Friday 11 June 2004
Readers with an interest in web standards are by now aware of some of the frustrations being expressed by a variety of standards evangelists who are just fed up with fighting the fight. There’s also significant backlash within the designer and developer community, but to me it appears that this is a result of sheer frustration rather than logic.
Disgusted with poor browser support for what should be easy breezy in CSS-based, standardized designs, many folks are saying screw it and backing off the issue. It’s long been my contention that this is a bad move. Just because Internet Exploiter 6.0 has mucked up the landscape for progress doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plow through the muck toward progress anyway!
If anything, we should view this as an opportunity for getting a leg up on Microsoft. If major sites such as AOL and Yahoo! continue their goals to aggressively implement standards in their products, what’s going to happen when Microsoft releases Yet Another Broken User Agent? Millions of people will be affected, and that’s got to be more significant than not. I say let’s exploit the exploiter and get a jump on things, not draw back. I believe if we do draw back now, we’re going to see more painful results than positive.
Another topic expressed in recent discussions is the issue that standards evangelists appear to be elitist. One reason for this may well be that The Web Standards Project (WaSP) has long been viewed as a group of guru-level practitioners such as Zeldman and Dave Shea and Doug Bowman. How can the rest of us live up to design like that? I sure can’t, but I can appreciate the complexities of the design goals and technologies required and so can you.
As a driving force within WaSP, I want to express my own thoughts about the elitist concern:
- People view WaSP as elitist because it’s currently a one-way organization. As if we were Moses on the Mountain, we advocate without a feedback mechanism. In my opinion, this is a piss-poor way to go about evangelizing. After all, any true evangelist wants the flock to sing along with the choir, not just sit there mute. I promise you that many of us within the organization are well aware of this and are advocating change. Which, in any grass roots organization, is bound to happen slowly.
- WaSP members are not even remotely as snobbish as one might think. In fact, the majority of high-profile WaSPs are the ones who are the most concerned about not just the web, but helping all designers and developers create great web sites, period. Consider the time that goes into a full day’s work, plus evangelical activities, plus dealing with the internal workings of an organization that’s in a complete state of flux as we try to figure out how on earth to address the multitude of concerns all of us are facing. We’re not slackers here, we’re just in a state of transition and I think your patience with us will ultimately be rewarded.
- WaSP may appear to be backing off important issues, which does seem out of character. How do we address Microsoft’s lack of consideration regarding standards implementation within its products? What stand do we take regarding the volatile issues of Atom and RSS syndication standardization? The answer is: Who knows? Nevertheless, I assure you our silence or seeming reticence has far less to do with not caring about these issues than it does with being just as confused as the rest of the world as to how to address them.
I think now is a good time for everyone to take a deep breath and consider the higher goal: Creating web sites that look great, work well, serve the audience, are manageable, accessible, and useful. Standards really help us achieve all those things, and there’s just no arguing that.
Unlike D. Keith Robinson, I’m not sick of writing and evangelizing standards. I realize that I am one of the lucky few who, as a teacher and writer, gets to actually see people really achieve great things in the process of learning about standards and how to apply them realistically.
Like Simon Willison, I’m all about advocating standards with a sexy new wrapper. While we can all agree that the term best practices sounds like something to sell to The Suits, it really boils down to that. Standards evangelism can’t go away, but it does need to change its approach to a more comprehensive method.
The dialog has to continue, and so must the cause for standards. But obviously we need to reassess how we’re doing it, and I believe that it couldn’t be a better time to do just that.