1 September 2006

Web Standards

To what does the term web standards refer? Since the publication of the first website in 1991, the World Wide Web has grown from a means of sharing information among the scientific community to become the primary means for operating businesses in the information age and for social interaction around the world.

The World Wide Web Consortium has been developing the technologies and the standards that make the web work. As businesses discovered the value of establishing a presence on the Internet, websites proliferated and technologies were invented to find ways of presenting information that were closer to what people were used to seeing in print and television media. In an effort to to increase the visual appeal of their sites, web designers took the technology that was available and pushed the limits of what could be accomplished, replacing text with images or using technologies such as Flash, that relied on proprietary browser features and plug-ins for browsers to view the content. This became a problem when search engines tried to archive the information available on a site to help people find what they were looking for on the web. It was also a problem for those who accessed the information in text-only browsers or with screen readers. Information presented as images or in Flash could not be accessed easily or at all.

The Web Standards Project

It became apparent that there was a need for standards of accessibility and usability. The Web Standards Project became evangelists of an idea that the standards recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium should be followed so as to make the web accessible and usable for as many as possible. Technologies had already existed for a number of years to make this possible, but for lack of browser and developer support, these technologies had not been widely adopted. The technologies are the Extensible HyperText Markup Language (XHTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

Over the last few years, web standards have become widely adopted as the best means for developing sites that work, in terms of accessibility, usability and visual style. This has been the result of the work of several groups, sites and individuals, a small sampling of which are list here:

I owe a debt of gratitude to these and many more for their influence on my work.