19 Dec 2007 9 am eastern

Let me hear your standards body talk

Jeremy Keith’s “Year Zero” beautifully explains why the W3C needs our backs, not our bullets.

The W3C is maddeningly opaque and its lieutenants will sometimes march madly into the sea, but it is all that stands between us and the whirlwind.

Slow the W3C will always be. Slow comes with the territory. If you glimpse even a hint of the level of detail required to craft usable standards, you’ll understand the slowness and maybe even be grateful for it—as you’d be grateful for a surgeon who takes his time while operating on your pancreas.

But the secrecy (which makes us read bad things into the slowness) must and will change. To my knowledge, the W3C has been working on its transparency problems for at least two years and making real change—just very slowly (there’s that word again) and incrementally and hence not at all obviously.

Key decision makers within the W3C intend to do much more, but they need to get their colleagues on board, and consensus-building is a bitch. A slow bitch.

If designers and developers are more aware of the problems than of the fact that the W3C is working to solve them, it’s because the W3C is not great at outreach. If they were great at outreach, we wouldn’t have needed a Web Standards Project to persuade browser makers to implement the specs and designers and developers to use them.

Designers sometimes compare the slow pace of standards with the fast pace of, say, Flash. But it is like comparing the output of the United Nations to the laws passed by a small benevolent dictatorship. When a company owns a technology, it can move fast. When a hundred companies that mistrust each other need to agree to every detail of a technology that only exists insofar as their phones and browsers support it, surprise, surprise, the pace is quite slow.

The W3C is working on its speed issues, too. It’s been forced to work on them by outside groups and by the success of microformats. But detailed interoperability of profound technologies no company owns is never going to happen half as fast as we’d like.

You want instant gratification, buy an iPod. You want standards that work, help. Or at least stop shouting.

[tags]w3c, standards, webstandards[/tags]

Filed under: Design, development, industry, Standards

45 Responses to “Let me hear your standards body talk”

  1. Stuart Langridge said on

    It’s not at all clear how to help, is the point here. For example, when I wrote my response to Alex Russell, I went on and on about how Nokia and Apple have flat-out refused to implement an unencumbered video format in the element, and how I think that that makes the proposed element useless. If I knew any way at all to try and convince Nokia or Apple or Microsoft to do this, then I’d do it. I’ve spoken at length about how I think software patents are a bad idea in the past, for this kind of reason, and I’ve essentially been dismissed because I seem to be arguing from a Linux point of view and all the Windows and OS X users don’t care, because their operating system manufacturer has licenced the patents and passed on the cost to their customers. I’m curious as to what else I can do; essentially, people who want the W3C to go away are choosing convenience for themselves over the long-term freeness and viability of the platform. That is, I think, a bad idea, but I also think it’s a bad idea as far as operating systems go and yet everyone’s got a Mac, because it’s nicer to use, despite how that’s also, just like Flash, a thing controlled by one company. If someone can explain to me what I can do to help then I’ll try and do it. Until then, all I can do is rail against it.

  2. Josh Stodola said on

    You mean… “buy” an iPod (lol).

    What can I do to help , Jeffrey?

  3. Dan Schulz said on

    I haven’t been shouting, but I also haven’t been helping as much as I should have either. I’ve just been helping other designers and developers at various forums such as SitePoint improve their Web sites by using better code.

    So Jeffrey, what exactly would you want me to do? (Yes, I’m actually asking you what YOU want ME to do.)

  4. Dale Cruse said on

    Personally, I would love to help the W3C take a measured approach to transparency and communication.

  5. Chad Udell said on

    With the way things are going as far as the explosion of Web2.0/AJAX and the rapidly disintegrating dominance of IE, it seems to me we are on the precipice of BrowserWars2.0. I don’t think any of us want that.

    Each vendor is taking a different approach to DOM interactivity, rendering and now online/offline application functionality. What a fractured awful 2008-2009 we are looking at here.

    Estimating costs and efforts to deliver web sites and applications is a quagmire of conditional CSS and JS comments, and I see no clear way to get out of this until IE6 fades out of existence and corporate IT actually forces upgrades.

    Silverlight and Flash, while not standards based or the most gracefully degrading solution at least allows for a firm estimate to be given and a scope/schedule and budget to be met.

    Without active involvement and clear communication between developers, application vendors, and the W3C things will only get worse.

  6. Wade Winningham said on

    I love how the commenters so far are asking how we can help. I’m with them. Reviewing some of the W3C message archives, I can understand the time it takes. They take a lot of crap and I’m sure the members feel like it’s a thankless job a lot of the time.

    Getting a little more specific, how can a web designer/developer help within the context of our work? Something constructive since the only thing we have now is to complain.

  7. Mike Whitehurst said on

    ah, I love a good drama. :o)

  8. Ara Pehlivanian said on

    Let me reiterate, design by committee sucks. Maybe “a small benevolent dictatorship” is what’s needed. One that says “you aren’t a certified browser/device if you don’t comply with our spec.”

    I mean there’s slow, and then there’s slow. CSS 2.1 has been languishing for over 7 years and only recently achieved release candidate status (again!). Who cares?! I don’t see IE6 changing. And that’s the point. The W3C’s actions just don’t jibe with reality and what’s needed “on the ground” as it were.

    I understand that slow is the only way to go for the W3C due to the way it’s currently structured. But what’s the point of having a toothless irrelevant “standards” body that won’t even label its work with the word “standards?”

    I keep hearing everyone saying “quit complaining and help”, but I don’t have the clout of the W3C behind me, the W3C does. If they want to be taken seriously they should start throwing some of it around and start openly endorsing compliant browsers/devices. Taking the weenie route and sitting on the sidelines while Microsoft goes about setting the bar with its giant market share isn’t helping anyone. In fact, it’s making things worse. By the time we get over the IE6 hump, it’ll be another decade. And maybe then CSS 2.1 will actually be an official W3C recommendation!

  9. Matt Wilcox said on

    I’m with a good few posters above – tell us how we can help. I want to help. It’s why I joined the HTML5 WG – but the processes involved have so far thwarted my attempts even to post email to the WG. Which has meant I’ve not been able to help at all, despite trying.

    Personally, I would love to help with the communication problems the W3C have.

  10. philip said on

    i think many designers and developers like myself (an average joe who works on small projects and isn’t an industry celebrity or heavy-hitter) would love to help. we just have no idea how. how can i help? what can i do?

    this would be a great topic for an ALA article, no? :)

    – philip

  11. Steven Clark said on

    I think we should accept there will always be a vocal minority who will always be working against what they claim to hold dear… the truth is without the W3C there would probably be havoc.

    The truth is some of these people may know the specs backwards and be brilliant technicians but have come to believe their own publicity – they blog and lecture and therefore want to be famous for changing specification X (which will probably not change the world anyway)… just an observation I’ve made.

    The W3C may become less relevant to a lot of people but try to get global concensus without them?! Like you mentioned about flash – fast is easy under a dictatorship. Try to see how fast consensus becomes without any structure except loosely knit subsets of ubergeeks who want their cake and to be able to eat it too.

    Support your W3C and be patient. Most of the problems, as you are noting, seem to be developers who want it all now and fast. Click and go generation stuff. We need problem solvers not axe grinders. Nobody is going to please everyone with a super spec ever. We need working in the trenches technologies…

  12. Gareth Rushgrove said on

    The question What can I do? keeps coming up.

    Maciej Stachowiak, from WebKit, had a good few suggestions; mainly around test cases.

    So in-between the festive food this holiday why not try and write a test case? I don’t actually know how to yet but I plan on finding out. And if half the people asking the question write a test case or two we just might be onto something which really does benefit form mass participation.

  13. Ian Hickson said on

    For those of your having trouble contributing to the W3C HTML working group, you can also contribute to the WHATWG, which has an easier subscription policy.

    http://www.whatwg.org/mailing-list#specs
    http://blog.whatwg.org/w3c-restarts-html-effort

  14. Ara Pehlivanian said on

    @Steven Clark: But why should the W3C be cat herding? Why should browser/device makers feel like they can go their own way and do what they please? The present chaos is the result of not enough toughness from the only “governing” body that had a voice on the issue. It took the W3C’s inaction to spawn WaSP. Now it’s going to be another grassroots organization it seems to sort through the HTML5/CSS3 mess.

    W3C should get tough on the enforcement side of their recommendations and the first step is to call their work standards and not recommendations.

  15. Ara Pehlivanian said on

    @All: Don’t get me wrong, I know I sound like an angry jerk and I don’t want to come off that way. I’m just frustrated (as a guy working in the trenches) to see such slowness from the group that’s supposed to be setting the bar. Meanwhile I have to deal with the daily frustration of IE6’s wanton disregard for all things standards while I’m being told “be patient” and seeing IE8 on the horizon without any sign of IE6 letting up. At the same time there’s all kinds of chaos surrounding the next version of HTML and CSS (while prior versions haven’t even been fully implemented). You can see where the frustration comes from. Being told “be patient” just adds insult to injury. So sorry for the angry attitude, it’s nothing personal.

  16. John Lascurettes said on

    Progress indeed has been made. On the IE blog today, the MS team announced that IE8 has passed the Acid2 Test: http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2007/12/19/internet-explorer-8-and-acid2-a-milestone.aspx

  17. John Dowdell said on

    I’m not sure about the “dictatorship” analogies, but before any committee can reach a successful decision, then at least one member of that committee will have first reached that decision, true?

    “But the secrecy… must and will change.” This seems intrinsic to the nature of any group process — there’s always a risk that in-group awareness will outweigh out-group awareness. People tend to pay attention to the signal from their friends, and it’s easy to pay less attention outside the group.

    jd/adobe

  18. George said on

    It seems bizarre to me that the CSS Eleven was launched to help the W3C and then months later the conch holder was calling for it to be disbanded. Perhaps it was all a glorious PR stunt?

  19. Rick said on

    I’d love to help, but the last four times I sent mail to The Web Standards Project’s contact email address, [email protected], it bounced. You can try their contact page.

    I sent mail to the two people listed as leaders of the project, whining that the mail was bouncing. Nothing. No replies. The mail still bounces. Most of the (famous) people on the WaSP board don’t have public email addresses (justifiably so).

    How, Mr Zeldman, would you suggest we peons interested in promoting web standards help? Obviously the WaSP doesn’t want our help. Most of us can’t afford to join the W3C. So the only thing left to us is to shout and bitch and moan and cry on our blogs and web sites.

  20. Greg Bulmash said on

    Am I the only one who read the title of this post and started hearing Olivia Newton-John in his head? “Let’s get physical, physical. I wanna get physical, let’s get into physical. Let me hear your standards body talk… body talk… hear your standards body talk.”

    Anyone? Anyone?

  21. Jowste said on

    @lascurettes: it’s called TinyURL

    @Greg Bulmash: that was the point

    @zeldman THANK YOU.

  22. Dave Smith said on

    You can count my opinion in with the group that would like to offer help to the standardization process. I personally believe the W3C has made a tremendous commitment considering all the factors encompassing the development community.

    I would personally liken it to the “space race” where this one small planet Earth has divided itself into parcels of technology based on geographical divides. In the development communty, the role of the countries has been replaced by corporations all bent on dominance and control of market shares. When you have companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Sun, Motorola, etc all competing against each other, the developers or scientists are all stuck competing to make the technology that pays their paycheck succeed over the others.

    I’ve been active in the Linux development community for almost 13 years now and I’ve been a staunch supporter of GNU and the “open source” movement because when you take the most brilliant minds and have them working on common goals, the achievements of the community far outweigh achievements made in the private sector.

    Then again, philsophically speaking, the timeframe we’re talking about here is relatively miniscule to the advet of the future and what will happen, say 50-100 years from now when most of us will only remember CSS, HTML, XHTML, Javascript as we remember 8-track tapes or 72 RPM records.

  23. she said on

    I have been shouting vehemently and I think my criticism won’t become less whenever I see on the one side proprietary standards like flash marching forward to succeed, while on the other hand an “open consortium” decides to remove a free future of the web.

    W3C has all the time to ameliorate their strategy, we can be patient – but at the end of day, I won’t be surprised if the net result will be underperforming.

  24. karl dubost, W3C said on

    People say how to help. Fair enough. Follow me. Tomorrow (Friday)… I will give a few tips on the QA blog…

  25. thacker said on

    One historical point, although at this stage irrelevant, be very careful of what is given away — it follows the same analogy of be careful of the life you save, you may end up being responsible for that life.

    These discussions, along with others, are pointing out that the W3C is failing in its ability to manage the structure of the Web, the emerging technologies and intentions that are impacting it.

    When processes start to fail, is it wise to continue on the same path or is it better to ask the hard questions of what is wrong, what has failed and then ask the most important question of all, “How am I going to fix it?”.

    When Jack Welch affected a renaissance within General Electric, he succeeded because he asked himself these questions. It did not occur because outsiders asked them.

  26. Rudd-O said on

    I liked your post, but I have to say it’s an apology for a partly failed result — in the context of the HTML5 Ogg controversy.

    Look, we aren’t sniping at the W3C. We are aiming at certain companies that have put up roadblocks to the consensus-based decision process.

    Second of all, in regard to the Ogg controversy, the consensus-building process has already failed. In little more than one week, we’ve put forth every single rational and compelling argument in favor of Ogg, only to see them mostly-ignored by key players (Dave@apple was fairly responsive, I’ll grant him the mention he deserves).

    At the moment, the WHATWG has stopped all multimedia-related standardization efforts except for the one that favors proprietary Babel: researching acceptable, royalty- and risk-free codecs for Web multimedia (that I and others believe have been found and embodied in the Ogg suite). It doesn’t take a genius to know that, if no consensus is reached soon, the multimedia winds will continue to blow in the direction of Balkaniland.

    I understand Apple’s and Nokia’s position: Ogg’s presence in HTML5 harms their bottom lines, be it through reduced licensing fees or through (IMO unrealistic) lawsuit risks. They’re entitled to work toward their goals. But a minority’s bottom lines shouldn’t override the majority’s wish — it’s a simple case of common decency versus greed and fear.

    And greed / fear is winning.

  27. joe said on

    Heck with the W3C. A few years back I looked into what it would take to join the W3C. It was expensive, and they actually had a page saying “we aren’t really interested in having individuals join.”

    So, I have no input. On top of that, the W3C sees fit to design brand new technologies, instead of just standardizing things that are out there in the marketplace. Strangely enough, said standards turn out to be so complicated that everybody relies on major corporations for implementation.

    Meanwhile, the IETF is open to anybody, and nothing becomes a standard until there are two independent implementations already in the wild. IETF standards tend to be simpler, their documentation clearer.

    There’s no reason why web standards couldn’t work the same way.

  28. Mark said on

    “Needs our backs”

    ??? WTF ???

    Do you mean like “we’ve got your back?” I think you are assigning the “back” to the wrong party here.

    Unless you mean that we should all collectively turn our backs on the W3C… is that what you meant?

    But I suspect that perhaps what you were trying to say was that the W3C needs our backing. That’s the normal, perfectly non-broken way to say it. Actually, you could even say it’s the standard way, if you’re into standards, that is.

    Standard English needs your backing. Don’t “give it your back.”

  29. fantasai said on

    Want to help? Here are some ideas. If you’ve got programming skills, I also have a project that I could guide you on, but that I absolutely don’t have time to do myself. (“How to help” should be a lot easier to find once Jason and I redesign the CSSWG’s homepage; we’re still working on it.)

  30. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    @Mark:

    I’m sorry you had trouble understanding my writing.

    “Lending your back” means lending your support. As when an Amish community raises a barn. No matter who owns the barn, the whole community pitches in and helps lift its walls. They literally put their backs into it.

    Putting your back into it is a common phrase for helping or supporting an effort.

    Using a part to represent the whole is so common in rhetoric that there’s a name for it: synechdoche.

    “Lend me your ears” is another example, and a better one, and it’s by Shakespeare. Marc Antony isn’t really asking his fellow Romans to cut off their ears and hand them to him; he’s asking them to *listen.* But he says, “Lend me your ears.”

    If he’d had a blog, no doubt one of his countrymen would have replied “WTF.”

    I hope this has clarified my figure of speech and that you are feeling better about it now.

    @Rick:

    I don’t think the answer will come from The Web Standards Project. I wish the group would show leadership or disband.

    I know that some members of The WaSP are doing important work with browser makers and in various other ways. Some of this will come out in an upcoming ALA article.

    But at the top level, the leadership level, there doesn’t seem to be a voice or presence, and I think that absence of palpable leadership contributes to the malaise. I’m talking about leadership the community is aware of; leadership you may love or hate, agree or disagree with.

    Important things may be going on at the highest levels of WaSP or they may not, but nothing is visible to the web design community besides a desultory blog; I think it hurts and I hope it changes.

  31. Don Ulrich said on

    This is going to be unpopular but if you want to help start at home. Those pissing and moaning about the W3C have XHTML pages that don’t validate. There are XML HTML errors galore. Don’t be a spoiled child and throw away what you can not comprehend in favor of brand new shiny toys.

    Ann V. from Opera suggested that if you want browser manufacturers to respond to new things be specific. Unit testing for new things is a lenghty process and takes time. If browser vendors get a focused response they can respond better. Maybe they need to start a wish list and create a dialog with joe average standards guy.
    We don’t have an axe to grind just pixels to push. Fact is anyone of us have genuine quality input into the process.

    Write the publicity seekers like Jeff Croft and ask him if can stop writing diatribe long enough to validate Blue Flavor and actually participate in valid standards. Bust any of the trend setters that do not validate and ask them if they know so much whay don’t their pages validate. Where is Mark Pilgrim when you really need him?

  32. fantasai said on

    David Storey has posted an excellent overview of what’s needed over at CSS3.info.

  33. Matt Wilcox said on

    @Don

    While I agree that it’s a little silly having passionate discussions about standards on pages that don’t validate – I hardly think it matters relative to the discussions that have been going on recently. Also, look around and do not generalise too much – there are those of us ‘pissing and moaning’ that do validate. In fact there are some of us that (getting pedantic) send out XHTML 1.1 with and XML MIME to browsers that accept it. So please, no unhelpful generalisations.

    Validation is a minor point, and having a page that doesn’t validate in no way means you’re in no position to have valid, helpful, or insightful thoughts on the myriad of problems with web standard production processes today.

    I find it very interesting that most (but not all) of the people at the W3C have this tech-minded view of everything that’s been said recently. Help by commenting on the draft specification, fine – although not easy (specs are written for programmers to understand). Help by unit testing? Most designers have no clue what that even means – nor should they. Help by getting involved with the already established mailing lists etc – well, aren’t we all saying that those (poorly publicised) communication avenues are part of the problem?

    The W3C peeps need to stop looking for technical help from designers. That isn’t what we can offer, and it isn’t what we are complaining about. A few also need to step back from the manuals and the programming and see the bigger picture – which is where we have our complaints, and is where we can help. Jeff Croft and co may write in a generalised manner and with some passion – but that’s the point. It amazes me how many of the people working to produce the specifications think in a progromatic way, and that if a problem or answer isn’t framed in a progromatic way – it’s just ignored, or in your case, looked upon as a worthless pointless bitch-fest. Thinking like that will not help anyone.

  34. Scott said on

    I can’t help but notice in most of the threads I’ve been reading over the past week or so that pertain to this topic, that everyone seems to focus on one issue or another. One person will point to their favorite pet peeve, another to theirs, etc… I understand that this topic most likely entails several issues, all being covered under this one topic.

    Everyone seems to have an idea as to how to fix this or that or what should be done. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be consensus. Don’t know if there even needs to be. But, if you can easily point out a problem, why not come to the table with an idea for the solution? Stomping your foot, folding your arms and holding your breathe isn’t going to solve anything.

    I’ve seen on this blog an others the mention of leadership yet, no real definition of what the expectation is for this leadership? Leadership can be many things – like everything else in this community, everyone has a different idea as to what that is.

    I would like to mention that I think most people in this community are good people. The design community has a lot of passionate people and of course, not everyone is going to agree. I don’t see that as a bad thing. I think it’s the way in which people disagree that reveals much about a person.

    @ Don Ulrich – you mention Jeff Croft being a publicity seeker… like that’s a bad thing? He’s a web designer/Info Architect. It’s a cruel world out there. How would you suggest he get work if he doesn’t seek publicity? Seems like a no brainer to me.

  35. Don Ulrich said on

    @Matt
    If I did generalize it is because lately, alot of what I have seen are XHTML documents that have the same XML and HTML errors.

    Validation Is not a minor point. To validate means to be up to code. To use the recommendations as the engineers intended. How can you have insight or be of help when you first need to validate? Further, how do you get a body of engineers that wrote the recommdations we use to notice us when we will not respect their work by validating. It is a measure of quality. Look at it like it IS a unit test you can do. Because it literally is.

    They need to reorganize how standards are implemented at the OEM level and how they are developed as recommendations. Scrum and agile methods would be a boon to the process. The W3C has a functional structure. Agile and Scrum would bring a open air culture. Everything from heart stints to the MRI and Turbo Tax has been developed using Scrum. It could work here.

  36. Matt Wilcox said on

    @Don

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for validation. but statements like the following don’t (to me) make any sense:

    How can you have insight or be of help when you first need to validate?

    It depends on why things are not validating. It’s ever so easy to break HTML, most especially if you allow comments, or pull in data from external sources, or have to use a third-party back-end, or any number of reasons. Minor validation issues such as un-encoded ampersands etc are hardly deal-breakers. I find the idea that simply because a page doesn’t validate the author can not have any viable insight into other areas (or even into code itself) is a little far-fetched and a bit OTT. Sure – if that non-validating code is tag-soup era crap then I agree that their opinion could certainly be seen in a lot dimmer light than might otherwise be; but on most designer/developer blogs any validation errors are not of that nature. They are of the every day ‘no control over what the template engine spits out’, or ‘damn, missed an ampersand’ type errors.

    And even with errors like that, why can’t the person have a valid view on how to fix the W3C’s poor communication? Or on how to get more designer input? Or on how to run a group of people efficiently? Etc. Validation is rather irrelevant to the vast majority of the problems outlined in this post.

    When I’m in trouble in the jungle I don’t want to ignore the advice of a bush-craft expert because he didn’t tie his shoes with a reef knot today, if you catch my drift.

  37. mantis said on

    the more you ‘back’ the more you ‘lack’

  38. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Mantis Pantis.

  39. Jeff Croft said on

    @Don Ulrich: You can call me what you like. I’m a big boy; I can take it — with a smile, even! :)

    But, your obsession with validation, which you share with a large percentage of those involved with the “standards movement,” is misguided, and I will take you up on the opportunity to point out why.

    You are attacking me personally over the fact that a site I didn’t design or code (blueflavor.com) has four measly unencoded ampersands on it’s homepage. Four unencoded ampersands has your panties in a bunch? Seriously? And why? Did those unencoded ampersands somehow make you have a less-than-ideal experience on the site? Of course they didn’t. You would have never known there were errors if you didn’t validate the page.

    At the same time, there’s site after site after site out there displaying hundreds — even thousands — of validation errors. There are developers using tables for layout, using tag soup code, and generally crapping all over the Internet. And yet, you come after me personally, because I work for a company who has four measly unencoded ampersands in a constantly-changing feature box on its homepage, but otherwise validates. C’mon. Is Blue Flavor really the enemy? Am I the enemy?

    Of course not. You only chose to validate the page so that you could come here and prop yourself up as being better than me. Nothing feels better than pointing out the shortcomings of others, right? Well, congratulations. I hope your penis feels huge right now. You’ve really done the web a massive favor by pointing out four measly unencoded ampersands on an agency’s site. Job well-done.

    I suggest: next time, target your passion at educating all those thousands of web developers out there that still haven’t got a clue about standards, rather than publicly attacking a company that has been a longtime standards advocate, but accidentally let a few completely insignificant errors slip through the cracks.

    Quite frankly, it’s pedants like you that make me want to puke in my mouth a little every time I hear the phrase “standards movement” these days.

  40. Matt said on

    Okay, I’m unusually late to this – I was preoccupied with celebrating Christmas (err, I mean giving gifts, eating mince pies, drinking lots of beer and laughing at random stuff on TV!)

    Utlimately, change has to happen – but it shouldn’t be at the extreme end of damning Web Standards altogether (I’d suggest anyone who thinks along those lines is probably someone who never fully appreciated Web Standards in the first place!) – this is inline with Jeremy’s statement from his article: ‘I just don’t think we need to dump the baby out with the bathwater. I think we can avoid any water disposal related infanticide by just changing what needs to be changed.’

    The W3C and their activities (or slow-pace of them) are cited as much of the cause of the lack of improvements, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration and sticking point.

    Sure, there are calls for a revolution, an apparent uprising of sorts, but will this really manifest as a revolution at all in 2008? Or are we glancing at a possible continuation of 2007 with nothing changing – lots of talk on blogs and little action? We’ll have to wait to find out…

    Happy New Year

  41. Don Ulrich said on

    @Jeff
    First of all, I am not a pedant. My mother raised me Presbyterian :-)
    Second is anyone besides me going to tell Jeff that those ampersands that are unencoded when used in XHTML are considered a fatal error in an XML doc which is what XHTML is. A while ago the web standards community had a well balanced discussion on why XHTML is not right as a general application of HTML over HTTP.

    Apparently no one took their own advice. There are use patterns that are XHTML yet littered with XML errors all over the web, written by professionals that know better.

    No Jeff, I did not pick on you. I read your recent article on the W3C and what could change. Then I read Zeldmans article above. This was about the third or fouth piece I had read about what is wrong with the W3C. To me, you clean up your own house before you criticize others.

    Web Standards have become a crutch. They have been applied by people who see then as a way to justify their own convention instead of working with the spec and standards as a path to growth. This defies any kind of a Agile approach to the problem and makes web designers and developers look like imperitive morons.

    We just found a use case in ie that does not conform to CSS specs in IE. We will work through it make it work and produce the findings. I have a lot of respect for the ppl who program browsers and the ppl who write the spec. They can not begin to fathom every use test retro test for how HTML and CSS are applied. But they do a good job. They need our support.

  42. Arlen Walker said on

    There’s some disconnects going on here. (Sorry about late to the party, folks, but my attention was elsewhere.)

    The first disconnect seems to be over whether the W3C “recommendations” are descriptive, like the IETF standards, or prescriptive. Historically, they’ve been the latter, so while criticizing them for not being like the IETF is probably true, it seems pointless. Their intent is not to be a dictionary, but rather a blueprint.

    Another disconnect seems to be over specs themselves. If they need to be worded in a “programmatic” way, it’s because they are, after all, for programmers. Those who aren’t programmers should count themselves lucky they haven’t had to implement the vague generalities I’ve seen that pass for specs. Throwing tantrums and writing with passion both have their uses, and they can indeed be beautiful to watch and read. But they’re useless when the rubber hits the road and the code needs writ. (While it’s quite true you can write code with passion, there is no such thing as passionate code.) So I think we need to cut the spec writers a bit of slack when they answer a passionate discourse with, “that’s lovely, but WTF happens when these two selectors are used in combination?” They need hard facts, not passion, if they’re ever going to produce something that works.

    Then there’s the most serious, in my opinion, disconnect. It seems similar to hubris, to me. The disconnect with reality over the power and importance of the W3C in the grand scheme. I’ve seen cries that the W3C should exert its power and put the hammer down on offenders, rejecting the smallest errors in anyone’s browser as rendering it unworthy of the name.

    To that POV I have only one response. What do you think would happen if every HTML, XHTML, CSS, XML and releated spec simply ceased to exist today? Gone, in a puff of electronic smoke?

    Personally, I think the answer is “Nothing at all.” I lived through the wars; I even coded pages for Netscape 0.9. It didn’t stop me from making websites, though sailors would blush if in hearing when I did. Do you honestly think that had the W3C refused to certify IE6 as a browser, that it would have had even a one percent effect on its share? Or that if it had certified Opera as the only real browser, that it would have increased its share by any noticeable amount? How much rent do you pay in that dream world?

    Here in the web development community, we recognize the standards, er, recommendations, as something that makes our lives easier. But we’re it, folks. No one else cares (and the browser makers themselves only care because we’re a small but vocal fragment of their market). I think the W3C has been very wise in not taking a hard line, even in using the dreadful “recommendation” term. If you don’t have power, the first rule you have to live by is to not act as if you have it; you’ll only harm yourself if you do.

    There is no possible entity that can dictate terms to the world of the web. My audience doesn’t care a fig about standards/recommendations. My clients only care because I can convince them it saves them money if I can build that way as opposed to other ways. It’s the money, not the standards, that attracts them. And I still lose clients to IE-specific designers every month (or more often).

    Let’s say for the sake of illustration that the perfect CSS3 spec is created tonight, and every designer falls to the ground, awestruck over its perfection, and the effect is to get it ratified immediately. How many years will it take before we can use it? 3? 6? I had workarounds for CSS1 code breaks in IE for almost a decade. If I’m going to wait 6 years to be able to use it properly, why do I care about another few years to get it right (and possibly make it easier to implement in the browsers along the way)?

    Is the system perfect? Good gosh no. But if we follow the suggestion that we ban the implementors from the spec development process (or simply dramatically cut back their input) we have to realize we lose a very crucial part of the mix. I know from experience that a small, often insignificant change in a spec can result in a major improvement (or degradation) in implementation time. I don’t want to lose that.

    My best suggestion is to get more designer input into the process. That requires changes on both sides. The W3C has to open the process up a little more. I see no problem in keeping the basic process intact if that happens. But by the same token, designers have to stop going “ooh, ick. A spec.” They’ve got to be willing to try and speak another language, to at least meet the programmers halfway.

    (Programmers are like the French. They generally harbor great disdain for those who don’t speak their language, but will fall over themselves to help someone who gives an honest try at speaking it. Perhaps there needs to be a cadre of “speakers to programmers” among the designers, as well as “speakers to designers” among the programmers; dedicated groups whose job it is to translate the ramblings of one into words and concepts the other can relate to.)

    It’s not an easy road to walk. I don’t envy the W3C one bit, and remain amazed they make the progress they do.

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