Why Web Standards?
Tim Berners-Lee’s dream for his invention, the World Wide Web, is a common space where users can share information to work together, to play, and to socialize (The World Wide Web, A very short personal history). As Web developers, creating business, social, and educational sites, we turn this dream into reality.
But in this period of tremendous growth, the Web needs guidance to realize its full potential. Web standards are this guidance. These standards help ensure that everyone has access to the information we are providing, and also make Web development faster and more enjoyable.
Standards compliance makes it easier for people with special needs to use the Web. Blind people may have their computer read Web pages to them. People with poor eyesight may have pages rearranged and magnified for easier reading. And people using hand-held devices can browse the Web just as easily as those using high-end workstations.
As we will explain, there are also many practical reasons for developers to be concerned with Web standards. Search engines can do a better job of indexing sites, for example. Using browser-specific code often doubles or triples the work to create Web pages, and leaves a lot to be desired when new media are introduced. This situation will only get worse without the sound direction of Web standards.
Some people fear that standards are limiting. In reality, they remove much of the tedious labour involved in Web development, and give developers more time and more flexibility to be truly creative. They are both open to future improvement and mindful of past technology.
Many uses of the Web, including some that are only dreamed of today, will not be possible, or will be more difficult, without widespread standards compliance. At the moment, there are systems and software that are very common, seemingly close to universal, but who knows what tomorrow will bring? Tying ourselves to the control of any single company means limiting our future to the fortunes and misfortunes which that one company can, or will, provide. Maintaining universal standards will allow the Web to survive while encouraging innovation to continue at its current pace.
Standards have so much to offer that we at the Web Standards Project (WSP) consider it necessary to help you learn more about them. This document is merely a starting point; it will give you a solid understanding of what standards exist, why they do, and why you should care about them. Every time we create a piece of the Web, we contribute to the common information space that is the Web. We can build it up, or we can add weight that will tear it apart. The choice belongs to us; the consequences belong to everyone.