First London Web Standards Group Meeting | July 17, 2006

I had the pleasure of speaking at the first London Web Standards Group meeting on Friday. This was a particular honour for me as I was one of the first people in the UK to join the WSG mailing list in Feb 2004 and there are now over 400 UK members.

Being a WSG meeting, I assumed that everybody there would be a member, and therefore a die-hard standardista. I could have done a talk exposing the virtues of web standards, but was conscious about these events becoming one big back-patting exercise. As such, I decided to do something a little controversial and gave a talk on why I think web standards are no longer important.

I may have misjudged the audience slightly, as there were quite a lot of people new to standards at the event. However reading the blog posts afterwards, at least a few people got the gist of my talk.

I started off discussing the history of the screw and how it became one of the first official industrial standards. Incidentally, the first standard screw was proposed by one of the key engineers behind the difference engine, and I quite liked the fact that somebody responsible for the first computer was also ultimately responsible for web standards. I know some people wanted less screw-ing around and more CSS, but I say nuts to that (did you see what I did there!). As the first WSG talk I thought it would be interesting to talk about the history of standards and indulge myself in a spot of whimsey. I’m sure all future presentations will be overflowing with CSS goodness.

I then talked about the different types of standard, and the benefits that standardisation brings. I finished the talk by having a look at the good and bad points of web standards, before my main assertion that standards become irrelevant once they reach a certain level of ubiquity, and it was time for us standardidtas to stop worrying about standards and get on with the important job of building better websites.

Now if Molly had been in the audience, she almost certainly would have disagreed with the idea that the battle had been won, and standards were now ubiquitous. However in the context of a room full of standards geeks, I felt it was important to stress that standards are just the start of the journey, rather than the destination. Something that many of us forget.

If you read my previous post about public speaking tips, you’ll be amused to know that I failed to do pretty much all of them on this occasion. I’ve been really busy at work the last week, so didn’t have time to run through the slides beforehand. Consequently I felt decidedly under prepared and ended up tweaking the slides all the way up to London. It was a blistering hot day, so I decided to go in my shorts and new cork’d t-shirt and ended up somewhat under dressed . And if that wasn’t enough I managed to um and er my way through the talk, which may not have shown on the, er, day, but definitely stands out on the, um, podcast.

I had a really good time on Friday and would like to thank everybody who attended the event, and especially Stuart for organising such a great night out.

Posted at July 17, 2006 11:34 PM

Comments

Dan Cederholm said on July 18, 2006 2:19 AM

A Cork’d t-shirt = under dressed? Blasphemy! ;-)

But seriously, sounds like a great meeting.

ralph said on July 18, 2006 4:01 AM

Andy,

With all due respect, the battle for web standards isn’t over; it’s hardly begun. I know one company that today has a web site mired in the best code 1997 has to offer. It’s such a mess that they’re throwing it out and starting from scratch. I had a look at what they’ve come up with the other day. They’ve managed to upgrade their code to about halfway through 1998. Tables inside tables inside tables. There’s one H1 on each page. And one level of the navigation is text instead of graphics. So much for semantic markup. The CSS is similarly primitive. Classitis runs rampant.

The mass of web developers have never heard of web standards. They’re the “dark matter” of web development, and like the universe, they make up more than 90% of what’s out there, and they’re invisible. They learned how to use Dreamweaver in 1997, or FrontPage in 1999, and they haven’t learned a damned thing since then.

I can understand from your perspective why it would seem that the battle is won; your consultancy is staffed with nothing but standardistas, and the conferences that you (and I) attend are packed with standardistas.

We are but a drop in the ocean at this point.

Frances Berriman said on July 18, 2006 7:51 AM

I think perhaps it was just the choice of words. Saying “the battle is won” just sends alarm bells to a lot of us who still see badly coded sites. I think the worry some may have is that if that is the message we send, we may find complancy starts to appear. We still need to be keen on educating those new to the scene.

Anyway, I enjoyed your talk. I agreed with the notion that we should be flexing our already standards primed brains in other areas of web dev (accessibility being my bag, and microformats my obsession). So, I’m looking forward to doing that, and I’m sure that future WSG meets will start to go into these new or important areas.

I hope the critiques from audience members won’t put you off speaking for the WSG in future! :)

Stuart said on July 18, 2006 8:28 AM

Andy, thank-you for being the first speaker at the inaugural WSG event in London.

In a lot of ways you succeeded in your presentation in that you’ve got everyone who went thinking about it. A lot of the feedback I got after the event was that it was a thought-provoking topic and the dicussion is certainly proving that.

The people who are already knowledgeable web devlopers appreciated the notion that we can move on and start to innovate in new areas, but as you well know, there’s still a ton of work to do to get more people to think about web standards and best practices when creating websites.

In addition the rise of CSS galleries and the popularity of CSS does not necessarily mean all of the sites featured meet an ideal in terms of semantic markup, accessibility and usability etc. Though that’s not to say it’s a good step in the right direction.

Because of that there is still a need to educate to some degree at a more basic level and the challenge for me in organising future events is striking that balance between providing inspiration for beginners whilst not alienating more seasoned developers.

Yours and Chris’ presentation did contrast nicely and there was something for everyone that attended. I’m really happy with the outcome and look forward to organising the next one.

Adam Bardsley said on July 18, 2006 9:14 AM

I think the important element a few people missed (possibly as it came just after the blaspheming about the war) was is that you just talked about the tide turning.

I can completely see the tipping point but then maybe I am lucky enough to come from a background where get to choose how we work and fall into the same trap as ralph suggested you do, who knows

Anyway it was an interesting talk and I thoproughly enoyed the whole event

Andy Budd said on July 18, 2006 11:09 AM

Thanks guys, glad you found the talk thought provoking. This was obviously the ultimate goal of the presentation, so I’m glad it worked.

I think the thing to remember is context. It’s perfectly reasonable to discuss the idea that the battle has been won to a room full of standardistas because for the majority of them it has. I would obviously give a very different presentation to a conference of government, charity or museum web developers.

My main proposition is that we’ve reached a tipping point, and while standards have not been adopted wholesale just yet, they have reached a level of ubiquity whereby they have become irrelevant to their practitioners.

We could all keep saying the thing to the same people, but we run the risk of becoming very insular and isolated. As such I felt it was much better to suggest that we stop preaching to the converted and get on with the important business of making better web sites. To encourage people to lead by example rather than simply proselytise.

Rob McMichael said on July 18, 2006 11:26 AM

Was a great night although I got lost on the way to the pub and never found it, or got a chance to say Hi!

Lookforward to doing it again though!

Rob

Rob Weychert said on July 18, 2006 12:01 PM

Whether or not the battle is won, it’s important to remember that web standards are just a piece of the puzzle, and not the puzzle itself. Thanks for pointing that out, Andy.

Rik Lomas said on July 18, 2006 12:09 PM

I think Andy’s talk was not about forgetting web standards, but using web standards in conjuction with various other things such as usability, accessibility and design. The image of a ‘standards site’ in a designers mind is boring blocky pages with huge text. What we need to do is show that these sites can be designed and can look nice, rather than panicking about a header should be h2 or h3. As Andy said - lead by example.

Richard Conyard said on July 18, 2006 1:09 PM

Andy,
Thanks for a thought provoking and interesting talk, it was also good to say hi afterwards.

As posted elsewhere, I agree that within the intended audience as you say we shouldn’t get so het up. Also the other areas of accessibility, usabilty etc. should also be at the forefront of our minds when designing, not just does it validate. To use your example, who should care about an unencoded amp when the site can’t be used, or is completely inaccessible.

As said elsewhere, I have to disagree that the battle has been won. Not though because there are so many sites that do not validate this will always be the case, more it’s a problem with proof of validity and/or work towards.

Taking into account Dan Champion and Bruce Lawson with their questions to the DTI. The client was aware of the standards, aware of the need for accessbility (a good step along the way to winning the battle), but due to whatever circumstances the end result did not meet the requirements. Until there is an easy way of assessment by clients that really shouldn’t worry about the technicalities of validity etc. or there is true ubiquity amongst professionals in regards to standards I don’t believe the battle to be won.

Nick Toye said on July 18, 2006 3:48 PM

Andy,

I think for me the final thoughts about focus was the key for me:

  1. Information Architecture
  2. Usability
  3. User Experience
…and so on

Perhaps those are the screws we need to drive home?

Nate K said on July 18, 2006 4:13 PM

I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about creating better web applications, versus preaching to everyone about using web standards.

I, myself, came to this realization just a few months ago. It doesn’t matter how hard/much I debate with someone - the best way is to lead by example. I need to stick to my strengths and continue to learn and grow and become a better web developer through my time, my projects, and ultimately the end product. Each one is a learning experience.

I wasn’t able to listen in person, but I did listen to the podcast and view the slides. I thought your presenation was excellent and right on (especially with your intended target).

Russ Weakley said on July 19, 2006 2:22 AM

I have heard nothing but good feedback from everyone. Thanks again for speaking! London WSG is now firmly on the map.

Tom Livingston said on July 19, 2006 9:26 PM

Just out of curiosity, anyone know of any U.S. meetings?
Sorry for straying of the subject a bit. Wish I could have been there…