A Baby So Ugly, Even A Mother Couldn’t Love It: Web Standards. AKA: Just Keep Swimming

A Baby So Ugly, Even A Mother Couldn’t Love It: Web Standards. AKA: Just Keep Swimming

I may be one of the most conflicted web designers on the planet. Seriously. I write Flash/Flex code about as often as I work in HTML/CSS. I love ‘em both. I hate ‘em both. Each tool has their own pluses and minuses. I speak often about my love for Flash here, so let’s change gears for a second. Let’s get provocative even… It’s got to be said. What the fuck is the deal with these standards writers, working groups and developers these days?

Why do I ask this… Well, you all have Flash/Silverlight on the ropes, but you are giving them a free pass. How so? With the release of HTML 5’s video tag, canvas, yummy semantic tags and other advanced markup goodies… pretty much any major site, (eg, Facebook, YouTube, Google Video, Vimeo, etc), could just about up and walk away from Flash with the next major revision of Internet Explorer (hopefully 9 will come around). You see, Safari 4, Firefox 3.5 are out and they like to party. They’re out playing video all night long and swinging from the rafters. The biggest draw on the web today, video, is by and large delivered via Flash. Now, I wouldn’t be so brash as to say that Flash’s days are numbered by any stretch by this developing situation. There are a lot of things that Flash can do that simply can’t be replicated, even with JQuery (my fave JS framework), Processing.js or the new Scripty 2. However, these new browsers really take care of a ton of things that Flash is needed for right now like video playback and basic RIA implementations.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the standards group, W3C, etc, but with the competing standard, arguably, an anti-standard, Flash, on the ropes, why are you not focusing and assisting the devs in the trenches, the browser and tool developers and the web designers in the cube farms at MS, Adobe, etc? It seems as though there is a fracturing, rather than a coalescing of resources and forces in the standards arena. Don’t believe me? Check this out. And this. And then for a laugh, this. It’s a bit liek the wild west again. I’m getting flashbacks to 1999-2000, when tables and spacer.gifs were clutched in the dying grips of every SimpleText coder and every GifBuilder jockey.

Sound audacious? I know, right. But look at the evidence. Twitter is abuzz with the recent additions to HTML5, with new hot samples being posted in playgrounds daily, what it means for Flash devs and on and on (simply run a search there and see). Beyond that, a number of high profile standards focused designers are on the warpath right now, speaking out and writing with a virulence not seen since the height of the browser wars (yes, I’m that old). For example, Zeldman has had a series of fantastic posts lately laying it out on the line talking about the demise of the XHTML standards group, defending the use of standards in the face of adversity and Eric Meyer has recently started giving a talk on “how Javascript will save us all”, in which he recommends using Javscript (favoring no specific framework, really) to do things that CSS3 and HTML5 do quite well. There are a number of other examples out there just like this. – Full disclosure, I use both Meyer’s and Zeldman’s books in my classes.

Talk about cutting off your nose and all of that rot. I love standards just as much as anyone, but when the big boys are changing their tunes about what constitutes good standards implementation (separate content – HTML from presentation – CSS and behavior – JS) in order to remain within the toolset and bowing down to the same boards they fought against a decade ago to get CSS2 adopted, I start to get a bit squeamish. You see, I have to teach this stuff to students. Teaching standards based design was before a lot like teaching a foreign language. A language a bit like Japanese in that it had rules that are reasonable cut and dry and work well with each other because agreement on how they work was decided upon and then used! Now, it’s like a mish-mash of bad drunken Engrish. Too many exceptions, IMHO. It’s like “i before e”, but with end tags and doctypes. *Blech*

Am I abandoning web standards? Nope. Though, I’ll probably be a little more likely to make an exception to the rule in what constitutes a good use case for it vs a plug-in, though. After all, we have until 2022, right? Thoughts? What are you doing to keep your standards based design skills sharp? My advice, just keep swimming.105

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