Marathon 2.0

I must admit to being confused about Molly Holzschlag’s recent posts, including the latest. Today she writes, in clarification of her post where she calls for a moratorium on new standards work:

Perhaps there is a better solution than pausing standards development. If so, I’d like to know what you think it might be. One thing is absolutely key and that is there is no way we are going to empower each other and create the Web in the great vision it was intended to be if we do not address the critical issue of education. And stability. And these things take time. It requires far better orchestration than I personally have been able to figure out, and while the W3C, WHAT WG, WaSP and other groups have made numerous attempts to address some of these concerns, we have failed. We haven’t done a good job so far to create learning tools and truly assist the working web designer and developer become informed and better at what he or she can do. We haven’t done a good job sitting down at the table together and coming up with baseline strategies for user agents and tools.

I don’t keep up with the daily effort of the WHAT WG group, because I’m not really a designer by trade. I do keep up with specifications once they’re released, and am acutely aware of the necessity of valid markup, and not using worst practices (I promise to stop using STRIKE, for instance). I’m also aware of accessibility issues, though I find it frustrating how little we can do since many screen readers just aren’t capable of dealing with dynamic web pages.

I do try to keep up with the JavaScript effort. Mozilla is usually very good about providing readable documentation of new advances, and though it is typically ahead of the game, at least I’m aware of what’s coming down with the road. The same with what’s happening with CSS, PHP, RDF, and other technologies and/or specifications I use in my development.

If there are perceived barriers in acquiring the necessary knowledge to work with the newer specification, it can be because people heavily involved with some of these efforts can come across as arrogant, impatient, and even intolerant–the ‘elitist’ that Molly refers to. Over time, though, such ‘elitism’ usually gets worn away. I used to think the people associated with RDF were elitist, but I’ve watched in the last few years as folks interested in RDF/OWL/semantic web fall over their own feet rushing to increase understanding of, and access to, the concepts, specifications, and implementations. Express even a mild interest in RDF and *whoosh*, like the debris left by a flood, you’ll be inundated with helpful suggestions and encouragement.

Issues of arrogance and elitism aside, the concept of halting effort on specifications while waiting for the rest of the world to catch up just doesn’t make sense. Yes, it can be overwhelming at times–CSS, HTML, XHTML, XML, RDF, DOM, ECMASCript, PHP, Ruby, etc, etc etc. So much to absorb, so little time. But that’s not going to change by halting work on improving and extending specifications.

We do need to have more consistency among the user agents, such as the browsers. But we have browsers now that don’t implement, properly, specifications that have been around for years. In fact, it is because of this that we have this alphabet soup, as we try to remember which browser handles which piece of which HTML specification, correctly. Don’t even get me started on how user agents handle JavaScript. Or CSS.

I don’t know much about the intimate details of the HTML5 process, other than the whole point of the effort was to bring about a common point on which we could all intersect–authors and developers in what we use, user agents in how the implement the the specifications. Once this place of mutual agreement is then reached, we can continue to move forward, each at our own pace. It doesn’t make sense, though, for all to stop moving forward because some developer in Evansville, Illinois, or Budapest, Hungary, is still holding on to their tables.

Consider a marathon. In marathons, all the participants have to agree on the rules, and have to make sure they’re following the same course. But once the rules are defined and the course is laid out, then it’s up to the individual participants to do what’s necessary to complete the course. Some people put in more time and training and they complete the marathon sooner than others who can’t put as much time in, or who perhaps don’t have the same level of physical conditioning. Most of the people that participate, though, don’t care that they aren’t first or second or even in the first hundred. Most people have their own personal goals, and many are happy just to finish.

Think, then, how all participants would react if those putting on, say, the Boston Marathon, were to tell the participants that those in the front needed to slow down, or stop, so that those in the back could catch up?

The web is like a marathon. The specifications define the rules, and the implementations define the course. It is up to the individuals to determine how fast they want to run the course.

Molly says, because a developer in Evansville, Illinois or Budapest, Hungary is still using HTML tables for layout that the web is ‘broken’. I think what she’s really saying, though, is that the web works too well. There is a bewildering wealth of technology we can pick and choose from, and it can be both intimidating and exhausting trying to stay aware of all of it, much less stay proficient in any of it. It also seems like we’re surrounded by people who know it all.

They don’t, though. No one knows it all. The same as no one runner wins every marathon. None of us can know it all, and none of us can afford to be intimidated by those who seem to know it best.

No matter what we do with web specifications and new technologies, there will always be those who push to be first; the expert, the most knowledgeable–the ‘leader’ if you will. Then there is the rest of us, doing our best. This state of affairs is not broken, it’s just the way it is. It’s OK, too, because we don’t need to finish the race at the same time. What we web developers and designers need is what the marathon runners need–a set of rules by which we all participate, and a consistent course on which to run.

And here I got all this way without once mentioning Microsoft and IE.

This entry was posted in Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.