Did we just win the web standards battle? (@media impressions - part 3)

The Hot Topics panel that closed the conference featured one excellent question that set me thinking about socio-political questions:

Isn't the recent mass movement of high-profile web designers to large companies like Yahoo and Google a little worrying in terms of objectivity and in terms of creativity?

You can read the discussion that followed in the transcript, but my own thoughts went in a slightly different direction.


First of all, my answer to the objectivity question is No (not being a designer I have no opinion on the creativity question).

I cannot imagine JavaScripters recently acquired by Yahoo such as Chris Heilmann or Simon Willison starting to spout marketing speak and product evangelisation nonsense on their blogs.

Besides, part of Yahoo's point in acquiring them is the very fact that they are well-known bloggers: Yahoo wants to improve its standing in the international standards community. Forcing them to stop blogging, or to blog only stuff that's approved by Marketing and Legal, would be counter-productive.

Next, Nate Koechley's presentation (see part 2) was a case study in knowledge sharing, with him giving away quite a few juicy technical bits for free. In short, Yahoo is firmly committed to openness and to discussing stuff with the international technical community.


As I said before on this blog, Microsoft is doing exactly the same. Chris Wilson's presence and presentation at the conference clearly shows that Microsoft wants to open op and be honest about what they're doing and not doing, and why. See the transcript of Chris's presentation for the full details; I'll repeat a few important points here:

In any case, all these points (plus the existence of the IE blog) conclusively prove that Microsoft is committed to openness as much as Yahoo is.

A reversal of roles?

On the other hand, you rarely hear from people after they've been sucked into Google and Apple. I'm not sure if this statement is true or fair, but right now it appears to be true—and appearances can be dangerous. Apple, in particular, is coming under not so friendly fire from people like Tim Bray, Mark Pilgrim and John Gruber because of its lack of openness.

So will we see an interesting reversal of roles, with former corporate monoliths Microsoft and Yahoo cast as the good guys who talk about what they're doing and why, while former alt.funky companies Apple and Google are reduced to the stealthy and uncooperative evil guys?

I doubt it. The scenario assumes that Apple and Google are stupid and don't pay attention to their competitors; and that isn't likely, is it? Although they're definitely a bit behind the times on the openness thing, they'll no doubt take similar initiatives in the next year or so. And let's be fair: the Safari team has been blogging longer than the MSIE team has.

Nonetheless, Apple and Google lag behind Yahoo and Microsoft right now, and that's interesting in itself. Who would have predicted that only a year ago?

Is the battle won?

So these two huge companies have decided to give us standards-aware web developers what we want, and their example will probably force other large companies to do the same.

I hope Yahoo and Microsoft have commercial goals and motivations. That's the best way to prove to other companies that web standards are a good idea from an economic perspective, which in turn will help their speedy adoption.

This conclusion leads to another one: we web developers have finally gotten the attention of large companies, and these companies are serious about putting web standards on their agenda.

In other words, we have won the battle for standards.


Nonetheless, we shouldn't falter now. Although I really think that the point of no return of web standards adoption has come and gone, there's still plenty of work to do, such as advising the recent corporate converts on the gory details of web standards support, and evangelizing the mass of web developers out there who are still being completely clueless and uninterested.

We've made giant strides, but we're not done yet.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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Comments are closed.

1 Posted by Chris Heilmann on 23 June 2006 | Permalink

I was a bit confused by that question, to be fair.
It is a tricky situation: you joined a company that works on the web and cares about the web and when you start talking about all the cool stuff that happens inside it and share your enthusiasm you are likely to be branded a corporate spokesman or advertiser. I just released a blog post about my latest work on Y! Messenger and I am really chuffed about the chance to use JavaScript, HTML and CSS in a non-browser product and profit from the channels of communication an IM messenger gives you as opposed to a browser. On the other hand I was worried that I'd get a lot of flak for it as it is not fully open and does sport a Y! logo and advertising. (http://www.wait-till-i.com/index.php?p=292)

So yes, I will so not just sing the Yahoo song just because I work for them, but I will write and talk about cool things I work with and what they offer the web community.

I'd say the battle for standards is getting in our favour, but we need to bring the trophies home now by taking the next step: Shifting the focus from making blogs and personal sites standards compliant to helping frameworks, CMS and enterprise scale projects to do the same.

2 Posted by Joe Goldberg on 23 June 2006 | Permalink

In other words, we have won the battle for standards.

Not so fast. I'll consider the battle for standards won when I can open up any page on the latest versions of the three most popular browsers and have it look exactly the same in all three. We're years away from that.

3 Posted by Chris Heilmann on 24 June 2006 | Permalink

Actually the whole idea of the page looking exactly the same in every browser is not at all what web standards are about IMHO. The better explanation would be that all modern browsers render our pages as the W3C specifications define them to be rendered. I can still give more modern browsers a richer experience than aging ones.

If we don't get away from the idea of a web site as a fixed visual construct, we'll never get to the point were developing for the web is going forward rather than forcing browsers to do our bidding or cutting corners with the user having to pay the price.

4 Posted by Dean Edwards on 24 June 2006 | Permalink

> In other words, we have won the battle for standards.

Yeah. Bit of an anti-climax wasn't it?

5 Posted by Marc van den Dobbelsteen on 26 June 2006 | Permalink

I think the war still lasts, we are only consolidating our forces ...

Here my 2 cts:

- The weakest link. I've noticed, when implementing standards on a large project, are 3rd party tools. These applications are often used in a professional web environment. Tools like cms's, form management tools, banner management tools etc. will render a part of the markup used in webpages. These tools which have a large clientbase don't have the (commercial) flexibility to make big changes to conform to webstandards and accessibility (unless enforced by law).

- There is still a huge gap between the narrow range of functionality that our webstandards are serving us, and the functional requirements and posibilities of todays web. Especialy clientside technologie and techniques are rapidly evolving. Our standards have to Catch up. We are still bound to use defacto workarounds instead of tightfit standards-based solutions to solve our problems.

6 Posted by Matthijs on 3 July 2006 | Permalink

But have we really won? On Slashdot's interview with Hakon Wium Lie, he suggests Microsoft is in fact not willing to fully support standards. Because fully supporting standards (in IE etc) would threaten their monopoly. He suggests microsoft could have been made fully standards complient. But they didn't want to do that.

"It's quite clear that Microsoft has the resources and talent to support CSS2 fully in IE and that plenty of people have reminded them why this is important. So, why don't they do it? The fundamental reason, I believe, is that standards don't benefit monopolists. Accepted, well-functioning, standards lower the barrier of entry to a market, and is therefore a threat to a monopolist"

Any thoughts about that?

7 Posted by ppk on 3 July 2006 | Permalink

Our victory does come as an anti-climax, yes. We ought to throw a party somwhere, but we've all been surprised by the recent success.

As to Hakon's words, they are true in general, but Microsoft seems to be in the process of proving them false in the specific case of Internet Explorer.

I will continue to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt at least until IE 7.5/8.0 is released.

8 Posted by Nigel Moore on 11 July 2006 | Permalink

>Nonetheless, Apple and Google lag behind Yahoo and Microsoft right now

To be fair, though, not only has the Safari team been blogging longer than the IE team, as you point out, Safari currently renders pages closer to standards compliance than IE6. Openness or standards compliance? I know which is more important to me.

IE7 may well address that, but I don't have much faith in its widespread uptake in much less than a year. So we're stuck with the village idiot for now.

As for the technical difficulty in getting IE versions to run side-by-side, I guess that could be addressed in the same way as addressing the security issues with that browser ... removing its close ties to the OS. Pigs' wings, anyone?

9 Posted by Alastair Campbell on 13 July 2006 | Permalink

I'll second the 3rd party apps comments.

@media was fantastic for the enthusiasm shown and created for web development.

But it's a self-selected crowd, the type of people that need converting now are the type of people who don't follow the blogs, or even read web dev news in general. There are plenty around, and often front-end code is just that thing that gets produced by Visual Studio (or similar applications, I don't just mean MS).

It's sort of like firefox uptake. Firefox is averaging 12% now (>35% in some countries). It's the uncaring majority (of web devs) that need to be dragged into this millennium. (I don't mind if Firefox levels off, anything over 10% will help keep MS honest ;)