Reminder: Web Standards are still important in “setting us free”

There are so many past articles online regarding the importance of web standards that it?s unnerving to feel the need to write another one. But as we all know, nothing in the web world stands still, including the industry’s commitment to the standards that “govern” it. In a quick summary, this is why web standards are important:

  • From a developer perspective, the benefits are quicker website development and maintenance through expected behavior
  • From a business perspective, you enjoy less cost of website development and maintenance, enhanced accessibility/search-engine exposure, and ultimately a consistent marketing experience for your visitors

The web has reached an age where web developers are so close to “being set free” (developing with a predictable set of browsers). With that, most developers seem willing to move forward with the latest in HTML, CSS and other markup technology available to them, leaving the experience in older browsers to degrade gracefully. (ASIDE: I?m interested to know who also follows this approach and to what level is deemed acceptable.)

So that sounds like a good thing, right? What?s so unnerving, then? Enter the latest in CSS3 and vendor-specific prefixes to really sweeten the presentation of content. With the wide-spread use of the -webkit- prefix only within mobile website development, the use of other non-standard vendor-prefixes for desktop and slow standardization, we?re risking reverting back to the days when “works best in Internet Explorer” messages were all over the web. I?m not certain if this is because the new generation of web developers coming on board missed the “web standards” evangelizing or because the lure of doing what is “awesome” simply has too much gravity.

This repetition of history cannot and should not be allowed to happen for the sanity of all professional web developers. It has reached a critical point where browsers not employing the webkit rendering engine are considering incorporating some of the prefixes so that site visitors will not experience a “broken website”. This seems like a band-aid and further irritates a group of standards-based developers waiting to “be set free” from the last decade of oppression.

My two cents on a resolution of this is exactly as stated by Tantek Celik, web standards lead at Mozilla, in a recent interview by Eric Meyer on A List Apart (Ref: The final question from Eric). In addition, I pose to the W3C, is it impossible to put standardization into a matched pace with the prefix development?

Lastly, to browser developers, is it impossible to collectively put your efforts into standardizing and advancing a rendering engine while separately continuing to compete on other browser features instead? In the original “importance of web standards” article from over a decade ago, this statement sums it up nicely: “Tying ourselves to the control of any single company means limiting our future to the fortunes and misfortunes which that one company can or will provide. Maintaining universal standards will allow the Web to survive while encouraging innovation to continue…”

To all those entering the industry, please understand, embrace and even get involved in web standards for the good of all. If you are entering the industry, here?s a few good places to start you off on the right foot:

James is passionate about making the web a user-friendly place for all. He’s a seasoned web developer & usability pro who has built literally hundreds of websites over the past 15 years. No surprise, he writes frequently on web usability and accessibility issues.

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