SxSW: Standard Deviation

by Luke Wroblewski March 14, 2006

The Standard Deviation: Hacks and Dirty Tricks for the Web panel at SxSW2006 offered an alternate view of Web standards. Their perspective from the front-end, back-end, business, and design side was: standards are great but common sense is great too –if you need to break standards to deliver a superior user experience, go for it. Here’s why:

  • HTML is for documents (pages) not for applications. We are all building applications.
  • Users don't care about validation. Validation is a tool not a goal.
  • The top priority is making features work and providing the right user experience.
  • A central argument for using Web standards is that they are forward compatible but many hacks are currently required to use standards. Hacks are not forward compatible, as the bugs they exploit will get fixed at some point.
  • Things that require hacking: video, audio, multi-threading, push, partial page updates, transparency, etc. – just about everything you want to do in a "cool Web 2.0 application" will not work without standards hacks.
  • There’s a pretty big backlash against Flash in the standards community but Flash is great at delivering multimedia (audio & video), typographic control, and embeddable media. Slide originally used Javascript but found problems with embedded code on eBay, YouTube, etc. So they changed to Flash.
  • Google Talk in Gmail uses undocumented, internal ActiveX components to enable real-time updates. Google pages wanted to be standards compliant but found it to be too difficult. It now follows the spirit of standards but pages do not validate.
  • If you are not self-employed and a Web standards advocate, you have to work with people and sometimes "do things you are not proud of" to get the job done.
  • Always know what standards you are breaking and why.
  • If standards lead to: harder to read code; increased complexity in maintenance; or fragile layout –then deviate.