May 5, 2010
Confession. Having worked in and for large organisations for over 25 years, I was never a Web Standards fan boy. They were always out-of-date. They were written by non-practitioners. Their format was dry and verbose. Their purpose unclear but just obey. Effecting change or providing feedback was actively discouraged. In short, information flowed one way: down! There was not much to like about Web Standards.
However, if you can get past all, there were little gems of insight locked away in these Web Standards. Looking back through older eyes I realise that I never really hated Web Standards. I just didn’t like the way they were enforced. So I rejected them and promptly falling foul of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Web Standard Example
Learning from past mistakes, here is a simple web standard example.
All Web Pages must be XHTML compliant.
XHTML is the recommended markup language for the Web. It helps to avoid accessibility problems. Has better tool support and facilitates the re-purposing of content on the page. XHTML is more predictable and widely used across different device types.
1. Open the document with the appropriate DOCTYPE and NAMESPACE.
2. All markup tags are lowercase.
3. All attribute values are wrapped quotes.
4. Close all tags.
5. Close all empty tags.
Use http://validator.w3.org/ to determine if the Web page is XHTML compliant.
Web Standards 101
That was simple.
A Web Standard is both a guide and a measure. Web Standards are educational aids used by developers during the implementation phase. They clearly document their purpose and outline the specific steps required to meet them. As a measure, use them to evaluate compliance of project deliverables against agreed web standards.
The above Web Standard has been trimmed down for the purpose of this post. The fully blown standard would have:
- Links to the XHTML standard.
- Sample snippets for all the success cases (e.g. how to wrap all attribute values in quotes.)
- Links to related Web Standards.
Web Standards can depend upon other Web Standards. For example, XHTML is a Web Standard. That’s great because that’s one less thing you have to do. Just reference it and move on.
Web Standards are also written within context of your organisational business objectives. If you’re a government institution, then accessibility Web Standards may be higher up on your priority list. If your company with Software as a Service (SaaS) product offerings, then Domain Name and URL Strategy Web Standards will be core to satisfying your business goals. As an organisation, there will be Web Standards that are mandatory across all your projects, while others will be optional. The optional standards tend to be Best Practices, than Web Standards that must be enforced in order for your Web Products to pass some form of quality assurance testing.
Web Standards bring tangible, concrete benefits. Web Standards are the low hanging fruit from which organisations can quickly derive high value, for low risk, with minimum effort. This is because Web Sites are well understood. Web Sites are founded upon well-established protocols, industry best practice and open collaboration.
However, in spite of this, time and time again, organisations do not set, maintain and enforce Web Standards very well. It’s an all or nothing scenario here. Either do it well, or don’t do it. But when done well, Web Standards significantly raise the quality bar on your Web Site and increase the productivity of your entire Web Team.