Tuesday 25 July 2006

Web Professionalism: Continuing the conversation

John Allsopp chimes in today with his powerful voice on Web professionalism and best practices. In his article Professionalism and Best Practice in Web Design and Development, John points out that while CSS techniques might be “sexy” and technical discussion about semantics, validation and accessibility are no doubt important, the need for a defined professionalism and best practices is long overdue:

“ . . . it’s long past the time we should be addressing issues like “what does it mean to be a professional web designer or developer?” and “what does constitute best practice in web design and development?”

I couldn’t agree more. But, as with all grass roots ideas, these things take time, and more importantly: leadership and collaboration. We’ve had the best practices discussion at WaSP a thousand times, here and elsewhere and something solid has yet to emerge.

Prioritization is often lacking, as are truly effective project managers to address these issues – much as we find in our real workaday worlds.

Another recent example is when Meri Williams launched a wiki for discussion about a Code of Ethics for our industry. Thanks to her we have a tool, but the leadership on driving the discussion has yet to emerge.

Or maybe we’re not in the action phase yet. We all know we work with technologies that are in constant motion and change. It’s difficult to commit to philosophies when the practicalities of the job are demanding the majority of our time.

One thing is certain; this is a conversation that is continuing. What’s even better, we’re creating building blocks, as Tantek Çelik so eloquently encourages.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 06:48 | Comments (22)

Comments (22)

  1. I agree, this is LONG overdue. Every other ‘profession’ has standards, best practices (and sometimes governing body). However, the nature of the web – where EVERYONE can take part, even those with FrontPage and some animated GIF’s.

    I think there needs to be a line drawn between professional, PAID services – and for personal sites (which should be exempt). I have found that many clients are not up to speed, nor do they care about, best practices for the web. If I were a client, I wouldn’t care either – that should be the job of the developer I hire. The problem is – the person being hired has no accountability. They can create sub-par websites, get paid, and go their own merry way. Though I feel bad for the developer, it is the client that I feel sorry for.

    This is all around us. Compare it to other media types and industries – there is a professionalism and a standard. Unfortunately, we aren’t there yet with the web -but I hope it will come soon.


  2. It would be nice if CSS worked the same in all browers, but sometimes I think the quest for “standards” and “best practices” might be limiting. Things change so quickly.

    An old school tabled, blank image spacers site, still gets the job done, and it’s not like people will not die if it is not built right.

    There are always many ways to do a job, and consistent quality level is nearly impossible to achieve. And there are times that compromises simply have to be struck to move forward.

    I think I’ve a subjective bias against getting to rigid and established as well. I kind of have this vision of the web as a sort of digital wild west. In a lot of ways, your degrees don’t matter since everything changes so fast, and schools can’t really keep up. I like all the various backgrounds of people who have found a place on the web.

  3. RE:dg
    I would agree with you, without the browser support- it sometimes makes things limiting. BUT, I think that excuse doesn’t hold much water anymore. It did a few years ago, but not now. There are safe workarounds, filters, and hacks (with proper management) to solve all of the problems. Spacer shims are a hack – to get your spacing right, AND they add presentational elements to the markup. So, it isn’t just CSS that is ‘quirky’. Tables and spacer shims only add to the weight of the page, and they remove meaning to so many different elements when removed – not to mention break many other devices and layouts.

    You are right, people will not die if it is done in tables. In fact, you could do that and the client may NEVER know. But in a call for a professionalism in this field it takes someone who is willing to do things RIGHT. Think of other professions. I am sure each one has MANY shortcuts that they could use, that their client may NEVER see – but that still doesn’t make them right. IE: An electrician. I could have electrician (A) wire my house. He doesn’t want to take the time to make things neat and tidy, and he uses cheap wire. Now, I would NEVER know that up front. But what happens when I build on to my house or need things re-wired? The fact that he took shortcuts just to get something done now means I am going to have to pay TWICE to get the job re-done RIGHT, and then get the additions made. Taking shortcuts, even if they DO work, is not the best option. That, to me, is unprofessional. (This is not an attack to you or your suggestion – its my personal opinion). The professionalism calls for quality – and that may mean working a little extra to get everything tweaked just right.

  4. I suggest keeping the discussion in the realm of general principles, such as: make an effort to keep up with the changingness of the web, within reason; make sites accessible as a matter of course; use semantic, meaningful markup and CSS (which implies using tables only for _tables_); separation of presentation, content, and behavior (or the MVC pattern for developers); graceful degradation; cross-browser scripting; strive to have your code validate, but know when it’s OK not to; no IE-only sites, etc.

    There are usually many specific methods or tools to achieve these goals. This conversation is always at risk of breaking down if you stray too close to implementation details. The only exception would be to discourage use of methods and tools which are inherently opposed to accessibility and standards, and also to recommend tools which help you do the right thing.

  5. I think the real problem is that the ignorance about computers, internet and web pages in the general public is huge. They have no idea about the fluidy of a web page and I believe they think a web page and a printed page is just about the same thing.

    I have had to do research on the web and the amount of really bad websites out there cannot be underestimated. These sites are not just for small mom and pop stores, but also big corporations.

    I have a question Molly about that interview you gave to Chris Hester. You hinted that some of you books should be no longer be available, but you do not explain further. I am at the moment going through your book – Special Edition XHTML – and am wondering whether this is one of the books you had in mind.

  6. [Disclaimer: sorry for my bad English]

    I think the only problem of the Web is the Web itself.

    I mean, HTML and related technologies were build with flexibility in mind: As anyone can notice, in most cases a non-valid page creates no visible effects and the browser is able to render it in somehow or the information is retrievable as well. This was the power of the Web as a collection of hyperlinked documents; simple to write, flexible to use.

    But now, the community, the w3c (,me, of course) and all webstandard lovers and maniacs are claiming for validation, ethics and professionality: The most of those claims would be (I don’t know if you can understand) “embedded” in the Web technology in terms of “strictness”. I mean, “non-valid page? well, the browser won’t render it, at all”.

    If the Web were like this there wouldn’t be any of those “quality of code”-related problems and web developers would be more (1) skilled, (2) serious, (3) professional and so on: Maybe a lot of WYSIWYG wouln’t out :-) Thus, web developers would have been aware of the semantic from the very beginning, and not just now!

    Last but not least, the Web wouldn’t exist if it were as strict as I described because no one were crazy enough to care about a strict interpreted language for publishing documents (remember that it was 1990).



  7. Contrary to previous comments, I personally don’t find a problem with the current state of the Web as far as the technologies which allows us to put forward any given information. I truly believe that it is simply a matter of progress which reflects the requirements of our needs.

    As far as ‘professionalism’ go, it is a matter of understanding the requirements of a given project, and the available resources to achieve the set goals.

    I believe it is important for today’s Web developers to acknowledge the incompleteness of such technologies and how they are interpreted within various user-agents. Only by then a true analysis can be established before tackling any project.

    Having said that, the true definition of ‘Web Standards’ should not be misunderstood in terms of ‘evangelism’ but rather a progress towards a common goal which minimizes such complexities.

  8. There is a great argument for ensuring that as professionals, we always use standards and take care with semantics; rejecting all notion of “if it looks OK using doubtful practices, it will be fine”.

    That is, most people surf the web looking for information and entertainment. Just as in the past they may have first turned to books. We are all currently building a great library, the likes of which has never been seen before, albeit containing a lot of crud in places :0). Imagine walking into this great virtual library at some point in the future and not being able to retrieve any information although search engines allow us to interrogate and be more specific about detail than we ever could with respect to narrowing a search using Dewey decimal for books.

    The flexibility of the web and bad working practices adds up to a recipe for disaster. The argument that people will not die as a result of using semantically incorrect constructs such as misused tables is true. However such practices mean that we are building a future where we will have fewer books and have built a replacement that is less effective. What then for learning and knowledge?

    At one level, I suspect we’re playing with the future of civilisation right at this moment. We just don’t realise it.

    Even though there are limitations with current technology; as professionals, are we taking standards and professionalism seriously enough yet? Lets not get hung up on browser hacks for CSS and the differences between XHTML strict and transitional. Lets see the bigger picture.

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  10. The more things move along I’m led to believe that there will be no rapid change in the status quo.

    Companies either do not care (as long as their site looks “right” in what they run), or launch without work meeting the guidelines ( )

    Universities turn out graduates in digital media computing etc. who’s final year projects are written in frames and bad HTML with no concept of semantic HTML or splitting design from structure from function.

    W3 working groups seem caught up in bickering with the amount of high profile resignations, or are working on standards that will not be able to adopted due to complexity for the larger group of designers. Whilst grassroots methods of improvement seem to determine themselves as much by what they are not / wont do / don’t like, to provide any meaningful bridge.

    It has already been a long hot summer for what seems most of the world going on news reports, lets hope it’s just a case of summer lethargy and the final months of the year will see bridges built, greater realisation of the need for standards adoption and more substance with less froth. When these things are done then we’ll be in a position to talk about quantifying best practices.

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