Committed to Sincere Progress, Not Perfection

Last week a standards friendly redesign of the ABCNews site was announced, only to be met with criticism on the homepage of the Web Standards Project site. An obvious conflict emerges from what we see in the redesigned site under discussion, and in the point of the argument made here about the relationship between validation and standards compliance.

On one side you have the best intentions of a large media organization, hindered by legacy software, internal politics, and geographic obstacles between the people who contributed to the development of the site.

On the other side, you have a small group of advocates (and for different reasons, a larger group of users) saying, “it’s not good enough!”

Due to harsh realities of project management and some poorly considered words, an obvious (if small) victory for standards advocacy is instead turning into a setback.

An explanation of how we got here, and where we intend to go next, is in order.

The focus of our concern comes from the example that is set, that completely valid markup is a goal unworthy of worry or wholly impossible to achieve without harming a site’s business goals. We have three points of contention.

First, the Web Standards Project has always been unconditionally committed to promoting the viable application of standards compliant design and development techniques, a committment which continues unchanged and unabated.

Second, valid markup is a prerequisite for genuine standards compliance. Effective separation of presentation, structure, and content may be considered by many the most important prerequisite of compliance, but not the only one. If the web becomes increasingly XML based - as the WaSP believes it will - the equation of validity to compliance becomes likewise inevitable.

Third and last, it raises common sense concerns when a publisher of any stature implies that they’ve gotten it right, even when they fail to meet a basic criterion of their implied claim. In doing so they claim credit they have not yet earned, defend invalid markup with valid excuses, and discourage other developers from believing that genuinely standards compliant projects can be effectively pitched and sold.

The Web Standards Project endorses the ABCNews site as proof that separation of presentation, content, and structure can be achieved today on large, highly visible projects with several vocal sponsors, and applauds the team that developed the site for their success.

However, the failure of the ABCNews site to validate, the reasons given for that failure, and the nature of the discussion that has followed prove that there's still a long way to go before people can use a web on which standards compliant sites are the rule, and not the exception.

The WaSP was formed to achieve that outcome. Even so, as individuals we’ve all worked on projects where standards compliance was little more than a pipe dream, and several of us are still doing so out of financial necessity. As individuals and as a group, we’ve learned better than to demand the impossible, and understand quite well that doing so only makes our work harder — especially when those demands stress minutiae such as unescaped ampersands.

We also know better than to stand by and declare that the progress already made is good enough, when there’s progress yet to be made.

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