When the war is over

24 January 2004


A Blue Perspective: When the war is over

Most of the sites I visit regularly at the moment are Web Standards related. And already, as more people get with the program and we develop a useful pool of tips, tricks and templates, I'm beginning to find myself becoming desensitised to the "wow" factor in standards based design for its own sake.

It's now accepted that anything you could do B.S. (Before Standards) you can now do with standards. Places like the CSS Vault prove that daily. In the grander scheme, this is a good thing. By paying less attention to the underlying technology we can go back to appreciation of a web site as a web site: look, feel, content, usability. In another sense – for me at least – it's a bad thing. It represents the appropriation of the cutting edge by the status quo.

I'm not saying that I, or anyone else, could claim to know all there is to know about XHTML/CSS, but I can definitely see a time in the not too distant future (2, 3 years) when semantic design will become as comfortable as table-based design was. This was the whole point about generating a critical mass of standards supporters – making it cleaner, faster and easier for people to publish content – but it'll leave a gaping hole in the hearts of innovation junkies. When standards become standard, where's the challenge?

I know that ever since I discovered semantic design there has been an extra spring in my step when I'm faced with a new project; when I'm faced with a new chance to explore the boundaries of design. It's not exactly mountain climbing, but it's intoxicating to know that you're treading new found territory, perhaps where no one else has ever been. The added beauty of current standards experimentation is that we're pushing the boundaries of what's possible, but we know that it's safe – there's a fairly stable canon of browsers that you can code for and an accepted level of standards (somewhere around XHTML 1.0 and CSS 1.5). If you want to carry on that pioneering spirit you could start delving into SVG, CSS3 & 4 or SMIL, but you know that real-world clients will never go for it, because the majority of the market won't be able to see what you're doing. As a fact of life, until the next version of Internet Explorer comes out (who knows when?) the playground is clearly marked.

I don't think anyone wants to preach to the converted, so once all Geocities web sites validate (side note: can we get animated GIFs specifically excluded from the standards?) do we douse the fire in our bellies and find ways to innovate just within visual design? Or can we find new areas to innovate? Revive JavaScript? Or, dare I say it, throw our hats into the Flash ring?

I'm not writing the obituary of XHTML/CSS – it's still got plenty of life in it yet – but life is cycles of decline and ascent. Undoubtedly the future will throw up something that no one ever predicted and I, for one, hope I'm there and ready to enjoy it.


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  1. 1/9

    JR Prospal commented on 24 January 2004 @ 02:48

    Well, now that the challenge of web standards are over, there's always world peace to work at.

    I really wouldn't say the war is over though. In our little sphere it may be, but there are still lots of designers and clients who have no clue that there are standards.

  2. 2/9

    Steven commented on 28 January 2004 @ 03:16

    When the war is over....

    your comment is so true, and in a sence so sad. I love the idea that now, when Im designing for a client, I can give them the "Web Standards" talk and explain how much better it will be to use for their site.
    But there will be a time where every design jockey will be designing with standards and yes it will kill the excitement one feels when pushing the boundries of a css/WS based layout.
    But, you must remember, by that time(2-3 years maybe) there will have been some new inovation that will make designing with CSS look the same as designing with tables when CSS was first offered to web crafters.

    the war may be over, but there will be a new battle in the not so distant future...and that for me is what keeps my fire burning :)

  3. 3/9

    Brad commented on 28 January 2004 @ 15:56

    To extend your war metaphor a little, a quote:

    "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance"

    So of course, once the "standard" (or recommendation, depending on your view) becomes the standard, we must play our part in ensuring it stays the standard.

    As for the innovators, well... I don't know what they'll (we'll??) do. There's always the DOM, and soon there'll be XHTML 2.0 (which could prove to be a massive challenge judging by my limited experience with it). It's a moving target: it will keep evolving and we'll have to keep on making it work with outdated browsers. The distributed nature of the internet will ensure this.

    It'll just feel like less of a challenge, because unlike changing from tables to CSS layout, we won't have to rewire our thinking processes to consider the semantics of the code. We'll just have to learn the new tags and syntax. Which, really, is just the way I.T. is unfortunately.

  4. 4/9

    Brad commented on 28 January 2004 @ 15:59

    Apologies for overly cynical remarks towards the end - it's been a long day! :)

  5. 5/9

    The Man in Blue commented on 28 January 2004 @ 17:10

    Maybe we can get some U.N. peacekeepers to e-mail strongly worded e-mails to non-compliant sites.

  6. 6/9

    maki commented on 2 February 2004 @ 17:13

    IE? Bah! Let's embrace cutting edge browsers that support the latest [fill in the blank], experiment our little hearts out, and have fun amongst our geeky selves!

    Once we've gotten that out of our systems, we can do nice safe boring stuff for our unsuspecting IE-using clients. Yeah!

  7. 7/9

    Michael A commented on 10 July 2004 @ 04:51

    Great posting. Your analogy to a "war" is interesting and especially your use of the term "critical mass."

    Why? Because you are thinking like someone who understands that this about a social change. I don't like the use of "war" as it associates violence and irresponsible extremism, but I don't blame you for using it. The passionate postings (rants) and the free exchange of differing opinions (fights) reminds me of my years in social change advocacy campaigns.

    Instead of just defining the problem over and over and over...and over....we need to frame the issue in a positive way that offers rewards, not punishments, to influence a number of key audiences in order to bring about a desired action. Each message needs to be tailored to each audience and in terms they can relate to; . NOT just in our own industry "speak" (be it coder, developer, designer, usability analyst, etc.) This is how social change strategies are planned.

    You seem to understand (I think) that we don't own the Web. Yes, it has been highjacked, if you will, from the original "utopian" vision by corporations (plural? hmmm) and by other interest groups, including us!

    Yes, we may think we are in charge, but the bottom line is that this social change (the Web itself has been described as a "social change" by the way) will come about in a way that none of us have imagined yet; at least not expressed in the various debates (catfights) on various blogs. Though on one Blog, the idea of "blacklisting" sites that were not code compliant has at least "fun" to read ...until I read the comments posted and 90% of them agreed and even said these lists are forming already. "Fun" just become "horror."

    This is a tough one because you can't alientate you those of us who build and design the sites, nor bite the hand that feeds you (how many of you would be willing to boycott a corporation that, opps, you work for?) I don't just mean MicroSoft, I refer to the all companies that employ us, as well as the non profit educational sites. Punish or blacklist a site devoted to helping Children with Autism? That is going to make you effort crash harder than George Bush a couple nights ago when he "forgot" he was the President of the United States at a press conference (He said "I am just a candidate").

    Thank goodness no one is our industry could be that lame.

  8. 8/9

    The Man in Blue commented on 11 July 2004 @ 02:22

    Quite possibly the longest comment posted on my Weblog, Michael, but a great analysis of the current situation nevertheless.

  9. 9/9

    Tester commented on 10 November 2004 @ 15:33

    You should try using XSL and XML CSS.

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