Only recently did I come across the video of Zeldman’s keynote address from Web Essentials ’04. In it I found a great line about web standards. It is simple in its elegance and reflects what a number of people have been saying for some time about web standards and the current state of the world of web design:
I believe web standards are just going to be what you do… If you know what you’re doing, it’s just going to be … just a tool. It’s just going to be a tool that you use… and I think the focus of web design will go back to things like content, design, usability
I can’t wait… sounds like the utopia we all want, doesn’t it? Plus, we all get to say we were doing web standards since before it was cool…
Growing up With Web Standards
Over time, developers and designers (especially those just entering the profession) will be more attuned to standards, to accessibility, to new trends. It will be a given that they will do all their layout and presentation with CSS. It will be a given that they will use clean, semantically structured markup. It will be a given that they take accessibility into consideration from the outset of building a site rather than at the end. And, hopefully, it will be a given that they/we will be open to the continued evolution of the web and creation of new techniques that render what we are doing today obsolete.
Quite simply, standards will be what people know, not something new.
But clearly we are a long way off. I’d say standards based development is still in the minority, by a long shot.
What is going on out there?
Every time I think we (collectively) are making progress, I see things that shock and amaze me. In the past month I’ve seen web sites that have just been launched or redesigned that are still missing alt text on images that have meaning, that don’t use <label> for their forms, or that use CSS to style a paragraph to look like a heading.
People keep saying that standards and accessibility aren’t that hard. Fine. If that is true, then why do so many web sites ignore web standards? Why do so many web sites fail so miserably at providing even basic accessibility? Why do we see web sites that don’t have appropriate alt text on images or don’t have any headings? (I’m not even talking legacy sites either – I’m talking about newly released sites! see “Worst Redesign of the Year“, where Joe Clark takes Chapters/Indigo Canada to task for the latest iteration of their e-commerce web site. Yes, that redesign is one of the sites I wanted to talk about when I wrote Disclosure and Site Critiques)
When will they understand that they will spend more in maintenance of their bloated, convoluted code than they would to get everyone some training in modern, accessible web development techniques?
Much work to do.
There are still a lot of developers out there that don’t know how to build sites any other way than with font tags, spacer gifs and multiple nested tables. Why? Two reasons: they don’t know any other way (after all, these old methods are what they grew up with – it is what they know, just as we know web standards and would have a difficult time going back to old school methods), and there aren’t enough good resources on doing things the “right” way.
There are some really good resources out there for learning web development techniques. However, I’d say that there are still horrendous educational resources “in the wild” Ã¢â‚¬â€œ web sites, tutorials, books, course manuals, you name it – that show poor markup and font tags and nested tables as part of their examples. How many times have you seen something like these two examples for teaching the concept of looping:
<font size=”$i”>Isn’t this fun?</font><br>
or to loop over an array to create output that looks like an ordered list, but isn’t an ordered list:
There are just too many bad habits out there, and it will take time for that to change.
So, what next?
- Blogs do well in search engines. Part of that is good content, part of that is linking and page rank. If, for example, I put up a great resource on HTML, and everyone links to it, we’re effectively pulling a Nigritude Ultramarine on all the poor resources that are out there.
- Blogs currently house most of the recent advances in web development techniques. Blogs are always on the cutting edge. I estimate that I can find solutions to 95% of the problems that I have when building a site on somebody’s blog. If the resource itself isn’t a blog, its linked to from enough blogs that it is findable.
- More quality tutorials and resources means that the crappy ones disappear. Well, they don’t really disappear, but if we get enough good quality resources, the poor resources drop off the top search engine results pages. If a page doesn’t show up in search results, does it really exist?
- Repetition reinforces the right message. If the top 20 search results for “Web development tutorials” are all sending the same message, it won’t matter how poor the next 80 results are.
- Most blogs are not currently written for beginning developers. Beginners don’t get anything tailored to them that provides the same quality of examples and code. We could use some new resources focussed on beginners.
So, get some new resources up there, focus on standards, accessibility, and best practices. Open it up for comments from others, so that we get the resources right. Then announce it to the world, so that we can all link to it (that part is key), drive them up to the top of the search engine results page, and obliterate all the sites that teach poor techniques, bad habits and old ways of thinking. We need to have more people grow up with web standards.