Buzz Archive: March 2004

Opera, IBM voice

ZDNet this week, offers up news where Standards meets Accessibility and Emerging technology with “Opera's browser finds its voice,” by Matt Loney and Paul Festa.

Opera is adding voice control to its browser, enabling users to browse the Web and fill in voice-enabled Web forms by talking to their PC. They can also have the contents of Web sites read back to them.

The Opera browser will use IBM's Embedding ViaVoice speech technology and should be available for download in the next few months.

Igor Jablokov, director of IBM voice technology and chairman of the VoiceXML Forum stated the input and output technology will be available for the computers first, then cell phones and PDA's in the near future.

Developers will be able to build multimodal content using the open standards of XHTML and VoiceXML:

X+V combines two markup languages, both based on XML. XHTML is a version of the Hypertext Markup Language expressed in XML, and VoiceXML is an XML framework for developers of voice applications.

Other possibilites with this voice browser technology: voice control with web based presentations, and who knows, can Voice to text notes or Voice to email be too far off in the future? Digital dictations?

Related Links:

Are you X7.45 compliant?

The folks at would like to see the ubiquitous 'http:' removed from the beginning of all our URLs. So instead of linking to "" in your pages, you would link to just "//".

This is actually quite legal. RFC 1808 specifies that URLs beginning with '//' should just inherit the scheme of the base URL.

The argument for doing things this way is appealing to paranoid future-obsessed weirdos (like me). While HTTP is currently the most common way to deliver HTML, it could conceivably change in the future. Using scheme inheritance for links will prevent you from having to change them if or when things move away from HTTP.

Naturally, there's a catch. I'm sure most of you have guessed it already: browser support. Surprisingly, the problem isn't with the usual suspects. IE, Mozilla, and Konqueror all handle it properly. Unfortunately, Safari, Omniweb, and some versions of Opera all fail. So if you care about users with those browsers, you may want to hold off on making your site "Class X7.45."

Now if I can just figure out where on earth they got the name "Class X7.45" from...

What's the point... an over-emphasis on technique?

Jason Fried of 37Signals suggests gingerly that too much attention is being paid to the minute details of Web site implementation, and in doing so he rang an alarm bell loudly enough to distract me from severe personal distress. He explained, as part of a SXSW Interactive recap:

“I’d like to think I introduced new and different ways to approach common UI quandaries with my presentation, but I left the conference looking for more. And not necessarily more presentations, but more conversation in the hallways. All I could hear was CSS CSS CSS.”

[Emphasis mine — BMH]

As some of the most visible cheerleaders for Cascading Style Sheets and related standards, the Web Standards Project, its individual members, and its supporters all need to account for this alleged trend, in this author’s opinion.

I am reminded of the way things were in 1995, when <TABLE>s were the latest and greatest design tool on the web, and anybody who had pretensions to securing a web design job needed to learn how to implement them.

Things have come full circle with the advent of CSS, except that this time things are being done the way they were meant to be done in the first place.

When CSS is used properly, you can change the presentation of a site without changing the arrangement of the information it provides to the visitor, and vice versa... but between browser incompatibilities and the fact that CSS itself was designed to be terse rather than verbose, tricks need to be learned before the conscientous web designer can utilize its full potential.

I believe that a transitional focus on technique is something to be expected.

Stating that things make perfectly good sense as a matter of course does not, however, address Jason’s complaint: that seemingly, preoccupation with CSS (and other technical skills) is causing designers to forget the audience.

Since I’m not a researcher and I wasn’t at the conference, I don’t have enough knowledge to attempt an argument for or against that assertion.

However, I can suggest a way out of the trap that assertion describes:

Keep it simple.

That’s accomplished when a web designer answers a single question:

Does this { page | element | stylesheet rule | copy | image | feature } help the visitor to satisfy their reasons for visiting the site in the first place?

If the answer is “yes”, then follow your intent.

If the answer is “no”, then leave it out and come up with an idea that will give you a clear opportunity to develop whatever skill you were hoping to address.

If you don’t know the answer to the preceding question, then you’re in trouble, because you’ve forgotten the audience.

To build a genuinely good site might require standards compliance, but standards compliance by itself is no guarantee that you’ll build a good site.

A Guide to Small-Screen Web-Dev

Read it, read it again.
Save it. Print it.
Highlight key points. (there are many)

The End-All Guide to Small-Screen Web-Dev
by Heidi Pollock (webmonkey, 5 Mar 2004)

It takes one gigantabig tutorial to teach you how to build sites for all those itty, bitty devices.

One of the better pieces (I have encountered) that covers the challenges and issues when authoring for small devices. Font items, images, layout tips, screen sizes, proxy filtering (how work may get changed on the way to display), protocol, page size, XHTML, HTML, CSS, WML, etc ... usability concerns ... and a list of handy resources.

Heidi has done a great job of putting together this tutorial.

Webmonkey will be missed, and it would be a good idea to read, print, and or save the Small-Screen article. The webmonkey site and its archives, at some point, may become unavailable.

If you are attending the South by Southwest [sxsw] festival this week, be sure to go visit the Long Live Webmonkey! event, Monday night (March 15th).

Code As I Say, Not As I Do

The World Wide Web Conference is entering its thirteenth year, preparing for yet another round of action-packed W3-related developer events and presentations.

Funny thing, though: their site's woefully invalid, inaccessible, and well nigh unusable. Littered with alt-bereft images and deprecated HTML, one wonders just how such a self-described prestigious series can effectively act as a public forum for the...W3C while failing to meet basic requirements for a valid, accessible site.

Optimizing, Accessibility

A new feature at Digital Web Magazine, Optimizing Your Chances with Accessibility, by Brandon Olejniczak, explains how following the recommendations and guidelines for accessible web authoring will increase traffic and web site page rank on search engines.

Brandon writes:

A second important but often neglected benefit of accessible Web sites is the ease with which search engine spiders process and rank compliant, accessible code.

Brandon authored a previous article, Using XHTML/CSS for an Effective SEO Campaign (September 2003, A List Apart)

Amaya 8.3 Ready and Waiting

The W3C's Amaya browser and authoring tool version 8.3 has just been released. It's available as binary downloads for a variety of platforms, and the source code is available.

New features include improved CSS support and support for MathML.

It's Over for Eolas

In what hopefully will be the last time we ever have to hear the name, Eolas is in the news again. The US Patent Office has heeded the call of the W3C and invalidated the patent. Eolas has 60 days to appeal, but we'll keep our fingers crossed that they know when they're beat. (Past Buzz coverage of the saga: 1, 2)

A Denmark Standards Survey

Soren Johannessen of Denmark undertook the task of surveying how many governmental, national, municipal authorities follow the W3C Standards for HTML/XHTML markup in Denmark. Gathering the list of 2033 sites from an alphabetical listing at the Danish Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation (online list), Soren began testing the sites from beginning to end, and published results to the web.

The pages were tested and noted for Doctype, version, validity, and errors. Also available is a downloadable spreadsheet of results(420 KB .xsl format - Microsoft Office excel or The data from the survey was collected during January 31th until February 16th 2004

More information about this survey, link to the spreadsheet, and replies by others are highlighted in a thread at the W3C public-evangelist mailing list found at:
Subject: The use of W3C standards in Denmark Part II.

Soren writes in the letter:

Well my main ambition with this survey is to create a debate in Denmark. So politicians begin react. One big problem I also see is that the retailer of CMS never ever tells/educate the buyers, how to set up the HTML/XHTML template for correct W3C standard. Lot's of people in public sector thinks, well we have bought this expensive CMS then we also assume that everything is fine, but that's not the case.

Finally, I don't think the problems above are only a problem in Denmark. I think it's world wide problem.

Many of us feel this way, too, and are glad to see work like yours and others get noticed. Great job, and we hope that debate begins for you, soon.

An overview of the major findings from this survey available in English at:

The use of W3C standards in Denmark
by Soren Johannessen (2004-03-02)

WYSIWYG CSS Editors Coming of Age?

The good folks at westciv have released a new version of their style editor, Style Master 3.5.

I took some time to work with it today and was rather impressed. There are some super cool features such as a browser support watcher, multiple ways of viewing and applying properties and page setup wizards that make setting up general design and text options a breeze.

I especially like the balance the software provides to its users. Newcomers to CSS or those people who simply want an extra hand will love the wizards and the templates, which are distributed under a Creative Commons license, to help them along.

Experienced CSS authors will appreciate the browser tools, live WYSIWYG CSS editing, Advanced Layout Editor, Advanced Text Editor and instant access to hand editing, too.

Style Master 3.5 is available for Windows and Mac OSX for the very reasonable price of $59.99 and also includes free access to westciv's updated CSS tutorial, which is one of the best around.