The Importance of Web Standards

by Benjamin Williams


Posted on 5th July 2021


The Importance of Web Standards

It's been an ongoing topic for a long time, but as time progresses it becomes more and more essential. When standards were introduced, browser makers were encouraged to adhere to a standardised way of doing things so that cross-compatibility became easier for content makers and importantly, there no longer being the need to build multiple versions of the same website to suit different web browsers (thank God Internet Explorer has been killed off! All hail the new Chromium-based Edge!)

You might wonder why cross-compatibility is so important and as someone that works in IT support, I have a perfect example from a previous job. A massive global client had a web portal that we had to use for managing their orders, but it only worked on IE6. We couldn't stick with that as its end of support date came and went, and so presents a security risk. They managed to get it working on IE7 which is still not ideal as we then had people complaining that certain websites were not loading properly. Then we had everyone using Chrome and some people also had IE7 installed just for this one client whilst we set it to never update because that then breaks their portal. Eventually, thankfully, we put a stop to all that and they were told that they need to invest in updating their portal for general security as we can't put ourselves at risk just because they don't want to spend any money updating it. But this just highlights why web standards are important. Your choice of web browser should be irrelevant, customers shouldn't be having to install older browsers or setting up compatibility mode just to get a site to load properly. Some people simply can't do that and pretty soon those browsers will reach their end of support dates too and will need to be updated or uninstalled.

Web Standards were introduced over 20 years ago and are just as relevant now as they were then. Although you wouldn't believe web standards have been around so long since browser makers have wanted to do their own thing still ever since. Web standards were introduced to protect the web ecosystem, to keep it open, free and accessible to all. We're a lot better off than we used to be, that's for sure. But it's still worth remembering why it's important going forward.

1. KEEP THE WEB FREE AND ACCESSIBLE TO ALL

Without the Web Standards community, we'd be relying on browser makers to make whatever decisions they want, telling us what should and shouldn't be features of the world wide web. Browsers have some pretty nifty, if imperfect, accessibility options these days. The major players in the browser world all seem o be going in the same direction now which makes life a lot easier for developers and a better experience for users.

2. HELPING MAKE SOURCE CODE SIMPLER

Touching on point on, with the rise of the web browser came a rise in diversifying their approach, making it more and more difficult to create content that would be served in the same way across multiple browsers. This increased the amount of work required by developers to make a fully compatible website, including bloating the source code for a web page. Sure, we sometimes still have to do the odd little bit here and there, but without Web Standards, this would be much worse. I know I'm pleased not to have to do the whole if IE6 do this, if IE7 do that business anymore.

3. MAKING THE WEB A MORE ACCESSIBLE PLACE

Web standards help to standardise the way in which a website can interact with assistive technologies. Browser makers and web developers can include instructions into their pages that are then interpreted by assistive technologies to maintain a common (or sometimes better) end-user experience. Recent additions also include better active focus so that people can keyboard their way through a website and see where they are, although it's still better to make your own when designing a website, but the default improvements are a welcome addition.

4. BACKWARD COMPATIBILITY AND VALIDATION

Web standards have created a foundation that allows for new websites, that comply with standards, to work with older browser versions. The idea of backward compatibility is super important for keeping the web accessible, particularly as some people just won't update their browser. There is no guarantee that older browsers will show your content exactly as you expect, but the standards will ensure that the structure of the web document is understood and displayed accordingly.