Sugar and Spice

I finally found out what was causing the problems with the post When We Are Needed in IE: it’s called the “Magic Creeping Text” bug. It’s caused by having a left border for a blockquote (or other marginalized blocks), without having an accompanying bottom border. I’ve since fixed the bug, by adding a bottom border the same color as the background.

I found out about this bug through a post that Molly Holzschlag published that referenced another post written by Chris Wilson, a member of the IE team, that listed it among the fixed bugs in IE7. When I saw the title of the bug, “Magic Creeping Text”, I knew it was my bug and sure enough a search on that term returned a description of the problem and the workaround.

Chris published his post because Microsoft has been taking a lot of heat for the release of IE7, and the fact that this first beta release hadn’t fixed some of these longterm bugs. He wanted to reassure people that the next beta release will have these bugs fixed, and to be patient.

The WaSP organization has shared in some of the heat, primarily because members such as Molly have been very supportive of Microsoft, especially since Microsoft has invited the WaSP members in to work with the organization to ensure a standards compliant browser. Many people in the web development community feel that WaSP has been romanced by Microsoft into pulling in its stinger, and I will have to admit that the WaSP of today is very different of the one from several years ago.

I remember back in the late 90′s, when the Mozilla development project was building it’s infrastructure that would eventually not only become the foundation for Mozilla and Firefox, but also Thunderbird and a host of other tools. I watched the members of the development team, many of whom worked for Netscape at the time, as they created a brilliant component-based architecture that I knew was going to be capable of amazing things. And, as we have seen, it has been.

This, however, slowed up the development of the tool, and at times the browser development side was slow in responding with new browser releases fixing this standards bug or that. Well, this pissed off the WaSP folks, who started a campaign to harrass, and there is no other word for it, Mozilla into dropping its development on all that ‘fancy stuff’ and refocus back on delivering a browser that was standards compliant.

I wrote a couple of articles for publications about the potential of the Mozilla framework (including Digital Play Dough, Designing Applications with XUL, Web Techniques, 2000 and Browser, Browser Not for O’Reilly), but the WaSP wasn’t having any of it: that organization was Peeved at Mozilla for not delivering a standards-based browser right now.

So then I wrote Tyranny of Standards, saying:

I’ve long been a fan of the W3C, and I think that the Web and the Internet would be a much more chaotic environment without this organization. However, my fondness for the W3C does not necessarily extend itself to the WSP.

If you haven’t heard of the WSP, it is an example of what happens when standards enforcement is left to the masses. This organization’s intentions are pure: It’s a nonprofit organization of Web developers, designers, and artists who encourage browsers to support standards equally and completely. However, somewhere along the way, the WSP took on the aspect of a holy war, a Web jihad.

The WSP’s behavior is tantamount to lynch mob justice. After all, there are no gray areas of justice: only black and white, right or wrong. The same can be said of support for the enforcement of standards: A company supports standards 100 percent, or the company is noncompliant and, therefore, evil.

Note that I agree with the WSP in spirit: Our lives would be much easier if Microsoft and Mozilla and Netscape would support the W3C specifications fully and equally. I’m more than aware of the cost of having to write different Web pages for different browsers because each has implemented technologies in a different way. I’ve been doing this for years.

However, I’ve also benefited when an organization has expressed an innovation that exists outside of a specification, such as the aforementioned innerHTML, or Mozilla’s support for XUL (Extensible User Interface Language). If having all browsers be 100 percent standards compliant means not having access to these innovations, then I’ll take noncompliance even if it does mean extra effort to compensate for differences.

I encourage Microsoft and Mozilla and Netscape to support the W3C specifications and other standards, but I also encourage these same organizations to continue their innovative efforts, even if the result is a bit of chaos in a world that would otherwise run smoothly, and without a wrinkle.

And who’s to say that a little chaos is such a bad thing?

Oh, my, didn’t I hear about this post. You can see from the reader comments that few people agreed with me. Most disagreed with the words, but more than a few responded at a very personal level:

Tim Bray:

In words of one syllable (the apparent level of discourse here): It is good to add new stuff, OK?

Is this hard to understand?


In closing, I’m frankly surprised that O’Reilly would post a piece so obviously inflamatory. There are no hard facts here, just wild and unspecific accusations. The only people who could take this fluff seriously are those completely ignorant of the subject to begin with, and that’s a sad disservice to the web at large.

Tyson Kingsbury:

While the article is well written, it seems to me that it shows the glaring difference between those that ‘do’ and those who only write about it.

I am a web designer. It’s my humble opinion that if Shelley Powers were too, this article would have been very different….Web jihad indeed…hahaha

(Author’s note: I’ve been working with web application development and design since 1994…)

Lauren B:

Content free article.

and so on

The comments weren’t just restricted to the article’s comment section. (Even showing up in later years.)

Web design and standards compliance in browsers has long been an emotionally laden topic, as designers and web page developers have been caught between client’s unrealistic expectations and inherently buggy browsers and inconsistent application of specifications. I was philosophical about the reaction, knowing that I had used the Marketing 101 technique of “Kicking the Bear” to get my point across — taking an outrageous point of view, to make people realize that perhaps their own perspective is equally unrealistic, as they argued through why my opinion sucked and I was an idiot.

I’ve since become friends with many of the people who disagreed with me, and even worked with one of them (Simon St. Laurent) as editor of my book on RDF. The point is, I knew that I was going to generate discussion, and much of it unhappy discussion, and had to accept responsibility for the reactions to my writing.

Fast forward to 2005 and WaSP, the same WaSP that started a campaign to send obnoxious email to web designers telling them their pages were not standards compliant, is now working hand and glove with Microsoft. More, telling web designers to ‘be patient’ because IE 7 is beta and the company is trying. As Molly wrote:

As a fellow WaSP Microsoft Task Force member bluntly pointed out to me as I was trying to strategize how to respond to upset developers, WaSP should never act as Microsoft’s public relations department. And he’s absolutely right. WaSP isn’t here to forgive Microsoft for past practices.

However, as the relationship person here, I can only do my honest best to communicate both sides of what is clearly a complex concern. I can only work to assure you that I, and everyone within this Task Force is extremely motivated to make sure we keep things positive, honest, and respectful so we can continue to work together and hopefully, once and for all, achieve the goals we didn’t succeed at before

WaSP’s continued effort to work with rather than against Microsoft at a very frustrating time in history means that we all have to have patience, and we have to ask everyone to have patience with us in kind. This isn’t easy for anyone, not the Microsoft developers, not WaSP as an organization and of course not the working Web designer and developer.

Having felt the sting of the angry WaSP in the past, I will have to admit that my own jaw dropped when reading a WaSP member telling developers to be patient. With Microsoft of all companies.

Frankly, it was going against human nature to ask web page developes–frustrated for seven years with having to deal with IE bugs, all the while listening to Bill Gates smugly telling business what a superior product IE is–to focus purely on constructive criticism. Good intentions of the IE team aside, Microsoft sat on a buggy browser for years after crushing Netscape, and only now, after the growing success of Firefox, has the company responded–like a slow moving dinosaur, message finally reaching its tiny brain that someone kicked its tail months ago. The WaSP organization should have expected to take some heat.

And heat it did get, if comments in Molly’s post are anything to go by. For the most part, the heat has been directed at Microsoft, and some, indirectly, WaSP, as an organization. In fact, unless there were a lot of personal emails and IM messages that said otherwise, there was no personal attacks in any of the commentary.

However, I can understand that not all communication happens in the open, so I wasn’t surprised to read today that Molly had been getting some flack, personally, for her defense of Microsoft and the IE team. I wouldn’t have blamed Molly for telling people to f**k off, the team is doing the best it can and to be patient for crissakes.

What I wasn’t expecting was to read the following:

Somehow by being an advocate and defending Microsoft and doing one thing – asking for patience from the community while all this unravels – has made a lot of people mad at me. This includes friends, some within WaSP and at least two I really have deep personal feelings for. That hurt so much I crawled into a bottle of wine and cried for most of the day.

I’m a sensitive girl.

For some, the idea of standards implementation is work-related, placed in a box, not worried about beyond the end of the day. For me, it’s religion. Why? I really don’t know the full answer to that, but I do know that it has to do in part with wanting to do something that strengthens the foundations of a technology I truly believe can, does and will continue to change the world in positive ways. Give something to the world that matters before I die.

Some women have families, husbands, children and other passions besides their careers. I don’t have those things. Unless I’m at a conference socializing with Web people, I live alone, eat alone, drink alone and mostly move through the world alone caring about the Web and the people who work it with a consuming, fiery passion. You can make fun of me all you want, say I’m wasting my time, I’m Don Quixote, self-destructive, I’m tilting windmills, I should get a life, I’m a dreamer, an idealist, a stupid girl.

I’m a sensitive girl. Some women have families, husbands, children and other passions besides their careers. I’m Don Quixote, self-destructive, I’m tilting windmills, I should get a life, I’m a dreamer, an idealist, a stupid girl.

And in comments, person after another writing, “You go, girl!” and one writing: anybody who makes my little girl cry again will get their kneecaps readjusted.

I wrote in comments:

I do find that WaSP’s response to Microsoft’s effort to be a puzzle after what the group did to Mozilla about five years back. When one considers that it has taken Microsoft what, those same five years and more to finally start fixing these problems I can understand both the frustration and wariness. I would have been surprised if the WaSP expected anything less.

Having said that, I don’t think anyone should have personally attacked you, and wasn’t aware that they had. From comments I read attached to the post, it seemed more that they were angry at WaSP and Microsoft. If you were personally attacked, of course it’s wrong.

As for being a ’sensitive girl’, and mentioning not having family, friends, etc. not sure what this has to do with your position in WaSP or your being a technologist or even your being an advocate.

I can empathize with Molly if she wants to react to being hurt by friends by crying or spending a day with a bottle of wine. Each of us reacts to hurt in our own ways. I used to cry, then I used to swear a lot and, lately, I take walks and sometimes they are very sad, and very quiet walks– but each individual must deal with hurt in their own way.

What I found troubling and disconcerting was Molly’s emphasis on being a girl–as if somehow this made the reactions that much more heinous.

Molly responded to comments, mine and others, with one of her own:

Thanks for all the kind words, folks. I needed some love as I was feeling pretty beat up there.

Many people have pointed out that taking any stand when it comes to Microsoft is going to arouse anger and frustration. Intellectually, I knew that, but until I began getting emails the other day calling me a “whore for satan” and questioning my personal agenda “oh, you just want to keep yourself close to the consulting gigs” and otherwise stating that what was perceived as my apologetics on behalf of Microsoft was the wrong thing to do, I had to face up to a fact I prefer to ignore: people sometimes really suck.

And once again, I’ve been asked to explain why there’s no apparent separation between the personal and the professional in my writing. Shelley says:

“As for being a ’sensitive girl’, and mentioning not having family, friends, etc. not sure what this has to do with your position in WaSP or your being a technologist or even your being an advocate.”

Shelley, first, please don’t misquote me – I never wrote I don’t have family or friends. I referred to husband, children and outside passions. I’m really struggling to get this communicated properly: there is no separation from the flesh-and-blood-person that I am and what I do in my career.

I am not compartmentalized. I realize that’s a fairly unique quality, and I also know that I seem to generally feel more emotion than most people. That passion and unity of vision is what enables me to do the amount of work I do, to achieve what I hope are good things for the Web and for the community of designers and developers with whom I work.

I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Even if one day I decide to stop blogging or walk away from the Web (and I actually see that happening at some point) I will still be the same way. My mother tells me I was like that from birth, and here it is 42 years later: singleminded, stubborn, highly emotional and exceptionally productive.

No one is asking Molly to become an automaton, and not to react emotionally to such personal and vicious attacks. And if someone referred to Molly as a whore for Satan, then they used Molly’s sex as a weapon to attack her at a personal level, like so many others have done in the past –using a woman’s sex in stereotypical terms as a weapon. To this person, throwing Molly’s femaleness back at her, using ‘whore’, was the worst that they could do. It was the ultimate insult. You’re not only a woman but you’re a bad woman, as society judges women.

If Molly wanted to re-assert that yes, she is a women, but what does that and her supposed sex life have to do with her work with WaSP, good on her. And if she wanted to respond that, yes, she was hurt by such a personal attack, damn straight she should be hurt–angry, too. But how did Molly respond? She used her sex as a shield. I am a sensitive girl she writes.

I am a sensitive girl.

When you pick up a shield made of the same material as the sword being used to attack you, you don’t turn the attack; all you do is validate the use of the sword.

I had other things to write this weekend, but first I have to rediscover the reasons for doing so. I’m going for a walk.

Some of Molly’s commenters have said that I’m overreacting. That Molly was just talking about herself, and her reference to herself as ‘girl’ was part of it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Their point is good and perhaps I did overreact. I am sensitive to being a woman in tech, and how others perceive women in tech. And if I dislike guys playing the ‘girl’ card, I dislike women doing the same. However, there is no indication that’s what Molly was doing. My apologies to Molly if I caused her additional hurt.

This entry was posted in Society, Stuff. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Sugar and Spice

  1. Isofarro says:

    As far as I understand it, the WaSP position has always been – yes, have additional features, but support webstandards first. You note the growing success of Firefox – I’d say some of that success is because of its support of webstandards.

    WaSP does sting when it has to, and Microsoft have been stung before – for instance the BrowseHappy campaign was a WaSP initiative. The original Acid test was aimed at Microsoft. On the other hand, WaSP have both stung and worked alongside to Mozilla developers too.

    Its not good to always sting. That’s backfired before. Here we have a situation where Microsoft – thanks to Channel 9 and blogging are appearing to be more open than before.

    We have a chance here to mend a rift on the web. If we can succeed in getting Microsoft to embrace web standards, we have a better chance of building a better web. To me that’s something worth aiming for.

  2. Extraordinary reading, as always, Shelley. I have a response, but for some reason my trackbacks aren’t coming through (p.s. – it’s Holzschlag – I know, it’s a pain to spell :))

    Full Frontal Female – IT’S BEEN A HELLUVA FEW DAYS. Between an emotional experience advocating Microsoft’s IE7 beta plans, the expression and aftermath of that emotion here on my blog, and blogher going full steam, I’ve got a bit more on my mind about being a public female and authentic expression on blogs.

  3. ben says:

    Disclaimer: I’ve got my fingers in a lot of WaSP pies, but the Microsoft TF is not one of them. If this post lacks for fact-checking, it will come as a surprise – the discussions to which I’ve been privy for the past three years suggest that what’s written below is accurate. In any event, any errors are on my responsibility alone.

    I wanted to clarify a couple of the assertions in Isofarro’s post…

    [1] browsehappy could’ve been described best as semi-official; a lot of us (myself included) were ambivalent at the very least. If the decision to endorse browsehappy is biting us on the ass, it’s over this liaison with Microsoft – I would imagine that a lot of folks feel betrayed by what they perceive to be a 180 degree shift in policy.

    [2] The acid2 test was NOT targeted at Microsoft; rather, it was intended as a reference document that ALL vendors could use to improve support for a short list of CSS 2.1 attributes. (Safari, Konqueror, and iCab have demonstrated significant progress toward passing the test.) …To the extent that MSIE represents a de facto standard and reduces other vendors’ incentives to keep the bar high, it can be considered a target of everything we do. However, it is NOT, and NEVER has been, WaSP policy or principle to skyline Microsoft (or any other vendor) in regard to support issues without first giving them a word in edgewise.

    Microsoft made a good faith offer to give insight and the privilege of feedback on their plans. For us to have refused would have run directly counter to our mission.

    Through this whole brouhaha I’ve been mystified why some folks have such a difficult time understanding that.

    The thing that people seem to be forgetting is that the WaSP is about standards advocacy for the sake of developers and stakeholders. We exist to make web and software developers’ jobs easier – and by extension, to make the web more accessible to anyone who wants to publish sites to a high standard of quality.

    The Education, Dreamweaver, Scripting, and Accessibility Task Forces are part and parcel of this reduction of barriers to interoperability, and we also push back (politely) on the W3C when we see that they’re asking for trouble. We’re not a rubber stamp for anybody, and we’re doing tons more than jabbering at Microsoft.

    As for opinions on the nature of Molly’s feminism, I’ll leave that to the ladies. ;-)

  4. Joe Clark says:

    Getting in Microsoft’s face may simply not be necessary this time, unlike the former Mozilla case. And Molly can call herself a girl if she wants.

  5. Jessica says:

    “I’m a sensitive girl.” There’s nothing wrong with that, perhaps you are reading too much into it. Would you be saying anything was wrong with it if a guy put “I’m a sensitive guy.”? It’s making a statement. Molly is indeed a girl and is sensitive. She was sad for feeling like she was being attacked. Men and women alike would be sad with that feeling and may call themselves sensitive in response.

  6. Shelley says:

    Ben and Isafarro, thanks for the clarifications on the various WSP initiatives.

    Jessica, what I wrote had nothing to do with Molly calling herself a sensitive girl, specifically.

    Joe, and indirectly Ben, when the WSP starts being selective of who to harangue and who not, then the WSP loses credibility. I just find it surprising that the same organization who instituted an email campaign to harass web sites and their designers, and whose members go into people’s weblogs and tell the webloggers how they should have the rudiments of HTML before even thinking of posting anything online, would turn around and tell everyone, ‘be patient’. I can understand that Microsoft’s move is an opportunity — but an opportunity for whom?

    Unimportant, though. What the WSP does is whatever the WSP wants to do. And when Microsoft releases IE7 to replace the versions of IE in existence — in Windows 2000, the Mac, as well as the newer operating systems, we’ll have a chance to see for ourselves the company’s true intentions in regards to the browser environment.

  7. ben says:

    …when the WSP starts being selective of who to harangue and who not, then the WSP loses credibility.

    …Which was the result of the internal postmortem on our browsehappy involvement, almost to the letter.

    At the same time, I don’t think anyone attached to the WaSP wants to discard the leverage gotten from the ability to publicly embarass a market actor that is crassly mismanaged or acting in bad faith toward the developer community.

    At all times, actions speak louder than words. Demonstrated change causes the haranguing to stop.

    I just find it surprising that the same organization who instituted an email campaign to harass web sites and their designers…

    Speaking for myself, I get really uncomfortable when I see someone who outright can’t be bothered to acknowledge, much less respect standards and yet still has the @#$%ing nerve to refer to themselves as a professional. I myself avoid the ‘harassment’ etc. on account of honey vs. vinegar, but I can empathize with the folks who don’t.

    Meanwhile, there’s no formal code of conduct for those formally attached to the WaSP, none has been discussed in my time aboard, and it’s my hope that none ever will be.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that my opinion is both well-represented, and somewhat misguided.

    …would turn around and tell everyone, ‘be patient’.

    Because the decision to change one’s work habits can be made in an instant, though it certainly takes longer to follow through.

    No such luck in dealing with a corporate entity, particularly one of Microsoft’s profile – the decision alone can take forever to come back. (Thence changes in guidelines and culture…)

    I can understand that Microsoft’s move is an opportunity — but an opportunity for whom?

    Let’s just say that I’ve seen that question asked many, many times, all over the web.

  8. This is a great post. It’s something I needed to read this week. I’ll be rereading it at least once a day to get more out of it. Thanks Shelley!

  9. Joe Clark says:

    The WaSP browser upgrade campaign was not carried out by E-mail.

    We don’t have to be “consistent” in reactions to conditions that have themselves changed.

  10. Phil says:

    FWIW, I really dislike hearing a woman referring to herself as a ‘girl’ – it sets my teeth on edge. All the more so if it’s in the context of feeling hurt or vulnerable, when it’s bound to look like playing the ‘girl’ card – “you shouldn’t have done that to me because you shouldn’t do that to anyone” is the way to go, surely.