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23/09 2010

Web Standards – So What?

The Web has been around for a good few years now. Most people are aware of it, if not using it in their every day lives. It has come a long way since the early nineties when Web pages consisted of a bunch of simple tags that linked to other pages with basic information in them (maybe even with the odd image!). If someone even suggested an idea like You Tube or Facebook, they may well have been laughed out of the building.

Browsers like Netscape Communicator were the dominent tool of choice for anyone privaliged enough to have access to the internet with Internet Explorer being a much untrusted security flawed piece of software (not much has changed there then).

These early browsers were extremely flexible and let anyone who cared to, make their own sites which looked much like any of the others that were around.

Its a bit like surfing. The only downside being that people who have never tried it always ask, why on earth do you do it!? Answer - to make clarity out of chaos when many forces are acting against you.

The need for Web Standards was recognised by the Worldwide Web Consortium which was founded in October 1994. Ever since then they have been working on these standards to make sense of the chaos that was the Web.

Nothings happening

It's up to those geeks called Web Developers to make it happen. Web sites will always be able to be built in any way that a person with access to the Internet sees fit in their own little world. I doubt we will ever eradicate bad Web sites purely due to the fact that the Web is so open, we wouldn't want it any other way! The difference comes if you want your site to lose clarity, become bloated and out of control, or you want your site to make your life easier both now and into the future with these consoderations in mind:

  1. Progressive Enhancement:
    If built correctly, a site can employ certain techniques that allow you to exploit the benefits of new technologies coming out every day. Hacking older browsers to please a smaller audience, just so they see 'exactly' the same thing as anyone else makes little sense to most Developers. This is a message that desparately needs to be understood and talked about at every meeting, conference or other Web event that involves the Front End of a Web site.
  2. Working together:
    I know we live in a competitive society, it's a dog eat dog world out there but lets start being a little bit more grown up and responsible about our work. Web Standards follow a set of rules that any Web Developer can learn, become more and more familiar with and apply to any site he/she builds. As Web sites grow larger, this becomes more and more important. Invariably, a site built by one Web Developer will be picked up by one, two, probably more other Developers at some point in its life. Sticking to these rules means that maintance becomes more straight forward. This is just as important for a client to be aware of as it also means a saving for them. I've heard silly talk of commenting HTML - if the site is built to Web Standards, there is no need for these at all, it just needs structuring correctly. In fact, commenting is just extra bloat to the document which is unnecessary. If a Developer cannot work with a standards compliant document, they shouldn't touch it at all.
  3. Search Engine Success:
    That's right, Google will like you! Structuring an HTML document correctly removes any obstacles that stand in the way of Search Engines finding your content. It also makes it easier to transfer the document into other formats easier (cheaper!) when the formatting is predictable.
  4. Stability:
    With a sharp increase in browsers and Mobile devices in the last few years, to build Web sites with a 100% compatibility rating will become enormously difficult, if not impossible. This means that ultimately, there will be a tipping point sometime very soon (I guarantee it!) where silly hacks will give way to the realisation that people simply can't have their site looking the same 'everywhere' if they want it to be stable across the board.

From a Developers point of view, a professional will always be a professional, in any Industry. If you want to be known as a talented workaround specialist who can 'get things done' that's great, it just seems more appealing to be a forward thinking professional with a real passion for the future of the Industry.

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