The Value of Web Standards

While at OSCON, Mark Lucovsky of Google sent us a bit of HTML that’d embed a slender map search widget into our conferences web site. It’s an easy way for attendees to find restaurants, hotels, parks, bars, etc. near the conference venue. Great idea, and an elegant demo of the Ajax Search API that Mark’s been working on.

Mark’s next speaking gig was at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference, so naturally he reached for the find-me-stuff-around-the-conference example. However, he rapidly ran into the messy HTML that is the SES web site. Whereas it had been a matter of seconds to add the Javascript into the O’Reilly web page, adding it to the SES page was an ordeal.

That’s a vindication of the large amount of hard work that O’Reilly design team put into redesigning pages so they were XHTML and CSS. It’s also a vindication of the standards themselves: we sometimes lose track of the bigger picture when we’re fighting our way through a twisty maze of namespaces, all alike. The point of the standards is not just to ensure that browsers can display the pages. The standards also ensure the pages form a platform that can be built upon; a hacked-together platform leads to brittle and fragile extensions.

Between Google and Yahoo!’s work on in-page widgets, the spreading effect of microformats, and the rise of the importance of accessibility, we’re finally getting rewards for standards-compliance. It’s like we’ve been eating healthily and exercising regularly, and finally we’re able to keep up at Frisbee with the kids, we can fit our old jeans, and we are ready for our first backpacking trip in a long time. It’s makes all that virtuous XHTML+CSS roughage worthwhile.