Efficient Standards

January 17, 2006     

What is the drive behind the web standards movement? It’s a lot of things to a lot of people. To be honest I haven’t thought much about web standards in the past few years. They’re not special anymore, they’re the status quo. Early on it took a special kind of visionary to wrestle with CSS and attempt to tame version 4 browsers. A lot of effort for little reward. For this reason the movement began slowly. But by the time IE6, Safari, and Firefox hit the streets, CSS was second nature to most web designers — even the ones still doing layout with tables.

At least that’s what I thought until I recently began work on a project with a graphic designer who’s unfortunate enough to own Dreamweaver. Coding around the verbose and crufty HTML he’s spewed at me has proven so difficult and error-prone that I find myself re-writing most of it as I go. It’s one thing to throw in a table to lay out a form or a complex page that you can’t figure out in CSS, but when half the cells have spacer images, the rest have bgcolor and width attributes, and the few styles have names like style11 style12, the bitter taste of 1998 comes full on in the back of your palate.

Do I like struggling with CSS bugs for hours each day? Not especially. But a first hand look at the web design of yesteryear proves how far we’ve actually come. I don’t know what other field someone who was a true professional 8 years ago is now a hopelessly out of touch dinosaur (I’m thinking women’s gymnastics), but it gives me a strange hope for the future of web design.

So what is the drive behind the web standards movement? Well it takes all kinds really. The movement tends to have the pedantic face of validation nazis, semanticism obsessives, and unsolicited web redesigners. That attitude quickly turned me off from the whole web design blogosphere a long time ago. But now I realize enduring a bad attitude is a small price to pay for all the contributions the standards scene has given us. To actually reverse-engineer some of the bugs in IE requires such a geek factor that we must expect (and indeed welcome) a certain level of eccentricity among these folk.

Pedantry is not the reason for web standards.

But it is the first step towards the real reason: making websites more maintainable, more deliverable, and flat-out better. Yes, CSS has delivered a better world for the professional webby. I can’t wait for IE7. No, seriously.