Spread the Word About Standards

Last week there was a great article written by Roger Johansson in which he wrote about Why Standards Still Matter. Shortly thereafter another article was written by Robert Nyman who also had a few things to say about The Web Standards War. Both articles give a refreshing look into the area of writing about Web standards and the current response to doing just that.

In some small corners of the Web, standards are pushed upon others in such a way where if you don’t write valid markup, you aren’t worth the time of day. Those few advocates who brag superiority give everyone who is willing to help a bad name. More often than not, someone who is interested in promoting the good use of Web standards is more than happy to help someone out, whether it be through personal consultation or writing an article to their blog. What’s more is they won’t make you feel like an idiot for asking. Although it may look like it from time to time, standardistas are (usually) not in it to force standards upon anyone. The object is education.

Roger was completely right when he wrote about how there is a lot of backlash regarding all of the content written about Web standards and proper use. There are loads of people who express their frustration and boredom with the number of articles written about Web standards. In all honesty, those people are missing the point. Articles are constantly written because there is a need for them. The abundance of bad markup helps inspire many authors to do what they do to spread the word on the subject.

It’s all about Education

The goal of so many sites revolving around Web standards, semantics, accessibility, usability, and good use is education. The authors took it upon themselves to spread the word about their subject and continuously put forth a solid effort to do so in the best way they know how. They see that although the adoption of standards is making great strides — it’s so far away from where it should be. They see that the majority of websites they visit repeatedly have errors in their markup and accessibility issues abound. The current state of the Web is far from acceptable and there is loads of work to be done.

My Personal Introduction to Standards

I was first “taught” about Web standards in college. The Validator was introduced to me as a hurdle I had to get over in order to submit any work done for the class. It wasn’t explained to me why it was important, it was just the way things had to be done for assignments. When CSS was introduced, it was used to style text in tabular layouts and that was the extent of things. If I been the professor in that class, I would have gone about things a different way. Had I known why writing valid code was important, I wouldn’t have thought of validation as a burden before handing in my work. I wasn’t alone in feeling this way — everyone in the class thought it was the professor trying to make our lives difficult. To sum it up: the class reaction wasn’t all that different from those who dismiss Web standards today. Semantics weren’t even mentioned and had I known that validation was only one step, I might have been more interested.

What’s more, is when I reached an upper level class, the curriculum was back to tabular layouts because there was a different goal in the class; producing something that would be usable to a particular audience in a short amount of time. The class did take into account some usability concerns which was good, but accessibility wasn’t mentioned (more than likely due to time constraint), and CSS didn’t see the light of day. With the lack of preparation in semantic markup, this upper level class can be looked at as a step back for students. I wish proper techniques were introduced to me in a better way because I believe my introduction set me back some time. How were standards introduced to you? If it was in an educational environment, was it similar to mine? I understand that trying to squeeze accessibility, usability, semantics and more into a class can be difficult. Since that’s the case, more time should be devoted to classes in the subject. Some schools have faculty that understand the importance of Web standards, and some don’t. In a college environment, where up and coming designers and developers are having formal training, I think Web standards, accessibility, and usability should be a large part of things.

Back to the War at Hand

Many times the education surrounding Web standards is referred to as a war. I think Robert Nyman responded really well when he wrote:

“The whole idea of informing people about web standards and the advantages gained from using them is that they will feel that they truly benefit from them; not that it is forced down upon them.”

It’s not that there’s a war to be won out there. The benefits of writing standard, semantic, accessible code should be looked at as a light at the end of the tunnel for those who are misinformed on the subject. Both Roger and Robert talked about how the goal of so many is to spread the word and educate those who are new to the field, right alongside educating those who have been in the industry for a number of years. A solid base of Web standards will act as the underlying structure for future Web technologies. Without standardized practice, advancement would take exponentially longer and result in unexpected behavior all around the Web.

Some People Just Don’t Care

There are those who work in Web development who just don’t care about Web standards and aren’t afraid of saying so. Currently as a Web developer, you could probably get by (some of the time) with writing invalid code, but times are changing. If you take a look at many of the job postings surrounding a Web position, a knowledge of valid and semantic markup is sometimes a prerequisite. You’ll begin to see things like that more and more as time goes on because employers are starting to realize the monetary benefits of valid and semantic markup. Those people who disregard Web standards will have something to think about in the future when their acceptance is a job requirement.

Spread the Word Any Way you Can

If you’re a standards advocate, take some time to spread the word in any way you please. You may not know all there is to know about Web standards and that’s okay — because no one knows it all. One of the wonderful things about a topic such as this is the constant refinement surrounding it. Speaking about Web standards constantly is part of the standards themselves. Give your fellow Web developers some tips, tricks, and links that will help them better their practice and we’ll all be a little better for it. Put on your thinking caps and come up with ideas such as CSS Naked Day, which help promote semantic markup.

The Web can be transformed into an even better environment than it has come to be today. It’s those people who create for the Web who can make that happen.