Buzz Archive: June 2005

One blog leaves, another arrives

A few weeks ago, Apple announced that it was making WebKit, WebCore, and JavaScriptCore open source (and got contributions within the first few hours!).

Correspondingly, Dave Hyatt's blog, Surfin' Safari, has now moved from here to here. What's cool is that the whole Safari dev team is joining in, so it's not just Dave any more.

Check it out, and be sure to update your bookmarks, favorites, and feed readers.

Acessibility, Validity, Guidelines and Law

In the wake of the @media 2005 Conference and the WCAG Working Group face-to-face in Brussels, accessibility has been getting a lot of attention. Lots of people have been asking good questions. Fewer have been providing good answers, but at least we're getting healthy, broad-based discussion of the issues.

Case in point: the WCAG Working Group recently moved the validity guideline in WCAG 2 from Level 1 to Level 2 and added a 'get out' clause. Gez Lemon has weighed in with a thoughtful post criticizing the decision as a step backwards, effectively giving license to perpetuate the sloppy-markup sins of the past. On the other side, Matt May has argued that the decision is a practical necessity in a world of authoring tools and CMSes that resolutely churn out invalid markup.

Truth to tell, I can see both sides of this one. On the one hand, the value of a solid foundation upon which to build is undeniable. As Eric Meyer has argued, being too accepting of deviance from published standards creates its own set of problems, including security holes and a lack of testability. If we can't even agree upon basic technical requirements, how on earth are we to achieve — let alone evaluate compliance with — any sort of consensus on the really hard stuff?

On the other hand, it's absolutely true that as things stand today, validity can be more an ideal than a practical reality. I struggle with this daily while working for a company that has invested heavily in Microsoft's ASP.NET 1.1. As it stands, making ASP.NET churn out valid markup requires unending vigilance. 2.0 promises to change that, but it's not out of beta yet and I've got sites to get up now. As well, changing W3C recommendations has become a slow, tedious process. The current crop lag well behind advances in scripting techniques, our understanding of web site accessibility and so on. Taking a pragmatic approach to validity seems a virtual necessity for both present-day realities and future innovation.

There is, however, a red herring in this debate: Matt argues that because the WCAG are often used as the basis of accessibility legislation, requiring validity would make criminals of anyone who happened to forget a </p> or left a stray topmargin on some legacy document. This is an error of the third kind: identifying the wrong problem. Matt is arguing against legislation that doesn't take practical reality into account. That's an issue to be dealt with in the legislatures passing the laws, not in the WCAG. Legal systems the world over have ways of moderating poorly-written legislation, whether it be the famous 'one time exceptions' made by German Beamten or the discretion of U.S. judges. Rendering the WCAG toothless out of fear of some hypothetical authoritarian regulation is as unnecessary as it is futile. These are guidelines, not laws. The WCAG WG is not a representative legislature, its members not legislators and the WCAG themselves not legsislation. They need not — indeed should not — be written as though they were.

Moreover, the argument echoes WaSP Andy Clarke's discussion of the wisdom of legislating accessibility. That's a different debate. Andy cites Michel Focault's argument that a society with too much regulation results in an ill-behaving populace. Perhaps, but I see his Focault and raise him a Joseph de Maistre: behind every stable and peaceful social order stands the shadow of the executioner. As much as we might like to believe otherwise, some significant portion of society will always act in an anti-social way unless they've got a figurative gun pointed at their heads. cf. spam, spyware and viruses.

In the end, it's about balancing flexibility and freedom with order and control. I don't yet know where the right balance lies with respect to validity and accessibility, but I do know I'm glad we're having this debate.

WaSP ATF: Already A Smoking Gun?

It's not even two days since WaSP announced the formation of the Accessibility Task Force, quickly coined the “ATF” by several folks despite a more sobering U.S. federal agency that goes by the same initialism (or would that be acronym?).

While clearly a long time coming, the immediacy and detailed response to the formation of this WaSP task force proves its timeliness and need.

I present to you our first exhibit, “ATF: Not Alcohol, Tobacco, or Firearms” by Joe Clark who provides a very comprehensive list about where he feels our efforts and energy should (and perhaps should not) go.

He's got many great points in the article, I especially am interested in his advocacy regarding the testing of CSS layouts. Many of us, myself included, have made the mistake that a CSS layout is more accessible by default. While certainly a step in the right direction, just creating a site using CSS does not an accessible site make.

As a second exhibit, our own Andy Clarke has posted the announcement to his personal site and the responses have been in most cases very positive and often very specific in detail.

Clearly, the WaSP ATF has lots of work ahead. While the road not yet traveled appears somewhat bleary, smoky and a bit dangerous, it's a great comfort to know how much support we have. This is true both in terms of the new members of WaSP and the ATF but also from you, our community at large, as we work together to improve Web standards implementation and methodologies worldwide.

WaSP Accessibility Task Force

I am very pleased to be able to publicly announce the formation of the WaSP Accessibility Task Force.

Bringing together accessibility specialists from across the world, the Accessibility Task Force will work with accessibility organizations, technology vendors and others to help promote Web accessibility.

The Task Force members include several WaSPs and I am very pleased that accessibility notables including Patrick Lauke and Gez Lemon (among others) have agreed to lend their considerable talents and experience to WaSP as part of the Task Force.

Latest WaSPs

It's with great pleasure that I can announce that two people who I respect the most have agreed to lend their talents to WaSP.

Please put your hands together for Derek Featherstone, one of the most articulate and committed accessibility advocates and for fellow BritPacker Jeremy (bringing DOM scripting to the masses) Keith. Both were highlights of the recent @media standards and accessibility conference.

Roll yer sleeves up geezers, there's lots to be getting on with ;)

Opera to Use acid2 Beyond the Desktop

Opera Software plans to use the acid2 test not only to improve implementation and correct bugs within the desktop browser, but then do so for its mobile browsers, too.

Jon S. von Tetzchner, co-founder and CEO of Opera Software, writes:

“When our rendering engine gets it right, you can expect to see the smiley face on handheld devices and home media terminals as well.”

Opera Software's advancing influence in the mobile space means a very good future for the implementation of Web standards within mobile phones and related devices.

For more information on Opera's progress with the acid2 test, please see the acid2 progress thread on the My Opera Forums. While Opera isn't doing a step-by-step report, they are posting their progress at least once a month along with a PNG image of the acid2 rendering as it looks at that point in their process.

iCab, Konqueror pass Acid2

In a dramatic upset, perennial Mac browser also-ran iCab has edged out Linux browsing heavyweight Konqueror for second place in the Acid2 stakes.

Despite some recent controversy, Konqueror developers were able to use about half of Safari driver Dave Hyatt's Acid2 efforts to boostrap their own successful Acid2 campaign.

Some great work by the Konqueror team, but the big story is none-more-dark-horse iCab's stunning second-place finish (english translation) in the Acid2 race. A truly brilliant performance by the best little browser you probably never heard of.

With heavyweights Explorer, Firefox and Opera distracted by things like security and release schedules, the lesser-known browsers have shown their quality. But the real winners here are end users: the more browsers cross the finish line with Acid2, the easier it will be for web developers to support even niche browsers with rich presentation and the more viable browser choices end users will have.

Hiram College Conversion

A college website, multiple authors, and web standards — how can it be done?

The WaSP Education Task Force asked Jonathan Linczak, webmaster and project lead, about the conversion of Hiram College to a standards-compliant website. Jon had been reading about and using standards on sites he had developed before he landed the job opportunity at the college. He felt conversion to standards was the best way to go.

Noticing that there was a real lack of educational institutions that are moving towards standards-compliant sites, I wanted our site to be an example to others that sure, it can be done at a college or university too.

How did he do it? What challenges did he face? Read WaSP Interviews Jonathan Linczak to find out what he had to say.

BrowseHappy Now Part of WordPress as WaSP Refocuses Mission

In an effort to refocus energy on advocating for standards from a perspective of universal access and vendor neutrality, WaSP is handing over the reigns of the BrowseHappy campaign to the good folks at WordPress.

The move comes after WaSP members examined past and present activities and decided that while the BrowseHappy campaign serves an important role its lack of neutrality has actually put WaSP in a compromising position by seemingly showing favoritism toward specific browsers.

You can read more about the move in the press release.