To Hell With That

RIP the WaSP

December 13, 2001.  Earlier today Jeffrey Zeldman announced the curtailment of activities by the Web Standards Project.  Affectionately known to many of us as the WaSP, this group of dedicated people has done a great service to the web community by bringing the issue of standards compliance to its rightful place in the debate of ideas relating to where the web is headed.

Over the past three years the WaSP fought hard to get its message out.  The browser makers were asked to listen to a message they did not want to hear; a message that was in fact anathema to their aims.  They were asked to support the same technologies, to make their products interoperable.  How could this possibly be of benefit to them?  If their products were interoperable would they not also be interchangeable?

Though reluctant, they began to listen.  Eventually they began to change their products, providing fuller and more consistent, though by no means complete, adherence to the standards that are meant to make the web function in the way it was originally envisioned.

For this work the WaSP deserves our deepest thanks.


So why quit now?

For starters Zeldman claims that “Browser makers are no longer the problem.”  This seems to me a rather odd statement coming from someone who over the past few months has covered such items as the fiasco at Microsoft and their MSN site, AOL releasing upgrades to the old Netscape 4.x browser, scrolling bugs in IE6, and the push to apply patents and royalties on web standards.

But he has been wrong, ahem, right before.

Where might the problem lie?  “The problem lies with designers and developers chained to the browser-quirk-oriented markup of the 1990s. ”  Yes, it's no longer the big bad companies, it's us, the unwashed masses who dare to put our wares out on the street without regard for standards or proper DOCTYPEs. We and the evil tools we wield, generating invalid markup with wild abandon.

There is no doubt some truth to this, but for pete's sake we just got our shiny new browsers yesterday.  Give us the time we need.  And besides the browsers don't work!

Back near the very beginning of all this, David Eisenberg wrote a great little piece about the project.  In it he said:

Once the browser manufacturers start following standards, web page designers may focus their creativity on content rather than on finding ways to get around the incompatibilities of multiple browsers.

Keyword is once.

Perhaps we should have all rushed to embrace these standards and whatnot.  But to what avail?  As far as I know there are still no fully standards compliant browsers in wide distribution.  Even some of the newest ones don't correctly implement parts of CSS1 or the DOM.  I do my little part but where are the big guns?  Show me a massive commercial site that runs on valid XHTML and CSS.  Anyone care to guess how long it will take the NYPL to convert all their material?

And what of the members of the Web Standards Project?  Have these people practiced what they have preached?  Do their personal sites pass through the jaws of the validators unscathed?  Do the sites of the organizations and corporations they work for contain valid markup?  Are they accessible?

For the most part the answer is no.  I went to the members page at the WaSP and checked about two dozen sites.  The majority of them do not validate.  (If I had the time I would make a nice table like the one at A List Apart regarding the MSN site.)


Goddammit! No no no! Not yet! Not now!*

The first reaction to the announcement that I came across was at inflight correction (*whence came the title of this section).  There Owen Briggs, he who brought us the box lessons, had this to say:

“I really think we just finally got to the point where the WaSP is being recognized by the mainstream as spot-on right and not just a special-interest-idealism group.  The very cornerstone of reason.
“And at this utterly critical juncture of the web where the browser makers have been dragged into making at least some compliance to the code so that people are finally figuring out to write properly ... oh we are so screwed.”

I don't want to screw around anymore.  But the simple truth is this will be an ongoing struggle given the nature of the medium.

For those of us who wish to share our thoughts and talents, our dreams and our visions, or help others find ways to share theirs, mucking about in this morass of standards and compatability issues is an enormous drain of physical, mental and spiritual energies.

We've just begun to turn the corner on the browser issue, and now is not the time to stop.  They were listening!  And we were starting to correct our code.

We must continue to push for standards in the tools that we use. Not just in our browsers but also in our authoring tools.  As the standards involved become more complex, and they are definitely becoming that, we will need authoring tools that will aid us in creating documents that will be widely accessible.

As I see it the web is fragmenting again.  New technologies like RSS, XML and XSL will remain beyond the scope of the average person. CSS3 will bring a level of complexity to the web that will make today's fare seem trite. It is no longer tenable to think that anyone can learn how to implement these technologies.

These things are the realm of large organizations, corporations and die-hard geeks.  The days when your friend, the precocious 7 year old, whipped off her own homepage may soon be gone.  For those who wish to monopolize the web for commercial purposes, this would be no big loss.  For those of us who care about more important things, this is a crucial time.

What's at stake is big and terribly important.  If we back down now someone with a compelling story to tell, a unique gift or talent to share, an imaginative creation to bring to market, or a unique perspective that we need to hear, will not find a means to be heard or seen in this medium.  We have to be heard.  They need to know that this is important to us.

I will not be quiet at this time.  I will not say a fond adieu to the WaSP.

When I'm done writing this article I will visit Zeldman's site and use his nifty mail feature to drop him a little note, maybe ask him what's going on.  Then I will go stand on a chair in my kitchen, open the window and shout so loud that I know he will hear me in New York.


meta name="author" content="zeldman"

Some may think that I have unfairly singled out Mr. Zeldman in this rant. In reply I would like to point out the following:

Though I am somewhat taken aback by today's announcement, and even a bit pissed off, I continue to have the utmost respect for him and his work.  As I have said elsewhere, he is a bright shining light in this field.  Without him I doubt I would have the skills or the courage to produce this document.

And Zeldman's page always validates(except when you're not looking.)


What Can You Do?

Please visit the Web Standards Project's Members Page, gather every email address you can find and start writing.

You can also send email to:

Or try giving them a call at 212-725-0847

And check back here for updates on this issue.

Cause it ain't over til it's over!

and who might i be you ask?

my name is dylan foley.  i've spent most of my working life doing manual labour-type work, such as landscaping, paving stone installation, renovating etc.  i gave that up a couple of years ago and now i work at the local university as a night clerk in one of the residences.

my interest in the web is for the most part completely selfish.  it is a hobby, a fascination and a delight.  i do not make my living at this, and that's a good thing.  my understanding of the technologies is still quite incomplete and i don't imagine my skills in this field could be of much use to anyone at this stage.

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