About Web Standards and Their Benefits

Web has been invaded with a whole lot of brouhaha about XHTML, CSS, accessibility, readability, and the list can go on. What is this about? Is this about confirming to standards as part of a regulation or because it is really useful to someone? Let us start from the basics of standards and their need.

Why Standards?

World Wide Web was an invention by Tim Berners-Lee, a common space for sharing information. It has grown at tremendous pace, and with many independent entities involved, it can grow in different directions with influence of personal or business interests. These standards were created to keep the interests of the user in focus and ensure that everyone has access to the information.

It is a myth that standards post limitations and restrictions. Complying with standards can make it available to more number of users and increase visibility in web searches. The standards aim to free you of inhibitions of using specific browsers or computers to access the information. It also helps the developers as they have to program to a set of standards as against individual browsers or other product specifications.

Who is Involved?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international consortium where Member Organizations (like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe), a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. W3C’s mission is “To lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure long-term growth for the Web.”

W3C develops open standards to with backward and forward compatibility in mind to encourage and enable interoperability. These W3C Recommendations are available to everyone.

In spite of this for many years compliance was observed in the breach. Users with special needs were affected most by this lack of uniformity. So groups like The Web Standards Project (WaSP) were formed, it is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards that ensure simple, affordable access to web technologies for all. WaSP also provides an Acid2 Test for browsers to verify if they are standards compliant.

This standardization can bring uniformity in the usage of Web and ultimately benefit the users.

What standards are we talking about?

XHTML + CSS

eXtensible HyperText Markup Language (XHTML) is a XML based family of documents that reproduce, subset and extend HTML. Being XML-based, it carries forward all its advantages:

  • Ready for delivery to multiple media like mobiles, PDAs, web
  • Stricter, so reduces mistakes in code, and increases uniformity
  • Backward compatible with HTML 4.0 and forward compatible
  • XHTML is only about data, not formatting. It enforces separation of data and layout/display.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a simple mechanism for adding style (e.g., fonts, colors, spacing) to Web documents. XHTML handles the data and CSS handles the formatting, including layout, for it.

Using XHTML and CSS together can lead to multiple benefits:

Separation of Data and Display: Since the data and layout/display is physically media, e.g., same XHTML can be used with different CSS for displaying on web page, mobile device or printing it.

Better Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): This is a side effect of the separation of data and display as the searchbots don’t have to go through formatting text while indexing.

Tableless designs: HTML tables bloat the code making the web page heavy for download. Using XHTML and CSS makes the page lighter, more responsive and saves bandwidth user.

DOM

Document Object Model (DOM) is a platform and language neutral interface that will allow programs and scripts to dynamically access and update the content, structure and style of documents. It can enable processing of the document and incorporating it back in the presented page. Unobtrusive DOM scripts can help using a client-side script like ECMA Script (Standardized JavaScript) can enhance usability of the web site.

Is this all?

It is important to understand benefits of the standards and verify if a certain design and implementation achieves that. Conformance to standards is not required for namesake, it should yield the expected benefits. Consider following aspects:

Accessibility

Accessibility is about making sure that maximum number of users can access information, irrespective of their environment and disabilities, in order to provide equal access and equal oppurtunity. For example, blind people can have web pages read for them, or users with protanopia, deuteranopia and such disabilities can still read and use the web site. The Web Accessibility Iniitiative (WAI) develops its work through W3C’s consensus-based process, involving different stakeholders in Web accessibility.

Accessibility is not a single component by itself, Essential Components of Web Accessibility shows how Web accessibility depends on several components working together. As Web is getting more and more critical part of our lives, the case for accessibility will get stronger with it. New techniques of improving accessibility are coming up and is dynamic field, Learn: Accessible Forms is a nice tutorial for building accessible web forms.

Usability

Usability is much broader in scope, sometimes also includes accessibility and readability, and is also subjective. Usability 101 by Jakob Nielsen defines usability and lays down some guidelines for it. It is not a software-specific concept, it applies equally well in car designs or for that matter design of anything.

Usability is a concept, there is no definitive learning course for it, but it focuses on all aspects of using the web site – navigation, color combinations, font sizes, layout of the web page, use of icons, number of images on a page, size of the images, internationalization, localization, degrading gracefully if a browser does not support the technologies your web site is using. A classic mistake seen is use of JavaScript in navigation, and if JavaScript is disabled (lot of people recommend that for security purposes) the menu is not visible itself. Yahoo!’s UI Library is a good example of JavaScripts use and support for graceful degradation through Graded Browser Support.

Information on the Web:

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda

3 Responses to “About Web Standards and Their Benefits”

  1. Abhijit Nadgouda @ iface » Tools For Compliance With Web Standards Says:

    […] My previous article was to cover the elements of web standards and usability. This one lists free and open source tools available for helping in compliance with these standards. […]

  2. Abhijit Nadgouda @ iface » Blog Archive » From Paper To Web Says:

    […] This is not about just using the WYSIWYG editors, but about realizing that there is technology used for publishing articles online. While the journalist might not have to know everything in detail, common knowledge will help in structuring the articles better. Other than the generic Web standards that might apply, the journalist should be aware of using technology for full benefit, like: […]

  3. Abhijit Nadgouda @ iface » Blog Archive » Consistently Different Says:

    […] The design should also include standards. Standards are a way of being consistent across an entire domain. […]


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