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Designing with Web Standards


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Book: Designing with Web Standards: First and Second Editions

Author: Jeffrey Zeldman

I got deep into the whole web standards thing back when I was toiling away in obscurity in Rochester, NY. These were the early days of The Internet when we capitalized Internet because It Was A, No The, Place. It felt like we were picking the right side of history and that This was How Websites Will be Made in the Future Forever.

I went to an early A List Apart conference in 2006 — I enthusiastically pitched folks at the bananas astrology website where I worked on The Right™ way to create their HTML and CSS. They nodded and smiled but went back to doing things the way they always had — and they were mostly right to do so.

I started to get deeper into programming and software engineering and discovered things like quirks mode and that maybe it was the people that made the browsers who actually had the final say in what was going to end up as a standard or not and the folks actually building the browsers seemed pretty skeptical (some hostilely so) of XHTML and other things that were religious truths to us.

Then many web standards folks started saying that it had never been about literal standards and was, in fact, more about consensus building and bringing their client’s voices to the table. Pretty soon everything that wasn’t slicing up an image into tables got slapped with a web standards label, HTML5 came along to pave the cowpaths and clear the way for webkit to do new things and the real world started using abstractions like LessCSS and SaaS to deal with the newer, less dramatic, browser incompatibilities and differences. The tooling became just good enough that designers started coding and people more interested in programming moved on to other things.

I learned a lot by observing and participating in this particular subculture — but ultimately it was the political and economic lessons that proved most useful and long lasting.

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Originally Posted: 26th August 2021