Seattle-bound

City of Puget Sound, Jimi Hendrix, and the space needle, here I come for An Event Apart Seattle 2009—two days of peace, love, design, code, and content.

[tags]seattle, aneventapart, webdesign, webstandards, design, conference, conferences, webdesign conference, webdesign conferences, standards, IA, UX, ericmeyer, jeffreyzeldman, zeldman, meyerweb[/tags]

What are web standards?

What are web standards? And why should I care? A fun new clip from the BigThink marathon Zeldman interview. See also this and that. Or just click the “CHANNELS” button in the video above.

[tags]zeldman, webstandards, bigthink, interview[/tags]

More Zeldman Fun From BigThink

Bigthink.com/jeffreyzeldman is your BigThink channel for all your BigThink Jeffrey Zeldman needs. Now playing at that URL are three Zeldman interview clips for your pleasure:

  1. “Jeff” Zeldman dissects online journalism
  2. “Jeff” Zeldman outlines the history of blogging
  3. “Jeff” Zeldman discusses the future of open source

View early and view often. Happy watching and blogging.

[tags]bigthink, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman, interviews, internet, web, design, history, journalism, online, onlinejournalism, webpublishing, opensource, webstandards[/tags]

“Jeffrey Zeldman on Open Source Design”

I discuss “open source design” in an excerpt from a long interview at Big Think. The full interview, with a complete transcript, will soon be available there as well.

BigThink’s Merrell Hambleton did a great deal of research prior to conducting the hour-long interview, and was thereby able, not only to probe typical Zeldman topics in greater depth, but also to ask interesting questions outside my comfort zone.

The interview was carried out via Interrotron, a fascinating device invented by Errol Morris.

[tags]bigthink, zeldman, design, webdesign, opensource, standards, webstandards, libraries, jeffreyzeldman, interview[/tags]

Your Guide to An Event Apart Boston

The complete schedule for An Event Apart Boston is now online for your reading pleasure.

Join Eric Meyer and your humble host with truly special guest speakers Jason Santa Maria, Jeremy Keith, Joshua Porter, Whitney Hess, Dan Cederholm, Daniel Mall, Derek Featherstone, Aarron Walter, Scott Thomas, Heather Champ, Andy Clarke, and GoodBarry’s Brett Welch for two days of design, code, and content.

An intensely educational two-day conference for passionate practitioners of standards-based web design, An Event Apart brings together thirteen of the leading minds in web design for two days of non-stop inspiration and enlightenment. If you care about code as well as content, usability as well as design, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Educational discounts and group rates are available, and everyone saves $100 during the early bird registration period.

Comments off.

[tags]aneventapart, AEA, webdesign, conference, webstandards[/tags]

Web Standards Test: Top 100 Sites

While working on the third edition of Designing With Web Standards, I decided to visit Alexa’s Top 100 US Sites to see how many of the top 100 use valid markup, how many nearly validate (i.e. would validate if not for an error or two), and which DOCTYPEs predominate. Even with a fistful of porn sites in the mix, it was dull work: click a link, load the home page, run a validation bookmarklet, record the result.

I had no expectations. I made no assumptions. I just clicked and tested.

Such tests tell us little

I make no claims about what I found. If all the home pages of the top 100 sites were valid, it would not mean that the pages beneath the home page level were valid, nor would it prove that the sites were authored semantically. (An HTML 4.0 table layout with no semantics can validate; so can a site composed entirely of non-semantic divs with presentational labels.)

Validation is not the be-all of standards-based design; it merely indicates that the markup, whatever its semantic quality may be, complies with the requirements of a particular standard. Conversely, lack of validation does not prove lack of interest in web standards: ads and other third-party content can wreck a once-valid template, as can later third-party development work.

Moreover, nothing causal or predictive can be determined from these results. If 25% of the top 100 sites validated in my test, it would not mean that 25% of all sites on the web validate.

And I got nothing like 25%.

Enough disclaimers. On with the test.

Seven percent validate

On this day, in this test, seven out of 100 “top US” sites validated:

  1. MSN (#7 in Alexa’s list) validates as XHTML 1.0 Strict. Who’d a thunk it? (Validation link)
  2. Craigslist (#10) validates as HTML 4.01 Transitional. I’ll buy that! (Validation link)
  3. WordPress (#22) validates as XHTML 1.0 Transitional. The power of the press, baby! (Validation link)
  4. Time Warner RoadRunner (#39) validates as XHTML 1.0 Transitional. Meep-Meep! (Validation link)
  5. BBC Newsline Ticker (#50) validates as XHTML 1.0 Strict. Cheers, mates! (Validation link)
  6. The US Internal Revenue Service (#58) validates as HTML 4.01 Transitional. Our tax dollars at work! (Validation link)
  7. TinyPic (#73) (“Free Image Hosting”), coded by ZURB, validates as XHTML 1.0 Transitional. (Validation link)

Also-rans (one or two errors)

  1. Wikipedia (#8) almost validates as XHTML 1.0 Strict (two errors).
  2. Apple (#29) almost validates as HTML 4.01 Transitional (two errors).
  3. Linkedin.com (#45) almost validates as HTML 4.01 Transitional (one error).
  4. AWeber Communications (#83) almost validates as XHTML 1.0 Transitional (one error: an onClick element)

Suis generis

The Pirate Bay (#68), “the world’s largest BitTorrent tracker,” goes in and out of validation. When it validates, it’s a beautiful thing, and it belongs on the list. But when it goes out of validation, it can quickly stack up ten errors or more. (Validation Link)

No-shows

Google (#1) does not validate or declare a DOCTYPE.

Yahoo (#2) does not validate or declare a DOCTYPE.

YouTube (#3) does not validate but at least declares that it is HTML 4.01 Transitional. Progress!

A surprising number of sites that do not come close to validating declare a DOCTYPE of XHTML 1.0 Strict. For instance, Twitter (#93) is authored in XHTML 1.0 Strict, although it contains seven errors.

This preference for Strict among non-validating sites suggests that at one point these sites were made over by standards-aware developers; but that any standards improvements made to these sites were lost by subsequent developers. (It doesn’t prove this; it merely suggests.) Another possibility is that some developers use tools that are more standards-aware than they are. (For instance, a developer with little to no knowledge of web standards might use a tool that defaults to the XHTML 1.0 Strict DOCTYPE.)

Some sites that used to validate (such as Blogger.com, previously designed by Douglas Bowman, and Reference.com, previously designed by Happy Cog) no longer do so; maintaining standards or design compliance may not have been important to new owners or new directors.

[tags]validation, webstandards, alexa, test[/tags]

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]

ALA 275: Duty Now For The Future

What better way to begin 2009 than by looking at the future of web design? In Issue No. 275 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, we study the promise and problems of HTML 5, and chart a path toward mobile CSS that works.

Return of the Mobile Style Sheet

by DOMINIQUE HAZAËL-MASSIEUX

At least 10% of your visitors access your site over a mobile device. They deserve a good experience (and if you provide one, they’ll keep coming back). Converting your multi-column layout to a single, linear flow is a good start. But mobile devices are not created equal, and their disparate handling of CSS is like 1998 all over again. Please your users and tame their devices with handheld style sheets, CSS media queries, and (where necessary) JavaScript or server-side techniques.

Semantics in HTML 5

by JOHN ALLSOPP

The BBC’s dropping of hCalendar because of accessibility and usability concerns demonstrates that we have pushed the semantic capability of HTML far beyond what it can handle. The need to clearly and unambiguously add rich, meaningful semantics to markup is a driving goal of the HTML 5 project. Yet HTML 5 has two problems: it is not backward compatible because its semantic elements will not work in 75% of our browsers; and it is not forward compatible because its semantics are not extensible. If “making up new elements” isn’t the solution, what is?

[tags]HTML5, mobileCSS, webstandards, alistapart, johnallsopp, W3C, Dominique Hazael-Massieux[/tags]

Extreme Markover

“Markover a site for a non-profit. Showcase your talent and gain industry recognition!” So advise the founders of Extreme Markover, an event that pits the talent and expertise of standards-based web designers against the challenges faced by underfunded nonprofits.

Sponsored by the World Organization of Webmasters in partnership with Web Design World 2008 Boston and Bizland, “the leader in web hosting,” Extreme Markover invites web professionals worldwide to demonstrate their talent and expertise while giving back.

For details, or to submit a prospective markover candidate, visit extrememarkover.org.

[tags]WOW, webdesign, webstandards, markover, competitions[/tags]