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Issue № 223

A Standardista’s Alphabet

by Published in Industry · 29 Comments

It is important to note that there are two main species of standardista, the Lesser Standardista (Standistus minori followum), who follow web standards unfailingly and will always submit to the authority of the big names in the standardista world, and the Greater Standardista (Standistus argumentatavum maximus) who are either already one of the big names in the standardista world, or believe they should be. This group will always be prepared to argue their own corner, sometimes even if there is no-one in the opposite corner taking up a contrary position.

A is for Accessibility
This refers to how easily someone with disabilities can access your site (although some definitions will also include universality). The two most commonly used web accessibility standards are WCAG 1.0 and Section 508. The Lesser (or Badged) Standardista will include badges on their site to indicate which level of automated testing their site has passed, whereas the Greater (or Smug) Standardista frowns on the use of badges, and insists on double-checking every checkpoint manually.
B is for Berners-Lee
No alphabet of anything web-related would be complete without a mention of Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the World Wide Web. Once standardistas have finished bowing and scraping in reverence to the mighty TBL, they will usually spend some time regaling you with their favourite quotes. Most standardistas believe that anything said by Tim Berners-Lee is more important and inherently more correct than anything that could possibly said by anyone else. There may well be important and meaningful pieces of information such as “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” But it is important to remember that Tim is not a supreme being, despite the reverence he is often held in.
C is for CSS
The only way to present your site, if you want to be able to hold your head up without people sniggering at you. To fully comprehend what you can do with pure CSS styling, visit the CSS Zen Garden.
D is for DOCTYPE
Your web pages must have a DOCTYPE to ensure that the browsers know how to handle the markup they contain. There are different formulations of HTML, and your DOCTYPE will tell your user’s browsers which one you are using so that your pages can be rendered properly. Or at least, as properly as their browser will allow. If you’re not using DOCTYPE properly, you’ll be triggering Quirks Mode, and that will see you drummed out of the Standardista Guild, most likely. Unless you’re doing it in some kind of ironic way.
E is for Encoding
An HTML document must specify the sort of character encoding that is used, which will tell the browser how to display that particular document (this is also required for document validation). The most common character encoding methods used for English and other Western European countries are UTF-8 and iso-8859-1, which may be able to be specified by your server settings, or alternatively can be specified in the document head using <meta http-equiv=“Content-Type” c charset=iso-8859-1” />. But you knew all that already, didn’t you?
F is for Firefox
Firefox is an open source web browser that is available through the Mozilla organisation. It is probably the most widely used browser after Internet Explorer. This is the web browser of choice for many standardistas, although the fact that so many people have heard of it and are using it will obviously put off some standardistas, who will instead be using Opera or more likely Safari.
G is for Grayscale
A standardista will seek different methods to ensure that their site is accessible to all. One very visual method to test whether your colour contrasts are sufficient for a user with colour blindness to distinguish the colours is to convert the entire thing to a grayscale version. One tool which can carry out this function for you is GrayBit, presumably so called because it makes the sites you view look a bit gray.
H is for Handcoding in HTML
It is commonly believed that all web standardistas look down their noses at people who use WYSIWYG editors to produce web pages, mocking scornfully and insisting that everything should be handcoded. Nonsense. A standardista would simply feel superior to you, and would not actually scoff or physically assault you unless your WYSIWYG text editor didn’t produce standards-compliant code.
I is for Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer is the web browser used by the vast majority of internet users. It does not support web standards as well as the latest versions of Mozilla Firefox and Opera, and has a whole raft of CSS hacks written to try to allow you to get the damn thing to do what you want. Of course, the Greater Standardista would frown at the use of something as inelegant as a hack, and simply assert that if Internet Explorer doesn’t render according to specification, that’s hardly their fault. The latest version, IE7, is believed to be a significant improvement.
J is for Joe Clark
Joe Clark is a journalist and accessibility consultant who lives in Canada. He is always passionate, frequently opinionated, frequently argumentative, infrequently diplomatic, and infrequently wrong. The Lesser Standardistas read Joe Clark regularly to understand what they should believe; the Greater Standardistas try to keep up to date on Joe’s opinion, so that they can be seen to almost agree with him on most issues, whilst retaining enough disagreement to show that they’ve made up their own mind. Joe’s readers also follow his blog to see examples of intriguing typography and read interesting words like skiamorph.
K is for Konqueror
Konqueror is part of the KDE and claimed to have been the first browser to pass the Acid2 test for CSS rendering compliance (although it has been claimed that it failed to apply a rule properly). However, non-standardistas may not have heard of this because Konqueror is not one of the most popular browsers. Konqueror is designed for use, and included with most Linux based systems, meaning that many IT professionals haven’t even heard of it. Most standardistas will have heard of it, and a smaller percentage will actually have used it. Beware of these people.
L is for Lawsuits
Complying with web standards, particularly those relating to accessibility is generally a good idea in order to reduce the risk of being embroiled in a lawsuit from a disgruntled person with a disability. In many countries, there are specific laws which apply to this—those in the US have the ADA and Section 508, Brits have the DDA, and the Aussies have their own DDA. The first legal case concerning web accessibility was brought under the Australian DDA by Bruce Lindsay Maguire, who successfully sued the Sydney Olympic Games Organising Committee for not providing an accessible site.
M is for both Macs and Microsoft
Many standardistas of both types will insist that you should use a Mac, because they are more secure, they are just generally better, and they look nicer. Plus, they haven’t been created by the Evil Corporate Machine that is Microsoft. However, it is not mandatory for a standardista to hate Microsoft, and many standardistas will defend Microsoft because they are sometimes picked on just because they’re the big guy. Many standardistas therefore tell you that you should use Microsoft products because they’re easy to use, everyone else uses to them, and let’s face it, you don’t want to be Mr. Geeky standing in the corner by yourself, do you? This of course is unfair. Simply using a Mac does not make you Mr. Geeky, this privilege is reserved for those standardistas who insist on running everything on a Linux platform.
N is for Nielsen
Dr. Jakob Nielsen in the great grand-daddy of Web Usability, and the man behind the fortnightly alertbox column. He is often controversial, but is extremely well researched and widely read. He is in fact so widely read that the Lesser Usability Standardista, with their desire to follow a great authority, would not ask themselves the question “What would Jesus do?” but would instead ask “What would Nielsen say?” As with Joe Clark, the Greater Standardista would never allow themselves to be seen to follow blindly and would insist on reading the supporting evidence before pretending to draw their own conclusions.
O is for Open Source
Open Source is a method of software development where the source code is available to be accessed and theoretically modified by anyone. In practice, there are a number of different licences available which may restrict use (e.g. that you cannot build on an existing freely available product and then make a charge for your product). The Firefox browser, which is produced by the Mozilla Corporation, is probably the most widely known example of an open-source product. Many standardistas prefer the concept of open-source software to closed development because they believe that everyone should be free to contribute to the web. On the other hand, some standardistas are quite happy to use both closed-source and open-source software, either because they don’t believe in this ideology, or because they don’t have the time, the skills or the inclination to develop software and are perfectly content to let anyone else do it for them.
P is for PDFs
PDF files used to be seen as the bane of a web standardista’s life, as they were very difficult to make accessible to users with disabilities. Traditionally, the plain text document would be associated with a whole pile of images and background colours and then just dumped onto the web with no semblance of accessibility at all. Fortunately, newer versions of the PDF format incorporate many accessibility features, so this is no longer the case. Today, it is possible to make PDF documents accessible, so now they are only mostly dumped onto the web with no semblance of accessibility at all.
Q is for Quirks Mode
Quirks Mode is one of two modes that (more recent) browsers can use to render your css, the other being Standards mode. Not supplying a DOCTYPE will mean that your pages are rendered in quirks mode. Supplying a doctype of HTML 4.01 or later properly (that is, not only including the name but the URL) will normally mean you’re in Standards mode (or Almost Standards mode, at least). However, it is worth noting that use of the XML prolog <xml versi encoding=“UTF-8”> prior to the document type declaration will trigger quirks mode in Opera 7 or IE6—although this behaviour is said to be fixed in IE7. Henri Sivonen has compiled a useful resource to show you how to match DOCTYPES to triggered modes.
R is for Recommendation
When the W3C produce a specification, it passes through various stages from Working Draft through to the final Recommendation. In the W3C’s terminology, Recommendation does not mean “you should probably do this.“ It instead means “this is what we say you should do.“ A W3C Recommendation is the equivalent of a standard in many other industries.
S is for Section 508
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (US) requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain or use electronic and information technology, they should comply with a number of guidelines to ensure that this technology achieves at least a minimum acceptable level of Accessibility.
T is for Testing
The Badged Standardista will ensure that their pages validate and will ensure that their pages can be verified by Cynthia Says or a similar automated testing tool to the level of Accessibility they are trying the claim. The Greater or Smug Standardista would insist that in order to be properly assessed, a site must be manually tested, the CSS must also be validated, actual user testing involving real people will need to be carried out, and that the site will need to be tested on more than Internet Explorer 6 running on a Windows XP PC. This isn’t to say that the Greater Standardista will necessarily carry out all of this testing, they perceive that at this level it is more important to be able to instruct others.
U is for Universality
Universality is the principle that your site should be accessible to any device, regardless of browser type, operating platform, screen resolution etc. The Lesser Standardista will sometimes include this as part of their mental picture of what accessibility means (=“accessible to all”). The Greater Standardista would insist that this topic be kept separate and filed under universality, and may in fact get quite upset if you continually confuse the two concepts. (If this is your thing, feel free—it might be worth mentioning the alt “tag” to them as well while you’re on, as that always upsets them.)
V is for Validation
Validation is a process usually carried out by the W3C Markup Validation Service which ensures that your markup matches to the DOCTYPE that you specified for your document. A valid document is essential to pass WCAG 1.0 to the Double-A standard. The Greater Standardista will also insist that their CSS is validated using the W3C CSS Validation Service, and will also be aware of any bugs in the validators.
W is for WCAG
The WCAG are the international standards for web accessibility, and are produced by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the W3C. Version 1.0 of the guidelines is well known and well used but are in some need of updating. Version 2.0 is currently in draft but has not received a universally good reception from standardistas.
X is for XHTML
The Lesser Standardista will always seek to use XHTML in their documents—probably XHTML 1.0 Transitional—because they are aware that XHTML is more modern than HTML 4.01 and so they will want to be see to be using the latest technology. The Greater Standardista will take one of two approaches: either using XHTML 1.1 and serving it as application/xml+xhtml or simply using HTML 4.01 Strict. To some extent, the Greater Standardista would have a point: HTML 4.01 Strict does not allow the use of presentation attributes and elements which were deprecated in the HTML 4.01 specification, but both sorts of Transitional DOCTYPES would allow these.
Y is for Your Standards Need You
… to go over the top, and be machine-gunned in the trenches. If you do care about standards, then you should be prepared to speak up about them, whether this means discussing them on your blog, on your corporate site, pitching standards-based articles to all and sundry, taking part in online forums and trying to help others, and helping to contribute towards them when the people who develop standards ask for input. However, be aware that as soon as you offer an opinion, regardless of how inoffensive or uncontroversial you think it may be, someone, somewhere will take this opportunity to give you a thorough and unfairly critical chewing over and make you look like a fool (and what’s worse, they’ll probably be right on the points of fact). You can either keep your head down and just follow other people, or develop a thick skin and continue to spout your opinions to everyone regardless of what they are, and whether or not anyone’s interested in them. It’s entirely your decision, and this is probably the main criteria in determining whether you’ll end up as a Lesser or Greater Standardista.
Z is for ... um ... Zebra?
Well, lets face it, it’s not as if there’s anyone of any renown in the field of standards who has a name beginning with “Z,” is there? I’m sorry, Jeffrey who?

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