Breaking the silence

I am glad to announce that, a month into my new job, I have embarked on my mission to promote the benefits of Web Standards.
First, I emailed some colleagues the link to CSS Zen Garden, just to let them know that our current website’s use of stylesheets could do much more than simply colour the titles of our page.
Previous attempts in other jobs have evoked mixed responses, depending on whether people think it will create more work or make life easier for them (I’d like to think it does both – more work at first, reworking messy code, then all they have to do is switch styles).
So this time I went out of my way and demonstrated to a team-mate how you could retain the source code of a web page, but drastically change the look of the site. I mean, why should we waste time changing font tags on every page and moving table cells about every time we needed a revamp?
Thanks to my persuasive / arm-twisting skills, we might form a taskforce that looks into Web Standards beyond the forthcoming guidelines, and a more comprehensive use of Stylesheets to streamline our workflow. Wish us success.
Of course you could say that redundant coding techniques create jobs for our recuperating economy. If life was as easy as Zeldman and Co. have made it out to be, then what about the hapless designers who are still arranging their lists using GIF images and table rows, and forgetting to close their paragraph tags? What about the millions who have never heard of Mozilla, and only check their pages on Internet Explorer on a PC? Would this mean that agencies would have to charge clients less, now that a simple revamp could involve only the switching of a stylesheet and some images?
But let’s not get carried away: I feel that a site’s main purpose should be to inform, or entertain, or project an image of the company’s brand. Essentially, it has to convey some sort of message in an appropriate manner. And I know many visitors may not notice that the web page they’re clicking on is standards-compliant. But perhaps the odd visitor with a visual problem, an outdated browser or operating system, may notice that your side degrades gracefully into something legible which they can at least navigate.
It could actually boil down to your definition of technology. Should it be used exclusively by the most affluent and intelligent of people? Or should it be extended to people from all walks of life (who are able to access the internet)?
Certainly it is a chore, especially if you’re a designer or programmer who thinks coding pages is drudgery. Perhaps I may be asking too much for you to re-think the way you code your pages and re-learn everything they’ve ever taught you in design school. Your boss probably isn’t going to pay you more for doing it, and it won’t show in screen-shot printouts of your portfolio. It is a long-term commitment, because there is no such thing as ‘half-compliance’.
We also have yet to see any legislation equivalent to Section 508 (though we have legislation for almost everything else). However, I know that this situation will be changing, at least for government websites which are accessible to the public. The guidelines make good sense and also refer to the Web Accessibility Initiative.
Note also that I say ‘accessibility’ and not the whole Web Standards compliance outfit. Good things take time to bear fruit. But let’s just say, things are changing, and it can only improve our online experience.


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