Web Standards 2008: Three Circles of Hell

by Molly E. Holzschlag

63 Reader Comments

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  1. “the key obstacle to standards adoption: the colossal, entrenched population of the near-permanent IE6 base.“

    Hit the nail right on the head. Until the day when we no longer need “iehacks.css” and other kludges, we’re all stuck accommodating the AOL/IE bunch if we want any real traffic.

    We are stuck with coding around this most-truculent user base for at least the next decade, and there is no obvious path to pry loose this browser from the significant population that will never click an “update”? button.

    As a former tech-support / hardware-technician, I can offer up some insight into the mentality of the “typical user”.

    IMHO, it’s not that they don’t want to – in most cases, the problem is that they’re simply not aware of the alternatives.

    How many browsers can you name, off the top of your head – 4-5 or more?

    Now, ask the typical AOL/IE user the same question. Most likely response: “There ARE other browsers? I always thought the big blue ‘E’ was the Internet!” {shocked face, eyes the size of saucers, etc.}

    We’re dealing with a userbase that’s been fed TV commercials stating “American OnLine is… The Internet”, and told repeatedly that “to get online, all you need to do is click the big blue ‘E’ on the desktop, ok?”.

    Until they’re at least aware of the alternatives, nothing will change.

    How do we make them aware? Person-to-person evangelizing does work, but it’s time-consuming. Installing alternative browsers on new computers requires participation from vendors (good luck there). The only other approach I’ve seen that has a snowball’s chance in hell is designers getting sick of working around IE’s multiple screwups and posting notices along the lines of:

    “This website will not display properly on Internet Explorer. Why? Because it’s a crappy browser, and we will not break our site to accommodate it. Want a better Web experience? Get a REAL BROWSER here: {link}.“

    Or, for those who have a core audience and don’t really rely on traffic turnover:

    “This website will NOT work on Internet Explorer. Why? Because it sucks, and Microsoft is the Devil’s child. Want to see our content? Get {browser1}, or {browser2}, or {browser3}. Otherwise, we will not let you in.“


    When your userbase is “doing it wrong”, until someone points out that they’re “doing it wrong”, they will continue to “do it wrong”. I’m not saying everyone should force users to switch from IE, but a little reminder here & there might get people to realize that there are alternatives out there.
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  2. Good article Molly. You’re clearly very knowledgeable on the subject. You mentioned that ‘we’ shouldn’t blame. However, in every paragraph you list your cons for the subjects you discuss. This IS blame. You’re pointing fingers at the reasons why the web is in this state right now. I don’t have a problem with blame. In fact i think it’s very necessary in this context. It’s only through blame that we can identify the culprits and take steps to fix the situation.

    Be more bold. it’s only through people like you that change can happen and the web can be a better place.

    Well done. keep it up.

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  3. I think what the web community needs to do is fix these browser issues before anyone can really get together and figure out these issues. The manufacturers need to step up and create a common layout engine that all browsers can use.

    Think about it. If you open an avi file, that file will look the same on different machines, whether you use Windows Media Player, VLC Player, or any other player that can play AVI files.

    Why can’t opening an HTML file have the same expectation?

    Companies could still differentiate their browsers, like any other product, by the features. Some use Firefox mostly because of the add-ons. Others could use IE for its own uses, Opera for its own, so on and so forth.

    The groundwork is there; each browser has already differentiated itself based on its features. The question is when can these companies all sit down and realize that by being too invested in having their layout engine be the best, that they are actually causing the web standards community to disperse and become schizophrenic.

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  4. I think another fact that people have to consider is the problem of how “forgiving” browser rendering can be sometimes – if we want to make sure stuff written in archaic editors like Front Page and Apple’s products isn’t force into prominence they have to fail to render in standards browsers. The problem with this method is that it compromises the free essence of the web as we know it.

    The reason ICANN succeed where the W3C don’t is that they have a hardware business that can be more easily charged for, and that anyone setting up a server has to comply with a standard DNS model or no one can access their system. Its designers coding for IE6 in preference of newer browsers, WYSIWYG editors that produce un-semantic code and a glut of clueless people populating the web that we have to worry about.

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  5. What surprises me in all this, and this has been bugging me for a while now, is how they keep talking about “standards” and “standard bodies” but fail to acknowledge there is a “standard” way of dealing with making sure an industry follows a certain standard: Certification.
    You really think organizations like ISO waste copious amounts of time begging industry participants if they would please be so kind to follow their suggestions? Somehow I don’t think they would, they have strict rules which should be followed would one carry their seal of approval and become an ISO-certified organization.

    Every time I see a webpage carry the W3C seal of valid htmlxmlcsswhatever I die a little: it’s the browsers which should carry those seals first before any web-page. What use is it to carry a such seal and then have the browser mangle your well-formed and valid html beyond recognition? Redicilous.

    Problem is: there should be clear benefits to be certified. There should be a way to ‘force’ browser vendors into being certified. Something like “Your browser isn’t CSS2 certified, fix that then you can join the debate on CSS3”. ie; if you want to push your ideas, first show us you can follow those of others.

    This could then eventually extend to pages just not showing up in a certain browser since the developer has decided only to cater for browsers that carry a full certification, this to reduce development and bug-tracking time and costs. This last bit could be an incentive to our clients to actually cooperate with this: less bugtracking and development time means lower prices and less maintenance for them too.

    IMO only then can we create a real incentive for those vendors to implement the right features in the right way. As long as this is a free-to-follow process, which they can even influence in less than morally sound ways, I don’t see the current status quo change beyond mere empty promises.

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  6. Seems to me that it used to be our calling card. Standardistas unite. But Molly’s 100% right about this issue. The movement seems to have hit a resounding stale-mate and I don’t like it. During the day, I find myself tied at the feet, hands and mouth with what our creative department would like to do. Tied by the very hands that hired us. So often politics smash our momentum, and seemingly bum-rush us into last year.

    Maybe what we need is a stronger grass-roots movement. Not all of us are “designers” or “front-enders” only. I’d be willing to bet that there are some out there with grant-writing skills, sales skills, etc. Let’s band together and utilize everyone’s resources … gain some momentum … and seek out grant money to push forward with an organization dedicated to open-discussion about web standards and the future.

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  7. WHATWG is not revolutionary. It is very very evolutionary. It evolves “dead” HTML4 rather than pushing incompatible new XHTML2.

    WHATWG has very strong leadership – Ian Hickson.

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  8. Long distance phone charges? Traveling to France for face-to-face meetings?

    What rock have you been living under for the past 10 years? Skype, Gizmo5, and various other nearly free VoIP options exist, as does video and online conferencing.

    Good God…I’d never expect something so whiny and cave-person-like from AListApart.

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  9. Dear Ms. Bizcuit,

    Your post screams for a response. Please blog or Twitter or Skype or use whatever current technology you’d like to let the W3C know about their business practices. You think it’s MY idea to have to deal with long distance telephone charges, IRC and so on? It amazes me that the W3C hasn’t embraced more current technology, despite so many contemporary technologists. So, if you think this is whiny and cavelike, I’d like to encourage a call to action from you to help bring about change.

    And good luck with that. :)

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  10. I love the information mentioned in the article about web design and website development in web design industry,……..can you please email me more articles….

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  11. Molly :

    THANK YOU.  I have been waiting to read something like this for a long time.  (And ALA, I encourage you to publish more along these lines, if you’ve got the authorship available.)

    I learned XHTML + CSS in the early 2000s, and I remember feeling at the time was that the W3C was slow, but good. 

    I’ve learned a lot since then.  (A bit of programming, semantics, design process, and so on.)  And although I know it happened gradually, I nevertheless woke up one day and realized that the W3C have been compromised under the weight of their own bureaucratic inefficiency”¦and under pressure from corporate interests who, after failing to push their proprietary technology from without the W3C, decided to push it from within instead.

    I’m irritated that XHTML’s failure to gain traction has resulted in HTML5.  Although there are many things I like about HTML5, there are several others that seem to undo years of grueling effort to separate content from presentation.  I wish I could take the good from HTML5, migrate it to XHTML, and perform some kind of Heimlich maneuver to get momentum going for XHTML again. 

    I feel this frustration very strongly, yet I feel like completely powerless to change the course of things.  It’s as though I’m stuck on a train heading for a cliff with no way to stop it. 

    Three Circles of Hell, indeed. 

    And you know what?  It would almost be Four Circles of Hell, but for your challenge to solve this problem without resorting to blame-mongering.  I have shouted more than my fair share of blame at Microsoft, but I think you are right to examine pros and cons will maintaining a positive, pragmatic attitude at the same time.  I found it sobering, and helpful in putting the focus back where it belongs: “what’s the nature of the problem, and what can we do about it?”?, rather than “whose fault is it?”?.  Thank you for that.

    All I can say is, please, please, PLEASE keep up your good work on this front!  I don’t want to see a corporate war for dominance bring about a digital apocalypse that will take the Web back to the 1990s.  Corporations are strong, but they are not the Web.  The Web is Us!

    Stay strong, Molly!  You’re a good soldier! :)

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  12. Mz.Biscuit seems to be unaware of the standards maverick (forgive me for that, Molly) she seems to be denouncing as unaware of our modern technologies.  I don’t particularly care to engage in a slamming of you, but seriously, you obviously don’t know what Molly has helped achieve for us … take it back! Hehehehe …

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  13. Haha, I loved Ted Lee’s comment about the 3 circles of hell being IE5.5, IE6 and IE7. He predicted that IE 8 was going to be a nice, clean step forward, but that has clearly not been the case. Microsoft’s strategy has always been to go against the grain to retain a dominant position. In the case of IE, their resistance to W3C has been the cause of their downfall. It’s interesting how far we’ve come since this article was written, but the author uncannily predicted a number of developments and I am glad, as I am sure is she, that the W3C standards have stuck around.

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