Evangelizing Outside the Box: Web Standards and Large Companies

by Peter-Paul Koch

43 Reader Comments

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  1. I used to work as a designer for a large web company three years ago, they were 37 employees at that time so it did was large, and web standards were all the rage. One area of the company was in charge of giving technical and cultural copy material about the web and the whole development process; we were given in memos about the benefit of the web standards, good programming practice, web community phenomena, and other stuff.

    A particularly interesting memo we had was about Firefox and his superiority over other browsers and why we should use it; as a matter of fact, we were practically obligated to use it as a reference for design, and for browsing both the Internet and our own VPN, because the browser itself and all its abilities and components made comunication a lot easier, a fact which I could not agree more.

    As a result, all the employees started enjoying Firefox; I remember a young girl next to me using brand new components and pushing tab navigation to its limits with her endless necessity of web community needs.

    After several months, I got bored and left the company. Nevertheless, I found that all this introduction to Firefox was a good approach to make people related to the web environment start to embrace web standards without having to actually be part of it.

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  2. Furthermore, there’s no easy way to reach the unbelievers. There is no “Your Average List: For People Who Hate Web Standards”? where they can conveniently be addressed en masse.

    Excellent observation, humorous delivery.  Bravo.

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  3. I work for a very large retailer (100,000+ employees) as a front-end developer. For the past couple of years, my small group has been playing the role of evangelists in the areas of SEO, accessibility, and standards. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a position of not being able to change much due to the enormous enterprise architecture our web site(s) sit on. It would seem to me that smaller firms would be more flexible in their back-end architecture, having the ability to change things for the benefit of standards, without having to make a case to non-savvy senior leadership, have them pony up a fat check to our technology “partners” for tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, and kick off a huge multi-year project where a hundred different uninformed business groups want to have it “their way”.

    I believe the only way things will change for large companies is for people in the know to educate those who aren’t in the reasons why standards are important—why this stuff matters, why it is ultimately good for the customer and for the bottom line.

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  4. When it comes to web development, Belgium is a little fish. No real bigmegasuper companies around here. Medium size is big around here. I work for such a ‘big’ Belgium company. Like most companies in this country they discovered the importance of web standards – css – accessibility – usability too late.
    I was hired to close some gaps.
    It is so simple and for me the discussion is closed: web development needs to be web standard. Always and everywhere. And web standards for me is the whole package: CSS, semantics, and accessibility. A big client wanted just to get a conformance label for accessibility. (a competitor had it also…) I told them to get rid of the 33 useless tables (only for the header and footer!) and try to get the site web standard first. Accessibility will come much easier. They agreed. The semantic part is always a bit harder to realize with CMS and the ability for publishers to copy and paste pure MS Word junk without thinking twice. But with well written style sheets and the very necessary style guides for publishers I have seen completely demotivated publishers turn into active contributers.
    I demonstrated the power of Firefox and its very usefull plugins to the developers with whom I will have to work. So convincing. Every honest developer or designer knows that standards are the way to go. It is simply better code! And the tools are here, the convincing articles are everywhere, the benefits are so cristal clear. It is so funny that some people still try to argue. Just face the reality: good-old full table design was only acceptable in the nineties! Think and move forward.

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  5. People keep talking about standards as if they are time-consuming or difficult, as if companies need to be persuaded to adopt them in spite of the ‘difficulties’. I don’t get it—I find it much easier to develop a project when I’m using standards; everything just seems to organise itself.

    If you do everything in HTML and CSS, more or less separating style from content, and then write a couple of fixes for IE, and some JavaScript for a bit of progressive enhancement, you cover every base in one go: normal web browsers, browsers without JavaScript, cell phones, screen readers… everything. And it also tends to make things better with search engine rankings; only the important stuff is in your HTML, which is the bit the spiders want. I can’t imagine the hassle of trying to get a website working in such a cross-compatible, SE-optimised way without using web standards: everything would suddenly require effort, rather than just falling into place.

    It’s just like sticking to a naming convention for all your functions and variables: if you don’t have a convention, you end up losing track of things. I almost never forget what I called a function, because I can ‘work out’ what I must have called it based on my convention, so I don’t have to open a library file and check. I think little things like that add up to a lot when you’re programming all day.

    Non-compliance would be so counter-productive for me, and I’m a solo developer—I can’t imagine how a team of developers make decent progress without web standards. I haven’t encountered any of these people discussed in the article—people who ‘reject’ web standards. Who are they? Are they just odd little people who dislike society, and themselves? I’m intrigued.

    Surely the increase in productivity is why big companies should be interested in standards? It’s not an ideological thing; for me, the accessibility benefits are just a welcome side effect. The point is that it keeps your work organised and extensible, making it infinitely easier to edit things later, so you get more done in less time. That prospect must be of interest to big companies? OK, you have to learn the theory first, which takes a little while, but that’s true of any skill.

    Or am I the only one who finds standards compliance much easier than non-compliance?

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  6. Exactly, Den.

    With very rare exception, the only time when using standards is harder than not using standards when you’re proposing that a company refactor a huge existing application or site.  And that’s usually not such a good idea, anyhow, unless the benefits greatly outweigh the rewards.  That’s why “I wrote”:http://www.alistapart.com/comments/standardsandcompanies?page=3#28 that we should abandon the zealotry and focus on what matters—writing excellent code and building new systems that succeed with standards.

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  7. Web standards are required for developing websites.

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  8. Based on the author’s “Comments on Comments”:http://alistapart.com/comments/standardsandcompanies?page=2#16 I’m skeptical whether many businesses fit the narrow definition of a “large web company.”  Counting the offsite staff, my gig has maybe 30 employees in all.  And we focus on the production of web applications (which PPK may consider fundamentally different that just plain ol’ websites, I don’t know).

    Assuming for the moment that I do fit this elusive demographic, let me say: I’m pretty sure I already explained why we (LWCs) don’t use standards, “months ago”:http://alistapart.com/comments/whereourstandardswentwrong?page=6#54 …

    Because we use methodologies instead.

    Although neither “Jonathan Lui”:http://alistapart.com/comments/standardsandcompanies?page=3#24 nor “Jay Myers”:http://alistapart.com/comments/standardsandcompanies?page=4#33 technically fit the demo (since neither work for LWCs), their paths to standards adoption are thwarted by the very same obstacle that plagues my LWC: we each already have a methodology in place. Jonathan’s pages are generated by a CRM.  Jay’s pages are plugged in to an enterprise architecture.  My pages are built on the fly with Fusebox.  Even without standards, we’re guaranteed a predictable level of quality.

    Assuming we heed “Isaac Schlueter’s”:http://alistapart.com/comments/standardsandcompanies?page=3#28 advice and just start making new pages better, then predictability goes out the window. I’ve done this before. In theory, there’s an abrupt switch from circa ‘97 tabular layouts to beautiful standardized code.  In practice, after the switch, get ready for months of tweaking while your skills adjust to the new technique.  Eventually, you’ll lock into a comfort zone and start enforcing your own unwritten rules.  But in that interim, code is chaos.  Your site becomes an evolutionary chart of shifting styles that only you can navigate.  By giving up on a methodology and instead chasing standards, your company loses the quality of predictability. Contrary to the notion that standards are faster and easier, umpteen different flavors of standards on one site (however compliant) force everyone to program on a page-per-page basis, which slows things down

    In the paragraph above I paint an admittedly skewed scenario. Whenever Isaac abandons the old for the new, I bet he employs an unspoken methodology.  Maybe he even goes so far as to write it down.  Which simply points back to my message from months ago: standards aren’t the elephant in the room…methodologies are.

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  9. Whenever Isaac abandons the old for the new, I bet he employs an unspoken methodology. Maybe he even goes so far as to write it down. Which simply points back to my message from months ago: standards aren’t the elephant in the room”¦methodologies are.

    Great points, Everett.  A consistent methodology is an important part of creating quality software.  (And yes, we do write it down.)

    Production software is often not the time or place for testing out something that is unfamiliar.  I believe that, in most cases, a team that is familiar with the standards-based approach can create higher quality software in less time than using web 1.0 methods.  However, if you take a team of developers who have been using tables for the last 10 years, and say, “Use web standards!” then it’s usually a disaster.  (I’ve seen it!)

    You create software with the team you have.  A whole new breed of webdev is entering the market these days, and they’ve never used anything but CSS for styling.  The ones that are fresh and passionate about this field are using standards.  As more and more devs use standards, more and more “LWCs” will as well.

    That’s why the zealotry and the focus on refactoring old systems is absurd.  Those systems will live as long as they can, and then be replaced by the competition.  An inaccessible website is a bigger liability every day, and execs are learning this.

    If you want to create a new app or site using a standards based approach, then you either need to educate the team you have, or get a new one.  The ramp-up time from CSS n00b to expert is about a year for a bright and committed developer.  That’s less than, say, C++, but it’s still fairly expensive, and it’s silly to expect that someone can just learn it overnight.  As more and more customers and employers expect these skills, the webdevs of last century will either educate themselves or get into another line of work.  It’s already happening; a standards-savvy developer with a year of experience and a personal blog site is a valuable sought-after commodity.

    In other words, I think we can all calm down.  The standards revolution has hit critical mass, and will continue whether we shout about it or not.  There are more important things to talk about, like figuring out methodologies to create maintainable systems.  (Hint: standards alone doesn’t do it!)

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  10. Perhaps if “web standards”? had a snazzy buzzword with the same ear appeal as “Flash”? and “Ajax”?? (Chazz? Swak? Spondulix?)

    ‘WebStanz’ or ‘Stanzy’ perhaps, to keep it slightly recognizable…

    “Is your website Stanzy?”

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  11. Only web developers who care about web accessibility talk about it, write about it, and read about it. The rest of the world doesn’t even know what it is. Could the same strategy discussed here could work for increasing awareness of the importance of web accessibility?

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  12. I have to say that from my personal stand point. There are only two ways to impose web-standards among the design world, particularly large companies. Before I rant any further I would like to point out the obvious. In a strictly programmed environment (c, python etc) the program does not compile unless the code has been symantically and logistically tested and found to pass. This is a strict system, but it does assure that all programs coded in that particular language are, at least, adequate.

    Say for example the same principle was applied to a segment of HTML code. It wouldn’t work if the site did not conform to w3c standards. Even if the site was poorly designed (horribly large gifs, mismatching borders etc) it would still conform to w3c standards. This is my first proposal: Target the companies that provide web-editting programs & web-servers. Imagine if apache threw out an error if a tag wasn’t closed. It would be an amazing incentive to get neat (code-wise at least).

    My second proposal would be the comsumer. Every standardista needs to put a tag at the bottom of every site they code:
    “This site conforms to w3c standards, link->read more about the movement <-link” this would make sure that clients always become associated with having a w3c compliant site. Call it a stamp of pride. Remember that even the largest of businesses are ruled by their clients. With greater client knowledge comes greater pressure upon bigger companies to clean up their act.

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  13. Your site is very interesting.

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