In a global strategy to improve the overall quality of the websites, local communities, city hall, city library, school, university, etc. may be a good first target for punctual evangelism effort.
About this document
This article has been produced as part of the W3C Quality Assurance Interest Group work. Please send any public feedback on it to the publicly archived mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org or for private feedback to olivier Thereaux <email@example.com>.
Think globally, Act locally
A local approach to web standards education
Web Standards are here, documented, implemented in modern Web browsers, but many developers, around the world, seem to ignore that fact. They also seem to ignore that Web Standards bring a lot to the table in terms of accessibility, ease of maintenance and coding.
Why are Web standards so little known in non-English-speaking regions of the world? The answer is complex, but here are a few takes:
- The language barrier, as documentation is mainly written in English;
- The inevitable inertia of human being: "why, as a Web developer, should I change my old habits?";
- The fact that modern browsers are not well known and largely ignored by webmasters;
- The perceived complexity of W3C recommendations (more precisely, the fact that they are normative and not aimed at Web developers);
- The benefits of Web standards are not (yet) perceived by Web developers.
Basically, it comes down to marketing and education: specifications are well done, but surely need evangelists to make them accessible to the average developer who may not have the patience to learn how to read specification in English, but may want to read easy-to-understand, ready-to-use documentation in his mother tongue.
Besides, it is quite obvious that marketing and education works better face-to-face: it is always easier to convince someone when you can discuss with this person in front of a coffee. Those of us who have tried to explain the need to follow Web Standards by sending a 'nice, polite, informative e-mail with loads of links to comprehensive resources' and failed nevertheless know that face-to-face dialog is a more efficient medium for pedagogy than most remote methods.
Taking over the task of promoting Web standards in a given country can be exhausting. Actually, it may not even be doable by a single person (wait, maybe in the Vatican ;-) Therefore, the first thing to do is to find other people in your area, speaking the same language, having the same willing to help the Web move to the next step. How could you achieve that?
Such assocations are concerned by Web standards and are active in discouraging the monopoly of a single browser; they care about Web standards because of their inherent interoperability. Contacting such local associations could help you in your gathering of contributors to the effort you are undertaking. Also, such associations can help you in hosting a common tool for contact. See below.
The MeetUp service enables you to physically meet up with other people around a cup of coffee and some common interest. In our case, the Web Standards meetup is probably the best choice, while the Web Design meetup is also interesting.
Usenet newsgroups and Web forums dedicated to authoring and browsers can be a nice place to prospect for fellow web developers that may have an interest for W3C standards.
Once you have met (in real life or online) these people who share the same interest, the more difficult is to unify those people, and to come up with a plan. What was done with the newly created Interop group in Paris (France) for example, was to make an inventory of existing or burgeoning projects. Then people around the room were asked to which project they would like to participate, and what would be the boundaries of each project, so that we eliminate work replication as much as possible. After that, was chosen a mean of discussing together the common efforts, which was basically an existing mailing-list. You may also consider using a Wiki, on top of the mailing list.
Finding a proper target
"Public" sites are a good target, for two reasons.
- Proximity : you can actually go see the person in charge of the website and offer to help
- Quality constraints : it may sound manichean, but where the private sector is driven by marketing (hence the "no thank you, my customer base uses IE5/NS4/your-browser-here" typical answer), the public sector has some obligations towards quality. A few examples : section 508 for accessibility of government-funded websites in the USA, or the new-Zealand web guidelines.
Starting local initiatives
There is space for a nice initiative where volunteers would convince local authorities to improve the quality of their websites, and possibly helping them to do so.
An annex project would be to author a paper with two parts : advice for the "evangelist" (like "be friendly - remember : you're here to help" or "try to find some local data for your argumentation"), and key information for the "people in charge" in public administrations.
Your strategy and work will be very different whether you are in an English-speaking part of the world or not: The english-speaking world is quite an exception, as there is already a lot of documentation available, and therefore awareness of the problem, whereas in other places, English is not well read, so bad habits tend to stick longer because lack of information.
Below is a summary of the projects put together in France / French-speaking part of the world to promote Web standards, in the hope that it can be useful to other regions.
Here is a list of projects to bridge the gap between the (recommendations of the) W3C and Web developers that one person (or group) can undertake locally. Some of these projects, as mentioned earlier, are adapted to non-english-speaking parts of the world, while others are adapted to all contexts.
There is a very significant amount of material already available in English that can be leveraged. Either as an individual or a group, you can start translating some of this content
- Web Standards Project (WaSP) has an interesting FAQ which can help as an introduction to Web standards. It has already been translated into French, Italian and Japanese. Netscape, with DevEdge has also content in Japanese, Portuguese and French.
- Some W3 recommendations are already translated in various languages. See if you can contribute to this effort.
- Various other sources, such as AListApart, Evolt or other web logs provide very interesting content that is worth translating. It may be interesting to create a web site to host all those translations, which would publish new documents on a regular basis. In France, we have re-activated an existing site, dubbed Pompage.net, to do this. A motivated group leader takes suggestions for translations, contacts original author for translation authorization, and manages translation and proofreading before publication.
While it may currently exist several resources for Web developers to learn HTML, most of those are promoting development techniques inherited for the last century, making extensive use of tables, GIF-spacers and font-tag-based design. After quite some effort, it has not been possible --at least in France-- to convince people who manage these resources to upgrade their content to teach standards-based design. Therefore, a dozen volunteers (from a French Usenet Newsgroup) has started creating some content that would teach that. The resulting effort, named OpenWeb, is aimed at 4 different audiences:
- Decision-makers (how can standards can benefit my company),
- Beginners (how do I create a Web page),
- Experienced developers (how do I use standards to be better at my job), and
- Gurus, who already know the specs by heart, but are willing to learn more of bleeding edge Web design
While it has been exhausting to build this Web site (professional-level design, XSLT-based backend, currently more than 60 articles), it was surely and exhilarating experience, which has taught a lot to each of us, leveraging each other's experience with all the technologies involved. Furthermore, creating original content is very rewarding. Creating such a site shows that it is possible to create a very good-looking, real-life-sized site, and challenged existing HTML-teaching Web sites to upgrade their content.
While Web developers now have some technical tutorials about Web standards, they also need assistance while teaching themselves these new techniques. It may prove itself difficult, because one often tries to replicate with CSS old table-based techniques. In many cases, discussing his/her problem with more experienced developers, the person will find the experience more rewarding. Such experience sharing can be done on Usenet newsgroups, Web site forums or mailing lists. For example, OpenWeb contributors often participate to FCIW.auteurs and FCIW.navigateurs Usenet groups, the Pompeurs mailing list, and other web site forums.
Because of a chicken-and-egg situation, incompatible Web sites have the tendency to remain incompatible over time with modern, alternative browsers. Why is that? Because standards-compliant browser users avoid these services. Therefore, the alternative browsers do not look significant in terms of marketshare when the webmasters looks at the site's statistics. While users of such services should take the initiative of contacting these Websites, an existing association, such as the open-source association mentioned before, can be of great help. Because they represent many users at ounce, they do have more impact when they contact Web sites. Very interesting progress has been made in this field in France by the AFUL/APRIL Interop project. It is to be noticed that a similar endeavor is being done by the Mozilla Technology Evangelism project, which may be used to unify efforts in a global manner.
As new policies about people with disabilities are made, Web Content Accessibility is becoming a major challenge for big web sites in many countries. Webmasters suddenly realize that their existing sites are far from being accessible. By design, Web standards may help a lot in achieving accessibility. Showing the relationship between Web standards and accessibility may be a way to get attention from large private or governmental Web sites. For this very reason, the OpenWeb project has a section on accessibility and is itself accessible.
With the fast-growing number of blog-tools, it has now become very easy to publish information on the Web. Creating your own blog on Web development based on W3C standards is also an interesting way to share your knowledge and progress in this field. It also helps raising awareness about modern browsers, and recent techniques for Web design. If you consider starting a Web log, then talking about Web standards could be the excuse you have been waiting for, just make sure your blog is standards-compliant, and even accessible!
This last point may sound a bit off-topic, but promoting modern, standards-comformant browser also helps the cause of web standards. They tend to offer better standard conformance than other older browsers, along with very useful tools for the developers, such as Mozilla's DOM-Inspector and JS-Debugger.
The authors and editor want to thank the following people for their contribution:
- Karl Dubost and Dominique Hazaël-Massieux, W3C, for their initial input
- Terje Bless, for the idea of making this article out of the original e-mail message, and the title suggestion
- ... and all the participants of the firstname.lastname@example.org mailing-list.