What crisis?

Has HTML 4.01 stopped working in browsers? I was not aware of it. Has XHTML 1.0 stopped working in browsers? I was not aware of it. Do browser makers intend to stop supporting HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0? I was not aware of it. Do they intend to stop supporting CSS 1 and CSS 2.1? I was not aware of it.

Has the W3C withdrawn the WCAG 1.0 accessibility guidelines? Nobody told me. Have the WCAG Samurai withdrawn their errata listing? I must have called in sick that day. Have browsers stopped supporting the DOM and ECMAScript? First I’ve heard. Has structured, semantic markup stopped making the content of web pages easier for people and search engines to find, and for assistive software and devices to navigate? I didn’t get the memo.

What exactly is the crisis in web standards? People assure me there is one. But they can’t be bothered to explain.

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.

So the glacial pace can’t be the crisis. Maybe the problem is lack of leadership. One worries about the declining relevance of The Web Standards Project. (Note the capital “T” in “The”—people who believe in standards should also believe in and follow style guides.) One has worried about the declining relevance of The Web Standards Project since 2002.

There is surely work still to be done. For one thing, mobile devices (the iPhone excepted) need to better support those existing web standards I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I suspect that the people now running The Web Standards Project are working on this and other problems; they’re just not publicizing their efforts until they have more successes to report. That’s how it feels to me, but I could be wrong. This whole post could be wrong. This whole court could be out of order.

Maybe the W3C is the problem, or maybe the problem is that there is standards-related activity going on outside the W3C. Depending on who you talk to, each of the preceding clauses defines the crisis.

Certainly the W3C is political. Certainly some, perhaps more than some, of its committees bog down in in-fighting. In pursuit of a theory, or from lack of fresh air, committee members too often forget the user. Specifications like XHTML 2 and guidelines like WCAG 2 can seem misguided to people who actually create websites for a living. Happily, there are signs that the W3C wants to shed some of its hermeticism and do a better job of listening. Unhappily, there are also signs to the contrary. Depends where you look and who you talk to.

Certainly there is a risk of fragmentation. Two groups, one inside the W3C and the other outside it, are working on HTML 5. Their motivations and methods differ. Their work may come together at some point, or it may not. If there is a rift, the “wrong” HTML 5 may catch on. Heavens!

One day, people from nice homes may forsake XHTML for HTML 5, making us wonder what that XHTML pony ride was all about anyway. Or not. If HTML 5 bombs, we’re not so badly off with the markup specifications we have. Remember this. It may help you sleep at night. If HTML, CSS, or accessibility go seriously astray (and depending on who you ask, at least two of these are in trouble), we will still be able to use HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0, CSS1 and 2.1, ECMAScript, the DOM, and WCAG 1.0 (with our without reference to the samurai errata) when Britney has grandkids.

Sensible new standards may yet emerge from the W3C, or from elsewhere, or they may not come at all. Some of this may matter before we ride hover cars.

I don’t make standards and I haven’t endured what some who’ve advised standards makers have had to put up with. God bless the advisors. But their frustrations do not a crisis make—any more than a bad meeting with one of my clients foretells the end of capitalism.

Possibly one or both versions of HTML 5 are abandoning accessibility or damning themselves with the same kind of deliberate backward incompatibility that has made XHTML 2 such a profound non-starter in many people’s estimation. One would like to believe that market forces would correct any such deviation from the path of reason, but the influence of market forces on the web has too often been malign for us to expect so upbeat a resolution. This, perhaps, is the crisis our friends talk about but don’t explain.

I have heard the harbingers in blogs and newsgroups but I have not understood their lamentations because, with the exceptions of Joe Clark and Gian Sampson-Wild, none I’ve seen has bothered to document and make clear to others precisely where they believe a specific standard is going wrong.

I wish they would explain. Less drama and more clarity, please. A trail of newsgroup messages you need a roadmap to navigate and a PhD to parse does not constitute a call to arms.

Is there truly a crisis in web standards? Tell us. We will support you. But really tell us.


137 thoughts on “What crisis?

  1. Well, I definitely agree that there is no real crisis in web standards and the existing standards we have are still working well.

    But, the glacial pace still bothers me, as someone who would like to innovate and do new things on the web. I’ve been involved in web standards for going on five years now, and I feel like there hasn’t been a single new, interesting thing happen on that front since I first read Designing With Web Standards. There is better browser support for our standards — but I’ve still got basically the same tools to work with, as a designer an a developer, that I had five years ago. That does bother me.

    I wouldn’t be satisfied if Adobe didn’t release a significant new version of Photoshop for five years, so I don’t see why I should be satisfied that the W3C hasn’t released a significant new version of their tools, either. If Adobe didn’t release a new version of Photoshop, I’d hve jumped ship to some other product by now. Likewise, it’s quite tempting to jump ship from web standards to Flash, as it continues to innovate and offer designers and developers new and interesting tools to work with.

    You’re right: nothing’s really wrong in the web standards world. Everything is exactly the freaking same as it has been so years now — and that is really damn tiresome.

  2. The biggest crisis for me is with Javascript. Developers have grown to hate the language becuase of the ways it “mis-behaves” in “other” browsers. Javascript and inconsistency are practically synonyms.

    And it’s not like small cosmetic rendering problems; your functions either work or they don’t. We pretty much have to write tedious conditional browser-detection code just to keep the site somewhat functional (of course, this is only the case when Javascript truly plays a role in the pages functionality/appearance/accessibility).

    When I am forced to write code like this, I literally want to scream. Mainly becuase it is such a mature language. Unfortunately, I dont know who to point the finger at. *shrug*

  3. I just want rounded corners. Not fake rounded corners as in Fake Steve Jobs (amusing, but not all that useful). Not -moz-thisisn’treallysupportedyetbutyoucanuseitsoitcanlookcoolinonebrowser. I want the real deal. It’s 2007. TWO THOUSAND SEVEN.

    You know what I’m saying?

  4. The man leading the effort outside the W3C is also a leading member of the effort inside the W3C: Ian Hickson. I think things are fine. The public nature of the new HTML Working Group exposes and exaggerates the problems that every working group experiences.

    I think people are mistakenly combining the silence from The Web Standards Project and the noise around HTML5 into one “crisis” where none exists. I don’t know what WaSP is up to, but maybe it’s served its (noble) purpose and needs to find a new mountain to climb.

  5. The glacial pace of change is really frustrating, especially if you start poking around and realize what things are just around the horizon that would make that current project you’re working on just this…much…easier (especially CSS3).

    Then again, about half the world’s surfers are using browsers that still don’t support these standards that have been around for years. And I won’t even hazard a guess as to a percentage of the world’s web sites that still don’t meet the existing standards.

    Maybe the real crisis is a decent set of standards that are basically being ignored while the push for new and improved standards marches on.

  6. Storm in a teacup anyone? Whoever says that W3C is moving at a glacial pace simply has fallen victim to some sort of “instant novelty tech fix”: they want new things all the time and they want them yesterday. These things are supposed to take time – they need to serve as the backbone of the entire web.

    “New” and “now” doesn’t mean better or even necessary.

  7. I still have people tell me, “Hey, this site doesn’t look right in IE 5.5?” I think the (still) bigger crisis is getting everybody using browsers that work the same without hacks for double margins on floated objects. Wouldnt there be some serious codeforking if all of a sudden sites had to work the same in IE6 and IE8 and written in HTML5. Gives me a headache even thinking about it.

  8. @Natalie: You hit on one of the most tempting things about Flash: a much faster deployment process. As you say, many people are still using browsers that don’t support modern standards and are up to six years old (IE6). And yet, almost evreyone has either Flash 8 or 9 installed (Flash 8 is less than two years old). This means us web designers and developers get to actually use new tools rather quickly, rather than just lusting after them from afar, like we have been for CSS3 for years.

  9. I think the problem with a glacial pace of true standards is that there are plenty of corporate bodies out there that are agile enough to deliver a new and exciting new tool set to fill the gap. The problem is that their products are proprietary and most likely require a plugin (I still haven’t been able to get the Silverlight plugin to work on my Mac…) and pigeon hole developers into a non-standard development language. I think as some see this occurring and recognizing similarities between now and the days of the browser wars they are becoming increasingly frustrated.

  10. Can’t we just train and raise some newborns to grow up to be moles at the companies making browsers? They could then implement everything we need in one fell swoop. Sorta like The Departed, but, you know, for geeks. And no one gets shot.

  11. The problem with the glacial pace is that every time I’ve seen new iterations hung up in the process a void is created, and eventually the void is filled by substitution, which then supersedes whatever the new iteration was going to do. Eventually, the new iteration becomes the punchline of a joke.

    “HTML 5/XHTML 2 are final-final and they’ll be fully deployed in Firefox 37! Yay! Hang on, I need to turn off Duke Nukem Forever and crank up Chinese Democracy!

    The XHTML 2 dead-end, HTML 5 revival, and the general loggerheaded nature of all the working groups feels like a bunch of people who are lost and can’t even agree on the map, much less where they are on any map. And I know it’s not that way, and it’s all about the process, but I’m just a little web geek staring at these big people wondering when we’re going to get moving.

    And here’s the thing: Process kills. Trust me. I live in Seattle. All we ever do is process. We have a viaduct on the waterfront that will collapse in our next major earthquake and kill a lot of people. And it’s still there because we are stuck on process. Tear it down? Replace it — and with what? Where will the money come from? Here, let us form a committee. No, let’s protest. How about a couple of advisory votes? Oh wait, what do you think? I’m sure all 3 million of us will eventually reach consensus.

    But the current kerfluffle isn’t going to kill anyone. What it’s doing is preventing any progress, because all the energy that should be spent in getting an iteration — any iteration — out there is stuck in all the arguing.

    And, you know? I’m starting to be OK with that. The reason is that there are enough good people out there within and without Abode, Apple, and Microsoft who can ride all their asses on accessibility and standards. Silverlight and AIR and Flash will become the new lingua franca of Web 3.whatever. XHTML 1 will be generating all our blogs. And all the whining, screaming, bickering, and bloviating from the so-called “stars of standards” will eventually fade as HTML 5 has a low, slow uptake.

    The true standardsistas will take to the mountains to fight a guerilla war against inaccessible and malformed web pages while their so-called leaders sit in their posh conference rooms with their catered lunches and argue. The revolution will continue, whether they’re with us or not. But it would be much better if they’d stop being perfectionist boobs and start rolling things out on a faster schedule. The revolution must be fought one battle at a time, not with a grand, overarching plan that is the ill-starred child of consensus and committee.

  12. There super cool features and then there are crises. I have read through huge comment threads in recent days that are not about anything other than pointing fingers. Which to me indicates that if there is a crisis, it is a crisis of community and communication.

    New does not equal better. And while I love to break open a new copy of a Creative Suite app, I am usually looking forward to bug fixes not expanded features. Yes, things like rounded corners in InDesign where way easier than faking them in Photoshop, and the same will be true when the web gets to that point, but that is not crisis in my opinion, it is a feature.

    The of the web is and will always be browser bugs, compatibility and slow adoption by users. Incompatibility and legacy support will always be more of a crisis than figuring out how to innovate. Innovation is about creativity in light of constraints anyway, not sweet new features.

    The glacial pace is annoying as heck, I don’t think even Zeldman can argue that it has not irked him at some point in the course of day to day work. In the print world, Quark’s lack of development and feature improve was a huge burden on creativity and the ease of production. I get that their features that just need to get done to make the life of the designer/developer easier.

    If the standards bodies need to change in anyway, it is iteration. If the working group where to tackle smaller bug / feature sets, the glacial pace would be the same, but the annual progress would feel faster. Instead of pursuing CSS3, can we get a CSS2.2, and then a CSS2.3, etc.

    I understand that they want to put out a polished situation, but here is the thing. Browser manufacturers all pursue implementation in slightly different ways. And every now and then they go back and refine existing implementations to streamline and improve performance. As such, asking them to implement smaller iterations is actually more in line with their production schedules, and as such, will bring iteration to market faster.

    As a result of smaller chunks being prioritized by the W3C, they can deal with real world problems as they come up, rather than trying to anticipate and sculpt every detail before hand. This is one reason they are so glacial in my view. Quicker iteration of smaller goals will lighten the burden on the volunteers who work on these projects.

    This is obviously not the entire solution to problems I think exist, but the sky-is-falling attitude, as Zeldman points out, is not reality.

  13. I think that Web Standards could last us till Britney has kids (let alone grand kids), and I currently can not foresee the happening of a revolution of a similar scale to that of the Web Standards movement. People can still create perfectly beautiful, usable, accessible websites using existing standards, and will be able to for many years to come.

    In my opinion working around CSS quirks and various browser oddities is part of the fun of the job! More problems to solve? Good! What do we want, an automated development stage akin to the Front-page of yesteryear?

  14. The true standardsistas will take to the mountains to fight a guerilla war against inaccessible and malformed web pages while their so-called leaders sit in their posh conference rooms with their catered lunches and argue. The revolution will continue, whether they’re with us or not. But it would be much better if they’d stop being perfectionist boobs and start rolling things out on a faster schedule. The revolution must be fought one battle at a time, not with a grand, overarching plan that is the ill-starred child of consensus and committee.

    Amen, brother! Part of the problem here is that most of the so-called leaders in web standards don’t actually do any real web work. Rather, they blog, and speak, and generally attempt to influence the state of the the web. They probably once did do real web work, and using that experience they were able to identify problems and enact the change we called the standards movement. But they’re now, quite frankly, out of touch with the way business gets done on the web. I’m not going to name names, because some of them are people I consider to be friends. But they know who they are, and you probably do, too. If their website doesn’t include a portfolio that’s been updated since 2002, I have a hard time taking them seriously as leaders in this field anymore.

    We need leaders who are actually working in this field, on real projects, for real clients, in the real world.

  15. Can’t we just train and raise some newborns to grow up to be moles at the companies making browsers? They could then implement everything we need in one fell swoop. Sorta like The Departed, but, you know, for geeks. And no one gets shot.

    Jason wins!

  16. It’s too easy to see both sides here. On the first side, I’m thankful things moved slowly while I was still learning all of this, and I’m glad we’re not rushing too far ahead without the assurance everything will work as it’s supposed to. I also think it’s great that we have such flexible backward compatibility for all of those whose idea of web standards has something to do with a spider’s talent for symmetry.

    On the other hand, I can agree that in my own work it would be so much nicer to be able to make use of things like CSS3. I’m excited to see browsers adopt some of these things because I know my life would be easier. All the same, I know my life would be easier if I were not currently carrying two children in my belly. It would be SO much better to have only one, or one very small one that doesn’t stretch out its legs into all of my organs day and night. But… to get the reward of the miracle of twins I know I have to take this discomfort for a time. Equally so, I’m willing to wait for standards to move, even if it’s glacial.

  17. Jeffrey,

    Your point that existing web standards still work is crucial: I think sometimes we forget just how successful the web standards movement has been. It’s easy to forget how recently Mozilla seemed like a sandal-wearing geek side project, and IE6 looked like the last word in consumer web browsers.

    Back then it seemed quite plausible that a browser vendor might try to “own” the web by inventing proprietary markup languages that would only work in their browser… but now? Surely the only sane business model is interoperability?

    I think the success of what we call web standards, as opposed to the other recommendations that the W3C works on, has made life more awkward for the W3C itself… the “bunch of academics funded by big IT companies” model doesn’t necessarily fit the modern web, especially when we regard some of what they come up with as useless waffle (e.g. the Semantic Web.)

    The fact that browser makers (WHATWG) or web designers (WCAG samurai) are willing to carry on outside the W3C is sure to cause some discomfort. There may not be a crisis, but it’s unavoidable that some people are going to get upset…

  18. Maybe the problem lies not with web standards, but with the web standards movement. I’m getting the impression that the movement is going to see a lot of change in the next two years or so, and that old certainties about how the movement works are going to disappear.

    Don’t ask me exactly what these changes will be; I don’t know. Nonetheless, I feel that such a fear of change may be one of the causes of the current nervousness.

  19. You know, I think if people just got the things that they’ve been coming up with elaborate fixes for for years – rounded corners, opacity, multiple background images, multiple columns – the rest could wait a while. And, to their credit, the W3C are working on this.

    What the W3C have learned recently is that it’s not enough to be working; you have to be seen to be working. They’ve started blogging and interacting much more, which is great.

  20. You know, I think if people just got the things that they’ve been coming up with elaborate fixes for for years – rounded corners, opacity, multiple background images, multiple columns – the rest could wait a while.

    As a designer, I want all of that stuff and I’ll celebrate the day it arrives. But let’s not forget that CSS isn’t the only “web standard” out there. The real big issue at hand is the markup one. Throwing designers a few clever effects as bones would be welcome, but it certainly won’t take away the pressure people are putting on the W3.

  21. I’m Lost

    I am just starting my venture into Web Standards and have recently finished a couple of sites in doing so. I have invested in some books to follow and decided, guided by the books, that I should be learning XHTML 1.0 Strict. I have ensured in each of my sites that they are all 1.0 Strict. As for CSS, as far as I am aware, there isn’t a way of declaring which version you are using and upon validating it, I am not even given which version I am using so I haven’t a clue.

    Now with this new version…I am completely lost as to what version I should be writing my pages in and whether or not I have wasted my time learning 1.0 Strict. Is this still the version I should be using? And as for CSS, I am guessing that the version is chosen depending on what properties I use? Should I continue with my stylesheets as normal? Do I need to forget about XHTML 1.0 Strict and move on already??


  22. “…and I feel like there hasn’t been a single new, interesting thing happen on that front since I first read Designing With Web Standards.” – Jeff Croft

    “I loves me some glacial pace.” – Jeffery Zeldman, Author of Designing With Web Standards

    Conflict of interest? ;)

  23. There really is only *one* version of HTML 5 right now. Ian Hickson is the editor of the WHATWG and W3C HTML WG specifications… he’s pledged to keep them in-sync. (Dave Hyatt is also an HTML 5 spec editor for the W3C and though Dave and Ian don’t share the exact same opinions on various meta-issues… I do believe Dave and Ian agree on the spirit of HTML 5. Dave’s also a member of WHATWG.) To be fair Ian has mentioned that WHATWG’s HTML 5 may be a superset of the W3C version at some point in time. There are lots of misconceptions about HTML 5… it would be nice if those of us in WHATWG & W3C could work out a bit of a PR campaign to get the facts out there.

    Moving on to a higher level issue. There is a core group of HTML folks who strongly believe in specifications that are in the spirit of XHTML 2 on the other side are the folks who believe that the current web markup language (not-quite-HTML-4-but-hey-close-enough-0.1) needs to be documented. Neither side seems willing to compromise but when the debates kick-in the “breaking compatibility” camp has a tough time demonstrating use cases with effective data behind them. The HTML 5 camp is almost always able to point out gobs and gobs of existing HTML markup that … I think to most objective outsiders presents a solid case. (One area where they haven’t won over the un-entrenched is the `canvas` element… the existing use cases are too fractured to paint a coherent picture at this time.)

    From a practical standpoint … let’s take look at one angle that I’m familiar with. In the current computer science world massive amounts of data mining efforts are underway that use web data to train their systems. It would be more helpful to know what to do with the very problematic `object` element and how to gracefully handle HTML parser errors to create a consistent DOM tree then to have the improvements in XForms. Someday I’d like to see XForms put into place… but right now we need to untangle the mess left over from the browser wars.

  24. Disclaimer: I believe in an XML world. I believe in a world where the data format back-end is compatible with the document format front-end.

    What I see preventing us from achieving this, as far as I can tell, is Microsoft. Microsoft seems to have a glacial pace in terms of browser development.

    CSS: Why can’t we yet use all of CSS 2.1? Because MS IE 6 doesn’t support them, and a large percentage of the global audience still uses this version of that browser.

    XHTML: Why can’t we use XHTML correctly with the correct MIME type? Because MS IE 6 AND 7 doesn’t yet support it.

    Since we don’t h ave enough support for the current specs as they stand, what difference does the time taken by the W3C matter?

    Imagine a world where IE 7 got released in 2003 and IE 8 in 2005, and IE 9 is just out or just around the corner. Imagine that they support application/xhtml + xml MIME type. Imagine full CORRECT support for CSS 1, 2.1 and elements of CSS 3. (I need a good lie down now!)

    I would then better relate to the discontent over the time the W3C takes. But would we be discontent? Or, would we all be spending time learning CSS3?

  25. For what it’s worth, I stopped caring and let the movement do with it as it will. This is somewhat of the reason I forget to vote when election time comes… seems like my one vote doesn’t make a difference. But yea, I know, it does.

    The current standards are actually sit quite well with me. It forces myself to get a bit more creative :)

  26. Great rant, both rhetorically and factually.

    Plus, Damn you to hell Zeldman!, it’s very well written.

    Sorry I don’t have more to add, but this is a case where just complimenting the author seems worth the effort to, um, just compliment the author.

  27. I know my life would be easier if I were not currently carrying two children in my belly.

    Congratulations, Natalie! When’s the due date?

    (Back on topic)

    Aside from all the bickering about the joke that is (X)HTML 5, I see two real causes for concern with regard to the current standards situation. Language development and browser support/implementation. Which, when you think about it, actually go hand in hand. Languages help set the standard (anyone can draft a document and call it a standard, but if you get enough people to use it, it will likely become the standard (at least somewhere anyway).

    The W3C has developed languages for the Web that designers want to use today, however, the glacially slow pace that the Consortium works has given browser developers little reason to implement those technologies (it took how long for CSS 2.1 to reach candidate recommendation status?). Meanwhile you have browser developers trying to fill the gap by introducing their own proprietary standards (you can do what you want, as long as you do it my way), which just will get us back to the wild times of the mid-to-late 90s. I was in high school at the time, and I remember my school library having both Netscape and Internet Explorer installed on its computers because of how fragmented the Web had become. But I’ll touch upon that later.

    Not only that, but some of these same developers are also taking forever to implement the current standards in their products – and I’m not just talking about Microsoft either. The Mozilla Corporation/Foundation does share some of the blame for this as well (for example, how Gecko still doesn’t support colgroups – to the best of my knowledge anyway).

    So you have vendors implementing proprietary technologies at the expense of current technologies which currently exist and do the job just as well, and then you have these promising technologies (like CSS 3 for example) that are being developed, but at such a slow pace that we’ll all probably have retired by the time they become recommendations, which means it’ll just take that much longer for the vendors to implement them in the browsers that people use on a daily basis to really matter because they’re too busy pushing their latest flavor of the month proprietary “solution” when in fact their lack of adherence to the standards (and their resistance to implementing them completely) is the real root of (half of) the problem.

    The end result will probably be a return to the “Wild Wild Web” days of the mid-to-late 90s, but with properietary plugins and band-aids replacing open standards which sacrifices the accessibility and ease of use of the Web sites we make today. I guess that we’ll have to get used to “Best Viewed Using Silverlight and Internet Explorer 7 at 1024×768″ instead of giving people the choice they rightfully deserve of which software to use if everything does come falling apart.

    The solution? We all as a community need to get off our duffs and educate people. I don’t mean sitting at conferences stuffing our faces with free food talking to thin air. I mean getting out there and telling people what needs to be said. Teaching in the field. I do this already, where I not only mentor others at SitePoint, but also help educate people on other Web design/development sites/forums such as Digital Point, IWDN and WebDeveloper.com – we need to get out and reach the average designer/developer, and show them that “Web standards” is not some elitist country club, but truely a better way to make Web sites.

    We need to get our Web design/development friends, drag them to a bar or restaraunt and just TALK standards – no need for a fancy-schmancy conference. Just talk about how we make Web sites the same way we talk about our favorite baseball teams (Go Cubs!) or football teams (Bear Down!). We need to light the fires in their bellys and make them want to talk to their co-workers about this, and learn how to use standards themselves. And then we all as an industry need to walk straight up to our bosses and tell them where to shove their bad code and hair-brained ideas so we cna start making Web sites for people, not marketing departments.
    Get enough people doing this, and the W3C and browser developers just might take notice. Of course, it’s just an idea. We’ve had wilder ones pop up before (looks at Jeff and remembers the CNN interview – was that CNN? – where he defended the goals of the standards movement back in 98-99 while everyone else was content to make six different versions of the exact same Web site just so they can make six times as much money)… hey don’t look at me like that, stranger things have happened you know.

  28. For what it’s worth, I stopped caring…

    I also stopped caring about standards, per se, a couple years ago. Instead, I started caring about tools that help me get my job done in the most effective, efficient, and elegant way possible. Often times, web standards are those tools — but not always.

    And dammit, if some tool helps me get my job done in a way that serves my clients, I’m sure as hell not going to avoid it because it wasn’t sactioned by some committee of people made up of consultants, research lab workers, software vendors, and “other businesses,” at a much higher percentage than “Internet & Web Services,” “Content Provider,” “Web users,” and “Media/Entertainment”. Seriously, this is 2007 people. Where is the representation from major internet companies and design and development studios I respect? Where is “web designer” and “web developer” on the list? Can someone show me so much as a single website a person of influence at the W3 has created that will impress me? I can’t find a single name I recognize as a top notch designer or developer on their team roster. Why in God’s name should these people be telling me how to do my job? I’m sure they’re all very smart, and probably great people — but what do they really know about being a professional web designer or developer today?

    It’s easy for people who sit on high and preach about the web to say “such and such is the right way” to do a particular thing, but as someone who actually works in the trenches, I’d much prefer to investigate and try all the options and decide for myself what feels right. Use standards where they help you get your job done (which is a lot of places). Don’t where they don’t. It’s really that simple.

  29. I’m not sure when a “problem” becomes a “crisis,” but I think it’s ridiculous to say that it’s a good thing for web standards to “move at a glacial page.” Fine – move slowly and carefully, but I’d like to be able to use “column” instead of “float” before the next Ice Age.

  30. The glacial pace is the crisis for me. The standards are nearing ten years of age, and will only become harder to promote against Flash and Silverlight which will no doubt make it easy to implement rounded corners, columns, vertical centering and the like.

  31. You know what? There is no crisis. There’s just soaps. And lotsa drama. And hand-wringing. Sometimes I have to walk away and stop reading public-html to avoid puking in disguist upon watching (reading that is) how a few loud mouths and domintators derail any attempts to bring logic into the fold. Behold, The Passions of Public-HTML.

  32. I’m just glad someone called BS on that post of Molly’s. What you’ve written here is very much the same sort of stuff I thought when I read what she wrote the other day.

  33. Strangely, much of Jeff’s first comment to this post are almost identical to what I would have typed as a response! (Jeff: Get out of my head man!!!)

    I don’t want to repeat what Jeff has already written, but in brief summary:

    I also don’t think there is a ‘crisis’ as such (where ‘crisis’ is maybe too much of a strong word for the situation as it is)
    I’ve been using Web Standards since January 2004 – and I agree with Jeff’s remarks (and your own) that the W3C and new, potentially exciting markup languages not being released as quickly as hoped for (at that ‘glacial’ pace) make this very, very frustrating.
    The apparent lack of unity and organisation too – with the muddled development of numerous versions (of the markup languages) by separate groups isn’t helping matters…and I think that’s causing a lot of angst and grief.

    Something that is key to Molly’s recent articles is also a sense of great disappointment that WaSP (and maybe similar online focal centers for the Web Standards Community) have not taken more action on these matters yet…it’s this inactivity that is causing some annoyance.

    Jason: >>”Sorta like The Departed, but, you know, for geeks.” – Brilliant, one of the best comments I’ve seen anywhere for quite awhile Jason! hehe

    Joe: >>”But it’s summer. Summer doesn’t last long up here.” – Good to enjoy those daylight hours while you can right? :)

  34. I think a lot of the frustration web builders feel could be alleviated if the standards groups worked on HTML 4.02. That is, give up the need to make a splash by releasing a big point release, and make incremental improvements. Make a few of the highest priority changes per minor release. That way, the browser makers could keep up, and the web would continue to improve, rather than stagnating on 6 year old specs.

    BTW, Zeldman… really, update your email validation routine to take TLDs longer than 3 characters!

  35. Thanks for writing this. It was sorely needed.

    I know a lot of us in the community feel like there’s been an awful lot of sound and fury lately, but signifying what? We don’t know. Concise, lucid explanations of what’s going on are shockingly hard to come by. Cogent arguments for or against particular positions even more so.

    What’s needed now is clarion knowledge, trumpeted as far and wide as possible.

  36. Slow is still moving. Working is not broke. And disagreement can always be reconciled. However, Drama (with a capital D) should always be saved for your Momma.

    My daily work is wonderful. Despite what new standards may bring, I will have to deal with IE 6 for at least the next 3 years. If there was a crisis, it’s fixing IE’s problems – and that would require a time machine (and a tack hammer) to fix.

    The state of our nation is a crisis, not (X)HTML. The state of web standards is brewing and will produce a fruitful outcome. Nothing worth waiting for comes swiftly or without cost.

  37. Jeff (for whom I read your blog and think you do great work). My point was merely that I think we should take a levelheaded look at the problems instead of dramatizing the situation.

    In other words, I’m far more worried about the state of the world, than I am about web standards.

    I think there is lots of work to be done and I do feel the pace is somewhat slow. But the last word I would use is crisis. That remark was mostly not in response to web standards, but to the responses from Jeffrey and Molly’s blog posts.

    I would hope that people smart enough to talk about any technologies (whatever they may be) would be smart enough to come together with harmonizing conclusions and that the words “war” and “crisis” would never be caught in the same sentence as web standards.

    My take is basically, communicate, communicate, communicate, talk, talk, talk. Most importantly, be civil and open minded, and let’s continue on the path to a greater web.

  38. Everybody seems to forget the path we followed that lead us to the current state of the web. Nothing has been planned, steered and coordinated; it was a chaotic process of browser makers trying to outdo each other.

    A new browser was released every 2 days with at least 70 new incompatible features, but it did move us forward! Using new features wasn’t much of a problem since the web wasn’t really used yet for business.

    And now the web has grown up and the exciting times are over. Serious money is made from the web and the old ‘don’t fix when it ain’t broken’ rule is the word of the day, even when there is a clear business case for improvement (i mean, 20 ways to make even length columns in CSS.. c’mmon!) So many (financial) interest is there that agreement on new standards will just never happen, despite the good intention of the people in working groups. Glacial pace? More like melting ice.

    If we want progress it should be done the same way again: chaotic, organic and collect the fallout after a couple of years. Where it should come from? No idea, but someone at Mozilla or WebKit or Opera must have itching fingers; just code it and see what happens.

  39. My point was merely that I think we should take a levelheaded look at the problems instead of dramatizing the situation.

    I understand and agree with that completely. Like I said in my first comment, I don’t think there’s really crisis here, either — and I’ve certainly been no fan of some of the drama that’s unfolded over the past couple of week.

    But, I do think there are some issues at hand, and I do think it’s important we deal with them. I have nothing but respect for Zeldman, but I disagree with him: moving at a glacial pace is not okay with me. Something needs to change. If something doesn’t change, Flash will take over our world. I personally don’t fear that outcome too much, but others certainly do.

    So, yes — let’s not over-dramatize the situation, but let’s also not pretend like there’s no problem at hand. There is.

  40. The crisis is that the people behind HTML 5 are too frightened to let their baby be open source. I mean, have you tried to join their mailing lists? You get made fun of for asking them to reason why they want HTML5 to be the way they want it, and they fail to give any good reasons, other that, it’s they way they have vested interests in.

    There is no motivation to produce a better standard for all, in fact the exact opposite, they are choosing not to fix HTML, but allow everyone to keep on writing the crud that is 90% of the web just now, but with even more bloated and confused feature sets.

    it is a cross between a poorly implemented browser vendor discussion (which at the first sign of trouble to their browser shout “We’re not doing that”) and personal vendettas and agendas.

    If those guys grew up, we might get a better web, to be honest, I can’t see it ever happening.

  41. Good article. But it seems you got the term ‘affordances’ backwards, you can not add affordances to something, affordances are what happens in use.

  42. So, yes — let’s not over-dramatize the situation, but let’s also not pretend like there’s no problem at hand. There is.

    Well said. Crisis is the wrong word, and a word I had not seen applied to web standards until Zeldman wrote this post.

    But there are definitely troubling signs that people are right to bring to light.

  43. @adriand:

    What are those troubling signs? Where are the clear, calm articles (or even well-organized blog posts) citing specific issues in particular specifications and explaining why they are problematic?

    They don’t even have to be that calm. Quiet anger is okay. The Joe Clark article, “To Hell With WCAG 2,” was not emotionless, but it went into detail citing components of a particular specification and explaining what was wrong with them in the author’s opinion. It presented a problem, built an argument, and even proposed a solution.

    Gian Sampson-Wild’s Testability Costs Too Much likewise found fault with a particular specification (the same one Joe had trouble with) on clearly explained grounds.

    Both authors are experts who were involved in the development of the spec. Both became uncomfortable with the direction in which the committee was moving. Both authors (working separately, of course) tried to make their cases internally at the W3C but were unable to do so. Both then took their cases to the web design and development community by writing their respective articles.

    Their articles did not lack passion, but they harnessed that passion in the service of persuasion.

    Just as we did when we started The Web Standards Project. We were plenty angry and plenty worried, but we channeled our concerns into a coherent call to arms.

    The recent breast-beating and garment-ripping disturbs me because it assumes we all know what “the problems” are instead of telling us what they are and why they matter. It bothers me because it is self-indulgent, a waste of energy that could be put into doing something positive.

    And it bothers me because its exaggerated quality is incommensurate with the subject matter. As Noel Jackson said, there is plenty going on in the world that deserves our deepest worry and concern — stuff that could make a stone weep. Activities in an HTML committee do not merit angst. Where there are problems, let us have clarity.

  44. I actually agree with Jason Santa Maria. “The Departed”-style intrusion to the browser developers companies could be a good solution ;) Not a fast one though..

  45. Part of the problem here is that most of the so-called leaders in web standards don’t actually do any real web work. Rather, they blog, and speak, and generally attempt to influence the state of the the web. They probably once did do real web work, and using that experience they were able to identify problems and enact the change we called the standards movement. But they’re now, quite frankly, out of touch with the way business gets done on the web. I’m not going to name names, because some of them are people I consider to be friends. But they know who they are, and you probably do, too. If their website doesn’t include a portfolio that’s been updated since 2002, I have a hard time taking them seriously as leaders in this field anymore.

    Aw, crap, I don’t even have a portfolio to start with, so I’m completely screwed.

  46. I think there’s no crisis, too.

    More and more people have listened about Web Standards and it’s such a great thing! The concepts about our work have been shared and I think that W3C’s “glacial pace” is a good thing if we look to the point that there’s more time to browsers follow these standards and to we make some improvements to the Standards, like using Microformats, adding more semantic information to our code. I want to see it grow up!

    So, how there’s a crisis in Web Standards? I don’t know… I agree that our community needs more improvements, but we are growing!

  47. I’m glad someone else is scratching their head about Molly’s post. I haven’t seen any real evidence of these problems, but if they truly exist, I’d like to.

    And no, I don’t consider Flash/Flex/AIR to be a “problem” or “threat”. Though maybe I’m saying that in the wrong place… ;)

  48. There is better browser support for our standards — but I’ve still got basically the same tools to work with, as a designer an a developer, that I had five years ago. That does bother me. – Jeff Croft

    I can understand the desire for better tools to do better work, but on the other hand, isn’t there some upside to a world where we get to use the same tools long enough to become craftsmen/craftswomen with them rather than hacks with fancy hammers?

    I don’t mean that to sound argumentative (I’m an admirer of your work, Jeff Croft), I just mean to point out that stability of tools is not all bad (consider the carpenter who uses the same traditional tools everyday for 30 years – and how much better his work will be as the years go by).

    I recognize that we’re a little different from carpenters because there are still some things that our tools just will not allow us to do, no matter how skilled we might become. That is frustrating for all of us.

    On the other hand, look how much we can do. I feel like I have a pretty stable set of tools right now that allows me to publish text, images, audio, and video to a fairly significant percentage of the known world fairly rapidly. Breaking down that statement a bit, video and audio are in a way better place than they were 5 years ago – and as more and more people go to IE7, putting all this stuff together becomes far less frustrating than it was 5 years ago.

    I think a lot of the innovation we are waiting on now is for stuff that’s a little more esoteric and not altogether vital to getting work done. To me, that’s a healthy place for innovation to be…pushing the edges, making things easier, more efficient, etc. It wasn’t that long ago that we needed some serious innovation just to make the freaking site work for more than half our users. That’s no fun.

    I welcome new tools, but I don’t feel like I’m totally screwed without them. And the tools I have now are good enough that if the next generation doesn’t truly make my job easier, I might just stick with the old ones.

  49. @Eric: I hope you don’t think that comment is worthy of a response form me.

    @SWW: I understand your point — and yes, there is something to be said for stability of tools. But when there are other tools for designers/developers (namely, Flash) that provide many, many feature we can’t currently get with web standards (as well as some downsides, to be sure), it’s difficult to accept.

    I’m sure there was a point in carpentry when someone said, “Why do we need power tools? Aren’t our tools good enough?” I realize it’s not a perfect analogy, but the point is that complacency gets us nowhere. There is competition out there. Flash has been gaining a ton of stream since the version 8 release (look outside the web standards bubble, which, frankly, is still a small subset of web designers). Even within our community, some of our favorites sites have looked to Flash (YouTube, Flickr, Virb, etc. — and pretty much any site that has video on it) because they couldn’t get their jobs done (at least in a reasonable manner) with web standards.

    I guess it’s just hard for me to say, “yes, our web standards are good enough,” where there’s another tool on my computer that offers so much more in certain areas.

  50. As other has said before the crisis is the speed of change. The danger isn’t that standards will fall apart, it’s that (X)HTML will just become a container for Flash/Flex/Silverlight/whatever as what’s possible inside those systems continues to outstrip what can be done with HTML and CSS by a larger and larger margin.

    Then by market force we’ll all be stuck using those proprietary, difficult to work with formats with their locked down expensive development environments and poor accessibility. If that happens we all lose.

  51. Eric: I’ll send you an e-mail (which, if history is any indication, you won’t respond to). I’m tired of you airing our whatever dirty laundry you have with me in public. Let’s grow up and take it private, okay?

  52. Phil, I’ve been saying the same thing (about the Cubs) the past week or so. But that’s another topic for another blog on another day.

    @Eric – Man, I just love your sense of humor. It was one of the few things that kept me interested in CSS back when I was learning it in 2003. If we ever meet, your meal’s on me.

  53. I’m thinking out loud here but personally, I’m more worried about fragmentation between emerging standards bodies than the implementation of new W3C standards.

    If you have multiple bodies saying ‘build your website our way and stick our badge on your website’. It seems to me to be a step backwards which allows developers to choose the standard that best fits their personal development style over providing the best user experience.

    I driven to assume (maybe wrongly so) that it will be the user whom will bare real cost. For example: if assistive technology makers (who seem to have enough problems implementing applications that cater for existing W3C standards) have to cater for multiple standard bodies with similar but different implementations. I presume that the first generation assistive software will have at least some issues if the developers have not clearly defined what technology to apply (which to be fair, a lot of people still get wrong now).

  54. Zeldman writes:

    (Note the capital “T” in “The”—people who believe in standards should also believe in and follow style guides.)

    What style guide? The most standard style guide for U.S. English is the Chicago Manual of Style, and it states: “A the preceding a name, even when part of the official title, is lowercased in running text.” I’m quoting from sections 8.73 and 8.75 in the 15th edition, “Institutions and Companies” and “Associations and Conferences,” but this principle applies elsewhere as well; for example, one should write “…in the New York Times,” not “…in The New York Times” (section 8.180). The only exception is for something like capitalizing “The” in a copyright notice (see the copyright page of the Chicago Manual itself, or note 12 on page 258 of the 14th edition–I don’t recall whether they discuss it in the 15th edition).

  55. @adriand:

    What are those troubling signs? Where are the clear, calm articles (or even well-organized blog posts) citing specific issues in particular specifications and explaining why they are problematic?

    The evidence is there, if one aims to find it. Even on this very web site.

    The troubling sign for me is that the process to update the specifications has taken too long. I don’t have a beef with the current specifications — they have proven to serve us well in comparison to the tables/tag soup/spacer-gif mess, but I think most people agree that the specifications could be improved to serve us better. At the moment it is the standards that are holding me back. I’m talking about having to create and test workarounds for rounded corners, columns, linking on block level elements, multiple background images, date inputs, and so on. HTML 5 looks good to me but CSS 3 seems to have stalled.

    I don’t know why the standards move at a glacial pace and I certainly don’t have the answer to improve it. I keep myself at distance from the process, but I think that was the concern of Molly’s post — that the very people who work on the web every day are not participating and working to solve the problems that are faced. But that’s the trouble — I don’t see how my participation is going to get a new set of standards finalised any sooner.

  56. I think moving at a glacial place is a good thing for the current state of the industry. Until all the browser developers are on the same page with their implementation of the current standards, we would just be chasing our tails. New standards would emerge, we would start to use them, and then get frutrated because they would not work in all browers. Ugly hacks would be used, and life would be the same as we know it today (a lot better than it was, but not quite perfect). So let’s wine and dine the browser developers and get them all sleeping in the same bed.

  57. Until all the browser developers are on the same page with their implementation of the current standards…

    If I thought there was any chance in hell there would come a time when all browsers had identical implementations of current standards, I would probably agree. Since I don’t, I don’t.

  58. I’m pretty sure that the latest hoopla and breast-beating was just a lot of sheep responding to some dramatic statements made by a few people in the standards community with a lot of authority. It’s really sad that the standards community is full of so many sheeple right now; people who don’t really know what’s going on with standards development right now, people who just read blogs and regurgitate whatever they read, people who think that if someone with authority says it, it’s automatically true. If there is any crisis with web standards right now, it’s that we have too many sheep. People need to start thinking for themselves.

  59. I have yet to see any hard evidence on the dire short comings of XHTML etc. Alot of the current argument stems from the lack of support for current technologies – introducing new technologies does not guarantee vendor-wide adoption. Another troubling thing about HTML 5 is that backwards compatibility with older versions is going to be next to impossible.
    Why do we need another HTML spec when all it is going to do is increase the amount of time I have to spend getting its useful little features implemented in every browser.

  60. If their website doesn’t include a portfolio that’s been updated since 2002, I have a hard time taking them seriously as leaders in this field anymore.

    I see the point beneath the hyperbole, but please remember that many of us don’t necessarily see the need to parade the names of people we work for. Particularly those of us in the accessibility side of things, whose customers might have commercial sensitivities about hiring people to quietly fix their broken accessibility after a customer complaint.

    Others I know aren’t able, at work, to completely implement standards because of broken CMSs etc, and don’t want to embarrass their employers if they’re called to account for not practising (9-5, in an environment they don’t control) what they preach (as an outside interest).

    I’m in both categories, which is why you dont see a portfolio at all on my site.

  61. @err: Eric and I had a misunderstanding. We’ve cleared it up via e-mail, and all is now well. I definitely apologize for my part in it. I think it’s important that we all be able to disagree peacefully and not start making things personal. Even while we have different approaches, we all still have a single goal in mind: making the web a better place. We should keep in mind that, almost certainly, everyone reading this blog has a lot more in common than we do disagreements.

  62. @Bruce: Point well taken. To be clear, though, my portfolio comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek and wasn’t really the point I was trying to get across. Rather, I was noting that many of the leaders creating the specs we are supposed to be adopting aren’t actually doing real web work. Or, if they are, I don’t know about it.

    Frankly, I have a bit of a hard time trusting university researchers and computer science folks to create useful tools for working designers. I would be a lot more likely to take interest in the W3 as an organization if they had some representation of real, working designers and developers from companies I respect. I’d like to think that I have a pretty good handle on who the great web designers and web designer companies in the world are — and I can’t find them anywhere on the W3’s team roster. Why not?

    I’m not necessarily blaming the W3 — it may not be their fault. God knows no one at the agency I work for has time to be a W3 member. Maybe real working designers and developers just aren’t lining up to take part. But the fact remains: I feel like, as someone who works in the trenches of web design 8+ hours per day every day, I have a much better handle on what sort of tools would help me get my job done than any W3 team member probably does.

    Many years ago, I did some web work for a drywall finishing standards organization (not the sexiest of clients, I know). Guess who their board members were? Mostly representatives of paint companies. Why? Because that’s who was going to make use of the standards and tools they created.

    I just read the bios of all 66 W3 team members and didn’t find one person who seemed to have web design experience (one person worked as a “web developer” prior to join the W3, but that was the closest I found), and no one is apparently a working web designer or developer today.

    I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to me.

  63. I think one of the biggest things to improve the web’s situation is new standards. The reason why the browsers can’t implement stuff is because the old standards aren’t written in ways they can. Everything in Gecko is done through the DOM. If your fancy-shmancy method for doing columns ignores the DOM, how do you expect it to be implemented?

  64. @Jeff Croft: But being a web designer does not necessarily qualify for being a specification editor. Knowing it better, but not having enough time to be really involved, cannot make it better. The persons who are actually doing the job are getting paid for it. No sane volunteer person will follow the process in-depth, reading every logged IRC comment and blog entry and mailing list post for the next decade(s). That’s why I was asking for solid journalism in my comment on Molly’s before I was told to bark up another blog. Like in every long term process, journalism would be a way to let the interested “sheeps” like me participate by staying informed. On that topic, there is no journalism (blogging has replaced it); a dangerous situation where the term “experts” is getting a negative connotation, and slowly the term “leaders” becomes socially acceptable.
    Who are the dramatis personae, the coalitions, what are their intentions?

  65. The “crisis” is the same one it’s always been: Browser support. A final specification does not an implementation make.

    The real issue with the current hooha is simple. Someone said there was a “crisis”, someone else said “What crisis?” and now everyone with access to a keyboard is using that question as a springboard to vent their own personal beef with the current state of web design and development. All of the gripes aired in this thread are valid and worthy of discussion, but it’s now turned into a dick-measuring contest to see which gripe gets to win the monniker of “Official 2007 web crisis”.

    The Hostile Monkey thinks that this is pathetic.



    Can we get back to doing something useful? You know, like asking Microsoft, Apple, Mozilla, Opera etc. to implement the already-existing standards more fully?


  66. You will also notice that the Hostile Monkey is not above the dick- measuring (see opening statement above).

    Accusations of posessing an acutely developed sense of irony are warmly welcomed.

  67. Good post – I thought I felt someone rummaging around in my thoughts and here’s the evidence. Seriously though, HTML 5 has admirable goals but, with the exception of agreeing how to render badly coded edge cases consistently across browsers (which is a moot point with XHTML anyway), the rest of the spec really should just be published under a separate namespace. Surely Hickson, Hyatt et al can cope with xmlns:whatwg=”…”. Certainly, it wouldn’t affect take up as I don’t see Microsoft picking it up any time soon, W3C endorsed or not – the other 10-25% market share is largely singing from the same hymn sheet anyway!

  68. @Jeff: Serious question.

    What exactly is your job over at Blue Flavor? Would it include posting on various blogs all day with paragraph after paragraph of opinions that are aggressive, arrogant, and defensive?

    Because seriously, if that is *not* your job over there, then the fact that every single place I go on the web to read something, has your comments, more often than not, the first comment, strewn all over it. All of them are done, *all* day long, from sun up, to sun down. To me, as someone who manages a team, that would mean your not being most effective for client/billable work, since writing copious amounts of text on various blogs all day long takes a good amount of time.

    Now, forgive me if your title at your job is “Chief Internet Blog Commentator”, but I wont take it all back. Because frankly, I’m sick of getting my blood pressure rolling all day long while trying to keep up with our field.

    Thanks for listening.

  69. Why is this crisis different from all of the previous ones? Will this one last longer than 30-days? which seems to be the expiration date for these things in the world wide web. I’ve managed to practice and advocate web standards through all previous crises; I don’t feel different.

    And, I completely agree that the glacial pace of the W3C has advantages. HTML5 may take 10 years before being formally issued. By that time – I would hope – web standards will have become commonplace since nothing new will have been issued by the W3C. Maybe, some CSS3 modules.

    When do you suppose the web-standards-sky-is-falling will cease falling?

  70. I think it’s when I see things like this that my head starts to explode (implode?):

    “Unlike XHTML 2.0, XHTML5 is compatible with XHTML 1.x”

    What I want to know is when XHTML 2.0 gets as far as XHTML 5.0 will it be compatible with XHTML5?

  71. But being a web designer does not necessarily qualify for being a specification editor.

    That’s absolutely true. And I would definitely not suggest that working web designers and developers are the only people that belong on such a team — but it does seem like the respresentation is sorely lacking, at this point.

    What exactly is your job over at Blue Flavor?

    My title is designer, and I spend most of my day doing design work for clients. But, my job description most definitely does include being a part of the community, including participating in the blogosphere.

    Beyond that, you can feel free to take up your concerns with me and my comments in private: I’m [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you. I appericiate your interest in my work ethic and my responsibilities at Blue Flavor, but there’s no point in soiling a public discussion with a personal matter.

  72. Seems to me that in situations where everyone knows everything better than everyone else, there’s a mighty lot of pointless bickering. God forbid we can actually learn from each other. The only item of real value on this page is the post itself. Once again, the 80/20 rule applies.

    Let’s stop arguing and go make websites.

  73. I just read the bios of all 66 W3 team members and didn’t find one person who seemed to have web design experience (one person worked as a “web developer” prior to join the W3, but that was the closest I found), and no one is apparently a working web designer or developer today.

    I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to me.

    Jeff: Its because designers don’t write DTD’s, RFC’s, SGML, etc.. Sorry, you have no argument beyond “It would be nice if some people from the designer pool could have some influence on the technical aspects of the spec”.


  74. Sorry, you have no argument beyond “It would be nice if some people from the designer pool could have some influence on the technical aspects of the spec”.

    That’s exactly my argument. I’m not suggesting designers should write the specs. I’m only suggesting that designer and developers should have some representation on the team.

  75. 23. Dave McNally said on August 15th, 2007 at 7:45 pm:

    I’m Lost

    I am just starting my venture into Web Standards and have recently finished a couple of sites in doing so. I have invested in some books to follow and decided, guided by the books, that I should be learning XHTML 1.0 Strict. I have ensured in each of my sites that they are all 1.0 Strict. As for CSS, as far as I am aware, there isn’t a way of declaring which version you are using and upon validating it, I am not even given which version I am using so I haven’t a clue.

    Now with this new version…I am completely lost as to what version I should be writing my pages in and whether or not I have wasted my time learning 1.0 Strict. Is this still the version I should be using? And as for CSS, I am guessing that the version is chosen depending on what properties I use? Should I continue with my stylesheets as normal? Do I need to forget about XHTML 1.0 Strict and move on already??


    This is the one post within 90 plus that has hit the nail on the head. The problems are not represented within the post itself. It was the response(s) to the post, as in Zero responses, that have stated a multitude of problems and the inference that can be drawn from the lack of response to it.


    The poster was obviously not a member or at best not a recognized member. If he had been, his questions would have been answered.


    If people had not been so entirely focused upon their own interests and expressing their own opinions, a response to the poster would have been made. Instead, participants remained focused upon issues they considered of importance.


    A possible presumption to those who read it and ignored it is that the poster is not of significant importance to merit thought or a response. The readers believe the amount of work they place into their objectives will define and create value for everyone else.


    If the poster had presented his questions face to face, a response would have been made and his questions, in all probability, answered. No blogs, no e-Mail lists, no IRC — face to face.


    Without an answer or solution, the poster may decide to ignore this particular blog and find his own way.


    Take this a few steps further and replace the poster with the Web and its markets served. Replace the participants of this blog with members of the various Working Groups. Replace the blog’s owner with the W3C. [Oh, boy. Yeah, Zeldman, you get to play the W3C. Bet your toboggan is bobbing, huh.] Consider that operations, structure, philosophies, views of the market, leadership, management, etc. do not change, what will happen? The Web and its markets will ignore all of you and find its own way?

    This may be the issue of which Holzchlag is trying to convey?


    By the way, who else is going to have the courtesy to answer Dave McNally?


    Do not worry about all of the other specifications and this bullshit. Stick with XHTML 1.0 Strict if that serves your customers. Study technique using CSS 2.1 to separate style from content. Study and learn accessibility.

    There are much greater minds than I who visit this blog. Hopefully, they will provide you with better advise than I. [And maybe, free books for ignoring you. Autographed ones, too.]

  76. I hear wankers!

    You people get your knickers in a twist about rounded corners?

    I do not get WTF is wrong with you. I’m happy that content and presentation can be separated with no loss to either. Uh, except rounded corners, she said, rolling her eyes.

    @Dave McNally: Use CSS2 with abandon. Just understand that you’re going to have to fudge here and there for your users who are using less-than-fabulous browsers.

  77. The problem is that the developers of agents would have to follow an only standard and not to invent its proprietary standards. Excellent Jeffrey! Nice post…

    W3c is really very slow. This would be caution in the development?

    The friend [ LXT ]

  78. @Dave McNally:

    There is no spec to “move on” to. If you are comfortable authoring your sites in XHTML 1.0 Strict, you can keep doing so for years to come.

    XHTML 1.0 Strict is the preferred flavor of most standardistas, although a minority prefers HTML 4.01 for technical reasons.

    At Happy Cog, we mostly prefer (and in DWWS, I recommend) XHTML 1.0 Transitional, because Transitional gives you fewer bumps when dealing with third-party content, as nearly all large sites must inevitably do.

    What you choose is up to you and depends on your skill level, work habits, and other factors too complex to discuss here. Sounds like XHTML 1.0 Strict is a good choice for you. Keep on truckin’.

    Jeff Croft:

    The W3C has at times worked with people who design, code, or direct websites for a living. Jeffrey Veen, Todd Fahrner, and David Siegel were consulted in the early days of CSS.

    But the specs have largely developed without representation from people who actually make websites, and that is a problem many of us have called to the W3C’s attention over the years.

    The W3C is trying to change this, but it doesn’t always work out, partly because the number of hours a person must commit to participate in a W3C committee grossly exceeds what any normally employed person can provide; and partly due to human screw-ups.

    Last year Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, invited me to participate in a key W3C working group. Unfortunately, he invited me on the last day the W3C was accepting new members to that group. To “qualify,” I would have had to fill out paperwork and muster recommendations from third parties. If I had had no work in hand, and if those third parties had also had no work in hand, I just might have been able to pull it off. Here on planet earth, I didn’t even have time to respond to Tim’s invitation in a proper manner.

    For a short while I wondered if the last-minute invitation was a dis, but high-level W3C sources informed it was all about disorganization and not at all about disrespect. Still, that kind of disorganization hardly provides an incentive or opportunity for busy designers or other web professionals to participate. And thus the problem continues.

    Who can participate under those conditions? People who are on someone else’s payroll and whose job description permits them to spend most of their time building and maintaining their expert status. Sometimes people who are on their own payroll make the sacrifice, but few of them can afford to keep going.

    Everyone agrees that the specifications would benefit from the input of real-world designers, developers, IAs, usability specialists, and so on; but nobody knows how to get more of us involved.

    Some people see splinter groups like WHATWG as a partial solution to the “crisis” of W3C inertia; others see such groups as fomenting a “crisis” of fragmentation. I don’t see the W3C’s inertia as a crisis; I can keep working with the specs they’ve already created. I don’t see WHATWG as a crisis; they’ll be able to get HTML moving faster, and they have buy-in from browser makers because they are browser makers. They’re coordinating with the W3C. What more could you want?

    No one has yet responded to the simple challenge I posed in my post: Explain, without hysteria, and with clarity and logic, where exactly the crisis lies, and why it is a crisis.

    The lack of a clear, articulate response from any of the people who are crying “crisis” suggests to me that there is no crisis. This post has been read (or at least looked at) by an obscene number of people, including, I suspect, many who consider themselves part of the web standards movement. Not one has articulated what would be easy to say if there were indeed a crisis.

  79. Thanks, Jeffrey! That’s a lot of good info on exactly what I was wondering about. Good to know.

    I still don’t believe there is a crisis. I just don’t like he glacial pace, as you do. It’s not a crisis at all, but I sure would like to see things moving a bit faster.

  80. Zeldman–

    I don’t believe there exists an immediate crisis, per se. Although, I do believe there is a very reasonable probability of one developing. I believe, also, that attempts to explain the current dynamics of the market of Internet Communication in terms of a crisis has deflected attention from underlying issues of what could precipitate such a thing. I believe that explaining or defining the problem in terms of specification is too narrow. However, that is what everyone has been asking for because that is the language that they understand. The underlying issues cannot be explained in technical terms. They do not reside in whether, for example, longdesc should be depreciated or not.

    You have referenced a lot of the problems — disorganization, participation, the politics, the processes.

    If Johnson & Johnson tried to develop products, particularly pharmaceuticals, via IRC and using freelancers, they would be out in the street. The market would simply not absorb the failure of J & J in an unsafe product that would result from the methodology and operation used to develop it.

    The explanations reside, too, in small indicators and trends, for example, iPhone only Web content using browser sniffing. The Adobe and Mozilla collaboration is another example. While each or both of these examples do not forbode a looming crisis, they both are indicators that the market is receptive to different methods of communication delivery.

    Prior examples are the development of authoring tools. Majority of the Web content that is not standards compliant was developed by these tools. The market was receptive to these tools because of its interest to create Web content. Technology responded. The market chose poorly, as is often initially the case when market confusion exists, and the results today are the issues of error handling and recovery for the vast majority of existing Web content. Attempts to redirect the markets are underway and have been. Redirection of a market once that market has made a choice is a very difficult and time consuming process.

    Argument can be presented that the browser wars could have been prevented if the invention of HTML had used some sort of licensing arrangement that required accountability, generally a financial cost. After all, it is the financial incentives that have affected change in a lot of browsers and the financial losses associated with each basis point drop in market share or in attempts to capture share of market.

    Security is a monumental problem. Even such things as Phish detection. The W3C, in my view, should have led the way in, at least, coordinating security efforts. The creation of a centralized repository of Phish databases should have been done. Instead, there is severe fragmentation in Phish databases that result in browser ‘A’ detection of a Phish attempt prior to browser ‘B’ ability, when all browsers could have simultaneous detection. Arguments could be presented that true transparency of URIs has merit. Again, as a result of lack of coordination, confusion exists in the market not only to the Phish problem but straight across the board in all issues of security within Internet Communication.

    These are prior examples of relatively small market confusions and fragmentation.

    Assuming the market is receptive to different methods of communication delivery and a coordinated effort to manage and guide it is not in place, what may happen? I firmly believe the indicators are there to the market’s receptiveness. Without effective management and guidance, technologies and methods will be introduced to capitalize on that receptiveness. In the process, confusion will develop, the market will make choices and massive fragmentation could very well occur.

    Again, what should be asked is “What is the market telling me?” and “Now, what am I going to do about it?” The problem will not and cannot be seen, viewed or solutions sought from a technical specification only viewpoint. A much broader view is needed.

    Have I done a well enough job in articulating these issues? Hell, no. But, Jeffrey, you need to help me in this, too, I feel. Step away some from the detailed view of design and specification and take a broader look. Would you maybe try that, please?

    Thank you.

  81. @Jeff Croft: Let me clarify. I don’t like the glacial pace, really. But I’ve made peace with it. I understand why it’s a slow process (although it probably doesn’t have to be as slow as it is).

    And I’m grateful for at least some of the slowness, since it gave us the time to (a.) persuade browser makers to take CSS, (X)HTML, ECMAScript and the DOM seriously and (b.) reach out to the design and development community, building interest in and acceptance of semantic HTML, separation of structure from behavior and style, etc.

    The standards community is now way ahead of the standards, and has been for about two years (more in some cases). I think that’s the source of some of the frustration and I believe you agree.

    @Thacker: I hear you on iPhone-only sites (as opposed to iPhone-friendly sites, which are no different than screen-reader-friendly sites, if you think about it). But I don’t think the web is going to fall apart because some people are trying to build web apps for iPhones.

    I understand why you are concerned that seductive new technologies like Silverlight might have more appeal to developers than aging W3C specs that require hacks to work right in some browsers.

    Then again, for years, Flash has been able to sing and dance and work correctly for 95+% of all users, yet the web standards and accessibility movement keeps growing. (The movement even influences Flash — there are accessibility and standards freaks inside Macromedia/Adobe, believe it or not.)

    I suspect that a certain kind of designer/developer will gravitate toward one toolset, and a different kind of designer/developer will gravitate toward another, and multiple technologies (and multiple approaches to web development) will mature in parallel — a win for users.

  82. Do ‘crisis’ and ‘web standards’ even belong in the same sentence? I think we sometimes get a little bit too wrapped up in our work and don’t realize there are some people out there who don’t even use the web on a daily basis. Some people argue XHTML vs. HTML 4 fer pete’s sake. Then again, I could just be feeling this nonchalant because I just returned from a weekend up in Pebble Beach, California…

  83. Zeldman–

    I am very grateful, also, for the delays. It takes this non-geek mind of mine years to wrap itself around ideas, concepts and technologies. The hasLayout thing, for example, when I hear about that, I think: “Okay, you have hasLayout. Well, I have hasGrenades.”

    The iPhone only content definitely doesn’t mean the sky is falling nor does the Adobe and Mozilla collaboration. Introduction of Silverlight and the entire development of RIA, as they currently stand, does not mean the sky is falling. They tell me that the market is receptive to new methods of communication. That definition of market to which I am consistently making reference includes the consumer and they are referenced anytime I use the word ‘market’.

    If the market is in fact at a point of receptiveness, technologies will emerge and collaborations will occur that address that receptiveness. Without guidance, the development of technologies could easily confuse the market, the market chooses several different technologies simultaneously [imagine trying to communicate with several versions have taken hold of Blue-Ray, HDTV, Ronnie Raygun, DeathStar Ray and several others] and a morass ensues. Another example could be fragmentation based upon market usability. Will these forces develop? Hell if I know. But I can see circumstance wherein they might develop.

    It is has happened before on a minor scale, authoring tools and the browser wars.

    It is these things that in my mind indicate the W3C has become [if it hasn’t, it will become] a white elephant. It needs a complete restructuring in leadership, management, structure, operations, scope and funding. That is a natural progression if the W3C is taken in the view and context of a start-up business venture that has reached its level of maturity and capability to manage.

    Internet Communication and the markets will not sit back and wait for that. Internet Communication is not going to wait ten years for machine to machine collaboration/communication or for text-to-speech user interaction. If the W3C had been restructured five years ago, those things could very well be in place by now.

    I damn sure do not have the answers nor the solutions. This has to come from Berners-Lee. He has to realize that his management capability is no longer sufficient and he needs to get to the business schools, investment bankers, seek their consul and advice. He needs to re-structure. The problems you presented regarding your invitation from Berners-Lee points to that, also. There are countless small and not so small examples.

    If the W3C is re-structured successfully and correctly, that is something wherein the markets truly win and a long term foundation of winning would be set.

    I would like to thank you for your blog, for Molly’s also, for your viewers’ various input and for their various blogs. It has all made me think and work to improve my own knowledge, understanding and skill set.

    I believe that it is five o’clock somewhere and I need a fricking scotch.h

  84. Exactly, Patrick!
    First, sorry for my bad English, that’s because I’m Brazilian.
    Second, sorry for expressing my humble opinion from a designer from a mediocre town from Brazil. I don’t feel like I have rights to mix with you people, because my reality is so far from yours. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you some numbers that would make the “glacial pace” seem like the light pace. In Brazil, where internet is 12 years old, only 17.5% of the population have access to it and only 19.6% of the households have a computer at home (accordingly to the Manager Comitee of Internet in Brazil). Despite this scenario, where all this discussion is kind of irrelevant (and apart from the fact that we have plenty of “stuff that could make a stone weep”) some droplets from the Web Standards Project have reached us and there are more and more adepts to it’s cause. I don’t know if there’s a crisis or not, but if there’s one, it’ll take an Ice Age to reach the majority of the population, here in Brazil we are still living its glory.

  85. Jeffrey, does there really need to be a crisis before we stand up and say the web is heading in the wrong direction? A year from now, it may be too late to make substantial changes to HTML5. And to get any attention from HTML5 spec authors, you really need to raise the alarm otherwise you will not be heard in the sea of noise.

    The issues that people, like Molly, are raising are about the future of the web. So I think you misunderstood the nature of the crisis. There is a very small window of opportunity to change the direction of where HTML5 is heading and if that is not done, then the web will be in crisis.

  86. What is the market saying with the intended development of this:


    Japan working to replace the Internet

    Yoshihide Suga said Friday that Japan will start research and development on technology for a new generation of network that would replace the Internet, eyeing bringing the technology into commercial use in 2020. […]

    The envisaged network is expected to ensure faster and more reliable data transmission, and have more resilience against computer virus attacks and breakdowns. The ministry is hoping Japan will take a lead in development of post-Internet technology and setting global standards, a move that ministry officials believe would help make Japanese companies competitive in the global market for hardware and software using such technology.

    Risk of a severe fragmentation? A wakeup call?

  87. @gregory:

    Please share the URLs of articles, blog posts, or other instances of written human expression that explain, in a way comprehensible to non-W3C-insiders, precisely what is wrong with which draft of HTML 5.

    I have seen blog posts and newsgroup messages where people proclaim that HTML is going backward, that it is bringing non-semantic visual elements back to markup, that it is breaking accessibility and emitting greenhouse gases. But I have not seen reasoned arguments containing examples of these problems. I have only seen expressions of anguish and fear. Lots of yelling, no facts.

    In my post I asked for facts. Several times in these comments I have also asked for facts. “Molly is trying to save the web before it is too late” is not a fact.

    Since nobody here seems to know, I will inquire elsewhere. As I said in my post, if there is a crisis, and if the ostensible leaders of the web standards movement are ignoring it, I will saddle up again. But show me. Don’t tell me. Show me.

  88. Here are some “objective” facts about HTML 5 Jeffrey:

    1. The FONT tag is supported if a WYSIWYG editor is used, even though the FONT element encourages authors to use formatting instead of semantic markup.

    2. The WYSIWYG signature is required if content is authored by a WYSIWYG editor. This is basically saying the spec says it’s okay to have crappy markup as long as you identify the Web page as containing crappy markup.

    3. No versioning. There is nothing in the spec that will identify if you are using HTML5, HTML5.1 or HTML6. Without versioning, mistakes made in one version of the spec will therefore have to be perpetuated in subsequent specs.

    4. There is no schema for HTML5. Nesting rules are now arbitrary. So inline elements like FONT will be able to contain elements like H1.

    5. Semantics have been redefined for some basic, widely used elements like SMALL and STRONG. How can you redefine the meaning of elements that have been used to create billions of documents built on older semantics?

    6. The attributes longdesc, summary, headers, abbr are removed. This reduces the accessibility of HTML.

    7. Lastly (and this may have changed since I last looked at the spec), if I recall correctly, there is no support for namespaces for other markup languages, which means HTML5 cannot support MathML or SVG.

    The most serious issue about HTML 5 is the lack of commitment to progress, because HTML5 is very much “business as usual”. It does not attempt to fix what is wrong with markup in the way that XHTML2 does (though I’m not saying that we should adopt XHTML2). But at least XHTML2 is an effort to move forward, to make progress. Also, a lot of very smart people worked very hard on XHTML2 and it is undeniable that some features of XHTML 2 can be incorporated in HTML5. But no, the HTML5 crowd will have none of that.

    Jeffrey, celebrity designers like you will make money from the web whether it’s made from HTML4, HTML5 or blue cheese. But putting money aside, and strictly from the perspective of technology, what kind of web do you want to see in the future? And if HTML5 is not going to get us there, then PLEASE “saddle up”.

  89. Thank you, Gregory, for finally presenting information we can use. Most of the items you list do not strike me as the way forward. (I can envision WYSIWYG as perhaps a new version of Quirks mode and DOCTYPE switching.) Is FONT advocated? Or merely permitted?

    I would like to talk with and hear the perspective of those leading HTML 5. The community should hear from them and from those who oppose HTML 5. ALA is an appropriate forum for that.

    I’ve had dinner with a leader behind XHTML 2. Lovely and brilliant fellow, far smarter than me, and has spent far more time than me studying and debating complex issues of markup. But I dislike profoundly where XHTML 2 is going. It is no way forward from my perspective and I don’t see most designers and developers, “celebrity” or otherwise, scrambling to board that ship.

    Precisely because XHTML 2 feels queerly purist and impractical from both the browser implementation and “web design” points of view, many people who pay attention to such things have placed much hope in XHTML 5. What XHTML 5 is and where it is going is a proper subject of concern and discussion for this community. But it needs to be put in perspective in a framework where things can be explained and views can be expressed without agita.

    Again, a job for A List Apart.

    Thanks, all.

  90. The “future” iterations of HTML are quickly becoming a modern day Goldilocks and the Three Bears… of course without a just right option.

    With the additions of HTML 5 and XHTML2 the web slowly breaks apart titanic-style to form three camps: The folks that don’t understand standards and don’t care, the folks that use standards and do care but are frustrated by the different standards, and the ones who neither stand or understand standards, don’t use them and don’t care.

    The w3c needs a major wake up call, a major reorg would be a big help. Heck, start by redefining who they are and what purpose they serve.

  91. There’s another issue with the “glacial pace” of standards advancement: there’s a lot (that’s “a lot”, not “alot”) of corporate web people that resent having to learn ‘new’ things — although standards are hardly old now.

    We are still seeing coders who have little or no appreciation of web standards, and they get the deer-in-the-headlights look when we tell them that we have a new way of doing things that will make life a lot (that’s “a lot”, not “alot”) easier on them, i.e., edit in one place for the entire site rather than hours of coding.

    In a related thought, creating a new spec for WYSIWYG development tools is foolish and a complete waste of time and effort, IMHO: it says that we are, as a people, lazy (look for a novel from me that considers this concept in the near future); if we want to advance the standards issue, then we have to implement the standards and let the chips fall where they may — even if it makes some of our (supposedly) brighter corporate wanks play catch-up. After all, it’s their own fault they didn’t stay with the times: there are people who could take advantage of the web in ways we cannot understand take that advantage better if only we use the standards that benefit them — and it would only benefit the client in terms of potential profit.

    This includes Microsoft, too: they’ll have to stay on the ball and forget being the 800-pound gorilla that won’t change: break enough browsers and you’ll force even Microsoft to reconsider their decisions.

    One last thought, stemming from my point of those “people who could take advantage of the web in ways we cannot understand”: if accessibility is an issue (and it is), why aren’t we all on board? Why are we continuing to marginalize people that could take better advantage of what we present?

    Standards are meant to include rather than exclude: we need to learn how to be more inclusive; there are plenty of disadvantaged folks out there that will tell you that the only way to get people to help is to PUSH the issue, and keep on pushin’.

    So it is with Web Standards: we need to keep pushin’.

    Crisis? I’m not so sure. Stagnation? Definitely. But what’s missing is our focus on the end user — instead of the corporate client: the corporate client doesn’t always think about those they fail to include (which could result in a failure to make a sale — or even result in a lawsuit). As designers/developers, we need advocate for these folks for the client, and present it to them without flinching — whether we want to or not.

  92. Who said there was a crisis? just do things right and your site looks fine- be careful and trust in trial and error and good old validation…
    what crisis where and who is the drama queen instigating this upheaval?

  93. Like I said at similar topic at other blog.. I think it’s appropriate to wait until most people feel like the crisis has passed to remind them of it. Thanks for posting this.

  94. I think the source of the Glacial Speed is the fact there really isn’t any form of competition in HTML.

    For Adobe, making new and improved versions of Photoshop regularly is essential to their success. Competition is there and a lack of evolution could jeopardise their hold on the industry.

    However, for the W3C it’s a whole other thing.
    First off, W3C doesn’t have competition. Software companies like Microsoft or Adobe are competiting in developing new plugins such as Silverlight or Flex for RIAs (Rich Internet Applications).
    Now nobody is making a new, completely different HTML.
    And if they are (XHTML 2.0, HTML5), 2020, and many call it too hasted, isn’t really menacing.
    But if you actually look at the whole thing, making competitive HTML variations not compatible with each other would be way too destructive. Everyone in the industry knows that. You can’t plugin an HTML.
    And besides, the W3C wasn’t created to make tools, it was created to standardize them.

    Competition would be nice in the HTML-side of the web, but it would also be cruel. Imagine making a website with a code only readable on a single browser, and you are forced to make a completely different code for another browser.
    (in fact this is exactly why the W3C exists, to prevent this from happening again, remember Netscape vs IE?)

  95. All I know is that Air’s website doesn’t show properly in Opera.

    I wish there would be a program that you would put a website’s code in and it would transform it automatically so it shows properly on every browser.

    Thanks for the article Jeffrey, still getting through the comments. :o

  96. I think one of the biggest things to improve the web’s situation are new standards. The reason why the browsers can’t implement stuff is because the old standards aren’t written in ways they can.

  97. I’m beginning to get a bald patch from scratching my head so much…

    Jeff Croft: I admire your confidence to speak your mind like you do.

    Standards to me is looking at what (working) designers like Jeff Croft, Dan Cederholm, Andy Clarke etc etc are up to. Looking and learning from real world examples is the best way to learn. I simply don’t have time to wade through mountains of specifications, outdated manuals, contradicting recomendations, podcasts, webcasts, forums, conference presentations, dozens of lengthy blog posts etcetera.

    I can understand frustration when leaders like Jeff feel they are being throttled by not having the tools they require. If half the sites on cssvault were built 4 years ago, those designers would have been proclaimed as ‘leaders’. Today they are just proclaimed to be ‘nice sites’ worthy of a weeks exposure and 4 gold stars. The middle end of the industry is catching up to the top end, and the real leaders wanna do their thing – lead. Fair enough too.

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