Web Standards 2008: Three Circles of Hell
Issue № 268

Web Standards 2008: Three Circles of Hell

“Blame is the cure, cure anything”—Mike Doughty

Article Continues Below

Readers and conference participants know that the more I write and talk about web standards, the more I point out that they really don’t exist. Step back with me for a moment: we wouldn’t need a web standards movement if there were standards! We continue to do the very best work we can to arrive at a standard of quality and professionalism. Sadly, however, despite a decade or more of web standards evangelism, we face the prospect of losing whatever influence we’ve gained these past years.

I’m going to share some of my thoughts on the problematic and constructive influences on most folks working in web standards today. I challenge you to counter these pros and cons as you see them, and to discuss without blame how to drive the web forward while maintaining the ideals and best practices we hold so dear.

The usual suspects#section2

Frustration can easily lead to finger pointing. But blame, despite singer and poet Mike Doughty telling us it’s the “cure, cure anything,” well, we all know blame only takes us so far.

But that doesn’t mean it’s unfair to take a realistic look at the forces on front-end development and design, particularly in relation to HTML and CSS. This is especially true for those of us who believe that the web belongs to all of us, and not to any company, government, or other organization.

As an invited expert to the W3C, a frequent colleague and friend of many of the WHATWG folks, and after an 18-month-long dip in the deep end of the Internet Explorer pool, I began to think a little finger-pointing was in order. There are flaws and wrongdoings in all aspects of what we do, such as the software developed on our behalf and the technologies we’re supposed to take from the theoretical to the practical. So much upset generates from these issues that it makes our job one of the most misunderstood on the planet.

Circle 1: academic and scientific—the W3C#section3

The W3C often gets the blunt end of our middle fingers when we run into problems with specifications. I believe this is due to unclear specifications written for academics and scientists. Accused of being the “ivory tower” despite its attempts in recent years to be more community-oriented, the W3C is a group of industry scientists and academics working for member companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Opera Software, and so on. Finger pointing occurs because we as a community feel left out.

You’re invited. Can you afford it?#section4

Yes, there are invited experts who mitigate bias, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to bring them on board. As an invited expert, I’m responsible for all expenses related to the work, including long distance telephone charges, or travel expenses to the south of France for a week of intensive meetings. These expenses can be an economic barrier that prevent independents from participating.

As a result, many working groups end up focused on the interests of member companies. To be fair, it’s true that the W3C only allows a set number of votes per member company per issue, but the agendas of member companies are nevertheless promoted—often successfully.

Taking their ball and going home#section5

I recently witnessed a member company representative shut down an entire line of discussion simply by saying, “This compromises several of our patents. We will remove ourselves from the W3C if you proceed.” With a history of no viable long-term economic model, the W3C cannot afford to lose members, particularly when they are mission critical to many evolving specifications.

I became very despondent witnessing this, knowing how difficult it is for the W3C to create an environment where these issues are easily dealt with. The fact is, however, that the world—because of the web—is changing. This means that the way we deal with intellectual property is going to have to change too. But until that time, I’m not sure we can really say the W3C is open, nor do I believe they are deserving of blame, per se.

W3C pros and cons#section6


  • Global
  • Academic and scientific body
  • Multiple interests represented, but mostly from paid member companies
  • Attempting to be more open via certain teams such as the HTML5 and CSS Working Groups
  • Attempting to appeal more to work-a-day world via redesigns, blogs, and more human-friendly language throughout the site


  • Creates “open standards” by ideal, not necessarily fact
  • Incredibly slow moving in a highly evolutionary environment
  • Poor economic model that relies on membership monies
  • Discourages independents and open process
  • Passive: only creates specs and recommends, does not do real outreach
  • “Ivory tower” perception

Some have suggested that the W3C is obsolete,  and that the real solution is to disband it. I believe that without a very strong alternative in place, that would be disastrous: currently, the W3C is the only place where these member companies discuss and work through issues.

A new, authentic infrastructure, along with new economic models, and some way to bring in independents, could be very helpful. In fact, on Sunday, September 14th, 2008, a new foundation was announced to do just that. The World Wide Web Foundation  has received seed money to help the W3C and expects to have a full plan in place by 2009. While this is a hopeful plan, how it will play out beyond the W3C and influence the community at large won’t be realized for some time to come.

Circle two: revolutionary and disruptive—independent working groups#section7

A number of organizations have emerged outside the W3C due to the frustrations people feel within W3C working groups. Two excellent examples of this are the WCAG Samurai, a closed group with undisclosed membership, and the WHATWG, an open group that works transparently. Both groups offer an interesting response to the issues raised in the first-circle discussion: they are both revolutionary and disruptive.

Other grassroots groups, such as The Web Standards Project (WaSP) and the Web Standards Group (WSG) focus on advocacy rather than actually writing specifications. The need for these groups is unquestionable in today’s environment, as they perform the outreach that the W3C and the other independent groups do not.

Say WHATWG?#section8

Because of the open rather than anonymous nature of WHATWG, I’ll use them in our discussion since their work has already been adopted in part by the W3C and portions of HTML5 are being implemented by browser vendors.

WHATWG formed out of frustration with the W3C for refusing to evolve HTML, and because XHTML, meant to be the next generation lingua franca, has never been implemented by Internet Explorer.

A number of clever lads including Ian Hickson, Lachlan Hunt, Henri Sivonen, Anne van Kesteren, Dean Edwards, and other thought leaders, believed this was unacceptable. They believe HTML needs to evolve semantically as well as functionally (forms, for example). WHATWG worked quickly, proving that independent organizations without funding could get things done quickly and well.

The WHATWG’s work is now the basis for the W3C’s new and “open” HTML5 Working Group, which, to quote Dorothy Parker, is a “fresh hell.” However, the WHATWG and the HTML5 Working Group continue to work separately despite sharing many resources.

Independent working group pros and cons#section9


  • Revolutionary
  • Disruptive: demands change
  • No economic bias
  • Many views represented (in the ideal)
  • Incredibly agile
  • Easier to create and publish independent open source specifications
  • Meritocracy: actions are based in passion and vision rather than profit-oriented


  • Lack of clear leadership—too many cooks can spoil the proverbial soup
  • No economic support—volunteer-based
  • Too agile also can mean not enough time for research, collegial discussion with other groups (for example, WHATWG and the Accessibility community)
  • Very high risk of being overly aggressive
  • Very high risk of becoming mono-cultural, led by a single person or small group with the majority of people going along with the idea because it’s the “right” thing to do

Circle 3: self interest and profiteering—proprietary technologies#section10

Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, and Google are among the most powerful businesses involved with proprietary intellectual property. They share a less-than-cooperative information sharing philosophy as they seek to create rich platforms that will, to quote Steve Ballmer “win” the web. Flex, Silverlight, and even WebKit’s evolution often take place outside the community, with self-interest and profit as goals—not an open and flexible web.

Pros and cons of proprietary technologies#section11


  • Global
  • Strong economic initiative
  • One view represented
  • More agile
  • Easier to be first to market
  • Easier to be innovative


  • Closed
  • Non-communicative
  • Aggressive
  • Profit-oriented—not necessarily quality oriented
  • A major cog in the interoperability process

Broad latitudes#section12

So, what do we do as working designers, developers, content managers, and evangelists who seek to truly better the web in an open, interoperable way?

We’ve tried stuff. WaSP, WSG, and so on. These groups have assisted with education and outreach, and are the glue of our community. But these groups also risk becoming irrelevant (some already think of them that way) since they appear to be doing nothing to solve the web’s fundamental problems.

Should we create yet another group? That was my first thought, but that just adds another layer of confusion to the problem. If we meditate instead on the pros and cons of these three circles, we may actually find the right people, identify key problems, and possibly find the way to unite rather than divide our community even further.

Tipping points#section13

The moment proprietary technologies gain a stranglehold, we slip that much farther away from web standards. Nothing demonstrates this more than Internet Explorer. Nothing demonstrates this more than Apple’s bid to implement aspects of CSS3, that have not yet been passed as recommendations, in WebKit (potentially compromising the way the W3C can work in the future). Nothing demonstrates this more than Mozilla’s and Opera’s inability to grow a user base beyond a certain point.

Can we solve the problem? I’ve never been a fortune teller, but I am an optimist. I believe we have amazing people in each of these circles who can come together and make things happen. The trick is to hone in on the pros, find ways of dealing with the cons, find the people who really get stuff done, and keep the talk as open as possible.

If we overlap the circles, we find that each share commonalities to build on. It is that center we need to strengthen—and not burden the problem with more committees at this point. Over-bureaucratization will be the death knell for any good we’ve caused thus far.

How do we fix the web? Discuss.#section14

Can we figure out how to form these three circles into some working mechanism? Who knows. It will take mobilization, and it will take compromise. Beyond that, it will take a few hours out of everyone’s copious spare time to pay attention and participate in some way. Write blog posts. Comment thoughtfully on blog posts. Gain WaSP’s attention and get involved. Ask to come to W3C meetings. If we don’t do something soon, I fear the web will become more of a commodity than a gift.

We do not have an interoperable web. What we have is a glut of proprietary, closed, and protected stuff. While it’s sophisticated and interesting sometimes, it goes against the heart of what we came here to build in the first place: an accessible, interoperable web for all.

About the Author

Molly E. Holzschlag

Molly E. Holzschlag is a well-known web standards advocate, educator, and author. Among her thirty-plus books is the best-selling The Zen of CSS Design, co-authored with Dave Shea. Molly is an invited expert to the W3C CSS working group and the former group lead of The Web Standards Project (WaSP). Molly works with designers, developers, implementers, and policy makers to promote interoperability, professional advancement, and best practices for a useful, beautiful, and meaningful World Wide Web.

63 Reader Comments

  1. As far as I’m aware, the WHATWG’s economic model is that a lot of the ‘volunteers’ are actually vendor backed (Apple, Mozilla, Opera, at least).

    WebKit evolution kind of falls between the two stools – a lot of the changes are proposed HTML5 and CSS3 recommendations, implemented as a fair accompli. With Google on-board this is only likely to get worse / better (depending on if you think it’s actually a good thing).

    We do need to consider if we actually want all the powers of Flash/Silverlight in our web standards, seeing as that equally means all the annoyances (anything that allows non-user initiated actions to take place is going to be abused, but equally, if we exclude them, web standards will always fall behind plug-ins).

  2. In my 10 years of designing and coding web pages I have never felt that the w3c was anything other than recommendations which are ‘forced down’ on the community. At no time has it felt collaborative or open. I believe an approach of openness could lead to much greater participation/adoption of those very standards.

    In a more collaborative model, to avoid the “too many cooks” scenario could a central group be set up to put forward recommendations of new standards and then a consortium of users (open and free to register) vote on the web as to which standards should be implemented/realised.

    This might also give propietry plug in vendors a much better forum for pitching their new products to the web community at large, and having them adopted into the community.

  3. Thanks a lot for a well written and thought provoking article! It definitely spells out clearly a lot of the underlying problems in the current web standards movement. I can tell right now I’m going to be spending the better part of my day pondering it.

  4. Some interesting points raised in this article, especially pertaining to the ‘revolutionary’ independent working groups like WaSP and WHATWG.

    I don’t think it can be stressed enough however how important the W3C is in terms of ensuring some sort of semblance and cohesion amongst the larger players in the development of the web. To ensure the web doesn’t trip over a myriad array of disperate and non-related technologies we need *some* official body to at least attempt to steer the ship. I think if the W3C was dispanded we would see major cracks appear in the development of the web. True, it is a behemoth of an organisation that suffers from protracted discussions and agreement schedules but it’s better to refine the organisation as time goes on then try to build it again. Some of the work the W3C has achieved is impressive and I have to agree with Molly that the finger should pointed to them last in the blame game.

  5. I’m concerned that HTML is page based and we are stuffing applications (Ajax…Flash) into these pages. These applications don’t follow Web Standards and aren’t accessible to screen readers that read HTML pages. I just wonder if the W3C will be able to handle creating better guidelines for these nonstandard apps. Is the current browser model becoming obsolete and is the W3C trying to make an older technology creep forward when it really needs to be replaced.

    I am thankful for all the W3C’s efforts. They have made my job as an interactive designer easier and I have learned a lot.

  6. I’m left unclear as to exactly what problem(s) Holzschlag is complaining about other than a feeling of frustration and lack of influence. (Sorry.)
    The areas of “interoperability” – CSS, HTML5, that in no way compromise browser-makers’ competitive standing will continue to expand (constrained, always constrained in practice, by the “attrition rate” at which the user-base upgrades their browsers) and areas of proprietary technology that give browser-makers some sort of competitive advantage (Flash, Silverlight) will likewise expand.
    And so, we juggle.
    The main thing is to ensure that Microsoft acts responsibly.

    And apropros of that, as an aside – it amazes me how few give a damn.
    Example: For the past six months or so, since IE8 Beta 1 was released, the IE dev team has held a monthly online chat. Anybody can log in and get “face time” with platform architect Chris Wilson and company.
    Average attendance? About twenty five to thirty people by my count.
    Keep preaching, by all means, but have no illusions about getting the choir to sing.

  7. Ms. Holzschlag’s article downplays the key obstacle to standards adoption: the colossal, entrenched population of the near-permanent IE6 base.

    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.

    Workgroups, conferences, and committees can convene, but I don’t think this stumbling point can be removed by an edict from the W3C. I wish I could be less of a pessimist about this, but I believe this is why web standards fail now, and will fail in the future.

  8. Here in Cleveland we’ve started our own grassroots organization, the Cleveland Web Standards Association. While we may not have a lot of pull with huge companies that work with the W3C, we can try to make changes locally and push Ohio businesses and academic institutions towards standards and away from proprietary technologies. While this doesn’t solve the larger problem of how we move forward with recommendations, at least it grows the base of people who care.

    My feeling is if enough people are passionate and vocal about something, they can push even Microsoft in the right direction. (For example: backpedalling after the public outcry over IE and standards mode) Baby steps.

  9. as a developer, i’ve always wanted to code the “right” way because it’s impressive to myself and my colleagues when you can create semantic well-formed code. I think keeping html and javascript the way they are encourages the best of us to create new libraries to share methods of code creation. It just doesn’t seem productive unless all of the players are working on a way to make 1px equal 1px across the board. I just want to stop having to spend hours adjusting css to accommodate these different browsers. If you’re not doing that, you’re just getting in the way, and wasting lots of money in France.
    The decision you make when choosing a browser should be about features, load speed, and other personal preferences, but it definitely should not require ridiculous amounts of adjustments – to the point of writing stylesheets in completely different ways – to get a page to work for the select browsers my company requires compatibility (which may be a different set than your company).

  10. I’m sorry, every web developer I know has three circles of hell, and they are all the same: IE6, IE7, and in some minor cases still IE5.5.

    Had Microsoft not taken a 5 year sabbatical from updating their browser, which just happens to be forced upon millions of users who can’t switch to something better (thank you corporate IT departments), we wouldn’t be in the predicament that we are in today.

    The sooner that IE8 is released and becomes a participant in the current web standards (CSS2.1 + 3), the sooner we can forget the long, international nightmare that was Internet Explorer in the new millenium. Firefox, Safari, and Opera have all done their part to advance the web and adhere to standards (not perfect, mind you, but a million times better than MS). It’s time Microsoft do the same.

  11. It strikes me that money is a driving factor in this discussion. If we the web design community want to have the power to affect change we need to fund that process in the same way lobbying groups do in politics. We need to provide funding for independent individuals to sit on the W3C and lobby browser developers to implement standards correctly. In essence we need to put our money where our mouth is.

    I for one would be happy to contribute to such a cause. It is certainly not an unusual arrangement. We see factory workers paying to be apart of a trade union to campaign for its rights. Why cannot we have a similar thing?

    Whether we pay membership fees individually or web design agencies pay a larger fee to be ‘affiliated with’ something like WaSP is up for debate. However, I do believe we need to inject some cash into this problem so we have people working on it full time rather than fitting it in between client work!

  12. Great article Molly, we need to shed light on these groups and processes in order to find the ways to repair them. Perhaps we should look to the methods and systems in place that govern the underlying technology the Web has been built upon like ICANN and IEEE. These organizations and agencies have successfully navigated commercial interests, patent issues, and demands from communities and other private entities to create standards we all use transparently everyday.

    We should also look into how other industries deal with these issues. Television, telco, aviation, and even transportation systems all have systems that at one time were just as fragmented and chaotic as our beloved Web.

    I think the solution lies in the histories of these organizations and industries if we just care to look for it.

  13. It will not happen. Too much has been/was lost at the onset by dilution of the natural filtration of cost. The only method may be with the World Wide Web Foundation and its merchandising ability provided that it gets quickly funded with a hundred million dollars. This business, in all probability, will face legislation that will end up dictating and directing these issues.

  14. bq. Very high risk of becoming mono-cultural, led by a single person or small group with the majority of people going along with the idea because it’s the “right” thing to do

    A precise description of the W3C, XHTML and The Web Standards movement over the past few years. But you appear to have accidentally listed it as a WHATWG “con”

  15. I am in agreement with Paul, a lack of funding certainly has contributed to the slowness of the process, as well as the ability of the larger companies to push specs around to suite their needs.

    The problem with introducing funding into a sort of lobbyist group is that it can becomes a breeding ground for peoples own agendas and schemes. You run the risk of corrupting the process even further.

    I am not saying that this isn’t a possible route, just that it has its own set of risks and problems that it could bring to the table if not well thought out and properly monitored.

  16. Jim, I’m only a little less pessimistic, because I think if there is something else created which they want to use (more) or they feel left out, they will move. But I don’t see it happening any time soon.

  17. I think that we, as web developers, can make this changes. We can educate our clients to web standards. It’s futile to complain about this.. Choosing to leave support to older browser is the way, and we can do it. By support I mean not pixel-to-pixel rendering, but still usable.

  18. #12 – The IEEE is actually much like / an inspiration to the W3C – very slow to move, and very determined not to do anything less than technically ‘perfect’.

    I do think that the foundation approach is a good one – the likes of Google, Apple, Mozilla (i.e. the WHATWG backers) should be able to see the benefits in speeding up the existing standardisation process.

    As for web standards generally – dare I say that mobile browsing (phones, Netbooks, etc) are going to push the last remaining hold-outs to adjust or be effectively ‘off the web’ – it’s only going to be the Intranet world that’s IE6.
    (Does IE8’s ‘compatibility mode’ button remember sites/domains??)

  19. Angry customers might be the saviour. Let’s assume for a second that Google succeeds in penetrating Microsoft’s IE dominance by a large margin and that more and more people start to complain at their banks that they cannot get to their online accounts anymore for whatever reason.

    I think most banks and other coprorations are pretty fed up now by having to support so many varieties of browsers, that they might become the choir of discontent.

    As long as browser inconsistencies hurt developers more than customers, the current deadlock remains in place. It is that same deadlock that prevents us from moving forward with HTML 5 or CSS3. As long as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Adobe and maybe some other big names don’t feel the pressure of customers they don’t have an incentive to cooperate in the W3C or any other group. It has to hurt them in the bottom-line figures to get some cooperation, or laws and regulations have to do it. But I guess that’s a direction no one wants to turn to.

  20. I think one of the biggest flaws in the web standards movement is that we’ve grouped what should be two separate topics under the same umbrella which has convoluted the discussion. One the one side, we have groups like the W3C overseeing the development of the specifications that make up web standards. A group like the W3C is a good place for this to occur. They have the expertise and influence to get things done. (It’s a shame that they don’t seem to be able to in a timely manner.)

    The other, more dynamic side of the web standards discussion are the standards set by the community itself. You can design a site that is standards compliant according to the specifications set forth by the W3C (at least it will validate) but be scoffed at by the standards community. New techniques, such as microformats or unobtrusive javascript, are introduced and adopted by the community on a fairly regular basis. The community is responsible for the education of its members (and clients, such as the case may be). That is why groups such as The WaSP and WSG remain important and relevant. And this is where we, as individuals can make the most difference.

    Web standards, as we have defined them as a community, have evolved beyond the specifications set forth by the W3C so much as to almost make the W3C irrelevant. However, we need the W3C, or perhaps a more effective version of the W3C, to “lobby”? on our behalf.

  21. I think the first sentence of the article says it all:

    “Readers and conference participants know that the more I write and talk about web standards, the more I point out that they really don’t exist.”

    These “standards” are in fact recommendations and not standards or binding specifications. Standards are binding contracts which you must adhere to if your tool is going to write. If you miss out a semi-colon in C++ your app won’t even compile. If you forget to close a tag in HTML: so what? The page still renders.

    Likewise if Microsoft want to introduce new functionality into C++ they need to come up with another standard (eg C#). If they want a new tag: they just add it into the IE.

    I feel that the reason the standards movement feels so irrelevant at times (which it is not) is that the success of the web is to a large part precisely because HTML is not a binding spec, but merely a recommendation. Imagine where the web would be if an HTML page refused to render because of a badly nested tag? It would be even more proprietory than it already is.

  22. Molly,

    Great article, I love the way you classify and explain your argument, instead of dwelling on over-emotional blame.

    Don’t you think, though, that despite the three circles of hell, open always wins? I get the reasoning behind “web standards aren’t”, but isn’t even their modest success to date proof that openness has won against all the unpleasant forces you describe? (Netscape, MS, Flash, etc.)

    When I hear stories like your W3C patent threat, I doubt whether the threat would be carried out if someone called their bluff by demonstrating the short-termism of the approach. How embarrassing if word got out that you left the W3C because you didn’t want to let go of some patent? And the same with the proprietary plugins — they’ll get you short-term gains, but they aren’t going to replace HTML.

  23. *The overall rule*
    For those who forgot probably most important words by Jeffrey Zeldman “Web Standards are the continuum.” It’s not the thing that one does once and bam! Works.

    *Ignorance leads to closed mind*
    I know IE6 has major problems. Yes I understand that. But I can honestly say 80% of my problems with it was because of my ignorance about this profession! I didn’t run to my blog and post bad things on bad people from MS. People imagine that they should be able to do whatever they like without an education. This is not possible. And will never happen.

    Non private universities are ignoring front-end devs. There is no relevant places that one can be well educated to become a front-end developer. And if there are no places where people get educated, than the profession doesn’t realy exist.

    What is the background of this situation?

    Artistians think work in ads is humiliating and serious IT thinks we aren’t even programmers.

    How many of us keeps the track of all major browser sites, and not only “your browser sites”?

    How many noticed IE Compatibility view twist and where is the ground shake? Nobody writes anything about it. ACT, ACT, ACT, download betas and post your feedback to MS.

    *Culture of conversation*
    Most time we shout “IE6 you *$%^#” and hope that our cry will be magically carried to vendors. Let’s try to keep it cultural Hmm? I know we are trying to be cool because we are also designers, but nobody will treat you seriously, if you act like 12-year-older.

    * Right now I test each page, view, action, tag in 7 browsers:

    * IE6, FF2 on virtual machine
    * IE7
    * FF3
    * Safari Win
    * Chrome
    * Opera

    And I’m not posting “*#$%” about browsers on my personal site, each time it gives me headake. By our actions we created milions of web posts about wrong support of web standards in browsers and now everybody ask “Hmmm why people don’t trust us, why they can’t belive it can work”. Cooperation with vendors and understanding they are needed to be there is very very important.

    *What do we lack*
    Community right now needs advocacy, needs thinking, needs people talking to other people, needs good, cultural global and regional PR.

  24. I’m not against evolving the Web (both the technology running under the hood and the uses of we could make of this invention).
    But then, where is all this evolution leading to?

    The Web, as it was thought initially, was a place for sharing scientific documentation. Then, HTML was created for the job.
    Now, some groups are rethinking (extending) HTML and other standards, for the sake of what? better web 2.0 apps? flickr/facebook/gmail?

    We are complaining because current standards seems not to be good enough for creating the next set of killer websites/web-apps. We complain particularly to IE6 (it must die, and evolution must go on).

    But then, we may be abusing the medium for something it wasn’t supposed to be used for.
    Yes, it shows how clever we are in creating new experiences over a “boring” medium “thought for scientific documentation”.

    But then, all leads, imho, to centralized websites for the sake of entertaining the masses.
    Is a GMail/Facebook/Flickr page a document? But then, it seems pretty obvius that a Google Map is a document, but not sure if the Web is the medium to use/enjoy it.

    Now, I recall I read somewhere some differences between web 1.0 and web 2.0: “In 1.0, you wrote your websites on your word processor, on 2.0, you write your documents on (a webapp) your browser.”

    So now, we are trying to move all our “computer” experiences inside the browser chrome, and we find the medium is not “compatible” with our clever ideas.
    Lot of VC start-ups dying (clever ideas dying), ¿another bubble about to explode?.

    I’m more worried about the Web (documents, and our private data) being centralized in just a few succeeding “free” websites/webapps (we all have our conspiracy theories).
    If GMail/Flickr/Facebook shuts down tonight and forever, we will be blaming them about our data in the “free” cloud (we will be happy about having someone to blame).
    If we keep it in our own HDD/paid-host servers, well, that’s another story, and we will have more rights to blame someone.

    So, trying to summarize/conclude something from all my loose points: the Web is, imho, being forced/leaded (not sure by which forces) to something it seems unnatural, undefined, non-standard, but that has to live inside the browser. (another conspiracy theory, je).

    Sorry for my english.

  25. I’ve been reading ALA for about a year and a half now. I’ve learned a lot here, but this article is the first to really pull me in to commenting…

    I am young to web design and development and still fairly young to this world. As I’ve recently had to explain why I chose IT in general as an educational, career, and life path, I realize that my whole life I’ve been injecting computers and technology into my veins from the time my parents bought a Tandy 1000 up until now when I am trying to take in the just the basics of so many web technologies not to mention the idea of them having standards (but man am I trying!)

    But I look at some of these teenagers and even pre-teens who already know so much (just the other day I saw a 1 and a half year old figure out which button to press on a digital camera to proceed to the next picture!), like because of the generation before them injecting it, it’s now just in their blood and their surrounded by it. Though it may seem scary to think of the MySpace and Facebook generations running things someday, I also see it being a potential benefit to what we are talking about here. We want discussions and decisions to be more open… these kids are growing up continuously connected to an ever-growing community.

    I can’t exactly pinpoint why these thoughts came to me after reading this article. Maybe it will spark someone else’s thinking. Just trying to contribute as the author intended… not with blame, but maybe brainstorming.

  26. Hey, look at some of the great things that have happened. To me, E6 issues are but a mosquito bite compared to broken leg of IE3, or NN4 we were dealing with NOT THAT LONG AGO.

    I think “webstandards.org”:http://www.webstandards.org helped a lot of progress happen through a strong grasroots effort. Developers are *not* powerless, especially those developers who are not themselves beholden to businesses who refuse to upgrade from IE6. There *is* a freedom in independence (and IMO, a corresponding responsibility).

    As for the factions — I think it would be nice to focus more on commonality than differences, if at all possible. In olden times, rival groups seeking solutions would work out issues by finding a positive, uplifting, common goal (often completely different than the issues they have been sparring over) and finding ways that they could ALL contribute toward that goal. Or sometimes, they’d just have a meal together.

    Growing pains happen to every org, ESPECIALLY on the web. Everything is new here, still… and there is a lot to learn. How about we chill out, stand proud, and cut ourselves and each other some slack.


  27. It’s called Craptacular Open Source Do-All Technologies. The web superstars haven’t noticed yet but stuff like Joomla and Drupal is starting to creep into the classifieds under Web Design and the people making it happen couldn’t care less about web standards.

  28. Holzschlag describes three interesting and informative approaches to Web standards. However, I was baffled by the darkness of the title and conclusion, albeit the title is attention-getting. I can appreciate the ideal of a “Web for all”, but the Web is amorphous by nature and is not all things to all people; that is part of its beauty.

    Can the Web really be compared to eternal damnation?

    What is Holzschlag’s vision of an interoperable Web? and how does it fall so short to deserve such a gloomy conclusion.

    The Web is interoperable by definition: it is a massive exchange of information between persons and machines. It is a success anytime two entities connect over the Internet and communicate effectively via HTTP.

    And although the W3C may seem like the boring adults in the room, they should still be considered disruptive and renegade. Just ask your dearest SGML expert.

    Is there a Web to fix or is there Web to celebrate? We should celebrate the variety and massive amounts of interchange and humbly accept the ever continuing challenge of creating clear Web responses to all valid Web requests.

    -Jammy Pac

  29. CERN invented the web. Now they have used some icredible amounts of money and people to make that «particle accelerator». CERNS other contribution, the web, is way more important and for the hole planet than this thing. Please move all your folks to do that first.
    I am not underestimating the importance of this basic science work, but the work done by international bodies on our common web is like some of the worst United Nation og EU commities. And thats pretty bad. I think ISO must continue the work started up by w3c. Are there other wayes? Nice article.

  30. Its interesting to see how even a open standard advocate feels the tension between financing a standard setting organization (SSO) and proprietary technologies. But what could be the solution?

    I think you should just have a look at other SSOs way of working. AFAIK, e.g. at ISO there are three solutions.
    1. the standards are only “relatively” open in the sense that you have to pay to use them. This is called a (F)RAND agreement, and was rejected by the W3C. (I think rejection was a good decision)
    2. even in ISO a phenomenon called RAND-Zero gains terrain. This is actually equivalent to Royalty Free licensing, just like W3C requires. In these cases it is the standard manager’s duty to finance the standard. (e.g. in the case of OOXML it is Microsoft)
    3. ISO has paying services. The most obvious one is the stamp an implementation that it really conforms to the standards. Actually, W3C has a similar tool, but it is free, it’s called *validator.w3.org*.

    Moreover, you might start looking back at the dawn of the internet era. According to many studies, the main action that lead to a unique and open net is a US government decision that every university’s connection to the net will be financed as long as they choose a “ready-to-be-open” internet provider.

    I am in Europe, and here I think it is possible to “force” governments to require by law that every government agency should support these and these standards. Depending on the breadth (are state run universities included?) the market will adjust.

  31. bq. Nothing demonstrates this more than Internet Explorer. Nothing demonstrates this more than Apple’s bid to implement aspects of CSS3, that have not yet been passed as recommendations.

    Maybe if the W3C didn’t take an age to publish their standards companies like Apple wouldn’t need to implement non-recommended features. Apple et al want to push the web forward but it often seems like the W3C are just wanting to hold it back.

  32. I strongly believe that Internet is the only authentic democracy ever created. Everyone contribute, no one has control. I believe that the lack of standards in the past doesn’t stop web from it’s evolution. In fact, I think that diversity is the key of web evolution and not standardization. All circles described in the article have significant impact on the future development and standardization of the web. However the standardization as a purpose is one of the best process while the standards are not so important.
    As you know, the chase is better than the catch, plans are nothing while planing is everything, the perfection is nothing compared to pursuit of perfection.
    An evolution is created by the process of standardization not by standards. Keep up the excellent work and continue to me a small mechanism that move the web ahead. Bother less about standards and unsolved issues and admire a little bit what we create: the actual web.
    Nobody and everybody can take credit for this.

  33. I’m loving the comments here, thank you all! I will be back to respond in detail as I’m able.

    Little anecdote for some levity (since some readers thing the article has a bit of doom and gloom in it).

    I heard the term “Fresh Hell” for the first time via the character of Sheldon from the silly but endearing show “The Big Bang Theory” – I thought there was some good subtext there what with the collider issueat CERN, the fact that Sheldon is a physicist . . . turns out the quote originated from Dorothy Parker as the excellent editorial staff here at ALA found during fact checking.

    I still wish it coulda been Sheldon though 🙂

  34. @Julian “WHATWG’s economic model is that a lot of the “˜volunteers’ are actually vendor backed (Apple, Mozilla, Opera, at least)”

    This is an extremely important point and I’m glad you brought it up. I don’t believe it was originally that way, but became that way over time. I might be completely wrong, in which case someone please correct me! Nevertheless, it’s definitely the way things are going now so bears watching IMO.

    @Al: Community approach is very idealistic, and therefore appealing to me. One of the reasons I used circles in the metaphor for this article is to suggest that each of these circles offer up people, resources and a variety of skills. Finding the middle circle (I wanted a Venn diagram but Zeldman forbade it ;)) is a huge part of that concern – that we realize we ARE a community and act as one.

    Ideals aside, alas I’m not convinced that this would be any easier to achieve in any reasonable period of time than let’s say the dissolution of all borders and a completely communitarian global world where economy, resources and people move freely and peacefully.

    I think we need to work with what we have and avoid ADDING more layers of stuff, at least for now.

    @Loughlin: I think those cracks started to appear somewhere around 1994 – which ironically is the year the W3C was formed. I would very much prefer to see the W3C reorganize and be run more efficiently than scrapped. I know that many people there are working very hard to find ways to do just that.

    @Stephen: Very important point you bring up regarding apps versus “pages” – there is work going on wrt web application specs, I don’t know too much about it but if you hop over to the W3C you can find the public list and information about what’s going on there in terns of Web Apps. Also, HTML5 was originally conceived to BE application-centric. Within the W3C HTML5 (along with EcmaScript, a strong document object model, and related technologies) is really set up to be a player within a W3C-led web application platform.

    Reminds me of a quote I got from Dean Edwards [dean.edwards.name] for a presentation, I’ll share it here because it’s very telling reading something like this from a person who spends most of his time with script:

    “HTML5 tries to be the best of both worlds: a better HTML but a forward looking, webcentric HTML that knows about the web and
    its quirks If HTML had been properly specified and implemented in the first place then HTML5 would be considered an upgrade. As it stands, HTML5 is a rewrite. That difference is pretty f**king fundamental.” (censorship mine out of consideration for the publication)

    @Richard: “The main thing is to ensure that Microsoft acts responsibly.” I’d personally include quite a few other companies and groups in there. I apologize if I sound like I’m complaining. I’m not just complaining, my concern is very genuine and clearly felt by many as well. You got it in one – I feel very frustrated and unsure what to do. All the more reason to have these discussions and share ideas. By the way, I, too, lament the fact that many people do not take advantage of the availability of Chris Wilson and others at Microsoft. It’s a fantastic opportunity. I wonder what causes the low turn out? Lack of awareness? Lack of care? It’s Microsoft? Hmm.

    @Jim: If something doesn’t exist, how can it fail? 😉

    @Beth: Acting locally, sharing resources and skills, etc. is a very good thing to do and I applaud your efforts.

    @Fred: “I just want to stop having to spend hours adjusting css to accommodate these different browsers.” There are a few good bits of news on this front. The CSS working group is building an impressive shared test suite that all interested will be free to use – exactly the way we can work toward more consistent user agent implementations. The other helpful technique of which you are probably aware but I’ll put it here just in case others aren’t is to consider CSS Reset both yahoo user interface library and Eric Meyer [meyerweb.com] offer up reset information and actual code for you to work with to.

    Very interesting discussion thus far, and I’ll respond by page as I am able. Thank you for being so willing to share experience, opinions and ideas. -M

  35. I hear your frustration! I do not design or code pages on a daily basis. Instead I spend my days trying to convince high school students that there are standards or best practices for web design that they need to pay attention to. Figuring out exactly what the standards and best practices are is a full time job in itself.

  36. The root problem is actually there isn’t such a thing as a proper standard.

    From day 1, browser manufacturers have bent over backwards to display whatever code happens to be out there as legibly as possible. It stems from the ethos of the early: amateur publishing. Sure, we can all install WordPress these days but is Auntie Val, publishing her homecooked blog since 1999 going to bother?

    All those nested tables, unclosed paragraphs and tags are still out there – billions upon billions of them. Is any browser vendor ever going to be brave enough to release a version that says “this page cannot be displayed due to invalid code?” The answer is “no” – but without that you have no standards.

    I hate XML, but that *is* a standard. You miss a tag out there and it just breaks. If HTML/CSS had been treated like that from the start then we might be getting somewhere. There’s a lot of blame pointed at browser vendors, but here’s the rub: they don’t have a proper standard to go by, and if they did strictly go by it no-one would use their product if every second page refuses to display.

  37. I came into a site with ancient html corrupted coding & highly interactive, and was supposed to update the look and feel using specs from a computer generated nested table coding that was incorrect.

    I merged two sets of incorrect coding into one, with the understanding that this was quick and dirty and we would go and update to standards based coding, and let the browsers smooth over the incorrect coding.

    I have created a standards based layout (looks exactly the same) that I use on 20% of the site, but get tremendous resistance to integrate more of the site.

    The client likes it and the engineers I work with are focused on back end interactive and don’t see the importance of changing.

  38. Are w3c standards that important ? Check up popular websites

    Are they all w3c validated ?

    Yes, it’s part of the evolution of web design… but it’s just a small part of web design.

  39. working in a large bureaucratic non-profit organization I can imagine how difficult it can be to operate the w3c.

    why doesn’t it raise money directly from users? if 1% of web users donated a single dollar for a better open web, its financial woes would be considerably eased.

    Regarding proprietary technologies, I find that MS never succeeded to win the web despite being in the best position to do so. I’d argue that no vendor will ever enjoy a 97% market share of a mission-critical component, be it hardware, OS, browser, search etc. When IE6 dominated the browser market with its own interpretation of web standards, users demanded an alternative and mozilla picked up.

    we need web standards. W3C has historic legitimacy to set them.

  40. Thank you for raising these issues Molly.

    I believe that Tim Berners-Lee nailed it on the head with the current state of web standards where he stated in his announcement of the World Wide Web Foundation.

    bq. “The Foundation will also look at concerns that the web has become less democratic, and its use influenced too much by large corporations and vested interests.”?

    There needs to be a change in the agenda of these large corporations and other interest. If money comes first then web standards go out the window. This simple principle applies to all facets of society.

    With my recent time on the CSS WG mailing list and volunteering my time creating CSS test cases to make IE8 a better browser, I became disillusioned with the whole web standards community. I was approached by Fantasai to work with CSS test cases but I didn’t begin because I didn’t have a stable computer that would allow me to install IE8. I was invited to join as a beta tester for IE8 by Chris Wilson but then that invite never materialized. I saw how the Mozilla contingent in the CSS WG was trying to create a standard with empty attribute substring selectors that in not interoperable with the other browser implementations. I say that this small group wasted over 5 months over this issue. For what reason, I don’t know. David Baron could not understand why others within Mozilla have set this course to non interoperability.

    So summing up, since Microsoft used me and no one saw any importance in me being able to have a stable computer, I now don’t participate on the CSS WG mailing list anymore or help to create web standards. This is a shame since I am quite knowledgeable with CSS. I’m still to reach 2 years of knowing CSS and now I just go off alone into the sunset and wait for web standards or browsers to catch up to me.

    My dream: A one open interoperable web.

  41. Really? WebKit is one of the most standards-compliant engines out there, and our developers participate in all the relevant Web standards groups. Yes, we implement experimental features sometimes. But so does every other browser, including Mozilla and Opera who you presented as heroic bulwarks against the evil tide of WebKit extensions. Also, we present our extensions to standards bodies, and have always been willing to change them in response to the standards process. Do you have any evidence otherwise?

    That being said, if you are so concerned about WebKit extensions being publicly developed in the WebKit open source tree and presented to standards bodies, why not bring it up with the WebKit community? That would be more productive than launching a broadside on A List Apart.

    In conclusion, I don’t see how you can reasonably compare a highly standards-compliant open source Web content engine to proprietary closed platforms. Looks like an attempt to score cheap points by saying something anti-Apple.

  42. It’s amazing this manages to become so complicated.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could focus on what we need!

    Browser manufacturers HAVE to support the millions of badly written websites out there and we need to make sure our designs are able to reach the largest audience.

    If we could just get every browser to support IE’s conditional comment (Admit it, they got that right!) we could solve a LOT of problems…

  43. Great writing, Molly! 🙂

    There are two issues here. The first is the web-standardization “process”, and the other is the influence of corporations on the entire thing. They are different, even though they are often lumped together. There’s another issue, which is effectively a sidebar: the whole IE6 ‘thing’; I’m tempted to include IE7 in to this, as well. IE8 is a different issue altogether, and one I’ll ignore. There’s another issue of browser architecture and feature set; that’s a thorny commercial issue, and I’m not sure it has much place in the debate; it’s the same sidebar, perhaps a sister-sidebar?, as the IE6 issue.

    The first thing that needs to be addressed is this fallacy that the web is a “democracy”. It isn’t. The web has no political model; it’s a tool. It has some characteristics that owe more to Ayn Rand than any democratic philosophy! There is an expectation that the web is, or should be, “fair”; this is usually vaguely defined as ‘equal for everyone’. Standards play a big part in this, but that sidebar of IE6 keeps intruding.

    Let’s just face up to the realization that the web is not ‘fair’; it never will be. There will always be someone doing things their way; any system that precludes this would be more accurately called a “dictatorship”. No vendor will adhere to all the standards as demanded by any user-group, except their paying customers. Microsoft has made no secret of their desire to protect their primary product: the Windows OS. As such, Silverlight is a strategic business product. Mozilla doesn’t seem to have any such strategy, or response, in place: if anything, their work on so-called next-generation browsers is their response. More immediately, the Mozilla Javascript work is probably the closest they get to Silverlight. Adobe AIR is a product that has no apparent strategic goal; it seems that Adobe’s interest in the product is as a leader to their other, revenue-generating, products.

    In short: when precisely defined business interests clash with a vaguely outlined culture – the proprietary business interests will always win. Which also gets to your point about intellectual property – if anything, intellectual property laws are becoming more prevalent and draconian. They are not loosening up, at all. But I digress.

    The argument about how standards are defined doesn’t seem to pay much heed to the biggest stumbling block of all: every single web browser out there seems to be a monolithic application. In other words: it’s impossible to argue about the chicken and egg syndrome, because the chicken (so to speak) isn’t changing. If the browsers morphed into something that could easily be added to, especially by 3rd parties, then this whole “adherence to standards” issue would be moot. (Yes, there are security, and other, issues. I’ll ignore them because this is a blog comment.)

    There might be a component-based browser, but I’m not aware of it. Mozilla’s open-source model doesn’t count: it’s not modular in that someone can supply a new CSS module without the rest of the application. Heck, to provide a new CSS module, the developer would have to fork the entire source code. That’s not “modular”, that’s monolithic.

    Moving on. The standards process, as I’ve stated before, is slanted to the corporations. It is beyond “slow” and “unresponsive”. It’s comatose. Part of that is the way the standards are developed, and partly because progress is not in the commercial interest of the principle ‘contributors’. Lip-service notwithstanding, of course.

    New, grass-roots efforts hold a lot of promise. But they are stymied by the lack of authority and the monolithic nature of browsers. They also fail to exploit the very medium they want to improve! (This might seem a trivial issue, but in today’s world: the way a message is delivered is as important, maybe even more important, than the message itself. Microsoft ‘gets’ this, but the web community doesn’t seem to. Ironically, and paradoxically, while they work to improve how the message is delivered!)

    Until the browser is addressed, it really doesn’t matter how much effort goes into the web standards. IE6 is a ‘great’ leveler; it’s not going away and simply has to be coped with. The standards process is in such dire need of life support it probably would be better to let it die a death, and bypass the entire reason for the process. But ultimately, the web standards issue keeps getting back to that browser issue. Until someone (Mozilla looks to be the best candidate, from where I sit) steps up to the plate and produces a browser that allows the free market to properly compete – this debate will continue to travel the same circle it has for the past decade.

    What the current efforts try to do is impose a commune on the web. The web is not a democracy, nor is it a political entity, to be manipulated. It’s a transportation system, a global Interstate if you will. The political process comes with the questions of where to build the pathways, not the traffic on that road system! Let’s put our effort into persuading Mozilla to go modular, and then may the best products win.

    The free market idea isn’t popular (at least I’ve never had a positive reaction when I suggest it…), and they seem to fly in the face of “fairness”. But (Wall St meltdowns notwithstanding!) free markets are good at one thing: they work, and they tend to work exceptionally well. Regulation can be imposed by the API; fairness can be created by the open-source and commercial efforts to provide the best products.

    Overall, I can’t help but think that the free market example is embraced on the one hand, and despised on the other. Many web-designers operate in the ultimate free-market; some with more success than others. But there seems to be a dichotomy when it comes to “standards”; the wrong model is applied: it’s perceived that everything should be ‘equal’, or ‘fair’ (vice versa is not implied, by the way). Trying to impose principles onto a commercial entity when it’s not in their interest just won’t work.

    Discard “fair” as a goal; let’s try for “sort of equal”. And while we’re at it, let’s look at the browser, the ultimate cause of all this angst.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking, and challenging post, Molly.

    Carolyn Ann

  44. Oh, I’m cross-posting that to my blog. I should have put that in at the end, but I hit “submit”. Sorry.

    As it stands, this looks like a bit of self-promotion; I sincerely apologize for that. I prefer full-disclosure to simply to mentioning such an action. It just seems more honest. Again, I apologize if this looks like self-aggrandizement or self-promotion.

    Carolyn Ann

  45. For some reason, the image that was conjured in my mind after reading all of this is that of the turtles cruising in the ocean current…

    I tend to think of myself as a rather sophisticated web user, but I am also an “ordinary person”? and I am afraid of the “update”? button (and especially the “send report”? button). What I’m trying to say is that I find it a bit comforting and also a bit humorous that the almighty developers are having the same problems the rest of us are having: over bureaucratization resulting in semantics wars and not much results. And the main factor? Money. Weather at the grass roots level, up the ivory tower or in the depths of the gold vaults, any cause that derives from passion and creativity, will need a strong economic plan that if not profitable, is at least sensible enough not to stand in the way.

    As young designer on the cusp of starting up a firm, going out on my own terrifies me, but I am also excited about no longer having to justify, for the fifteenth time, why I need to revise the style sheet … I learned from the most capitalist of socialists, my wife, that being self employed is the best thing you can do for yourself, for others, and sometimes even for the cause.

    This gets me back to Molly’s article, J. Cornellius asks if we are all not overlooking something? Other industries that are international, young, and essential to the world? The art world comes to mind.

    Look to the arts and you will find a world where no single set of rules applies, where there isn’t even a status quo to despise. Most artists agree that there is a “them”? and an “us”? and that listening to and respecting each other’s principles, if not agreeing with them, is the key to getting ‘them’ to listen to ‘us’.

    Meanwhile, we (web codersdevelopers/designersusers) need a way to come to terms with each other, because the direction of the web will affect all other industries regardless of how regulated or laiser-faire they are.

    Furthermore, what’s the rush?
    Why are we so eager to continue to push a way through when we have already acknowledged that 80% of folks are done trying to keep up. We CAN have an interoperable web, we DO have it. Let’s just all embrace all of the tools that are currently at our disposal. As far as I can tell, if it works in IE6 it works everywhere else, so it is the turtle, not the hare, which determines the outcome, and by that standard alone, I know I can push my work to the limit and trust that it will be universal.

    The most important thing for me to remember: it’s the message, not the medium. Sorry — but the web would not be the closest thing to true democracy if “a page could not be displayed due to invalid code”?. – Although in all fairness, the web is not — as Carolyn Ann Grant points out — a democracy, it’s a tool, and sometimes instead of being the speaking baton, it’s 7 billion megaphones.

  46. I <3 the joke, first of all, Molly. I also appreciate the insight into the WC3 and had some ignorance regarding how stuff works there.

    The web will work without silverlight just fine.

    Recently, I've seen how javascript and UI design is leading in a fine direction. Just think how long it took to get a proper language to be used properly. Obviously, some people have been using js for a long time with amazing results, and I generally mean a larger group working with it now... no offense intended!

    Ruby and PHP battles showed how people have instinctive interest in ownership and recognition of concepts. Like “purple triangle” or “MVC”.

    Microsoft is guilty of borrowing terminology, but it is much worse than just borrowing; these borrowed terms lose meaning, ignore meaning, or become corrupt (read FUBAR). This leads to the language degradation of anyone in earshot. If you’re talking semantic web, its really hard to respect Microsoft’s tactics in that regard. Or ignorance? The puppeteers need to get out more.

    I’m not arguing to ignore IE as many people use it. However, why not just serve old tables and let them sort it out for a couple years; meanwhile serve semantics to browsers that get it.

    Table layouts is quick-work for those who spent “their day” in the table mine-fields, right? To make an alternate “choose-your-own-adventure” HTML page?

    I originally wanted to examine nicer looking HTML and XHTML. How the crap did I get so buried in conditionals and bugs?

  47. a symptom of these circles of hell that the standards community have been reduced to is the arrogance of latest players in the development of HTML and their antipathy towards the W3C. I have started to document their public statements (http://lastweekinhtml5.blogspot.com/). People need to show respect and understanding towards one another, this is notably abscent in the standards youth

  48. After reading this terrific article. I have to agree with every point. I would also go a stage further and offer up that the entire standards model is broken!

    Let me explain, the foundation of W3C was based around trying to bring the browsers together to try and get a standard specification for us professionals to work from. Now to a certain degree they have been hugely successful! It wasn’t long ago that you would see framesets and tables a-plenty around the web, but now if you take the time to look there has been a huge uptake on the proper use of markup.

    Now I feel though in the hugely competitive marketplace all the big brands are starting to drift apart again in there uptake of new recommendations and even the different implementations of said recommendations.

    Now I agree that there is no one culprit to point the finger at, but I don’t see a solution within the model we have at the moment.

    Just my two bits in the pot!

  49. It’s just my naivety that I didn’t realize the scope of this problem. Listing the cons for these groups creates as nice pattern for this article, but “profit” is the only con that really needs to be listed for companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Adobe. It seems that the problem for the profit-oriented groups is one of motivation. How can you change the motivation of people like Steve Ballmer (sorry, I know I’m not suppose to point fingers)? Since “winning the web” is his stated purpose, how will you change his and company’s mission from world domination to civil responsibility? If we could at least mitigate that greed with a small dose of civic responsibility, we might have something? Since nothing suggests that these companies and their respective stock-holders will ever see the web as something other than a cash register, web-standards will always be compromised. Thanks for opening my eyes a little Molly, good luck.

  50. _”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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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. 🙂

  59. 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….

  60. 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! 🙂

  61. 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 …

  62. 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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