“Validation isn’t important, it’s just an intranet”

As late as yesterday, I heard an argument I didn’t except to hear. Not now, not in 2007.

I came in the last two days before the deadline in an intranet project, and was asked to take a brief look at some bugs and the overall state of the web site. When browsing through it, I noticed that there were a number of validation errors and pointed this out to the project manager. His reply:

Validation isn’t that important, it’s just an intranet

AARRGGHHHH!!! Talk about not getting web standards and what it is all about! Please, let me break it down you and and explain it. The reason for web standards (pure validation in this case) are NOT:

  • To able to show it off to others
  • To avoid angry e-mails from people
  • To pass some potential legislation

The whole idea with web standards are:

  • Ensuring, as much as possible, that the web site will actually work
  • Easier to identify potential errors
  • Faster web development
  • Maintenance

I’m with Chris on this, Time for Action!

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20 Comments

  • It is about interoperability and important that a set of common standards are in place on the intranet.

    The same type of phrase usually gets applied with regards to accessibility: “We don’t need an accessible intranet, as we don’t have any disabled users”.

  • I just developed a strong urge to photoshop your photo with an eye patch, wooden leg and AARRGGHHHH!!! written below it.

    Sorry 🙁

  • Dimo says:

    This project manager may be sceptical about web standards because he is unaware of their purpose and importance.

    However, a lot more arrogant attitude is demonstrated by famous Russian web company artlebedev.ru – the code is not standard-compliant and if one tries to validate it on W3's website, different content is served to the validator – just one line:

    Лучший валидатор – это браузер

    ("The best validator is the browser")

    Which browser ? …..

  • Jeff says:

    I have a friend who works in a hospital. She has no experience with writing pages and she called me a few weeks ago all excited. "I wrote a web page today!", she exclaimed. "Oh really? How'd you do that," I inquired. "Lotus Notes" she says. My brain shut down for a few seconds.

    I don't know how well Lotus does with web pages, but my assumption is that it's somewhere around Microsoft Word. I'd love to see what the markup looks like.

  • Chris Huff says:

    You missed a couple:

    1) lower costs over time

    2) faster load times

    I'm not sure how much #1 applies to an intranet, but I'm pretty sure #2 would.

  • LKL says:

    I dont want to condone bad coding, but, as this is for an intranet, you can suppose that :

    – You know what browser will be used by every station

    – The intranet website will load fast as you run it into a local network.

    The fact is that, even if the page is not W3C compliant (moreover, it depends on the alerts given : big errors (mispelling, forgotten tags) or small ones (classic 'alt' missing on images and bad characters (& symbol)), if it runs on the browsers (IE & FF), you can let it go… above all if you have others web projects to work on.

    In fact, it depends on your boss requirements, not always on you (alas ?)…

    my 2 cents…

  • If, as it sounds, they're in crunch mode on this project, then one can understand why the "It works as it is, so don't bother with that" attitude might arise.

    If, on the other hand, you are able to demonstrate that even one of the problems they're encountering is down to malformed code, then you have the perfect business case for valid code right there 🙂

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Robert W,

    Absolutely.

    Jeroen,

    Ha ha! 🙂

    Please do, please do!

    Dimo,

    That's kind of a philosophical question, isn't it? 🙂

    Jeff,

    Most likely, it would be interesting. Although personally, I wouldn't want to quench her joy, I love happy amateurs!

    What I don't like, though, is "professional" consultants billing their customers a lot of money and then deliver crap code.

    Chris,

    I definitely agree about costs. When it comes to load times, that should be true, but I don't have any tests to back that up.

    LKL,

    There are cases when you won't know which web browser/platform that will be used, if it's available from an external location (and not necessarily an extranet then either).

    In the end, though, I don't promote taking extra time/costing extra money to build proper code, I just want people to do the job right from the start. In my world, good code is just as important for an intranet.

    Nick,

    Oh, absolutely, it is all about being pragmatic, deadlines etc. But if it isn't their first project ever, I think it's their responsibility to know what web standards will bring to the table.

    And demonstrating the connection between malformed code with bugs is seldom that hard. 🙂

  • Devon Young says:

    Imagine how many developers will go insane when they discover that some of those accessing their intranet work, are using Firefox or Opera on a USB stick (portableapps.com) and that people don't always just use whatever browser is stuck on the system. Putting something on an intranet and expecting a certain browser, isn't ever an excuse for coding any way one wants to.

  • Totally agree 110%

    Let me tell you a story of what no validation in our intranet has now cost the company.

    We have just started to migrate to ie 7 and whole behold, due to simple errors like not closing img and p tags off, it has stuffed up the page, so much so that only half the page works. Now this is an intranet with about 1,000 odd pages (probably more). I have only been working with them for 6 months and since then I have changed and made the company aware of 2007 and what not.

    So now we have a problem of how to fix these changes on about 90% of these pages. Do we do it individually?? Or do we create a program that will change the problems automatically….

    So a simple program that could have been easily solved in the start is now going to cost the company a huge amount of resources, money and time to get it fixed…

    You can read a bit more about it hear on my blog

  • Tommy Olsson says:

    big errors (mispelling, forgotten tags) or small ones (classic ‘alt’ missing on images and bad characters (& symbol))

    I wouldn't call missing <code>alt</code> attributes and unescaped ampersands 'small' errors. They are fairly serious in my book. 🙂

    And you may think you know which browser everyone is using … today. But all it takes is one swift decision by management and that can change. I've been contracting at a Swedish public agency whose intranet only worked in Netscape 4. I'm sure their developers used to think along the same lines as you put forth here.

    At my workplace we are just as strict about valid markup for intranet pages as we are for the external sites. We do allow intranet pages to rely on JavaScript, where necessary, but that's as far as we go.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Devon,

    Ah, the ol' shit-on-a-stick routine. 🙂

    Devon, Tommy,

    Absolutely, just proves the whole point.

  • LKL says:

    Here we test apps on IE/FF as they both represent 99% of the installed browsers. We know (*I* know, as I am the one who maintain webapps) that compatibility issues occures but we have to code fast.

    I can't accurately describe our way of working (I work for a non commercial company), but all I can say is that, for 8 years now, we always got functionnal web applications, without making pure 100% validated pages.

    To conclude, all I try to say is that :

    – each experience is unique. I've read the cost misadventure story, but I saw invalid (w3c speaking) code working. I think that, if you dont make big big mistakes, you can make pages display good on various browsers.

    – the boss is the boss… even if you explain CLEARLY the cons of working this way…

  • web says:

    Try as you may, there is no excuse for sloppy coding.

    You may know what browers are being used today but unless you have a time machine (and told nobody about it) you have no clue what browser will be used 2 years from now.

    Stop trying to validate your carelessness.

    Man I need a hug.

  • Jens Meiert says:

    I know enough professionals who talk about web standards but ignore its validation precursor … an oxymoron?

  • Mike Draper says:

    The purposes that you have given for making the HTML code compliant with standards are all correct. You missed something though: The fact that the project manager is RIGHT; It is ONLY an intranet site.

    In this case, the Company's standard browser *IS* the best Validator. Why? Because the whole point of standards is so that HTML renders the same across browsers, and we are not crossing browsers. In most cases, in order to be W3C compliant you will have to write MORE javascript and consider more factors for HTML, extending your development time for no other reason than some consortium nazi wants to invalidate your work.

    PROVE to us that non-compliance in a single browser environment increases development AND maintenance overhead. You state this as though it's law, but I don't believe you and I reckon there's quite a few folks who would be interested in seeing this pudding.

  • Ole Hansen says:

    Mike:

    Do you want the pages to work just now with the current version of the "company standard browser"? Or should the page also work after the next patch from the browser vendor is installed?

    With correct code, the standards dictate the result. However with incorrect code, the result depends on the current error handling implementation in the browser. This means that if you make incorrect code based on what works in one specific build of a browser, you might end up being stuck with that build. That is a bad situation, if it turns out that the next security fix would break your intranet.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    LKL,

    I mean, at the end of the day, it's down to your priorities, cost efficiency etc. What I propagate, and what it's like in many companies, is that the code written is valid during the time given. Basically, just do it right from get-go.

    Depending on what invalidness there is, it can work just fine. But what it comes down to then is error handling in web browsers, and to me relying on that doesn't sound like the safe route to go.

    So, basically, why you might not be able to sell it to your boss, it shouldn't stop you from doing the right thing which will save you time and effort in the long run.

    But, naturally, these are just my personal recommendations, and please take them as advice rather than bullying you.

    web,

    Absolutely right. I give you a virtual hug (eh, that sounded weird… :-))!

    Jens,

    Actually, the second time the word "oxymoron" was just in a comment here; interesting term. 🙂

    Mike,

    First, I'd just like to say that Ole's reply is completely correct (thanks for the comment, Ole).

    Then, in my experience, very few companies nowadays limit (or rather, have the possibility to limit) the web browser usage to just one web browser and version.

    Also, error handling is the key: why would you do something wrong if you can do the correct thing in the same amount of time? And, as a bonus, it is very likely to save you time and money in the long run, why refrain from it?

    The exception I can think if is if you have an existing intranet with invalid code; no need to entirely rewrite it just to make it standards compliant.

    Instead, the next time it is completely redesigned, do the job properly.

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