Grinding Noises

Web Standards Politics

Yet another thread on the WaSP's browser upgrade campaign has surfaced at MetaFilter, prompted by someone-or-other's sniping. Somehow this inspired me to launch into Hans Christian Anderson mode; you can see the results here.

But the thread won't die: one long-time critic has argued that 'WaSP didn't say [to] provide good pages for those with older browsers—that wasn't the point. It was [an] upgrade in coding style and providing no other option was the point. And that's why WaSP blows.'

I said it there, but I'll repeat it here: providing no other option certainly was the point. And that's why it was a brilliant tactic.

This is a political campaign. Not 'politics' as in left and right, but politics as the negotiation of change. Sure, the WaSP could recommend using combining the import hack with traditional style-sheet linking so that Netscape 4.x still has access to the CSS elements it can use, but that would do little good in raising public consciousness and effecting change (i.e., upgrades). Only by forcing Netscape 4.x to serve up plain-looking pages can WaSP supporters hope to send a strong message to lay-users that something is wrong with Netscape 4.x, and that message deserves to be sent.

Politics is an eternal struggle between forces for change and forces for conservatism. The browser upgrade campaign is political—we're just not used to thinking that there's a 'politics of web standards'. Because it's a political campaign, calling it 'right' or 'wrong' is not a statement of fact, even if some of the facts that have prompted the campaign (for example, the fact that Netscape 4.x's CSS support isn't too great) are widely accepted as true. Calling the campaign right or wrong simply shows what side of web-standards-politics you're on.

So, web designers, are you a browser-conservative, or are you an agent for change? Are you happy with the status quo—or at least resigned to it—or are you going to do something about it? Because if you don't, you're looking at Four More Years of single-pixel GIFs and web-design waste: design once, code twice, or four times, or more.

Sure, some users won't like your stance, whichever side you take. That's politics. But some users won't like you because your feet's too big. Personally, I'm happy to rally behind the orange flag.

First posted to Walking West, 9 May 2001.

18 May 2001
©2001 Rory Ewins