Jeffrey Zeldman’s Web Standards Advisor

Launched today (my birthday), Jeffrey Zeldman’s Web Standards Advisor is a $49.99 extension for Adobe Dreamweaver. It includes two major interfaces:

  1. The Web Validator validates your HTML and CSS and verifies the proper use of microformats, including hCard and hCalendar, for single pages or entire websites.
  2. The Web Standards Advisor checks for subtleties of standards compliance in nine different areas—everything from structural use of headings to proper ID, class, and <div> element use. Nonstandard practices are flagged and reported in the Dreamweaver Results panel for quick code correction. A full report with more details and suggested fixes is also generated.

How did it get here?

Over coffee in New Orleans last year, WebAssist’s Joseph Lowery and I chatted about a fantasy product that could improve the markup of even the most experienced front-end coder. The benefits were obvious. After all, better markup means lighter, faster web pages whose content is easier for search engines (and thus people) to find.

The product would look over your shoulder and notice things.

  • If you were using a class when you might be better off using an ID (and vice-versa), the fantasy product would cough gently and tell you.
  • If you skipped a heading level—say, if you had h4s and h6s but no h5 on your site—it would discreetly whisper in your ear.
  • If, on an old site (or sadly, on a new one) you used class names that were visual instead of semantic (i.e. class=”big_yellow_box” instead of class=”additional_info”), it would quietly let you know about it.

To me, this was a fantasy product, because so many of these things seem to require human judgement. I didn’t think programmers could develop algorithms capable of simulating that level of judgement. Joseph Lowery took my doubt as a challenge.

A year of collaborative back-and-forth later, Jeffrey Zeldman’s Web Standards Advisor is a working 1.0 product.

How good is it?

I ran Jeffrey Zeldman’s Web Standards Advisor on the four-year-old markup of this site’s current blog layout, and discovered embarrassing mistakes that don’t show up on validators. (I haven’t fixed those mistakes yet, by the way. For fun, or extra credit, see if you can figure out what they are.)

Then I ran the product on several new sites coded by some of the best CSS and markup people in the business, and found a surprising quantity of mistakes there, as well. Nobody’s perfect—not even the best coders.

Some of the errors the product found were mere errors of style, but were still worth correcting, if only to set a good example for those who view source on your sites. Other errors the product revealed could affect how easy it is for people to find a site’s content. Fixing such errors is a business necessity.

Some issues are purely judgement calls: is it okay to sometimes use <b> instead of <strong>? When is it perfectly fine to skip a heading level? To address those subtleties, there is a wiki where such topics are discussed, and “error” messages link to the relevant topics in the wiki, so you can click straight through to the online discussion.

Who is it for?

  • Jeffrey Zeldman’s Web Standards Advisor will help beginning and intermediate coders write smarter, more compliant markup that makes site content easier to find.
  • It will help coders at any level (including expert) who use Dreamweaver as a primary web development tool, and who know about web standards but don’t spend all day thinking about them. Now you don’t have to—and you can still create leaner sites that work for more people, and whose content is easier to find.
  • Site owners might run the product on their site, to see how compliant it is and how findable their markup allows their content to be.

But what about many people reading this website, who write their XHTML and CSS by hand, and who rightfully consider themselves standardistas? That’s right. What about you?

You aren’t the primary customer, but you might find the product useful. I’m a hand-coder and always will be. I own Dreamweaver mainly because it comes with Adobe CS3 and CS4. Installing Jeffrey Zeldman’s Web Standards Advisor is a no-brainer, and running it on my work (or that of people working for me) turns up enough surprises to more than justify the time and expense.

Plus, after you use it to clean up your own, small, embarrassing errors of markup, you can run it on your heroes’ websites and revel in their mere mortality.

Disclosing the obvious

Jeffrey Zeldman's Web Standards Advisor

Jeffrey Zeldman’s Web Standards Advisor is a product. It is not a free product. At $49.99, it’s not terribly expensive, but it’s not free.

I have a small financial interest and a gigantic brand interest in it. If it’s a weak product, it reflects badly on me, my agency, my conference, my books, and possibly even the very category of web standards. I therefore have a huge stake in making sure it’s a good product—that it’s easy to use, meets real needs now, and evolves in response to customer feedback and the slow but steady evolution of standards. (XHTML 2? HTML 5? More microformats? Stay tuned.)

[tags]webstandards, advisor, dreamweaver, extension, markup, helper, assistant, webassist, zeldman[/tags]