Tuesday 26 October 2004

what is a web standard?

The grand irony as we debate the importance of validation and what web standards are is this little bugaboo:

Web “standards” aren’t.

The W3C provides specifications and recommendations which have been coined by practitioners as “standards” when they are not precisely standards, but de facto standards. ISO, for example, is a standards organization with a full compliance set that if not met – well, products don’t ship, period. With a true standard, compliance is mandatory. With de facto standards, what we have are browser compliance problems up our collective wazoo.

What we also appear to have is confusion as to what qualifies as a “web standard.”

Taking a closer look

In HTML and XHTML there is an implication in the specs that working in a strict environment is the ideal. That using meaningful markup is ideal. But neither of these are a real or even de facto standard. So semantic markup is an implied goal, not even a measure of compliance, and something we are trying still to understand. Semantic markup is a best practice, not an explicit recommendation.

Separation of presentation and content? An implied ideal, not a measure of compliance, and something we are still working toward perfecting despite the user agent concerns. Documents using table-based layouts can be completely conforming and even Strict DTDs contain what could be interpreted as presentational elements and attributes (b, i, width, height, cellspacing). Separation of presentation and content is a best practice, not an explicit requirement across the boards.

Media types? The W3C uses very specific language in its recommendations such as SHOULD, MAY, STRONGLY RECOMMENDED and MUST NOT. This language is always written in upper case and presented in bold. Media type purists need to read this and weep:

“’application/xhtml+xml’ SHOULD be used for XHTML Family documents, and the use of ‘text/html’ SHOULD be limited to HTML-compatible XHTML 1.0 documents. ‘application/xml’ and ‘text/xml’ MAY also be used, but whenever appropriate, ‘application/xhtml+xml’ SHOULD be used rather than those generic XML media types. ”

This means you should serve XHTML 1.0 as application/xhtml+xml, but that you also may use text/html as a media delivery type for XHTML. XHTML 1.1 differs in that it SHOULD NOT be served as text/html. The only MUST NOT issues we see in the specs is that HTML 4 MUST NOT be served as any form of XML. Managing media types is explicit, and therefore a “web standard” although there is an implication of best practices in the case of XHTML 1.0 here, too.

Validation? Here’s a surprise! Validation is in and of itself not a requirement per se. What is required is conformance. So you theoretically don’t have to validate a darn thing but if you want to test its conformance, which IS an explicit requirement, you have to validate.

Add it up

So, here’s what we have:

  • Separation of presentation and structure: implied as ideal: a best practice.
  • Semantic markup: implied: a best practice.
  • Content delivery via media types: explicit, a “standard.”
  • Well-formed markup: explicit, a “standard.”
  • Conformance: explicit, a “standard.”

Clearly a difference between what is an explicit part of a specification or recommendation and what is the ideal goal that’s implied by either the specification and practitioners (or both).

Separation of practice and science

There is also a separation within the industry of practice and science. This is an idea that applies to a lot of professions, but at the recent UI9 Conference, Jared Spool presented an interesting keynote in which he separated usability into practice and science, and I immediately noticed the relationship this has to web standards.

In our case, the science does not always provide everything required for practice, but it sure does provide lots of help. The opposite is also true: our practice doesn’t always follow the science (and we have plenty of evidence of that).

Ideally, the practice should follow the science wherever it can, and spurning the science as being unimportant is like telling a doctor to not treat a patient with antibiotics where there is a clear case of bacterial infection. The possible result in not bridging that gap is death.

I am deeply concerned about practitioners and advocates who blow off conformance when they can and should conform and claim it’s okay to do so.

When we cannot conform – for reasons beyond our control – there is a great need there for us to discuss why and try to help solve some of those problems (suck CMSs, ad servers, time factors), but that is no reason to say that validation and conformance are unnecessary, and certainly no reason to point a finger at the science as having failed. In those cases, the practitioners are failing the science, I’m sorry to say. Of course, the science – and our practice of it – can and should be improved as time goes on, and I believe that it will.

As an educator, and at this point in my own understanding of things (once upon a time I wrote all about web design practice without understanding any of the science, and I’m plenty guilty of not applying the science even when I know I should) what concerns me most is that anyone who takes the stand that conformance is an unnecessary part of practice is essentially acting as a doctor not prescribing the proper medication when there’s a clear scientific solution.

Such a message to other practitioners is a dangerous one. With it, we degrade our goals, and ultimately end up with poorly educated practitioners, poorly educated software developers, and severely compromised user agents and development tools as a result.

What’s more, there seems to be a belief out there that best practices are wrapped up with de facto standards when they are implied but not explicit. This is a problem with semantics (sorry to put it that way, but it is). The term “web standards” is and always has been a misnomer, and we are suffering many of these problems because of that fact.

So what can we do?

Obviously, the terminology itself has caused problems, but trying to name what we all refer to as “web standards” something else at this point is as impossible as trying to tell people it’s not an “alt tag” when they’ve been using that terminology for 8 years or more.

What we can do is work together more effectively to hone in on what should explicitly fit into a standard, and what is a best practice, and come up with some useful terms that we as professionals understand. These terms should also be more friendly to marketing departments, non-technical support people, and the lay public, and they should adequately describe the marriage of science and practice within our industry.

What we absolutely must do is take care to spread a message that encourages rather than discourages using the best science and best practice. It is holding that goal high that makes us professionals, after all.

Cross-posted with my WaSP entry today so people can comment here.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 12:53 | Comments (47)

web design world discount

From ThunderLizard:

“Just a reminder you have 48 hours left to realize maximum savings at Web Design World Boston 2004. Sign up by October 27 and save $200 on your conference pass when you use priority code: WDW48.”

Go register!

It’s going to be a great show – Jeffrey Zeldman, Kelly Goto, Douglas Bowman, yours truly – along with other great folks and killer content.

Are you attending? Thinking about it? Let me know!

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Posted by:   Molly | 11:06 | Comments (13)

Monday 25 October 2004

slice dice

LIFE OUT IN a flash, like that. Spookiest thing I’ve ever seen.

I was working for a hobby store, where every little boy’s dream was realized in the speed of a slot car, in the perfect ascent of an RC helicopter. The rough curves energized me as I painted them silver and breathed in that rare air. I could make those slot cars take corners like none of those boys.

My boss, oh god this guy was so enormous he couldn’t even stand up. He was in a wheelchair. He had a wife that was fat but no way as fat as him. It always made me feel bad because I love them both so much. That boss of mine, he was one smart motherfucker.

I was taking a break. If I’d been smoking all those years it would have been a Camel. But I wasn’t smoking. I was just standing out front of the hobby shop. It was 9:00 pm or so, my boss and his wife inside. I sipped a coffee from the Circle K next door. I was looking at the street.

There was a couple walking across the road. Both too skinny and hyped up, man it made me so sad. Then, I saw a yellow car coming up the street.

The kid in the yellow car hit them.

Time did that stupid predictable thing and stood still. I could take a million shots with my camera and try to explain it. You know. The guy getting hit. The guy’s body flying up; the guy’s eyes looking down; the guy falling on the car’s hood; the guy bouncing off the car’s hood.

The guy on the ground.

His life, out. In a flash, like that. Spookiest thing I’ve ever seen, when he died like that. His life there one second, not there the next.

Slice, dice. His girlfriend got off easy because they reattached her leg. I wonder where my old boss is. That dude was one smart mother.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 21:41 | Comments (11)

visualizing the garden

A VISUAL MODEL of the CSS Zen Garden has been created by Andy Clarke. The model is really quite good, and the ensuing discussion touches on excellent topics such as how the markup could be improved in retrospect.

I think the key issue here is how much we have all learned in the past year alone! This is one thing I want to keep encouraging folks to remember – especially those readers who are very adept at standards-based design.

There is always more to know, always room to grow.

That’s what makes our jobs so fascinating, I think. At any rate, I thought it was worth a share.

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Posted by:   Molly | 13:57 | Comments (8)

Saturday 23 October 2004

where did devedge go?

WHERE DID DEVEDGE go? It’s been unavailable now for well over a week. On Tuesday, October 12th, Eric and I did a session on CSS prototyping using the devedge site design as a sample, and we became aware it wasn’t responding. Fortunately, Eric had a local copy.

I regularly use the Netscape devedge sidebars – specifically the CSS 2.1 bar which I’ve found to be absolutely invaluable. It, the HTML 4.01, DOM2 and XSLT Quick References (among others) are all hosted on the devedge site. The site itself wasn’t expected to be updated, but it was up and running “indefinitely.”

Perhaps indefinite has become definite?

So, I’m starting to wonder. If it’s gone for good, it’d be nice to get those sidebars set up somewhere else – maybe at or mirrored here and there (and I’d be happy to pitch in some hosting for that).

Does anyone know what’s happening?

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 13:47 | Comments (12)

Thursday 21 October 2004

domain appraisal: snake oil or worthwhile?

ARE DOMAIN APPRAISALS snake oil or worthwhile?

I have several domain names that people have asked about that don’t mean much to me and I would sell, but I have no idea how to price them. I did a little surfing around and found that there are appraisal services that run anywhere from 8 dollars US, to much higher than that.

Are these services bunk or helpful? If bunk, what’s a good way to determine the potential value of a domain name? If helpful, any recommendations on reputable offerings?

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 12:03 | Comments (29)

Tuesday 19 October 2004

name the geeks

NAME THE GEEK gangstas! Who are these people, and what on earth are they doing?

name these geeks

You tell me.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 13:41 | Comments (29)

Saturday 16 October 2004

wanted: tips for healthier travel

TRAVEL A LOT? If so, I need your insights into best ways of improving health while traveling.

I’m just back from Boston, where I had a great time at UI9. But by Wednesday evening I was starting to feel a little funny, and that little funny turned into a full-blown upper respiratory infection. On my flight, I felt horrible guilt knowing that I was probably very contagious and spreading the virus to oh, most of North America and then some.

I’ve been pretty fortunate in that I don’t get sick too often considering all the flying I do. For example, this is the first such illness I’ve caught in about 2.5 years. But it’s brought a few questions I have about staying healthy while traveling to the surface. I did ask my physician about this some weeks ago, but he didn’t have much to offer on that front, so I figured I’d post here and see what my oft-wise readers have to say.

For me, the top challenges are:

  • How to maintain good sleep habits while crossing time zones,
  • How to maintain a workout schedule – this always falls to the wayside with me while traveling,
  • How to stick to dietary preferences when relying on what’s made available in airports and at conferences.
  • How to maintain physical comfort when having to spend far too much time in spaces too small for most humans, carrying heavy stuff, etc.

Those are my main four, I’m sure others have challenges related to this as well, and possibly lots of solutions. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 04:15 | Comments (32)

Wednesday 13 October 2004

more about the zen of css design book

DAVE SHEA PROVIDES a very nice overview of our upcoming book, The Zen of CSS Design: visual enlightenment for the web.

In his discussion, Dave points out that:

“This is a web design book first and foremost, and a CSS book second.”

Which really sums up the approach we’re taking. Dave does a great job describing the book, how it came to be, and our ideas for creating a unique book in what some consider a saturated topic area.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 14:26 | Comments (7)

Friday 8 October 2004

an IM scene from my life

TWO GUYS FIGHTING using instant messaging – while sitting in the same room? Sounds like a scene from my life . . .

View the fight scene.

Careful – the link opens to a QuickTime movie, so be prepared, and enjoy!

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 12:31 | Comments (21)

Thursday 7 October 2004

S5 final candidate release

PRESENTATIONS YOUR THING? Check out Eric Meyer’s S5, now in final release for your projected pleasure.

Using XHTML, CSS, and a bit of scripting, Eric has put together truly useful slide projection software. If you give lots of presentations, this is a great option, because unlike OperaShow, which I’ve been using for a few years, this will work in a range of browsers, yet retains the customization and accessibility features that OperaShow sports. Not just that, but it’s compatible with OperaShow 1.0, so you can use either option. Do be sure to check out the known problems and limitations slides.

We’ll be using S5 for our upcoming UI9 conference presentations, and I plan to use it for numerous other presentations in the near future.

Do you use any kind of slideshow projection software on a regular basis? If so – speak out about your favorites and let’s see how a standards-based solution might compare.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 11:51 | Comments (17)

Wednesday 6 October 2004

a few good reads

A FEW GOOD reads for my fellow web professionals:


“XHTML is what is getting companies to become aware of Web Standards. Not HTML.”

From The Case for XHTML, by Faruk Ates.

Usability and User Interface Design

“Should everything be so damned obvious all of the time?”

Gotta love that – from Please Make Me Think! Potential dangers in usability culture by Andrei Herasimchuk.

Oh, and another from Andrei, The Real Reason you should care about Web Standards:

“When it comes to technology, we are collectively truly only as strong as the weakest link.”

And a great bit from one of my favorite talents Kevin Cheng from OK-Cancel:

“ . . . users that have overcome the hurdles of a difficult application may wear their achievements as a badge of honour.”

The article is cleverly titled Technomasochism: Do Users Like Pain?

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 11:29 | Comments (7)

Tuesday 5 October 2004

and the beat goes om

comic of eric and molly by ok cancel

IT’S ALMOST UI9 time again in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The UI conferences are always one of the year’s best gatherings for web designers, developers, usability and content folks.

You can start off on Monday October 11 by joining me and my brother-in-oneness Eric Meyer as we burn down a popular, overly-tabled, inaccessible, and overly-scripted web site portal and build it back up with structured markup and style. A fascinating and funny markover adventure where along the way we point out a lot of things we can all be doing better when it comes to building our sites and managing them efficiently.

On Tuesday Eric and I do a short course, CSS for Prototyping. This course demonstrates that CSS has uses far beyond prettying up your site’s face. We’ll also be showing off Eric’s new S5 Slide Show browser software, which he built with XHTML, CSS, and a bit of JavaScript modified from a similar slide show feature Tantek was working with.

And now for a few moments of pride served with a side of special sauce:

  • Welcome to the world, Ava Marie Zeldman.
  • Hey, check you out there on Apple’s Pro/ site, Mr. Meyer! Lookin’ good spinning those tunes.
  • Stephen Ibaraki has done a rather detailed interview with me at the Network Professional Association web site. Everything you ever wanted to know about Molly and then some stuff you probably really didn’t want to know, I’m sure.

And the beat goes: Om.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 07:36 | Comments (32)

Saturday 2 October 2004

zen of css

The Zen of CSS Design: visual enlightenment for the web. By Dave Shea and me.

zen of css design

Due early 2005, published by New Riders. It’s available for pre-order on and at your favorite independent bookstore.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 09:34 | Comments (55)

Friday 1 October 2004

money of color

THE NEW FIFTY dollar bill is here – in living color.

While the first addition of color to U.S. notes began to be distributed last year on $20.00 bills, this week, the second colorful child is added to the mix. The new $5o.00 bill is oh-so-pretty. Next up? The $10.00 bill.

the new fifty dollar bill

I always wondered why we had such boring money in the U.S. Alas, no plans to color up a fiver, oner, or the rarer 2 buck bill, but it looks like $100’s will be redesigned at some as-yet undeclared point in the future.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 03:18 | Comments (25)

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