Fight for your right to standards!
Fight for your right to web standards!

About the Web Standards Project - A Personal View

[The views on this page are those of the author, not necessarily those of the Web Standards Project. Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer are copyright and trademarks of Netscape and Microsoft.]

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A Word About Standards

When I mentioned this organization to an acquaintance, his immediate reaction was:
I'm against it. The web is about individualism.
Let's clear up this misunderstanding right away.
The Web Standards project is about infrastructure standards, not about telling you what your web pages must look like.

Infrastructure Standards?

It's a term I made up. An example of an infrastructure standard is the standard that tells you the size and shape of an electric plug in the United States.

If you build an appliance with a plug that fits the standard, you can be assured that your appliance will work in any outlet in the United States. It doesn't restrict you as to what kind of appliance you wish to build, nor does it tell you what your appliance needs to look like. This is the kind of standard that, rather than restricting you, frees you to concentrate on your product and ensures its widespread usability.

Lack of such an infrastructure standard causes all sorts of problems. As late as 1984, electric outlet standards in Europe varied from country to country, causing real headaches for appliance manufacturers and users.

Here are other examples of infrastructure standards:

StandardAdvantageDoes not affect
Railroad tracks are a standard width apart Any railroad car you design to the standard can run on any set of tracks in the country. Your creativity in choosing outer style, inner decor, or engine power
VHS ® (Video tape standard) with NTSC (U.S. Television standard) Any tape you make that conforms to the standard will play in any VHS recorder using the United States television standard Your creativity in deciding what to record on the tape or choice of color for the plastic casing

Doesn't the World Wide Web Already Have Infrastructure Standards?

Yes, to a large extent. The Internet works by sending packets of information from one computer to another; the format of these packets is standardized. Anyone who creates data packets that conform to the standard can send them to any other standard-conforming computer with complete assurance that the data will be accepted.

When you request a file from a server, the server sends a "header" along with the web page, telling what type of content is contained in that file (HTML, plain text, a JPG or GIF image, etc.) The format of that header is standardized, allowing any browser that conforms to the standard to figure out what to do with that information. Clearly, neither of these standards stifles your creativity in regard to the content of your pages.

So Why Do We Need the Web Standards Project?

Parts of the infrastructure do not yet conform to standards. HTML, the "language" in which web pages are written, has a standard which has been evolving under the guidance of the World Wide Web Consortium.

Unfortunately, the major browser manufacturers have pretty much ignored this standard, adding features without considering how they will function with other browsers (or even their own products on different platforms).

If you wish to use a feature called Cascading Style Sheets, for example, you have to worry about at least six combinations of browser and platform:

Netscape Navigator 4.x
Internet Explorer 3.x
Internet Explorer 4.x
Netscape Navigator 4.04
Internet Explorer 3.x
Internet Explorer 4.x

What Does Ignoring Standards Mean to Web Designers?

It means that you either:
  1. jump through hoops to ensure that your pages will function well on multiple browsers on multiple platforms; sometimes this means that you have to write multiple versions of your pages
  2. write to the lowest common denominator
  3. write for only one particular browser configuration, thus cutting off users of other browsers or platforms from your content

What Does Ignoring Standards Mean to Web Users?

It means that you have to either:
  1. give up on viewing pages that don't happen to work with your browser
  2. install multiple browsers on your computer and try them until you find the one that just happens to let you view the page you want


The word "standard" does not mean "a punitive device, designed to crush creativity." Standards at the infrastructure level ensure easier, more widespread distribution of a product.

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. Web surfers won't have to constantly update their browsers in the hopes of finding one that lets them view the latest and greatest pages.

This is why the work that the Web Standards project is doing is so important. Please support them in any way you can.

If you have any comments or opinions about this page, please let me know.

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