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Carl Camera

WaSP's Uphill Battle

I can understand Molly's frustration seeing a high profile standards-compliant website regress after a redesign. Disney Store UK, as we all know, is not unique in this sense. What probably happened was this:

  1. Some VP calls for a redesign
  2. Requirements concerning look-and-feel + features were created
  3. Competitive bidding process
  4. Selection of a design that meets requirements

My Mom can't tell by looking at the Disney Store UK website that it is a morass of nested table cells, spacer gifs, etc. She just sees Goofy and Mickey and the Disney brand. That's what the VP saw when he or she approved the design.

The question in my mind is: Where should the WaSP focus its evangelical efforts?

Target: the VP

Should the WaSP target the VP? Molly seems to think so. Molly gives an earful to the VP (or whoever) who approved the design -- for not requiring standards-based contextually-significant HTML in the first place. Does this person care about web standards? (Yes. this person should care but, really, does this person care?) Why should this person care? The motivations and concerns of a VP are:

  1. Will I keep my job?
  2. Will it make money for the company?
  3. Will it make me look good?
  4. Will it make money for the company?
  5. Will it make money for the company?

Molly's attempts to play up the cost-savings aspects of standards-based design are a valiant effort toward this end -- but even if the VP vows an oath of standards compliance, it's only one person changed -- that person probably doesn't expect to be in the same position for the next redesign.

Target: the Designer

Perhaps the long view would be better served if the WaSP railed against the designers that continue to pump out table-based markup. Fix a VP, change one site; Fix a designer, change dozens of sites -- so to speak. This is difficult since many designers don't believe standards compliance buys them anything. What I hear is "tables are standards-compliant." And what are the motivations of a designer?

  1. Will it win me the competitive bid?
  2. Will it make money for my company?
  3. Does it meet the customer requirements?
  4. Will it make money for my company?
  5. Will it make money for my company?

Since the designer is more than likely going to perform any after-launch changes on a per-hour basis, there's little incentive to make the site easy or inexpensive to change. Getting these folks to come around is nearly impossible. Some have gone as far as suggesting that these folks stop referring to themselves as "designers." What's implied in that statement is a desire to create some sort of CPA-like association where we as "Web Designers" (big W big D) designate others as "certified" to design web sites. Even the title of Molly's article hints at such. This would be doomed to failure because there's no overriding ethical or legal issue in need of certification. No lives or laws are on the line when a nested-table site goes live.

Target: Search Engines

The ultimate coup for the WaSP, in my opinion, would be the holy grail of "improved search engine rankings." If the WaSP could convince Google et al to improve rankings on standards-compliant websites -- and publicly announce such -- I believe there would be a stampede towards valid markup like no other. Designers with compliant websites would be at a competitive advantage and would be selected by VPs who don't care about standards but care greatly about Google rankings -- something much more closely tied to "Will it make money for the company?" and "Will it make me look good?" No one wants to be responsible for a redesign that pushes the site down in rankings.

This would lead to standards-compliancy as a requirement in all competitive bid situations, forcing designers to design sites to standards, leading to more folks with standards-compliance skills, leading to more compliant websites, leading to standards-compliant websites as the rule for any new project and so on until the WaSP dissolves itself from existence because of its own irrelevancy.

Possible?

As pollyanna as it sounds, Google might be interested in partnering with the WaSP on this. Think of the bandwidth Google would save checking standards-based sites compared to table-based layouts. More standards-based sites would mean the GoogleBots could visit more sites more often providing more relevant and timely search results. Hmmm. Let's look at Google's motivations when indexing web pages:

  1. Does the page have valuable, relevant data?
  2. Does the page have valuable, relevant data?
  3. Does the page have valuable, relevant data?
  4. Does the page have valuable, relevant data?
  5. Does the page have valuable, relevant data?

Again, an uphill battle for the WaSP. Google and the other search engines, I believe, are not focused on standards either. If a relevant-rich page at a university is not standards-compliant, Google wouldn't want to degrade its ranking -- for fear that other engines would include it and provide "better/more relevant" search results. Although there is cost savings involved for search engines, I think they are more focused on being the best at finding "good content."

Conclusion

So, I don't have the answer for you, Molly. But you do have my admiration for putting yourself out there and making the effort to promote standards by means you feel are necessary. Molly communicated it best when she wrote:

We’re called WaSPs for a reason. There’s a time to BUZZ and a time to sting.

A quote for the ages!

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