Regarding Unrest in the Web Standards Community

I’m not going to assume everybody has been following the (sometimes heated) discussion surrounding the Web standards movement over the past week or so. I’d like to first give a brief overview on what’s happened, and offer my two cents on the surrounding issues. At the root, some designers, developers, and those devoted to the Web have become frustrated with the rate at which the some agencies and organizations operate, as well as the true goals of said organizations.

The spark that ignited

While the debate may have been smoldering under the surface, the post that [more or less] caused the blaze to ignite was Dear W3c, Dear WaSP by Molly E. Holzschlag, in which she states:

Pay attention, W3C and anyone who cares. We have serious problems. On the surface:

  • HTML 5 serialization under W3C
  • Run Time Environments such as AIR
  • Personal agendas overriding agendas that serve the greater good

I call on my colleagues, my friends to talk about this.

Are you all just dumbed down by the fact you’ve got a job or what? Tell me. Let’s fix it. W3C, WaSP, whatever. We have problems.

Let’s talk about them and figure something out.

In her post, Ms. Holzschlag takes a firm stance behind her position regarding the state of the Web and those behind its advancing. She plainly asks for commentary on the issues in an effort to get them resolved.

The wide range of response

I strongly urge everyone to read the thread of responses posted in reaction to the entry (as well as the follow up entry), as the authors are many we have come to respect as industry leaders. Reading comment threads such as those illustrates wonderfully the point I was trying to make in 9 Ways to Improve Yourself: read and talk as much as you can.

The responses range from whole-hearted support to all out opposition, each with strong points to support each case. Many designers and developers sympathize with Ms. Holzschlag in saying too little is being done and that little bit is taking way too long. Others argue that something so large in scope must be approached slowly, with every aspect researched, supported, and understood.

One of the most notable, direct responses was What crisis? from Mr. Jeffrey Zeldman. In his reaction, he states:

Certainly the W3C moves at a glacial pace. It’s why we write float when we mean column. But a glacial pace isn’t all bad, especially if you’re driving off a cliff (which I gather we are). Driving off a cliff at a glacial pace affords you the luxury to turn around. I loves me some glacial pace.

The glacial pace of the W3C has given browser makers time to understand and more correctly implement existing standards. It has also given designers and developers time to understand, fall in love with, and add new abilities to existing standards.

Mr. Zeldman, as many others, is simply asking for a [somewhat detailed] breakdown of the crisis as viewed by so many, because he isn’t aware of such. There are also many other great, well thought-out responses to be read, so be sure to read what you can.

My personal opinion on the matter

I tend to have an opinion on many things, but in this specific circumstance, I must admit I’m quite divided. I can see strong points from both sides, and I am unable to stand firmly behind one side over another. I am very much in support of the advancement of Web standards, and understand that adjustments should be allowed ample time to become established. On the other hand, the time for implementation can be measured in decades when it comes to the W3C, and that can become frustrating.

I can completely support wonderful write-ups on this issue (and again great comments) by legends such as Jeff Croft, and I can also see where Zeldman is coming from. Implementation can’t be rushed when you’re working with such an entirely huge project. Taking a snippet from the comments on Mr. Croft’s post — it would be great if browser manufacturers began to push updates to the browser rendering engine itself (as opposed to the entire browser) in an effort to speed this process along. Flash has been operating this way for some time, and it does in fact seem to be working out.

In conclusion, I can’t really say that I am completely fed up with the way the W3C operates — mostly because I am still trying to establish myself in completely understanding the process and those involved. I do not see myself as enough of an authority to have an established opinion on these issues yet. Yes, I work with the Web on a daily basis, and try to make the Web a better place with what I do, but these men and women have made the Web what it is today. I can completely understand where veteran, industry leading designers and developers are becoming frustrated, and I love reading what they have to say. Their knowledge and experience is some of the best information we can read. Me being able to read intelligent arguments from both sides greatly helps in my decision making process.

Many people view (X)HTML/CSS as stale in favor of a (flashy) Flash application, and it’s hard to blame them. Nothing dramatic has happened on the markup and style front in quite some time, and Flash has really taken the spotlight because it’s able to innovate and globally deploy and become adopted at an extraordinary rate. In my opinion, it would be fantastic if the W3C aimed to work at that speed.

Most importantly; what about you?

If you haven’t spoken your mind about this issue ten times over thus far, I’d love to hear your opinion on the matter. Do you think the W3C is too glacial for anyone’s good? Would you rather have browser rendering engine upgrades a la Flash player? What other thoughts do you have on the issue?