The Web Standards Lie: How the Web Standards movement has gone too far.

September 24th, 2005

People have gone a little ‘cucu for coco-pops’ when it comes to the Web Standards.

The Web Standards zealots have taken a specification (that was created to serve as a guide for browser manufactures,) and made it into a set of ‘holy commandments’ for web designers.

This ‘movement’, that is largely based on false and erroneous claims; claims that have caused counted countless wasted hours, and has brought many web designers to tears … and all for little to no practical benefit.

The Web Standards are a great thing … it is the Web Standards movement that has gone way to far – and to the benefit of who I wonder?

– –

This is just the first in a series of articles that will reveal the truth about this mess.

I will challenge (and disprove) the (supposed) advantages of zealous adherence to the Web Standards.

Don’t get me wrong, I AM NOT saying:

  • That you should use browser specific features.
  • That you should break basic rules of coding.
  • To not use CSS – rather I am saying to use it when it makes sense…

My position is about temperance, common sense and keeping your eye on the ball … read on, and all will be revealed.

Silly nerds, the Web Standards are for browsers!

As I just said, the Web Standards are for browser manufactures and not for web designers. Much to the contrary (to what Web Standards zealots think,) the competent web designer’s TRUE guiding ‘standard’ should actually be the browsers that people are using!

Wow! What radical thought … that we should pay attention to the ‘reality in the field’ and not some ivory-tower specification.


This is how it should work:

  1. The Web Standards sets the …uh the standards.
  2. The browsers implement the Web Standards – they have a hard time doing this it seems…
  3. Web Designers build websites according to browser capabilities.

Like in the military, the chain of command must be respected, else the system breaks down.

In web design, (if the chain of command is not respected,) what results is the appearance of dozens of hacks to compensate for the poor judgement of those who have ignored the chain of command.

Let’s just hope a bunch of nerds don’t try to break the chain of command… wait a minute! It has already happened! Crap!



The Web Standards have yet to be properly implemented in the majority of the browsers BEING USED – namely Internet Explorer. It is just plain silly to waste even a moment of time trying to shoe-horn your websites into pseudo compliance of the Web Standards.

Note: I’ve edited out a part of this post that was off topic and an admittedly weak argument about floats and the meaning of semantics etc … That being said, I still hold my initial position.

– –

In my next article, I will answer each of the arguments made in support of Web Standards based design:

Part 2: The Web Standards Myth’s Debunked

BTW: I am not the only one who has seen this: Mystical belief in the power of Web Standards, Usability, and tableless CSS.

Stefan Mischook

19 Responses to “The Web Standards Lie: How the Web Standards movement has gone too far.”

  1. Daring and Brave.

    I remember when I thought about moving my part-time business toward a full-time career. My competitive research for my business plan revealed the competition displayed the latest/greatest acronymns on their websites. So I thought, “maybe I should too?”

    Then I found Vincent Flanders 2004 list and qucikly made my decision.

    It’s helpful to ask yourself, “what’s in it for me?” And more important to ask the same question while wearing your cusotmer’s shoes to help you do the right thing at the right time the right way.

  2. Rob Wilson says:

    The real point lost in the standards debate is that everyone just wants things to work properly and consistently.

    I am glad that support for programming standards like c, c++, pascal etc aren’t like the support for html/css. It would be unthinkable that I delivered a desktop program to a client which behaved and looked differently because of version of windows!

  3. @John,

    I agree that the Web Standards are good to keep the browser makers in line – that’s what the standards are for.

    What I disagree with is with the fact that the Web Standards movement tries to put the spec. in front of the reality in the field.

    If armies fought their wars like this, they would all die.

    You said:

    “but you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Who the hell are you anyway?”

    Hey man, chill. I’m not trashing your mama!


    No I am not a marketer, so I can only refer to my 11 years + experience creating web sites and web applications and my experience working with about 7 programming languages … I have some perspective perhaps?

    I guess being a software developer and one who has seen this kind of thing before (on a few occasions,) where zealously followed standards or practices, have fallen out of favor when people wake up to reality, allows me to look at the Web Standards movement with sober and experienced eyes.

    For example:

    There once was a time that if you did not have a Flash intro, you did not have a ‘good’ website. That seems silly now, since we all now know that Flash intros don’t really do anything to help a site (and most of time they will hurt them,) but nonetheless, that was the thinking once.

    Another example: in Java we have something called EJB, which is the official standard for distributed computing in the Java world. A very big deal in the enterprise arena.

    It has been overhauled 3 times so far, and only after years (and billions $ spent,) when finally the quiet grumblings of nerds, became loud screams of desperation.

    The early EJB detractors got personally attacked as well …

    You said:

    “stupid mistakes such as this …”

    Hmm, I am using the default WP theme, I guess people can make mistakes …?

    – –

    It’s always good to keep code as neat as possible – (this especially true when you are writing Java, PHP … any programming really,) but I wonder if the typo you pointed out will have any real and practical impact on the effectiveness of my website? I doubt it …

    You said:

    “… acceptance of some ‘manufacture fault’ …” yadda, yadda, yadda.

    I am not saying it should be accepted, I’m saying if the hammer don’t work, don’t use it until it does.

    Please remember that I am NOT trashing the Web Standards, I am trashing the ‘movement’ that puts the theory ahead of practicality.

  4. TC says:

    You seem to say that standards are for browser manufacturers, not developers or designers…so forget about implementing them ourselves…it’s their responsibility.

    I have to disagree.

    Unless we push for standards, there will be no implementation. What incentive does a browser manufacturer have to rewrite their non-compliant code?

    Sometimes a grass-roots effort is *exactly* what is needed to effect positive change.

  5. Kim says:

    I would really like to see where you found this piece on information… “that was created to serve as a guide for browser manufactures”.

    Besides that… do you really think that the web would be where it is today without “the movement”?


  6. @TC:

    Yes, I believe that standards are more for browser manufacturers, not developers or designers. We have to pay attention to the reality in the field…

    But no, I don’t think you should forget about implementing the standards. I think you should implement what works properly and wait on using the broken tools.

    What is broken (in a pratical sense,) with the Web Standards?

    1. 60% to 80% of the browsers being used are buggy when it comes to CSSP techniques we have to use.
    2. The model for positioning with CSS is now weak. I can’t wait for the CSS3 multi-column spec to come of age.

    – –

    I also think grass-roots efforts are great, I think the difference between us comes down to how we think the effort should be conducted.


    The effort was successful, the Web Standards are being implemented by the browsers. But the fact of the matter is that it will probably take a few years before we can safely code to 100% compliant browsers.

  7. Rob Mientjes says:

    “60% to 80% of the browsers being used are buggy when it comes to CSSP techniques we have to use.”

    Not really, you can make any layout work in 95% of the browsers currently in use.

    Oh, and sure, many things in CSS are a “hack”, but there are no semantics in CSS. Only sensibility and sensible writing. Know when to use what. It’s not the web standards movement. These issues exist everywhere.

  8. “Not really, you can make any layout work in 95% of the browsers currently in use.”

    … if you use the hacks.

    “Only sensibility and sensible writing.”

    Yes. But I don’t think it is sensible to use hacks to make something work that is broken. Again, I think the fact the W3C came out with the CSS3 multi-column specification is an indicator of what they think the current spec lacks.

    – –

    Hey, I have a boat I would like to sell you. It is made exactly according to the nautical specs, but it has a bunch of holes in it – you just need to use some duct tape and you’ll be OK. You wanna buy?


  9. MattB says:

    Finally, someone has released the truth. Hopefully it will spread to others.

  10. @Ed,

    You hit the nail on the head as to the one true advantage on CSSP – separation of content from structure. But at what cost and to what practical advantage?

    In the day of CMS and Blogs and other database driven content delivery systems (that typically have just a few ‘templates’ to define the ‘views’,) within the context of these systems, do we really need to be worried about this?

    In English:

    I believe the web is moving in a direction, where the use of CMS or Blogs will act as the basis to most websites.

    Typically a CMS will have just a handful of templates that are used to define the views (pages) of the web site – whether it turns out to be 10 or 10 000 pages.

    So in that context, the need to separate the content from structure with client technology (CSS,) is much less important in terms of practical application.

    This is due to the fact that we can get the same affect on the server (with PHP for example,) without the worries as to whether a layout will work well with a particular browser … and without the headaches associated with hacks.

    – –

    You make good points and I can see how, depending on your nerd-centric perspective, you can see it one way or another in terms of floats. But that is really peripheral to my point – the Web Standards movement has put real-world consideration on the back burner.

    Last point:

    “I have to agree that web standards needs to follow the economics and practicalities of businesses …”

    My point exactly – there are cons to implementing the web standards – mainly due to buggy and a weak page-level layout model. Again I refer back to the CSS3 multi-column spec and the need for hackery.

    The CSS zealots seem to put practicality and business considerations on the back burner, and I think several of the claims made about the pros. of implementing Web Standards are at best exaggerated and misleading. I am going to address this specifically in part 2.

    And finally:

    “.. but without coalitions of advocates, how will businesses know the pros and cons of implementing web standards to make an informed business decision? ”

    Yes, but if they heard anything at all, it has probably been the sugar-coated zealot position. I wanted to bring a little balance back to the … table. HA!


    Remember the article was not titled: “Web Standards are evil and should not be used.”

    It was: “How the Web Standards movement has gone too far.”

    I enjoyed your comments.


  11. @Kim,

    You said:

    I would really like to see where you found this piece on information… “that was created to serve as a guide for browser manufactures�.

    My answer:

    I was building websites (and they were not pretty, let me tell you!) when the W3C was founded in 1994, so from my perspective, I thought this was common knowledge … I remember because I was really pissed at how bad the browsers were, and thought to myself: “The W3C, this is a good thing.”

    The W3C was put together so that the big boys could agree on a standard … so they could then not follow the rules they helped established … jerks.


    Don’t take it from me, from the source:

    “Tim Berners-Lee and others created W3C as an industry consortium dedicated to building consensus around Web technologies.”


    Key words: ‘industry consortium’ – that basically meant Microsoft and Netscape in those days.

    It stands to reason that we (as lowly web designers,) have to wait for the ‘roads’ to be built before we can drive on them …

    – –

    Besides that… do you really think that the web would be where it is today without “the movement�?

    I can’t say, maybe, who knows? But, I’ve seen other technologies come together without the need for a ‘movement’.

    For example:

    JavaScript is well implemented across the browsers. And SQL89 is well implemented as well.

    – –

    Again, I am not saying the Web Standards movement is all bad, I am saying that it has gone too far with some of its claims etc …

  12. ezinewriter says:

    What an entertaining post, and competantly presented.
    I’m going to enjoy this newsletter Stefan!

    • Bradley ( ezinewriter )

  13. Antoine says:

    About the tables, floats, margins, and padding:

    The use of tables is deprecated because it uses HTML markup to format a page. Any such use of HTML markup is deprecated because markup is only meant to be used to determine the STRUCTURE of a document rather than the formatting.

    As for floats, margins, and padding, the suggested use depends on how it’s done. Implementing these using HTML attributes is discouraged because attributes are part of the markup. However, if they are implemented using CSS, their usage is just fine because CSS is not considered part of the markup.

  14. Beka says:

    I’m interested to see where this will go. I want to hear the rest before I make a judgement on if I agree or disagree with you.

    As far as using tables for layouts, the two arguments that I’d heard against them which meant the most to me (meaning I remembered them ;), was that when tables are stacked within tables are stacked within tables, it can really slow down the load time of a page, and tables are ridgid. If you want to add something to the middle of the row and you have to add a new column for it, you then have to re-code the entire table. Using CSS, things wrap so that adding in the middle of that information doesn’t take any more time than adding it at the end would.

    That second instance is where the “not meant for anything but tabular data” argument is going to be most important. Having other sorts of data in a table can be clumsy to update and end up taking unnecessary time. Sometimes you can see where this would happen, but not always.

    On a side note, I find it interesting how many people believe you are attacking the standards, not the movement to push those standards down everyone’s throats.

  15. Jason says:

    The general theme of the article’s intent was to spark some discussion, and mission accomplished!

    Rather than focus on some of the areas that may be true/false or a matter of opinion, all I can say as a Project Manager it is very frustrating to have my team proudly tell me they are writing elegant, clean code that is all done in CSS and breaks the bounds of traditional HTML etc. etc. while adhering to the letter of the Web Standards as a bible.

    Then when I do the testing phases, I find out that things don’t behave consistently (or at all sometimes!) in the most common browsers. When I go back to my team, I get “Well MY code is compliant to the Web Standards, it’s not my fault IE is so buggy, or Firefox isn’t quite there yet, but when it does get there the site will work great”.

    I agree the movement has over-reached conventional application, and developers should code against supported browsers while keeping their eye on the web standards to ensure they are going in the right direction.

    Not an easy task, but the direction of choice for those with a perspective on where things are heading while remaining functional in the here and now.

  16. @Beka,

    “I find it interesting how many people believe you are attacking the standards, not the movement to push those standards down everyone’s throats. ”

    Thank-you! Someone gets it!


    – –

    “when tables are stacked within tables are stacked within tables”

    That was just plain stupid, Web Standards or not. If you start stacking anything like that, you will have problems.

    – –

    I was going to save this for part 2:

    > Ideally tables should not be used for page-level layout ONLY because you want to keep formatting out of the HTML. But conditions are not ideal …

    > The claims that tables will bloat code, make you go blind (any fool knows that only masturbation does that,) and slows down page downloads is simply untrue – if you don’t do silly things like nest tables 5 deep.

    Anyway, more on that later.

  17. @Jason,

    “Well MY code is compliant to the Web Standards, it’s not my fault IE is so buggy, or FireFox isn’t quite there yet, but when it does get there the site will work great�.

    That’s a symptom brought on by the zealot driven Web Standards movement – reality is ignored.

    My goal with the article (and another to follow,) is to help people SEE what is going on here, and maybe make their lives easier – life is not easy when your client is smacking you over the head with a keyboard (because the site doesn’t work in IE,) while you are crying: “but it validates! It validates!”



    I am closing this thread because I don’t want to find myself any further along in a nuanced debate about various academic interpretations of mark up and CSS – but it’s my fault for tacking on the section:

    “Pseudo compliance? What does that mean!?”

    – –

    Rather, I am concerned with the practical implications of the Web Standards movement and its arguments as it relates to building web sites in real life.

    My main points are:

    1. The Web Standards movement has ignored practical/business considerations.
    2. The arguements for zealous use of Web Standards are misleading – I will deal with this in part 2.


    Stefan Mischook


    I’ve gone over the debate, and I will concede that my arguments regarding the use of floats and margins was at best weak, and more probably wrong… I went off on a tangent.

    To summarise:

    Using floats, margins and padding for page-level layout makes more sense (when you want separation of structure from formatting) than using tables since tables have an implied meaning (and a constrictive structure) while CSS attributes do not. For me, CSSP’s ‘raison d’être ‘ has always been (first and foremost,) the very useful separation of structure from formatting that CSSP provides and tables do not.

    Having said that, I stand by my argument that CSS based page-level layouts is weak (largely due to the fact that the majority of the people on the Web use IE6) and as such, it is foolish to be blind of reality in favor of the Web Standards … people need to find balance in their approach to web design.

    In a nutshell: you have to pay attention to the reality in the field. That means sometimes a hybrid website, where tables are used to establish the main layout, can sometimes make more sense than trying to hack together a CSSP based page.

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