(originally published in The
Jerusalem Post, January 2005)
What Web Standards Are -- and Why You Should Care
Are you looking for some light reading? Something quick
and obvious that can be neatly laid out and summarized in
700 words or less? If so, stop reading here and skip to a
Today we're going to introduce the notion of "Web standards".
It's a comparatively complex topic, but if you have a Web
site, it's something you need to know about. This brief introduction
will ignore the advantages that compliance with standards
confers on website developers, and concentrate on the highly
significant benefits that site owners and their visitors
stand to gain.
There are many ways to design a Web page. In the early 1990s,
when the WWW was in its infancy, the Internet community had
only rudimentary coding methods at its disposal. They produced
very plain, vanilla pages: a single column of text that filled
the browser window and was punctuated by a few graphics,
with headers and horizontal lines to demarcate sections.
Blah, but effective. What these pages lacked in pizzazz they
made up for in usability. Whatever browser or computer you
were using, the pages were legible and their information
Flash forward to today. Coding practices include: HTML,
XHTML, ASP, PHP, ASP.net, CSS, and, of course, Flash. And
people can now access Web pages using an astonishing variety
of browsers, all of which have been released in a multitude
of versions: Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Safari, Opera, Lynx,
etc., as well as a few diehard "ancient" versions
of Netscape. Some users access the Web on Web-TV, Palms,
cell phones, or audio browsers for the blind. Each of these
browsers or devices has different technology underpinning
it, and each will interpret the page code in a different
This is a sure recipe for a 21st century version of the
Tower of Babel: lots of broadcasting, little coherence. So
when you have a Web site designed for your business, you
want to make sure that it will be usable, regardless of which
browser or computer visitors use, both now and in future.
Web Standards to the rescue. The World
Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has for the past decade developed
and promoted recommendations that aim to make the Web universally
accessible. It takes into account past and present technologies,
and, even more importantly, those coming up around the
bend. It's a non-commercial effort spearheaded by Tim Berners-Lee,
the inventor of the Web.
So what are the benefits to having your site designed to
- You can reach a wider audience
- It's easier to edit content
- Pages download more quickly
- Search engine optimization is nearly guaranteed
- Changing a single page of code can apply site-wide changes
to layout and typography
- Due to all the above factors, site development is faster
and, therefore, cheaper
There's just one hitch. Not all developers of leading browsers
have exactly jumped to adopt the W3C recommendations. Website
designers still have to employ several work-arounds to ensure
that pages with modern coding will display in old browsers.
However, this is hopefully a temporary situation, and it is possible
to use "transitional" coding that bridges the gap
between the ideals of standards compliance and the real-time
snafus of current browsers.
Furthermore, a fast, stable, and standards-compliant browser
is now available and rapidly gaining popularity: Mozilla's Firefox.
It's free, and has so many advantages for users that it will
hopefully soon become the browser of choice. In addition
to standards compliance, it offers the following benefits:
- Pop-up blocking
- Tabbed browsing, so you can open many windows simultaneously
without causing chaos
- Less vulnerable to viruses, adware, and spyware
- Llighter and less taxing to your computer's operating
- Easy to customize
- Fast and easy to set up, including importing all your "favorites"
In conclusion, while making existing sites standards-compatible
can be a bit time-consuming, the advantages make it worthwhile.
And for new sites, compliance with Web standards should be
a top priority. So ensure you use a Web designer who stays
up to speed.