Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why Web Standards?

I am converting a client's website to follow accepted web standards. Specifically, I am validating the HTML and CSS using the W3C tools. Besides following the standards because it's the "right thing" to do, there are many tangible benefits to businesses. I have compiled a comprehensive list of these, along with a set of references. I hope this helps you make the same decision... it's one big step towards a friendlier world wide web!

Introduction

In this case I am using the phrase "web standards" to refer to the series of recommendations made by the W3C and promoted by WaSP. Besides ensuring proper syntax, these standards mandate that tags are used for the appropriate task.

The biggest change in development from the pre-standards mode of working is that tables cannot be used to dictate page structure. Rather they are reserved for their designated task: containing tabular data. It is not easy making this switch, since a number of browser quirks and lapses in standards enforcement complicates the target environment. But it's still a lot better than abandoning standards entirely, and the time spent learning the new methods is an investment in the future.

Standards Benefits

Proper separation of style (CSS) from structure (HTML) allows:
  1. easier customisation (for example by swapping stylesheets) for a more customer-centric experience
  2. reduced maintenance time and costs


Page size is reduced, resulting in:
  1. reduced bandwidth and lower hosting costs
  2. faster page response improving user experience


Conformity increases device compatibility for:
  1. better compatibility with older browsers
  2. increased usability by people with vision and other disabilities*
  3. increased usability by mobiles, PDAs and other browsing technologies
  4. greater accessibility to search engine robots
  5. more predicatable browser rendering (to a point!)
  6. fewer problems with future browsers (eg: IE 7)


Development process is standardised and time reduced, specifically it's easier to:
  1. find errors using validators
  2. gauge conformity across multiple developers
  3. convert compliant documents to other formats
  4. process web server error logs when errors are reduced
  5. hand off development to a new team


Besides these benefits, there may be contractual or legal ramifications if your website is found to be deficient in meeting codes for disabled access. For example, if you are building sites for the US Federal Government, you need to conform to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. In the United Kingdom you should be aware of The Disability Discrimination Act.

The single biggest difficult in standards compliance is finding developers who understand and appreciate the standards. As usual, the world is swimming in developers, most of whom are far from capable in this regard.

References

Why Websites Look Different in Different Browsers

The Business Case For Web Accessibility

The Business Value of Web Standards

The Way Forward with Web Standards

webXACT accessibility tool (once Bobby)

List of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0

Should my Business Website be Compliant?.


* There were an estimated 31 million visually impaired people in the Americas and Europe in 2002. Depending on your business segment, that's a large potential market.

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