Creating Modern, Responsive Websites With Web Standards

Website Standards and Clean Code

It isn’t that difficult to create a modern website based on current web standards. If your website was built using the latest technology, your site will be super-fast, modern, clean and responsive.

Everyone wants their website to cost less, work better, and reach more people in today’s browsers, screen readers, and wireless devices. The inescapable technological advancements that are happening as we speak are breaking websites all over the internet. A modern website built using the latest coding practices ensures that your website will function properly across all devices and help individuals with disabilities who are using special devices to access and interact with the internet – and stand the test of time.

You don’t have to spend money on trendy, short-sighted, proprietary solutions that will end in disaster. No one can afford to piecemeal a website that will ultimately break sooner than later.

Coding several different stylesheets might have seemed like a great idea at the time, but it is not a rational solution to problems that are continuing to plague site owners and builders.

FORWARD COMPATIBILITY

WaSP (www.webstandards.org) advocates standards that reduce the cost and complexity of site creation and ensure simple, affordable access for all. Today, every browser supports web standards as a matter of course. They work with the designers of development tools such as Dreamweaver. You can find a myriad of web standards educational tools and this information can be found in most languages today.

Apple’s latest WebKit based Safari browser, which powers the iPhone’s web browser, Mozilla powered Firefox, Opera, the WebKit based Google Chrome, and Microsoft Internet Explorer 7+ understand and correctly support XHTML, CSS3, JavaScript, and the DOM.
*Internet Explorer 6 does not support many of the latest web standards, and we can only hope that everyone has moved passed this version of IE. Developers know that we can fix IE6 to some degree, but there comes a time when you have to move forward and not look back. We’ve stopped overkill fixes because newer phones are equipped with the latest browsers and it just doesn’t warrant the extra time and expense anymore to work out ALL the fixes needed for IE6 to view properly.

WHAT IS WEB STANDARDS COMPLIANT?

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JavaScript creates action.  JavaScript is the bomb. This language has given us the ability to create action!
In a perfect world, browsers perfect their support for every single standard. Considering that most software doesn’t come out bug-free, and standards are sophisticated and complex, cross-browser support is actually pretty solid enough that we do develop using the latest standards. HTML5, more accessibility, CSS3, structured markup and deeper DOM and JavaScript function calls are becoming the progressive-enhancement that is pushing the internet into the future. All the big companies such as Apple, MSN, Wikipedia, and WordPress have embraced web standards. Of course, they don’t always achieve perfect validation or pure semantic markup, but a trained developer can make these markup fixes very quickly, and let’s face it, modern browsers are lenient.

STANDARDS ARE THE TOOLS WITH WHICH ALL OF US CAN DESIGN AND BUILD SOPHISTICATED, BEAUTIFUL SITES THAT WILL WORK TODAY AND TOMORROW.

OLD BROWSERS ARE INCOMPETENT, INCOMPLETE, AND HAZARDOUS TO THE HEALTH OF THE WEB.

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT.

More than 90% of all websites are obsolete. They might look good on desktop browsers, but outside of that, the symptoms of decay are starting to appear. Carefully constructed layouts have begun to fall apart, and expensively engineered behaviors have stopped working. As browsers evolve, site performance continues to deteriorate.

Modern browsers are not merely newer versions of the same old thing. They differ fundamentally from their predecessors, and in many cases, they’ve been rebuilt from the ground up. They have a new job: to comply as well as possible with the web standards. As the newer browsers comply with web standards, they are becoming increasingly intolerant of broken code and markup.

THE KNOWLEDGE OF WEB STANDARDS IS A NECESSITY FOR ANYONE WHO DESIGNS OR PRODUCES WEBSITES

BEST WEBSITE NOW ENSURES THAT SITES DESIGNED TODAY WILL CONTINUE TO WORK IN TOMORROW’S BROWSERS AND DEVICES – INCLUDING DEVICES NOT EVEN BUILT OR IMAGINED YET

We believe in “write once, publish everywhere”. It isn’t wishful thinking. We are proud of the fact that our mission statement is “Because it matters”. Our mission follows some basic rules:

Control layout, placement, and typography in desktop browsers while allowing users to modify the presentation to suit their needs.
Develop and support sophisticated behaviors that work across multiple browsers and platforms.
Comply with accessibility laws and guidelines without sacrificing beauty, performance, or sophistication.
Redesign quickly – reducing costs and eliminating unnecessary work.
Support emerging devices from wireless gadgets and smart phones to Braille output devices and screen readers used by those with disabilities with one website.
Offer sophisticated printed versions of any web page.
Stay educated and ahead of the curve to always use real semantic markup.

PAGE RANKING AND SEO

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SEO and Analytics go hand-in-hand.  Believe it or not, companies do not have to spend a lot of money for SEO or Analytics. Well thought out SEO makes your website findable. Content is king. Focus on lean, keyword-rich, buzzword-free content that’s relevant to your customers, and use semantic markup. Copy, CSS layout and HTML5’s latest coding practices are the golden keys to findability.

COMPANIES THAT KNOW THE SIMPLICITY OF GREAT SEO ARE PROSPERING. THOSE THAT DON’T ARE FALLING BEHIND.

ACCESSIBILITY – THE HEART OF WEB STANDARDS…

Accessibility makes sure your content can be read and your site can be used by everyone, no matter what device they browse with, and regardless of physical ability. Innovation is the soul of accessibility. Accessibility is legal standard for judging and enforcing the accessibility of sites. This is great news because the world is being pushed into one single standard.

If you use standards-based designing principles, you not only make your content easy for search engines to find, it will also enable visually disabled people who use screen readers to navigate your websites content.

Screen reader users navigate web pages by tabbing from h2 to h2 and from section to section, just like sighted users navigate by visually scanning. When structuring your site semantically, pay particular attention to forms and tables. Provide keyboard access for those who are unable to use a mouse. Keyboards and assistive devices are the gateway to online user experience.

WELCOME MILLIONS OF VISITORS TO YOUR SITE WHO ARE LOCKED OUT – YES – THERE ARE MILLIONS OF DISABLED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WHO HAVE ACCESS TO THE INTERNET

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Google web crawlers look for relevancy of content when a user types in an inquiry.
Think of web crawlers as blind users – Google is the biggest blind user on the web. Dish out appropriate content, well written and well structured, and you not only serve the blind folks in your audience, you also attract millions of sighted ones.

It wouldn’t be smart to exclude disabled Americans. This demographic would take up a city the size of Los Angeles or New York City. Millions!

If you think blind people don’t buy products online is missing the point and the boat. Don’t be blind yourself to the true nature of the audience you reject – you are still reaching the non-disabled populace this way by conforming to access guidelines and many others who would have ordered your products over the phone if only your site let them.

Section 508

Section 508 requires all websites under its jurisdiction to provide “equal or equivalent access to everyone” to accommodate the visually impaired, the hearing impaired, the physically disabled, and people who have photosensitive epilepsy and it spells out what accessibility really means. This law covers computers, fax machines, copiers, telephones, transaction machines, and kiosks, as well as other equipment used for transmitting, receiving, or storing information. It also covers many websites. Section 508 became U.S. law in 2001 and applies to the following:

  • Federal departments and agencies (including the U.S. Postal Service)
  • Deliverables from contractors who serve them
  • Activities sponsored or funded by the Federal government
  • Activities sponsored by states that have adopted the regulations
  • This is just skimming the surface and you can find plenty of resources to explain what the exact standards are and how to apply them along with specific things to do to make your site 508 compliant.

The bottom line is that if you design with web standards and follow the guidelines, your site should be accessible to screen readers, Lynx, mobile devices, and old browsers as it is to modern, compliant browsers. Standards and accessibility converge in agreeing that one web document should serve all readers and users. Even Flash and PDF’s can now be made accessible.

MYTH: ACCESSIBILITY IS EXPENSIVE

Most tasks to bring a website to its best take minutes to accomplish. Simple tasks like adding a label to your web form or writing a table summary. Type a brief alt text for each image – which is a no-brainer. High level conformance is going to obviously fall under another category and will cost more. If you want to author closed captions for web videos or to caption live streaming media news feeds in real time see Joe Clark’s “Best Practices in Online Captioning” . (www.joeclark.org/access/captioning/bpoc)

I highly recommend the following cited book for anyone who builds things for the internet. Web Standards is such an exciting concept that ties us all together. Where we go from here who knows, but right now we are accomplishing a great thing using Web Standards, and this book is a must have.

You can find the latest Standards and beta versions of some brilliant new concepts existing on the W3C website. Their HTML5 Validator is a great place to find semantic errors within your page. Go to http://validator.W3.org/ for the latest information.

Jeffrey Zeldman with Ethan Marcotte (2010). Designing with Web Standards, Third Edition. Berkeley, CA. New Riders.

HTML5 – Getting ready for the future of the web

HTML5 is the newest edition of the language of the web with enhancements to a wide range of features including form control, API’s (Application Programming Interface), multimedia and structure. Many key players including Apple, Mozilla, Opera and Microsoft, together with the W3C are openly developing HTML5 and encourage web authors from all over the world to partake in the fun.  Microsoft and Adobe are contributing engineers to the HTML 5 standards development process, yet both remain noncommittal about adopting HTML5, at least while it is still in development.

HTML5 is a work in progress with the official standards release in 2014. And while the competition is heating up with Flash, companies are having developers build different versions of their website. One caters to the pc community with all of Flash’s rich capabilities and another designed for the hand-held device and its mind-boggling worldwide community and applications.

While you’re at it, make your site 508 compliant, like government sites, which cater to the millions of people with certain disabilities. Two small examples would be to add captioning to your videos and adding the text equivalent of audio must be provided, if only in transcript form. These are two very small examples. Websites should be built with well coded CSS external stylesheets. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is doing a great job helping people with certain disabilities. They are being equipped with screen readers giving them the ability to change the styling of your site for larger print. You do not want to interfere with their capabilities.

The HTML5 Tracker website openly discusses the ongoing phases of the development. The HTML5 validator is working very well.

Some changes include:

HTML5 adds many new syntax features including <video>, <audio> and <canvas> elements, as well as integration of SVG (scalable vector graphics) content, which are designed to improve the inclusion and handling of multimedia and graphic content on the web. Other elements such as <section>, <article>, <header> and <nav> are designed to improve the semantic richness of documents. New attributes have also been introduced, and others removed, to improve and simplify semantic expression. Some elements, such as <a>, <cite> and <menu> have been changed, redefined or standardized. The APIs and DOMare fundamental parts of the HTML5 specification. It also defines in some detail the required processing for invalid documents, so that syntax errors will be treated uniformly by all conforming browsers and other user agents. Replacing <divs> with distinct elements actually makes the source code easier to author. The header/footer elements may contain sub-headings.  The aside element is used for sidebars.  The article element is an independent section of a document page or site suitable for news or blog articles, forums, posts or individual comments.

Benefits of using HTML 5

  • Backwards compatible with existing browsers
  • Authors are familiar with the syntax, which is lenient and case insensitive
  • Shorthand syntax, e.g., authors can omit some tags and attribute values

Benefits of using XHTML

  • Strict XML syntax encourages authors to write well-formed markup
  • Integrates with XML vocabularies by conforming to xml syntax and can support most limited devices
  • Allows the use of XML processing used in editing and publishing processes

It is conventional to use XHTML rules and use all lowercase in HTML5.

Since HTML5 is mainly a well-defined HTML4/XHTML 1.0, and because both HTML- and XHTML-style syntax is allowed, you need to do very little (maybe only a doctype change) to change current well-made pages into HTML5.  It will probably look fine in most browsers, although, it might not validate as HTML5 without some tweaking, which is a learning curve. It is advisable for current web developers to stay informed of the revisions and learn HTML5.  It is being developed to support future prospects for media accessibility options and much more. Should developers and designers invest in HTML5?  HTML5, CSS and JavaScript are going to be the “classic three” for developers and designers.  A little Flash never hurt anyone, either.  I think Flash technology is going to be further enhanced and the fact that it performs the same in most browsers right now is great.  Of course, this isn’t currently the case for hand-held devices, but you can code your way out of just about anything.

As a web designer and developer, I am very excited to be part of a community working to refine a language spoken across browsers, can be viewed in various mediums, assists the blind, and can be encoded in every language. Not so simply amazing! January 22, 2011 Christina Descalzo
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