Christian Heilmann

Isn\’t it time to stop the consortium/corporation bashing when talking about web standards?

Monday, June 11th, 2007 at 3:11 pm

Back in 2004, Brian Alvey wrote in A List Apart about Everything I Need To Know About Web Design I Learned Watching Oz, detailing that some parts of prison life can be translated to becoming a good web designer (avoiding solitarity, playing to your strength, giving things out for free and so on).

Lately I get the feeling that the bad habits necessary to survive jail also become part of our life as web developers, namely making sure to beat up the biggest guy in your way to establish your place in the pecking order.

A lot of presentations lately take the mickey at larger corporations and their web sites and during panel talks like last week’s @media in London there seems to be no better fun than constantly picking on the W3C, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, Apple or whoever is big and corporate and seems to be much slower in bringing us towards the brave new world of standardization, microformats goodness, semantics and a very cool, available and usable world wide web.

Well, looking back several years, I distinctly remember that we wondered why large corporations don’t follow web standards and what can be done to change that. We had the problem that every small client would come to us and ask why they should have CSS layout and valid HTML when none of the big companies do. Corporations seemed too far away to reach and talk to and we reveled in being hard-core and grass-roots celebrating our independence.

Well, times changed and many of the large corporations do take web standards serious, have a thorough understanding of them as a part of the interview process of new developers and give out information as to what obstacles were in their way when shifting from easily maintainable tag-soup (remember, this is what enterprise level frameworks create out-of-the-box) to CSS driven layouts with cleaner, semantically valuable markup. Some even offer frameworks, widgets and code for anyone to use that is built upon their findings.

Instead of welcoming this, we rather ridicule these efforts and pick out bad examples to show how much cooler we can be as smaller, fast-moving individuals and companies.

Maybe it is time to remember that working with grass-roots means getting your hands dirty and we should concentrate more on really producing some larger products, actively help improving framework output and allow for tools to make things easier for people who are bound to software to maintain their sites that is sub-par in terms of quality of generated code.

Maybe we should also remember that the way of working as a web standards evangelist or famous blogger is not the norm, but far from it. For example it is really easy to claim you can add microformats to any document by adding some spans and classes to an HTML document, but in reality a lot – and I mean a massive amount – of content of the web is developed by people who never touch the HTML or know about it. This is why we invented CMS - to separate content from structure and allow maintenance without needing to code HTML.

I do realize that a lot of these panel talks and presentations are tongue-in-cheek, but let’s not forget that this can hurt a lot when someone slaps you on the back of the head while you do it.

Just for the record: I do work for a large corporation, but I was not asked to write about this. I would have written this in any case as I welcome the change web development has done and I don’t want our efforts of the last few years to be in vain because of arrogance.

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