A brief history of web standards in Greek

I was invited by a member of WaSP International Liaison Group, Yiannis Konstantakopoulos, to write an article on the history of web standards for his new online web standards magazine CSS3.

I was really chuffed to be able to do this especially as the magazine is in Greek and I truly believe that we should be getting more information translated from English to other languages. It was published today over on CSS3 but I thought I’d include the English version here.

Thanks Yiannis and best of luck with CSS3.gr

A brief history of web standards and why they work for you

The web is made up of many technologies that work together to allow us to communicate in a way that we never could before. No other media preceding the Internet has given us the ability to interact, search and network without borders and regardless of ability or disability, while sitting at a desk, in an internet cafe or via a mobile.

“The power of the Internet” as Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web said “is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

When Tim Berners-Lee, director of today’s World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), invented the web he had a vision of universality and equal access. HTML was the simple vendor-neutral standard, or language, that was used to write basic web pages that linked together using hypertext. As what we wanted to do on the web became more sophisticated new elements and attributes were introduced to HTML so that web pages could support images, forms and more complex content we see today using HTML 4.01.

All browsers were expected to render content the same however little in life is that simple and what followed in the 90’s were the browser wars with Netscape and Internet Explorer treating HTML differently as they battled for market-share. Following specifications for W3C technologies such as HTML, CSS and so on fell by the wayside as the world wide web fast became the world wild web. As a web developer you were forced to design for different browsers and as a user you would find yourself locked out of websites that didn’t work in your browser of choice. The introduction of proprietary non-standard technologies such as Flash and PDF added to the fragmentation as many users found themselves locked out of content; especially people with disabilities.

As websites were being built with what I think of as “slang” HTML, CSS and XHTML, i.e. non compliant code, people would have a very different experience when accessing the site depending on what browser or device they used, their language, if they used assistive technologies (screen readers, screen magnification, voice input) or even if they just tried to change font sizes and colours in their browser. If sites are built using non-standard code you run the risk of the site breaking for the user. If you build a site with standards code you can be more confident that all users can access the site. It also makes the site easier to manage and maintain.

As the web has evolved and become more sophisticated so too have standards. In 1992 HTML included the img element and gradually incorporated better support for forms until 1999 when HTML 4.01 was published. We also saw SVG adopted by W3C as a web standard and CSS evolve, to mention only a few.

With the advent of Rich Internet Applications (RIA) and XMLHttpRequest today’s web is richer and more interactive than it was 10 years ago. Instead of now waiting for pages to refresh to update content we can do this on the fly updating live regions within the page. Nascent standards such as the Web Accessibility Initiative’s Accessible Rich Internet Applications suite (WAI ARIA) that enables screen readers to understand and interact with RIA are now being worked on together with HTML 5 to provide better support for video, audio, animation and forms.

As HTML has not been updated since 1999 it is long overdue a review. Proposed new elements have been added to the specification including elements to help define areas of a page such as article, navigation, footer and aside. We also see the introduction of video and audio elements which supports video and audio directly within the web page together with controls to pause, stop and play. Web Forms 2 looks, in part, at error handling and how we can standardise how errors are dealt with across sites and across browsers. All of this makes implementing video, building forms a lot easier for designers and developers while promising a smoother experience for the users.

While HTML 5 is not expected to be completed for a few years yet it is still possible to see these new elements in experimental builds today. Opera, who are often first to implement new standards, has an experimental build of Opera 9.5 you an download and see HTML 5 video, audio, Web Forms 2 and SVG in action.

Web standards are at the core of today, and tomorrow’s, one web. Open web standards, such as those developed by the W3C and other open standards bodies such as the Open Mobile Alliance and WHAT-WG (who donated their proof of concept for HTML 5 to W3C), are essential if we are to see a web that is unified and vendor neutral. Implementing standards means that while we may all speak different languages, use different devices or have differing levels of ability when accessing the web we can still all access and interact with the same content.

As a web developer building web pages using these standards means that you can create cutting edge websites that are easier to manage and maintain using the latest web technologies available as agreed by browser vendors, assistive technology vendors and other members of industry and the web developer community


4 thoughts on “A brief history of web standards in Greek

  1. Just googling and found out a great post, your article is quite heavy for newbie for me, but you packed a history into an easy way to understand how the web standard in Greek. Thanks Henny Swan.
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