Standards Police

The Standards Police, I think Keith is totally off here, as I began to express in Dave’s comments. A laissez-faire approach to compliance isn’t helping anyone. Someone needs to set an example, and if it’s not these guys who will? Jeffrey and Doug, each with no small amount of content on their site, seem to have no problem keeping things compliant. Neither does Eric, Tantek, Joe, Lars, Anne, Mark, just to name a few. Don’t tell me “validation is very hard and takes quite a bit of effort.” That’s a weak cop-out. Accessibility is very hard, design is very hard, music is very hard, driving in between the lines is very hard. If you don’t want to make the effort, then don’t dabble and make flippant comments that hurt the field as a whole and insult the people who work “very hard.”

I’m coming out. This site is to the best of my ability valid XHTML 1.1 sent with the proper MIME to browser that can handle it. Even the photolog, which took me hours and hours of work to get to the point where it is now, and for a long time was far from decent markup. However I am fairly certain that there are some comments (particularly on the mosaic thread, which now has almost a thousand replies) that have broken validation, and though I am very busy I will personally check each of these. WordPress helps a lot. The WordPress site is also XHTML 1.1 with the exception of the forums, which are compliant by default (more hours of work) but which could do a much better job of validation input. These are my weaknesses, out for the world to see. Even though the sites work just fine, and “validation doesn’t pay the bills,” I’m going to devote my time to fixing these problems because how can I presume to be a member of an organization devoted to standards without following them myself?

Update: Pulled and republished.

24 thoughts on “Standards Police

  1. Oh boy Matt. I think you really missed the point here. I feel that it is good to strive for validation. Where the post came from, and my subsequent comments, is the endless nitpicking that both Dave, I and presumably countless others have had to deal with in regards to small validation issues.

    It’s not the validation itself.

    Oh and validation is hard. Maybe not in your case, but try working on a team with developers who don’t give a flying you-know-what about Web standards at all. Try working with multiple content authors and legacy code. It can be a real pain. You are in a very unique situation Matt — to say the least. It really pisses me off that you’d assume to know what makes validation very hard for me.

    Not all of us code PHP for a living. Not all of us create Web software. Your technical skills stretch way beyond my own. I’m a designer first and I struggle with things you think commonplace.

    Having said that I think I do a pretty damn good job keeping my site valid. If I get an error in my comments, I fix it by hand. I get quite a few — I consider that “hard”. Maybe you like spending hours editing comments? Maybe with WordPress it’s much easier? I’ve been considering a switch from MT and that would be a good selling point. But I just don’t have time for that stuff right now.

    Yeah, I’ve gone to great lengths to keep Asterisk as valid as possible and I’ve got everything but the comments nailed down. I don’t have the time or desire to go through every comment and make sure it validates. I just don’t. And I’ve not found a solution that I can easily implement that will do this for me. I could not allow any HTML but I don’t feel that benefits my users needs.

    I fully applaud your decision to put yourself out there and strive for validation. Go for it man, and good luck to you.

    But don’t presume to put the same expectations, or the same goals on me, thank you, and for sure don’t assume that just because you feel validation is “easy” that it’s easy for everyone else, under every situation.

    This is exactly what prompted the original post. People passing judgment without understanding the full story. If I created blogging software your point would be well taken.

    I don’t.

    I’m a Web designer. I design and build Web sites. I’ve also got a full time job. Asterisk is a hobby I do in my spare time. I do my best man.

  2. Validation IS hard and does take quite a bit of effort. However, after a lot of work and banging on the desk, I got my site to validate for XML and also CSS. It was a very happy moment for me. Some of the old pages might not validate (entries imported from MT) but I know now how to use self closing tags, and how to use the validators to work for me, not against me. It IS a lot of work, but the feeling you get once you “pass” is worth it. 🙂

  3. See, this is why I’m trying out the ‘separating comments from the original post’ paradigm. The discussion took on a life of its own, which is okay, but it has resulted in your lumping me in with the viewpoint you’re arguing, when my original entry was something completely beside that point. This new discussion I’m not taking part in, but I’ve been dragged into it anyway.

  4. Dave, generally a fragment identifier suffices for that task. I think moving comments to their own page just confuses things.

  5. Heh, I applaud your commitment to promoting standards, but I think expecting perfection on *anything* created by people is a bit optimistic. Even the best software has bugs from time to time, the best newspapers print typos on a near-daily basis, and the best web designers out there sometimes slip in their work towards validation. I think what Keith and Dave both want to say is that, like any other human creation, their work is not impervious to flaws – they aren’t eschewing web standards by any means, just admitting that they can’t be held (and shouldn’t be expected to hold) to a perfect score. You admit as much in your own post. There are mistakes (glitches in the Matrix, if you will) on your own sites that you will get around to fixing. That’s great – I wish you luck.

    The difference between web development and other forms of language-based creative work (programming or writing) is that there is an immediate and viable method for checking the validity of a document. And Joe Schmo has access to the same tool that the developer does. Now I’m not arguing that he shouldn’t have access, but that his input on another site’s validity comes from his own limited viewpoint. The fact is that the Web is still a very new technology and support for standards that are still being developed is fair to middling at best. You can’t know all of the decisions that a design and development team makes prior to publishing their site, so judging their adherence to standards solely on the results of a simple validation test is a crude test at best.

    For instance, Company A is committed to web standards, but they also have a keen interest in sharing their fabulous video work via Quicktime. Should they be penalized for poor cross-platform browser support when it comes to the object tag? Or should their site be considered valid despite the fact that it uses the embed tag to allow older, less capable browsers to view their videos? This doesn’t even take into account the possibility that you can have a completely valid site that doesn’t work correctly in a user’s browser of choice. As countless developers and designers have said before me, I’ll say it again, the Web is all about compromise. We all want to see this space succeed and grow, but sometimes we have to trade perfection for what works.

    Hopefully you’re not reading this as angry or argumentative. I wholly applaud your intentions to keep your sites 100% valid, and hope that you (and countless others) are successful. 😀

  6. Matt, I don’t read Dave Shea as pushing back at standards and validation. He’s just saying that there are too many people who act like standards police, going around validating people’s sites and then demanding that they fix them. How rude.

    One could say that if I made a living at standards compliance, like Jeffrey Zeldman, then compliance to standards would be critical. But for the rest of us — we’re just trying to write something that won’t bore people. Including ourselves.

    All I can say is I’m glad you didn’t read my Tyranny of the Standards article from way back…

  7. As the saying goes, “eat your own dogfood”. If you preach use of web standards, then you should also be doing what you’re preaching.

    Furthermore, I think a lot of assumptions are being made about those who validate other’s websites. To begin with, who says they’re doing it to nit-pick? Maybe they’re doing it as a favor? I know I appreciate when a reader notifies me that my website currently does not validate, mostly because of some unencoded ampersand or something that I missed in a post.

    I just now realized that my own website doesn’t currently validate, because I switched to UTF-8 just recently and hadn’t checked it in the validator since. I rarely do re-validate my site, so any help from readers or strangers is appreciated.

    And, finally, _many_ websites offer a “valid xhtml” badge that links straight to the validator, if you sport a link like that, then god damn it, that’s a written invitation for people to check if your site is valid or not.

    It’s ok that one’s site isn’t validated at all times, even if you preach use of web standards, but it is certainly not alright to whine when people tell you that your site doesn’t validate. By preaching use of web standards, you asked for it.

  8. The bottom line is that, as web designers and web programmers, our job is to develop a product that will be accessible and usable to its audience. If you alienate a part of its potential audience in order to further your philosophical agenda with regard to standards compliance, then you are doing your clients and your product’s audience a disservice.

    It’s just not as black-and-white as some people would like it to be. Just as others here have pointed out, there’s always a tradeoff between furthering the progression and evolution of the web and supporting legacy technologies in order to include older systems (which often cannot ever upgrade to newer technologies because their systems simply cannot them — think: systems in low-budget education).

    Being elite and progressive and fresh and cool and standards compliant is great, but only if you decide it’s the right solution to a given problem. Even having a bias towards being standards compliant is fine. But, the people who say "standards compliant – all the time, every time" are just being silly.

  9. I guess this is an organic sort of issue and Shelly nailed it on the head when mentioning the Zeldman factor. Most of the other authors/designers/bloggers that are now recognised as influential when it comes to website design have grown that way through populatity rather than through the espousement of standards compliance. They are, it seems, a victim of their own popularity when it come to being put under the critical microscope of a design fickle audience.

    I fully applaud your effort to stand out there as a beacon of compliance. The sheer effort involved in converting that tag soup mess of the gallery (the same script I use in my site) in of itself deserves a fricken award. It’s good to see that you have taken your site popularity, your influence as a designer of a reknowned publishing system, and using it as an example of what others should strive to achieve.

    Everyone needs goalposts. Just not everyone has the time/desire/skill to reach them.

  10. Make individual developers who claim to adhere to standards live up to it. Ask corporate or group developers who make the same claim why they don’t.

    When you run your own (Word)press and print ink by the barrel, you have higher standards to live up to. But with too many cooks stirring the broth, anything can go wrong.

    (And I hereby surrender in Martin Amis’s war against cliché.)

  11. I don’t think anyone is missing the point here, as Keith suggests (#1). It’s just that people are trying to make different points.

    Continuing this debate is therefore pointless unless the following distinctions are made:

    * Personal vs non-personal site (~ degree of markup control)
    * Advocates vs non-advocates
    * Good intentions vs bad intentions

    First, this debate is about personal sites. Maintaining valid code on a non-personal site is difficult unless you are in full control of the markup, 24/7, to the end of time. Intelligent people understand this, whether in the web profession or not. Comments such as #6, which talks about commercial, i.e. non-personal sites, are therefore irrelevant.

    Dave’s original post, Keith’s comments here and there, as well as Matt’s post above, however, are all about personal sites. And Dave, Keith, Matt, and I (because my name was mentioned) are in full control of our sites (though it would seem Movable Typers are not in full control of their comments).

    The comments page to Dave’s post has some excellent arguments as to why validity and standards compliance matters. Quite a few people also need to take a few moments to grasp the fact that validity is digital: something is either valid or it is not. There is no such thing as 99% valid.

    Second, this debate is about the sites of standards advocates, not those of Joe Averages, posting occasionally on missing socks, peeing dogs, and other ephemereal topics. Dave and Keith are professional web designers who have made a name for themselves as standards advocates. As Matt and Tomas (#8) point out, this inevitably puts higher requirements on them. In fact, Dave puts high requirements on people too, and even goes to the extreme of punishing those who don’t live up to them (case in point: marking comments from people who don’t have websites in a different, lighter, and more difficult to read color – bad move Dave).

    I realize that this may not be intentional. As seriociomic points out (#10):

    “Most of the other authors/designers/bloggers that are now recognised as influential when it comes to website design have grown that way through populatity rather than through the espousement of standards compliance. They are, it seems, a victim of their own popularity when it come to being put under the critical microscope of a design fickle audience.”

    I agree. Keith has done the right thing IMO and declared a change of course, or at least focus, in sick of web standards.

    And it would certainly be more interesting and stimulating if we could all move on to embrace best practise in web design and development, instead of focusing on the nitty grittiness of unescaped ampersands. But simply whining about being subject to “nitpicking” is not a good practise, and does not impress.

    Third, this debate has been about bad intentions, which is a shame. Dave has some excellent sugggestions as to what those people could do instead (e.g. help a non-profit), but letting someone know their code is invalid does not necessarily imply bad intentions. This somehow got lost in the debate. Yes, there are people who do it because they are jealous, bored, or plain stupid, but I would argue that most people do it with the best of intentions, as a favor to the publisher.

    However, the nature of the intentions does not change the fact that the code is invalid. The typical example is how ill-formed (and hence invalid) code for content served as application/xhtml+xml will cause Gecko browsers to display an error message. I assume this is something most publishers would want to be alerted to, regardless of the intentions with which the message was sent.

    But regardless of which, both types of messages can be dealt with, simply and effectively, by hitting “Delete”.

    I don’t even know why we’re having this argument.

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  13. I’m not a geek. I’m not a programmer. I’m a hobbyist designer who makes just enough each year to pay for web hosting, cable Internet, and a new laptop.

    Since moving from MT to WP, my site is XHTML 1.1 valid. Making and keeping it that way is not “hard” or “difficult.” It is time consuming (I’m still working on fixing old, archived entries). It requires a certain amount of learning and a decision to value valid code.

    “Oh and validation is hard. Maybe not in your case, but try working on a team with developers who don’t give a flying you-know-what about Web standards at all. Try working with multiple content authors and legacy code. It can be a real pain.”

    The problem in that situation is not that valid code is difficult. The problem is that communication and teamwork are difficult and take work. Communication, not standards, are the difficulty.

  14. Kevin – Legacy code can be a real pain to bring up to standards. I actually spend quite a bit of time dealing with it and it’s hard and time consuming and at times not worth the effort. Also, communicating the value of standards to someone who just doesn’t care can be hard as well.

    I’m curious, and maybe Matt can address this if you can’t. Is there something that WP does to keep comments valid? My main problem with Asterisk staying valid is in my comments, as I’ve said. I’ve eliminated most nesting errors via a plug-in, but it’s those darn nonSGML characters that get me on any post that has quite a few comments.

    What I’d like to see, and please tell me if WP does this, is something that automatically converted these for me that was easy for me to set up. I’ve seen a few solutions, but none seem ideal. I’m interested to hear how WP does this — if at all.

    To me this would be a huge selling point. I spent quite a bit of time getting my site valid and I can deal with the errors I occasionally create myself, but I get lots and lots of comments and I’d really love a very easy way to keep them clean without changing the basic functionality of my site.

    (off topic: Matt, have you ever thought about making this comment box a bit taller? Not a big deal or anything, just seems kind of short when typing in a long comment.)

  15. I have just checked my blog for validation, it had 124 errors, and after some hours, iy was validating. However, i posted a post or 2, and it was not validating. As a friend says, “for some people, validation es very important, but not necessary.” I think he is completely correct. Which are the real “pros” of validating? Just having a validating site is not a good reason. If it was a parsing error,. well, ok, you have to check that, but I dont find the real reason for validating.

  16. Jesus Vargas asked:
    “Which are the real “pros” of validating?”

    Well, for one thing, you don’t come off as a hypocrite when you go on and on about how important web standards are.

  17. Keith: I’m not saying it isn’t hard work to bring old code up to standards. What I am saying is that the difficulty isn’t the standards, themselves. As you note, a big part of it is the other people who don’t like change and get in the way. Wading through ugly old stuff can be tough, too. I maintain a few sites like those, as well. They’re still invalid. Some will stay that way for a long time. As I am contracted to build new sites, though, I use valid code.

    I don’t worry about my comments too much. If someone types an ampersand, the page won’t validate. That, to me, is a bit different than not closing image tags or improper nesting. Though, if I came across a plugin that would “fix” comments as they were submitted, I would use it.