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August 22, 2007

once more with the zealots, this time with feeling (or how WaSP ruined everything for everyone)

I posted this as a coment on Joe Hewitt's blog, but feel it needs its own home, so indulge me. Thsi is perhaps the first time I've seen the Web Standards Project atually blamed for the lack of standards development, but Joe is sure an innovative guy. I'm not sure whether to be sad, angry, or just nonplussed. Or maybe it's an elaborate joke?

That the iPhone is not like a return to the bad old days of "best viewed in" - is for the simple reason that the Web Standards Project, and many many individual web developers, as well as those associated with commercial and open source browser development worked really hard, at a time when it was barely heard of, to advocate for a standards based web - not the balkanized, anarchic web introduced orignially by Netscape, and then contributed to by browser and web developers alike for many years.

Frankly, to blame the web standards project for the lack of development of standards is flat out wrong Actualy, it's BS IMO. You can't rerun history, but with Netscape crashing and burning, and long before Mozilla, let alone Firefox put some pressure on Microsoft, IE had effectively a monopoly on web browsing. It's hard to see what else would have brought about the pretty stable, standards based web ecosystem we have today in the absence of the combined positive and critical pressure that this organization brought to bear on all browser developers, the evangelism of the values and value of these standards it undertook, along with with the countless hours many folks spent on newsgroups, mailing lists, developing web sites, and otherwise helping web developers learn CSS, valid HTML, accessibility and the like.

You've done pretty well out of the standards based web Joe - so be a bit more grateful to those who worked very hard, and frankly in many cases sacrified a lot to make it a reality.

To follow a second tangent, imagine that a lot of the WPF/Silveright (no criticism of these, BTW) had been pured back into IE, um I mean standards. Do you think we'd have the Firefox we do today? It barely does SVG, so would it be a first class web citizen trying to support a much more complex rich set of technologies? What about Opera? Even Safari. And whose to say that the development of these standards would have moved ahead more steadily than CSS3? I really need some convincing that the Web Standards Project caused all this.

As to the iPhone, Safari, AFAIC, does innovation right. They work within a stable framework of innovation, as the pain of the years of the version 4 and 5 browsers taught us - for example, the use of -webkit- prefixes for experimental CSS, and in implementing features like text-stroke, border-radius, and box-shadow which of their nature gracefully degrade.

Don't tell those folks who worked very hard to make the web what it is that they "don't even understand how standards come to be in the first place", or that they are blinded by dogma. Of course there are always those who will, but to lump all of those who support standards in with them, and then to suggest that it was the very people who most helped the web who effed it up, well, you are simply overreacting.

August 22, 2007 | Permalink


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Sorry to have saddened/angered you, John, but I mean this seriously. I almost never hear web developers complaining about the lack of progress in browser tech. That complacency makes me crazy. Everytime a company tries to do something new I hear people tossing out the conspiracy theories about how they want to "own the web". I don't recall hearing that nonsense as much before the WaSP got going. Instead, I remember the excitement when Microsoft and Netscape would give us new toys.

I've seen, used, and created a lot better methods for developing user interfaces than the one that the W3C standardized on. I keep waiting for those techniques to be possible with XHTML/CSS, and I fear I'll have to wait forever if we don't start to demand more from the people who make browsers. I'd rather have one company take the lead and get "de facto standards" than live with the garbage we have today forever.

Posted by: Joe Hewitt | Aug 22, 2007 5:40:41 PM


all a bit light hearted - I left out the smiley, though did mean to have it in there - though as an early wasper I was a bit taken aback initially - I think it's a bit unfair given how much WaSP did once contribute, and perhaps goes to show ust how much we take the stable web platform for granted thatnow we criticize its stability, where once we criticized its instability.

Among those who were, and in many cases continue to be important in the promotion of standards, whether within WaSP or in other ways, I think the anti MS attitude is really not that strong. You'l hear it spoken of, but really not by many who have a lot of credibiity - its mor eto my mind something you find posted anonymously at /. :-)

I also appreciate your impatience, and desire for solutions, but the web has never really been about de facto standards (1993 - 1997 being the key exception to that, a time of innovation sure, but lot of terrible solutions to trivial problems that left a decade of legacy issues in some cases) - there are profound problems with de facto standards - who owns the IP? Who can license it? The tradeoff is you hand aost complete control over the ecosystem to the inventor. I, and I think many other folks, would simply not want to be involved in that.

But, onto solving the problems (and I agree that there are problems).
I think the issue is simply a lot more complex than any of us can possibly say. The standards we have are the ones we have, and were designed almost entirely for documents, and now we are trying to shoe horn them into supporting webapp design. The existing standards have an almost unimaginable investment of time, energy and commitment from probably millions of people and companies.

I think the most important thing (as we were at WaSP, in particular the CSS folks) is to identify the problems that exist, document them, and really try then to suggest solutions. Those solutions may well come from what we already have, or they might require something completely new.

I think this is a significant mistake that HTML5 makes - it doesn't start with identifying the sigificant problems, it starts with the assumption, HTML5 needs updating, and then moves right into the question of how to go about that.

This is a subject for another longer post, but I kinda think HTML is essentially done - the chances of significant enhancement of HTML itself are very low. Wat I think we need to turn our atention to is webapplication standards, and I very much doubt that HTML is the best way forward there - or at least, changing HTML to accomodate webapp development and interfaces.

Thanks for the comments,


Posted by: John Allsopp | Aug 22, 2007 6:42:34 PM