Web Standards tag cloud

I was introduced to the World Wide Web back in 1995 while being a student at Molde College, Norway. What fascinated me the most was that I could learn how to create stuff for the web by just viewing the source code of other web sites. This blew my mind and since then I have built a career working with web development.

Creating web sites and web-based applications for me has always been about trying to adopt the latest technological advances in browsers, as soon as they were available. Naturally, this has lead to me reaching a few dead ends (IE’s Data Binding and Netscape JavaScript style sheets), but mostly it has enabled me to create some pretty cool things.

From DHTML to an atomic winter

In the days of the .com era, the community for creating web based applications was buzzing. We were cranking out all kinds of DHTML magic. Every site out there was jumping on the band wagon without any hesitation. One of the classics is online retailer Boo.com which went all out with new technology without really succeeding. Naturally we had to deal with older browsers then too, but we did not let that get in the way of using the latest standards being adopted in browsers.

The burst of the .com bubble created something of an atomic winter as far as web based user interface development goes. A lot of people lost their jobs and the rest of us took refuge in server side development.

A clean slate and a new dawn

Thankfully all the bad stuff was swiftly cleaned up with the introduction of the AJAX approach by Jesse James Garret in 2005. All the interface developers came out from their hiding places and they sure had been busy during that atomic winter. Out popped all kinds of amazing things like Dojo Toolkit, Yahoo! UI Library and JQuery. Once more the web moved forward at a rapid pace thanks to the newly found fame due to the AJAX hype. JavaScript was getting recognition as an actual language and CSS was being implemented in a more serious manner than before.

We all implemented our applications and sites using HTML, JavaScript and CSS2 and felt good about it. However it is worth noting that CSS2 was not a finished specification and no browser has yet to implement the entire CSS2 specification. Still, we have used loads of what is in CSS2 for years.

HTML5 - a new generation of web developers

Lulling in the wake of AJAX a new generation of web developers entered the scene. The WHATWG decided to take matters into their own hands and do what the W3C seemed incapable of, creating something which made creating web based applications with HTML easier. With the new hype of HTML5 we started to get all kinds of, what I thought, strange questions on blogs, Twitter and in industry media. “When can I start using HTML5?”, “When will it be ready?”, “I am so disappointed, all this hype and I can not use it”.

All these questions struck me as very odd and I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me, had I missed something? I had never heard these kinds of questions before regarding CSS, JavaScript or HTML. Sure, we had to take into consideration that not all browsers supported everything in the same manner. But that was what we as web developer did, right? We create web based applications using the best technology available to us meanwhile making sure older less capable browsers could view it to. This is what got my career started and what I have spent a lot of time doing as a living.

This new generation of developers seemed to be very focused upon only applying technology which where in standards that where finished. To me this sounded weird as we have never once before had any hesitation as to adopt new technology when it was available to us. When the XmlHttpRequest object was missing in browsers, what did we do? We used the old trick of the hidden IFrame. Back when Opera’s JavaScript support was horrendous (luckily this is no longer the case) what did we do? We made sure our stuff worked without the use of JavaScript. If something was not a final specification or something was not implemented in all browsers we implemented fallback solutions or provided alternate experiences.

Our bread and butter

Creating web applications using the latest technologies available to us should be our bread and butter as web developers. We should not wait around for the W3C to put some stamp on some documents. Browser vendors drive innovation, not standards bodies and therefor we should apply the technology being made available to us as quickly as we can, while making sure those with less capable browsers also can access our service or site. HTML5 does not make this any harder than before and we should not use the lack of a finalized HTML5 specification hold us back.

Web Standards are everything

You might be tempted into thinking that web standards are not that important, after all the browser vendors drive innovation. Innovation is done by the vendors, but the standards are extremely important as a way of making sure the web stays open and does not become fragmented. There are always numerous organizations trying to create their own special web, but thanks to the great work of the standard bodies the web has stayed open and will continue to do so.

The web standards (such as The Web Standards Project and WHATWG) community has really blossomed in the years after the introduction of AJAX and developers are way more conscious about the importance open standards. Without the work of the people in various working groups and standard bodies we would not be where we are today. Web technology is being used in more innovative ways than ever before. Not only restricted to making content or applications for the web, but also on the server side or to create native mobile applications.

In summary the web standards are not important, but still they are essential for us to continue to enjoy all the amazing service and applications created with open web technology.

This article was published in the August issue of the NDC Magazine from Programutvikling AS

Tags: CSS html interface development development w3c web webstandards