Web Standards Losing Their Appeal

Okay, so maybe the title was a little dramatic, but it’s not entirely inaccurate. I’ve had a draft of this post sitting in my queue for a long time now, but, while catching up on some feed reading, I ran into Molly Holzschlag’s similarly themed post on A List Apart and it prompted me to finish my own.

I’m a believer in standards. In my own code, within my team, in the greater office environment and on the web as a whole. I like being able to open another developer’s code and not feel like I’m lost for the first few minutes or hours. Standards facilitate that. So when the first real standards began gaining traction, I was all over it. Over the last year, though, my enthusiasm for what’s out there has faded.

I’m not talking about my enthusiasm for standards in general. I’m still a fan, in theory. I’m talking about my enthusiasm for the current markup standards. I’m not as close the inner-workings as Molly is. In fact, I’m not close to them at all. I’m a complete outside. From where I sit:

  • Movement is so slow that it feels like it could be measured on a geologic timeline.
  • The message is too fragmented.
  • Probably owing to the first two, adoption is stagnating and interest in adoption is waning.

I read not too long ago that one of the web standards wasn’t expected to become a fully-realized, official spec until something like 2021. Don’t quote me on that because I can’t find the original article, but even if it was 2012…seriously? By that time we’ll all have flying cars, a tinfoil wardrobe and capsule meals. In the context of technology, that’s about 47 and a half lifetimes. A standard that takes that long to realize will be standardizing something no one’s used in 10 years. Talk about being marginalized.

More and more, it feels like picking a standard is a little like playing roulette. Red or black? Odd or even? XHTML or HTML5? Sure, at the end of the day the key is to pick one, but if everyone’s picking a different standard or even a different variation of the same standard is it really a standard. Technically, maybe. Practically, I’m not so sure.

Browser adoption and adherence seems lackluster at best. No matter what standard I say I’m using, what standard I apply, if any, or how consistently I apply that standard, most browsers seem to render my code pretty well. If it doesn’t matter to the end result then the degree to which it matters to the process is minimized.

Right now, at the moment of this writing, I guess I’d still consider myself pro-standards, but not anally so. I use XHTML Strict, having chosen it because of its structured XML backbone, but these days I find that I have no burning desire to escape the use of an ampersand in my links just to see that lovely green bar appear on the W3C’s validation results. I’m going to use and stick with my chosen standard, but primarily (if not exclusively) for the purpose of keeping my code clean and structured. I don’t suspect that I’ll spend much time sweating the details until the details have more practical meaning.

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