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The Unheard Word

One woman's slightly skewed views

Encouraging Web Standards

I’m a bit concerned, after some recent comments on some of the email lists (which shall remain nameless!) to which I subscribe, about the attitude of some web standards advocates towards others.

My journey to a career in web development and design was quite a gradual one. I drifted into it one day when I was bored. I made a horrific attempt (of which I was extraordinarily pleased and proud at the time) at a home page at GeoCities. Thankfully, that site from way back in 1998 is long since dead and buried! I remember well my pain at trying to get rollover buttons to work. I thought I had to write the JavaScript (yes, JavaScript, just imagine! On simple rollovers! Shock, horror!) by hand and was in a frenzy trying to work it out. Then oh! The satisfaction when I eventually did get it to work. I was hooked.

Since I was at home and bored I decided it might be a Good Thing to study web design at University. I found a suitable course and off I went.

In my first paid job, I made a tables-based design that I couldn’t get to work in NS4. I posted about my problem on an email list, and one very clued-up and standards-savvy member re-worked my design with a CSS layout and — lo and behold — it even worked in NS4. I was gobsmacked.

Time, however, was running short by that point and I never ended up going with the CSS layout. (I did figure out the NS4 problem, which was that I’d mixed units in my columns, that is, one was fixed width and the other was in percentages. NS4 spits the dummy at that.)

But my interest was aroused, and though I hadn’t even heard the term “web standards” at that time, I was well on the way to learning about them.

I deliberately used the word “journey” earlier in this post. Nobody becomes an expert overnight. Many of us don’t even hear the term “web standards” until we’ve already learned a different way. And then we need to somehow hear about the resources where information about web standards can be found. It take time and effort (and therefore money, because time is money) to re-train. And it’s a process. It’s not instant. I know a lot more than I did, but I’m still learning. Who is not still learning?

Getting into the habit of validating our X/HTML is a good springboard for standards-based web design. I have learned a lot by doing so. You have to learn what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it, when the validator screams at you. So if any coders have taken the trouble to validate their pages, then kudos to them, whether the pages completely adhere to standards or not. The coders are making an effort, and if they’re making the effort it means they’re open to learning, and are likely to continue to learn and apply what they’ve learned.

Ditto with CSS layouts. In an ideal world, all layouts would be CSS-based not tables-based. Fine. But we’ve all got to start somewhere. If coders have made an effort to use style sheets, even if just for text formatting, then I’m encouraged. That’s often the first step and if they know that step, they’ll be aware there’s more to learn, and eventually they’ll learn it, and apply it.

I think that, as standards advocates, it is our role to encourage the use of standards above all else. I don’t know about you, but I am not encouraged when I am being blasted for doing something wrong. But when someone takes the time to explain to me why another way would be better, then I will listen and form opinions. If lots of people are saying the same thing to me and if it makes sense, then I might even do something about it. But it’s not instant, and learning is a process.

Whereas, if I’m told harshly that I’m wrong, that I’ve failed just as I’m starting — then I just might not think it worth making the effort. If I’ve been given the impression that if I can’t do it perfectly then I’ve done something really bad, and what’s the point? Why would I even bother trying?

Who is perfect first try? Or second? Or third? Web standards, semantic X/HTML, CSS, JavaScript and the DOM and web accessibility can be quite complex and there is no quick fix.

In the Real World, where time is limited and so is money, it just might not be possible to get it perfect at first. I know it can be instinctive to say, “That’s wrong!” But being thoughtful, and rewarding and encouraging effort, as well as providing support and resources, is likely to more successful in influencing those sitting on the web standards fence to permanently embrace web standards.

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5 Responses to “Encouraging Web Standards”

  1. Geoff Preston Says:

    I share your concerns, Vicki, and can appreciate your thoughts, that as standards advocates, it is our role to encourage the use of standards. If you tell people they are wrong, will you make them want to agree with you? No chance! You have just insulted their intelligence and in doing so will quite likely make them want to retaliate. You can blast them with all the facts and logic you want but once you have hurt their feelings you will never change their point of view.

    In my opinion, I feel we must all (myself included) take a little extra care and think very carefully about what we post online and what ramifications it may have. It’s so easy for the written word to be misinterpreted; even punctuation can completely change the meaning of what we are trying to say. After only making a few brief posts online, I realize that perhaps I could have expressed my thoughts a little more articulately.

    Keep blogging Vicki; you have a way with words. 🙂

    Geoff Preston

    “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.� Dale Carnegie

  2. Andrew K Says:

    Here here, well said! 🙂

    I think a big part of the problem is ‘assumed knowledge’. Two years ago the concept of a layout constructed with floated columns meant absolutely nothing to me. Now it’s a total no-brainer.

    The hard part is remember “hang on, it took me ages to get to this point; where is this person up to and what would be the most beneficial thing I could say to help them over the next hurdle?”

    Easier said than done.

  3. Vicki Says:

    Thanks Geoff, I really didn’t want to come across as holier-than-thou cos that’s not how I feel, so it’s nice to get your feedback.

    But… by the way… all of the posts I have seen of yours have appeared to me to have pertinent points and be well-thought-out and articulate, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it. 🙂

    P.S. Love the Dale Carnegie quote. It is sooooo relevant.

  4. Vicki Says:

    Andrew, that is exactly my experience too. It’s so easy to forget what a gradual process it actually is.

    It is great that so many more people are trying, these days. The great battle is in getting folks to understand the “why”. Then, it’s very much a “one step at a time” thing. I think everyone learns more with each project they are involved with. Most of us like to push our bounds more and more with each project. We’ll all get there in the end.

    I liked this line from 456 Berea Street’s Is XHTML and CSS Easy? post:

    You can never stop learning when you’re working in the web industry. The day you think you know it all is the day you should look for something else to do.

  5. » Give Advice Not Tell Us We’re Stoopid : Pig Work : Weblog of Freelance Designer Steven Clark aka Norty Pig, Hobart, Tasmania Says:

    […] Vicki’s latest article encouraging web standards is one of my pet peeve’s and why although I’ve been a Web Standards Group list member since practically the beginning I very rarely ever blog and tend to just read the digests. Private communication with members is always more polite than on lists. My theory is that people in the privacy and safety of their own home will tend to Web Rage (kind of like Road Rage) and bully if they think they won’t get hurt. I may be wrong but its been enough times for me to think seven times before clicking send. […]