Don’t you just love Jeffrey Zeldman? I know I do for the simple fact that he has no problem saying it like it is and in many cases he’s right on the money,
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.
Nicely stated! Of course, just a paragraph or two above Jeffrey asks the question,
What exactly is the crisis in web standards? People assure me there is one. But they can’t be bothered to explain.
Excellent question and point, Jeffrey! And it’s building on top of this that I suggest the titled statement,
If You Don’t Know What The Problems Are, Please Don’t Try To Fix Them!
… and even further more,
If There Isn’t A Problem, Please Don’t Try To Find One And If It Doesn’t Exist Create One!
Okay, so stepping down from the soap box and switching gears a bit, what led me to the above post was a recent post from Aristotle Pagaltzis in which I don’t think I could agree more with than I already do,
“What appears to be a crisis is often merely the end of an illusion.”
Can you remember a time at which web standards were an even remotely complete and accurate description of the workings of the existent web? Me neither.
The web has thrived anyway.
There is in fact a crisis; as Zeldman asserts, it is in fact not a crisis of the web. It is a crisis of web standards and has existed for as long as the web has existed. It hasn’t prevented the web from working, so we have grown accustomed to it. To the point that Zeldman fails to see it.
Absolutely *SPOT ON*, Aristotle!
So a while back I found myself mocking the efforts around developing a “standard” around the XMLHttpRequest object thinking, incorrectly, that “It’s already a standard feature inside of each of the major browsers, what’s the point?!” Of course the reality is that this is *exactly* how web standards should come into existence,
* Someone innovates (in this case, Microsoft)
* Someone duplicates, (in this case, Mozilla)
* It catches on. (In this case, AJAX)
* It gets adopted in critical mass by the development community.
And once everyone has had a chance to take it for a test spin,
* Figure out where the problems exists from both developers and implementers perspective and work with all interested parties to fix them.
* When complete, write a standards doc such that,
* The knowledge of how to properly implement the technology in question can be propagated to those interested in implementing the technology in other applications.
* If someone has an incompatible implementation you have something to point them to to ensure they get it fixed based on the agreed upon standard.
If we were to take a snapshot of all of the true web standards, or in other words the actual technologies being used on the web as opposed to the piles and piles of would be web standards that never gained any traction, that picture would look something like,
* XMLHttpRequest object
Of course, few will deny the fact that both PDF (a standard) and Flash (not a standard) are as ubiquitous as any of the items on the above list. As such, standardized or not if they’re being used on the web in great abundance and accessible to a significant majority of web users regardless of platform or browser for all intents and purposes they’re a web standard.
Of course there are those of you who will adamantly deny that they can be considered as such, but whatever. My desire is not to debate that in which can be accepted by everyone as a true web standard and instead gain greater insight into how a technology that is used on the web reaches critical mass, enough so that it gains wide spread support across all major platforms and browsers.
In this regard, looking at the above list, how many of them represent a technology that put the cart before the horse? In other words, how many of the above standards were standardized *BEFORE* they were implemented, or as is more often the case implemented while the standard is first being developed? Furthermore, how many of them are snapshots of a pre-existing technology that was adopted by a standards body, cleaned up, documented, and then given a stamp of approval such that others could have something to build compatible implementations against?
Standard < Supporting Products < Based On*
* HTML < "WorldWideWeb" browser|Mosaic|Lynx< SGML < Hypercard
* CSS < Netscape|IE < HTML properties extracted from HTML attributes
* DOM < Netscape|IE Object Model < DHTML+Language Bindings
* DHTML < IE|Netscape < The Original Browser War
* XML < IE [CDF > MSXML]|Mozilla < SGML
* XSLT < IE|Mozilla < DSSSL
* XPath < IE|Mozilla < XSLT
* RSS/Atom < IE|Mozilla < CDF
* XMLHttpRequest object < IE[XMLHTTP object] < Outlook Web Access < HTML Frames ;-)
* PDF < Acrobat <
Absolutely no clue what PDF is based on. ;-)
* Flash < Flash < Ditto.
So with the above list in mind, can you see a pattern in regards to how to reach critical mass as it relates to browser support and thus wide spread web adoption? If not mistaken it goes something like this,
Standardize < Adopt < Steal/Duplicate < Innovate
- NOT -
Standardize > Adopt > Steal/Duplicate > Innovate
… or in other words, the way to fix the problem is to first understand what the problem *IS*, not what it *COULD BE*. And in this regard I believe, once again, that Aristotle is absolutely spot on the money,
There is in fact a crisis; as Zeldman asserts, it is in fact not a crisis of the web. It is a crisis of web standards and has existed for as long as the web has existed.
As always, thanks for reading. This stuff is important! ;-)