Standards? What standards?

For the past few years there has been a buzz word in the web development world. A side-of-the-fence, a paradigm, a new world order. Or simply the next big thing.

That “thing” is standards. In the context of web design, the standards spoken of relate to the W3C’s (World Wide Web Consortium) recommendations for quality levels and protocols that should be adhered to when creating sites and applications for the internet. They talk about coding styles, syntax and approach and aim to provide a coherent and standardised architecture for web development. Standards has also come to mean a broader style of development that focusses on accessibility and cross-compatibility (between various software suites and hardware setups).

Protagonists of standards are typified by a belief that the internet represents a world unhindered by the heavy-handed control of entrenched historical authority, where equality, freedom and fraternity are not just policy-bow-ties but act as tenets of contracts, licenses, behaviours and judgements.

To a standards protagonist, the idea of using a non-standard bit of code is a bit like stealing flowers from a graveside to give to your Mum on Mothers’ day. To build a whole site that doesn’t validate is like driving an unnecessarily huge 4x4, throwing a cigarette butt from the window at a sleeping homeless man whilst heading full speed for the cute little puppy that’s strayed into the road ahead (and splashing an old lady stood next to a puddle on the way). It would be dirty, socially frown-worthy, morally outrageous.

As with most issues, the extreme view points are the realm of an elite few, whilst most of us dally around somewhere in the middle trying to offset our inclinations with the practicalities of conflicting pressures on our time and morality.

I sit somewhere on the standards-leaning side of that middle ground, and generally aim to fly the flag wherever possible, but coyly admit to the odd grave-robbing incident when no-one’s looking.

But that’s not the point. For me, when I hear standards my mind immediately sees one of its alternative interpretations: that of our moral, ethical, indeed human standards. A level by which we judge things.

How can this online world of standards which pretends to a better place for mankind ignore its context? Is the world of a better standard if I create a website for a loan shark or pimp that achieves the AAA accessibility mark and follows the W3C standards to the sub-sub-clause? Shouldn’t we remind ourselves that what we do is still as much a factor in “rightness” as how we do it?

It is easy to shout about your beliefs when asked (or not). It isn’t so easy to let them impact on your behaviour. The default setting when approached by a potential client (with potential income attached) is “Yes, we can do that”. Taking a moment to think about who they are, what they do, who they do it for, and whether or not that resonates with your world view is the only way that you can ensure that you are “standards compliant”.

Post-justification, and I-know-I-should-have-but-couldn’t-do-it-for-this-or-that-reason simply doesn’t cut it. There is always the choice to do or not do, and having standards means making the right choice, right there, right then.