The following is no overstatement: The Internet was founded and grows upon the concept of open standards.
Moreover, when the Web, a subset of the Internet, was designed, its designer’s intentions were that all content on the Web use the same standards so that all that content could be accessed by anyone on Web.
Whenever someone designs a site only for certain versions of browser software or for only one type of device or prioritizes graphical design over accessibility, that someone is perverting the intent of the Internet, limiting the Internet’s and their own content’s options for growth, and is perhaps inadvertently removing their content from more widespread access and usage.
A discussion is underway on the Online News listserv about what standards, if any, should be used by media Web sites. We like the wisdom discussed by Aaron Schaap:
- It’s not about coding your site to work in a certain browser – it’s about coding it to work (correctly) … it’s about being a professional and not just whipping things together to only work for 2 browsers.
To sum up – Steve [Yelvington of Morris Digital Works] is correct (although he didn’t mean to be) in saying “”We don’t much care about Opera.” – you shouldn’t care much for just Opera, just code it correctly and information will be available to everything.
Indeed, why would anyone intentionally code in ways that don’t work with all contemporary browsers, including Opera, which is one of the very few standards-compliant browsers? We find that particularly aggravating because we do half of our browsing from an office desktop using Opera (which for years has allowed us to prevent pop-up or pop-under ads and chose from which sites we accept third-party cookies) and the other half of our time traveling and using either Opera on my laptop PC or Internet Explorer on our GPRS mobile digital assistant (MDA).
We thus have trouble accessing some sites (including the Morris DigitalWorks sites) because those sites use non-standard markup code.
Another bad case is Expedia.com. Although that site was founded by Microsoft (it’s now owned by Barry Diller), it has become so specific about designing its pages only certain desktop browser softwares, that the site is no longer accessible from contemporary versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer on Pocket PCs. Guess how useful that makes Expedia.com when you’re traveling and you need to find a new flight!
Ditto sites that heavily use server-side Java for pull-down menus or use other kludges. Have their designers ever tried accessing those sites from a MDA or Web-equipped mobile phone (hey, there’s already 100 million of those in use worldwide)? Those sites’ pull-down menus either don’t appear or don’t work, which will make for great use in the wireless Web era we’re entering.
Moreover, what happens in the future to today’s non-standard tags? If your site today uses non-standard markups aimed at only specific browser software versions, how easy will it be for you to migrate that content in the future? (Can anyone spell SyQuest or NAPLS?)
The choice of which browsing software to use, on which device, should be the consumer’s and not the designer’s. If designers were to use standard coding, there wouldn’t be much of a problem.
Another participant in the Online News discussion asked:
- Have you considered Macromedia Flash for serving up streaming video? From what I have seen of it the results are extremely good, and the plugin has a very high penetration. The plugin is also available for platforms such as Linux which do not have support for WMV.
The Flash plug-in has more than 85% penetration in the browser market, but an underlying assumption in the question we quote is that desktop PC or laptop PC browsers are the only way that consumers should access this online content. That assumption isn’t true and, furthermore, is why standards are meant to be cross-platform.
For an example: More consumers initially access NYTimes.com content each day via HTML e-mail than through browser software — nearly 3.7 million via e-mail versus 1.5 million via Web browsing (note: (to calculate NYTime.com’s daily visitors to the Web, multiply unique monthly users times average visitor’s monthly visitation frequency and then divide by days in month.) Because Flash is neither a World Wide Web Consortium nor an Internet Engineering Task Force standard nor compliant, but a kludge many Web designers use to circumvent HTML’s graphical inadequacies, it isn’t included across even major software manufacturers’ product lines. Use of the Flash plug-in might be widespread in Microsoft’s and Netscape’s browser software, but neither Microsoft nor Netscape nor Macromedia itself offer plug-in for Microsoft’s or Netscape’s or AOL’s or Lotus/IBM’s or Qualcomm’s (Eudora) e-mail software. Subscribe to HTML e-mail delivery of a Flash-embedded Web page and you’re out of luck.
Ditto trying to view a Flash-embedded Web page on PDAs, MDAs, and Web-equipped mobile phones, or a the growing number of Internet devices. All because Flash is non-standard.
Hey, don’t get us wrong! Flash would be great or would be a standard if consumers were like Web site designers, who sit on the posteriors and browse from desktops PCs all day. But that’s not real life. (Nor are consumers like journalism professors, which is why the concept of teaching ‘Flash journalism’ might sound great within academia but needs a reality check. Anyone for teaching ‘Animated GIF journalism’?)
As Aaron Schaap noted, if sites are instead designed according to standard code — not designed for only certain manufacturers’ browsers nor for use of non-standard software — then anyone, anywhere, with any device can access that site’s content.
When the Web was designed, its designer’s intentions were that all content on the Web could be accessed by all people on Web. When you prioritize graphical design above accessibility or when you design for only one software version or only one platform, you are perverting that intent and limiting your options in the future.