In my business, I’m constantly involved in debates on a regular basis discussing how important developing websites to the latest coding standards actually is.

In most cases, people expect me to be a huge fan of the latest W3C web coding standards. A lot of these people believe that all professional web design agencies should do nothing less than provide my clients with websites coded to the latest web standards.

However the reality is, that although I completely believe in the concept of having web coding standards and that it is for the common good and the future of the Internet, I’m not convinced that every website has to be developed to the latest coding standards right now.

Those that think it is the only way to do websites now are generally egotistical snobs who like to brag about being able to produce standards compliant websites.

I think it’s time to cut out the b*llshit.

Let’s look at the arguments most pro-standards compliant supporters use to justify their cause.

  1. Sites coded to the latest coding standards perform better in the Search Engines
    This statement is simply untrue. A site can perform just as well developed in the old fashioned way as it can in the new way.

    But with all statements related to this topic, it was taken completely out of context and made a fact by those that didn’t really understand what it meant.

    The truth is simple, a properly coded CSS based, compliant standard website should have less code than your old table based website. In theory a search engine should be able to pick up the important content of your website more easily, since there is less code. However, a clean coded website in the old fashioned way can do just the same too.

  2. Quicker and more flexible
    In some cases you can agree with this, but in others you can’t. There are a few things that can be done quickly in HTML that take an age in CSS, but this goes both ways. So I don’t think it’s fair to use this as an argument for the cause.

    Another argument is that CSS based sites download quicker… that too is highly debatable and comes down to how well a site is coded. Here’s a recent study : http://www.decloak.com/Dev/CSSTables/CSS_Tables_02.aspx

    The fact is that in theory a CSS based site will have less code, so it should be a smaller file size. In turn this should relate to a faster download. I completely agree with that.

    However, if the site is badly coded and uses unnesseccary code, it will be the same amount of code as the old way.

  3. Accessibility & Cross Browser Compatibility
    This is one that really gets to me. Most people that use this as an argument don’t really understand what accessibility actually means. So just for you, here’s WikiPedia definition of accessibility:

    “Accessibility is a general term used to describe the degree to which a product (e.g., device, service, environment) is accessible by as many people as possible. Accessibility can be viewed as the “ability to access” the functionality, and possible benefit, of some system or entity.”

    My only issue with wikipedias definition is the highlighted part. Accessibility is about access for all (http://www.sustainable-design.ie/arch/adapthouse.htm) not just a few people.

    So unless your site is nearly completely text based, your website will not work in old browsers. Have a look at a browser compatibility chart : http://vzone.virgin.net/sizzling.jalfrezi/stylebml.htm

    For me, it is more impressive for a web developer to have his website work well in all browsers than someone who can just code for the latest browsers.

    To date, most webmasters base their website accessibility test on W3C’s WCAG 1.0, which are just that, guidelines. How many web designers that claim to be 100% accessible have actually sat down with someone who has activity limitations? I would imagine very very little.

    Instead, they use a program to test how well their site is coded. Webmasters being webmasters, have spent years hacking their code to work in different browsers, so you can imagine how easy it is to trick a piece of software that just looks for dodgy code. In theory you could have an inaccessible website, that will pass this test, yet it could be claimed to be accessible. Thankfully WCAG 2.0 will focus more on the actual accessibility rather than the websites code.

    On and just to add more to this argument, you can create an accessible website no matter which route you take in terms of coding standards.

With our clients, we’ll continue to give them the pro’s and con’s of each different techniques. It must be noted that a lot more people care more now about the latest coding standards than working in older browsers.

The change is coming, so make sure you evaluate all issues before deciding on which route to take your website. Both ways have equal pro’s and con’s associated with them.

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