webstandards evangelist too. I wrote many articles about XHTML and mainly CSS, helped other people in different forums, I arranged Webdesign Chat Evenings, I even contributed the first and only "free tableless layout" for the biggest webdesign community in Germany. I was really fighting for webstandards.

    But it didn't really availed. That were always only the hobby webdesigners who cared, I (nearly) never got a job becaurse of my knowledge in webstandards, and teachers in "webdesign schools! thought that I was crazy to propagate other ways than a layout table which was not what was in their course of instruction.

    Sorry but this "war" bores me to death. Now I moved on and program webapplications. This is fun and I have a real job. I still read on the webstandards issue, but I am not fighting anymore.

  • Matt Robin says:

    I cannot agree strongly enough with your sentiments in this article Robert.

    (Sorry, I haven't commented for awhile on your site, I'm not a troll!)

    Roger's recent article brought your thoughts to my attention – and both of you gents are spot-on!

    What the hell has happened to everyone in the Web Standards world this Summer? It's like they've reached some sort of saturation point (in their own minds)….the Web is a very long way from being Web Standards-healthy!

    Quick metaphor: The Web is like a great big car…carrying people around to different places. Web Standards could turn it in to a supercool, effortlessly fast, and dynamically perfect racing car….at the moment, it's a 10 year old Ford Escort with a 'I-heart-MySpace' sticker on it's arse!

    Out work is not yet over…we've got much to do – and I'm going to say this to anyone who will listen to me.

    I'm commenting further on my own site about this too…I'm all fired-up about it!!!

    …(How many exclamation marks am I going to use?)

  • […] ft das Thema auf und zeigt, warum der Kampf für Webstandards noch lange nicht vorbei ist: “The web standards war is far from over”
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  • Jacob says:

    Yes, it's true. If everyone followed standards, the world would be a better place. I think of that when I'm stuck in traffic over here in Seattle…. If everyone would just speed up, put down that taco, and drive damn it! Ultimately, it's about getting to where you are going, and budgeting enough time to get there.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thank you for sharing.

    Martin,

    Thanks for the tip.

    Harmen,

    Absolutely, checking in the real validator is important as well, to weed out those pesky differences.

    Jeena,

    I'm not saying that you have to be up on the fence about, but when asked or in a business situation, I would be happy if you were to share your knowledge.

    Matt,

    It's ok, I'm glad as long as you read. 🙂

    Go crazy about it now!

    Jacob,

    Yes, or about learning how to go the correct and fastest way at the same time.

  • Steve Lee says:

    On a practical note FireBug is excellent and has a status bar icon that shows you when there is an error in a web page.

  • Jules says:

    Hi Robert, welcome back (my first post since your return).

    Just a comment for Harmen Janssen above. The requirement that <code>input</code> elements be contained within block elements does not always mean <code>fieldset</code>, a <code>p</code> or <code>div</code> element would do fine. The <code>fieldset</code> element is used to group related <code>input</code> elements such as Shipping Address <abbr title="versus">vs.</abbr> Billing Address.

  • @Jules:

    I know, but in most cases the <code>fieldset</code> element is the most appropriate, since it concerns <code>input</code> elements.

    Personally, I think a form-input inside a paragraph just feels awkward. 🙂

  • Paul Boag says:

    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.

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  • Jens Meiert says:

    Whoever started with that, er, stuff – the term "war" is just stupid, and claiming that it's over is… hmm, if it was my niece I'd laugh and find it cute, since naïve.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Steve,

    Yes, that's a good tip as well.

    Jules,

    Absolutely right, but I agree with Harmen that there are scenarions where a <code>p</code> within an <code>input</code> element feels a bit weird.

    Paul,

    Definitely a long way to go, but the more people that explain it the better!

    Jens,

    Maybe not not naive, but maybe not looking enough beyond one own's situation.

  • Tommy Olsson says:

    there are scenarions where a p within an input element feels a bit weird

    Not to mention invalid. 🙂

  • web.develop says:

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  • Robert Nyman says:

    Tommy,

    Would you mean that it's invalid sometimes, or did you mean all the time? 🙂

  • Robert, you got your elements mixed up; you mean <code><input></code> inside <code></code> 😉

  • Ed Eliot says:

    Agree totally – every day I see overwelming evidence that we are miles from that point.

    Whilst we're discussing validation, it's worth pointing out that it's definately worth striving for but isn't necessarily possible in all situations. Many of the largest sites don't validate (as much as the developers would like them to) and there are normally always valid reasons for this. I've noticed that many developers regard validation as an absolute must and end up jumping through crazy steps which don't make sense just to ensure validation.

    I think also there are a lot of people who are at an interim stage between old style tables based development and proper web standards where they treat DIVs as a direct replacement for tables (div-itis).

    Two of the most important points of web standards based development are ensuring good HTML semantics and clean separation of presentation and content. There are many "valid" sites which don't honour these points.

    And finally 😉 I'm always suprised by the heated debates over whether or not to use HTML or XHTML – both are valid and apply equally to web standards based development.

  • What I've noticed is that a lot of the sites that evangelize Web standards seem to be frequented primarily by Web standards evangelists. 🙂 It's like we all see the point, and want to talk about it with others who do as well.

    But! I post about this regularly on my site, and find a lot of resistance to the idea of Web standards. For example, when I linked to the Vitamin article yesterday, I received the following comment:

    <blockquote cite="http://webdesign.about.com/b/a/255732.htm">My customer dont care if the website is layed out in tables or CSS. The end product is that the page can be seen in all browser correctly. Tables is a layout tool and I still use them, but use CSS as well.

    I get that type of feedback all the time. "Tables is a layout tool." I struggle with that. And in some ways, I understand them – CSS is hard, especially if you've spent 2-4 years learning tables. I don't agree with them, but I understand why they wouldn't want to spend more time fighting with CSS when they've finally got table-based design working for them.

    If you're going to evangelize standards-based design, then you need to really evangelize it. Take it to the blogs or Web sites where they aren't using standards-based design, and talk to them. (And before you tell me that About isn't standards-based, I know… I write articles for them, I don't build their site.)

    Jenn

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Harmen,

    Ah, now I see! Sloppy, sloppy Robert. Having a <code>p</code> within an <code>input</code> element is very bad. 🙂

    Ed,

    Very valid points. I would say, though, that most web sites with invalid code have it because the web developers lack the necessary skills to accomplish it or they are just lazy. But of course there is some validation frenzy out there as well, that sometimes go overboard…

    And the interim phase you mention seem to be very common. It usually means that they're at least trying, and I guess it's ok as long they keep on evolving on to proper semantic code.

    Heated debates can be be good and contain good information, but they often just end up taking focus from the more important things.

    Jennifer,

    I would say that people who write such comments usually hasn't yet learned all the benefits of semantic code and CSS-based layouts. I think it's important to educate them about what they can and can't do. Maybe my article CSS shortcomings can be of assistance?

    Take it to the blogs or Web sites where they aren’t using standards-based design, and talk to them.

    Definitely. As long as people just preach to the choir, we don't reach any more people. I try to explain the benefits and the necessity of web standards to any web developer or customer I come across.

  • Tommy Olsson says:

    You said,

    a p within an input element

    The INPUT element type is defined as EMPTY. It cannot have any content at all. It's also an inline element, so even if it could, you couldn't put a block-level paragraph inside it. 🙂

    I suppose you meant it the other way round: an input element within a p. Just me being facetious … it's Friday after all. 🙂

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  • Prisca says:

    …. with you guys all the way – but I wish the term ' war ' would not be used… it might be one – but it's not exactly the most positive message to get out there…. should be more a web standard revolution – or liberation of webdesign….. in my opinion anyway 😉

  • Chris Velevitch says:

    Web Standards? No such thing! I’d really like so see real discussions on Web Standards. The W3C only create recommendations. Is the browser you are using to view this ISO complaint? Maybe I’m naive to think there isn’t any ISO standard complaint browsers around? Yet, how is it that I see lot’s of requests on so called standards lists asking if their site works in browser x? Do you, or better yet, the browser builders, have a well worn copy of ISO/IEC 15445:2000 on their desk? Where are all the other ISO standards? And what about the ISO Certification process for browsers? The Web Standards war won’t start until the standards and certification processes are in place.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Tommy,

    Yeah, I got my wires crossed… 🙂

    Prisca,

    Absolutely, war is not a good word for it.

    Chris,

    The term web standards is used because it has become the common way for people to label the W3C specifications; of course it is, in practicality, recommendations.

    I've worked with companies who have gotten ISO certifications so I definitely know what you're talking about. I would welcome ISO standardization for web browsers vendors, unless such a tedious process becomes to complex and holds back web browser development which then in turn will harm web developers and end users alike.

    For now, the small demand is for web developers to follow the W3C specifications to make sure web sites work and can reach as many end users as possible.

  • […] reafter another article was written by Robert Nyman who also had a few things to say about The Web Standards War. Both articles give a refreshing look into t […]

  • Jules says:

    Sorry people, getting a bit off-topic here but I am going to continue anyway.

    In a situation where you may wish to have a text input for First Name and a text input for Last Name on different lines, I would use:

    <code><label for="firstname">First Name:</label><input id="firstname" name="firstname" type="text" />

    <label for="lastname">Last Name:</label><input id="lastname" name="lastname" type="text" /></code>

    It would not have been necessary to wrap a <code>fieldset</code> element around each of the two <code>input</code> elements but it might be useful to wrap the two of them together inside one <code>fieldset</code> element with a <code>legend</code> of Name (or something like that). As I understand it, the purpose of the <code>fieldset</code> element is to group related fields.

    I also believe that the <code>fieldset</code> element should group radio buttons, checkboxes and possibly select lists (I just thought of this so I will have to consider it more) but I don't think the <code>fieldset</code> element is needed to wrap around a single text input.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jules,

    Intereresting discussion.

    According to W3C:

    The FIELDSET element allows authors to group thematically related controls and labels.

    So generally I would agree with you. 🙂

  • I think people think up such things like restrictions, rules and norms. It’s usual for the society on the whole. So there is no reason to call this discussion a "WAR". It is simply a demonstration of society or the side effects thereof.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Candice,

    In a nutshell: yes.

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