How web standards feels

When talking about web standards many of us have started using marketing terms. Every day we hear about the bandwidth savings, the increased user base that are able to access your site, how well it affects SEO and so on. But none of that was what got me into all this. Let me tell you about the thing that convinced me: the feeling.

For me the web standards revolution started with a feeling that something was wrong. “There has got to be a better way”, was a thought that buzzed in my ears when nesting my tables to create some padding.

I first saw CSS in other people’s code, often embedded in style attributes with text-decoration: none; to remove underlines. I started experimenting, but the deeper aspects of how it could change the way websites were built didn’t occur to me. It was just another tool to place things where I wanted them, and make things look like I wanted.

At that time I didn’t know any server-side language so all my sites where frame based static HTML, often with a fancy javascript enabled select box for navigation. I did use some CSS just to remove the underlinings on my links, but that was it. Something still felt wrong, was this really the best way?

The “AHA!” feeling came much later; I’d love to say a certain moment when I understood but it wasn’t a certain text or piece of advice, it grew on me. Suddenly everything felt like it had its place. It wasn’t always obvious where that place was, but you could reason your way there. When the strength of CSS occurred to me, it was like finally understanding a tough mathematical formula. Yes!

So go ahead, show me your pretty charts of workday savings, CSS Zen garden remakes, or new techniques you can use. I like them, I really do, but I’m pretty convinced it’s the “AHA!” feeling that finally wins people over to the web standards side.

What won you over? Can you convince someone else using that method?

(Inspiration from Motivating others)

7 responses to “How web standards feels

  1. I agree. The feeling when everything snaps into place and you know intuitively that you’ve managed to find a minimal and semantically correct html structure and the simplest possible css is really great. You just don’t get that feeling after a day knee deep in nested tables and ugly hacks.

  2. Ahh..
    The memories, the memories :)

    What finally won me over to standards was actually a combination of several things…
    Firstly the “it must be a way to do this better”-feeling you describe started growing on me back in ’99 or so after a period of teaching basic HTML (Transitional without much attention to details other than what worked “better” i.e. browser-independent in the browsers of that period. – NS4 was among them – GAH).
    … and then Zeldman published issue #99 of ALA – WOW!

    Secondly back in ’99 or so I had a period in my career that led me into studying the innards of XML – and I suddenly discovered that the DTD:s of the then proposed standard “XHTML” where actually understandable and that the “Strict” variant of that language actually was quite clean and logical… That feeling lay dormant an grew for a while due to some career twists, but when ALA (Zeldman again of course) published the article “Better living through XHTML” in the spring of ’02 about the same time I accidently stumbled upon a certain domain name at nunames, that was all she wrote – I realised that XHTML and CSS was a perfect match for me, and don’t think I’ll ever forget that blissful feeling :)
    So from that moment on I was sold enough to start to humbly advocate standards – and that feeling have been driving me ever since…

    … and I really think the method “read standards related web magazines and blogs” could work for almost anyone with a basic interest of getting over that “it should be able to do better”-feeling :)

  3. I had an online bookstore (aside from a site development-with-tables shop). I tweaked it every three months. I hated having to edit every page. I found the CSS p attribute and fonts; that was very cool. I then found an article about using CSS for presentation; that was exceptionally cool. I purchased “Designing with Web Standards” (of which web standards meant nothing to me).

    I found CSS so much more simple than tables.

    Years later, after seduction by Malarkey articles with his Ian Dury references, I discovered Web Standards philosophy.

    It’s a very simple precept.

  4. The same story – I started out with frames, tables, javascripts, hacks galore because that´s what I found every time looking under the hood when the big guys had performed their magic. But the combined effect of Zeldman´s Designing with web standards, Eric Meyer´s On CSS, Zen garden, WaSP and ALA won me over willingly, and with real relief I got rid of all the obsolete junk, never to look back. It´s like Karajan said of the CD back in 1983: “All else is gaslight”. Now I can´t believe my eyes when I see high profile web sites remade as if it still were 1995!

  5. I began to write HTML in 2000 or so, wrote my first “align=center” websites and so on, copied cool and bright table designs which were popular for QuickBasic RPG developers (like RPG DX back then).

    I didn’t understand what I copied, but the table stuff caused more problems than it solved because it was so hard to edit a whole website’s design.

    Then I learned PHP and how to get data out of databases, then I discovered that my graphics skills sucked, hence my graphical bordered boxes looked rather ugly, yeah, then I started thinking about another way and discovered ALA and other websites concerning web design (I never knew that somehting like that existed!), that was about three years ago, I think, and since then I improved my understanding of web standards, starting with the doctype rules of XHTML 1.0 Transitional, then advanced to strict mode (which took me a lot of time since I didn’t understand why it was so… strict). I followed the masses, so to speak, without knowing what I really did for a long time.

    My conciousness or web-savvy-ness grew exponentially during the last 14 months, and now I’m really proud of understanding the principles, being one of the level 4 CSS coders (I think it was level 4, but I’m not sure – the one preceding the “inventor level”), at least in my own opinion.

    Yeah, and nowadays I’m 19, develop web pages in my spare time and think about how in the name of god I will ever be able to convince other people, like customers, that I walk a way that’s “more right” than the old one :)

    At least a friend of mine, a designer, begins to adopt my principles just because my stuff works an his didn’t :) That’s probably the only way. Making things work.

  6. Since I guess I’m the youngest here, I have never coded a table layout.

    It started with framesets and applets. Then onto CSS, around year 2002… ALA became interesting to me during the spring 2003, with its mind-bending “sprites”, “faux columns” and “fuzzy drop down shadows”.

    The tables were everywhere duing 2003, and my CSS learning rate wasn’t really that high in the start – mostly because I used Internet Explorer.

    Btw – it’s fun to find Björn Thomasson on this page (hi there!) – I worked out at the same kayaking club as him when I was ~11 years. He actually introduced me to HTML. (of course very non-semantic HTML 3, but non-the-less)

    A bit off-topic perhaps, but it’s fun to find him here ;). And look at me now – got my own web development company.

  7. For me, it was a feeling of new professionality that came with web standards. Not having to think in tables anymore when designing. Also, the concept seemed very logical to me. And last but not least, the beauty of the sites fascinated me.

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