Why We Need Web Standards
Jeffrey Zeldman was one of the first designers, bloggers, and independent publishers on the web, and one of the first web design teachers. In 1998, he co-founded—and from 1999 to 2002 he directed—The Web Standards Project, a grassroots coalition that helped bring standards to our browsers.
He publishes A List Apart “for people who make websites;” has written two books (notably the foundational web standards text, Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition); co-founded the web design conference An Event Apart; and founded and is executive creative director of Happy Cog™, an agency of web design and user experience specialists.
Question: What are web standards and why are they important?
Zeldman: Every industry has standards. For example the Motion Picture, camera, there are 2 or 3 film format with a number of brackets and number of speed, a shooting speed that is standard. If we didn’t have that then some motion pictures will playback too slowly and people would talk very slowly and it will be bizarre. Our industries started with in the absence of those standards. We had the HTML but it wasn’t really supported correctly in any browser and browser makers initially led the exciting adoption of the webs. So, if Netscape out of the feature, every web developer learned it and when we all use it and it wasn’t a standard but that’s okay and then Microsoft to compete out of the future and it wasn’t supported in Netscape’s browsers. So, what ended up happening was that in order to make even just a simple content website, you end up having to make 3 or 4 different versions of every page and this is back in the 90s’ when websites we’re doing very much, they were pretty much static pieces of content with maybe a form where you could get more, you know sign up to a mail list and yet you are making all these different versions and if you’ve had even a very simple jobs script for insists to validate the form. You had to write it four different ways for IE3, IE4 and Netscape 3, Netscape 4 so, some colleagues and I in 1998 started the web standards project to basically asked browser makers to comply with a very small group of standards that would work across all the licensing and they eventually did and could they all browsers support them pretty well. As for what standards are and why there are important… In addition to not spending 25% of your time and 25% of your budget making all these different versions of the site and that is money you can either save if you don’t have a lot of money or money you could put in to better writers, proof readers, editors, film makers, better design, better you know original illustration it’s money you could spend in better ways and just making more versions. The most findable content is content that is, that is designed with web standards and structured that way and when we started the web standards project, we didn’t know that because when we started it nobody use Google. Google didn’t really exist. Google existed as sort of a project by 2 graduate students. And people use to find web content either by reading your print ad and going oh, look there is a web address and typing it in right and dutifully and doing your homepage or they went to Yahoo which had higher article index, right? Of all the content on the web and they go I’m looking for porn, how I would find porn and then they would type social and cultural that must be it and then they sort of drove all the way down to the porn whereas with Google they would just type porn or whatever they were looking for and find it. But Google didn’t exist at that time, so we didn’t know that we were creating a means of designing websites that would have, that will make content very easy to find but that is a great benefit of it and when I talked to business people about this, if I say, if I talked about semantics, their eyes glaze over but if I talked about your content will be found on Google they get it and they like that.
The internet, like every other industry, needs clear standards for excellence. Here Zeldman chronicles his latest attempt to establish these benchmarks.
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