February 18, 2003 2:00 PM PST

Browser gadflies turn over a new leaf

A group formed to sting browser makers into hewing to industry standards says from now on it's using honey, not vinegar, to get the job done.

On Friday, following a 15-month hiatus, the Web Standards Project (WaSP) declared its initial mission was largely complete and credited browser makers with vastly improved adherence to World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards.

"The thing that became clear over the last two or three years is that the standards support is really very close to what we need," said Steve Champeon, chief technology officer of Hesketh.com and a steering committee member of WaSP. "So it doesn't make much sense to yell at browser makers to finish the last 1 percent. What we're finding more and more is that the people we need to address are the developers."

To reach developers, WaSP has reorganized and plans to shift its focus to education from protest and advocacy, Champeon said.

The reorganized WaSP said it would beef up content on its Web site, providing an online resource "for anyone interested in learning more about the practical side of standards."

Frustrated Web developers launched the group in 1998 to pressure Netscape Communications and Microsoft to produce standards-compliant new browsers. The developers were frustrated at having to write different pages tailored to various nonstandard browsers.

"What we did in 1998 and 1999 is shame the vendors to follow the standards they'd helped write," Champeon said. "Now that that's been done, and it is now possible for Web developers to make use of those standards, we need to help educate those developers on the best strategies for implementation."

The group also tackled the problems of outdated browsers--which lacked support for newer standards, requiring developers to write of separate Web pages--and Web authoring tools. While authoring tools automate the creation of pages specific to a browser, they clog the Web with nonstandard code, the WaSP contends.

Champeon acknowledged that these tools generate most of the Web's pages and said the group would continue working on companies such as Adobe Systems, Macromedia and Microsoft to improve their support for standards.

But in keeping with the group's new style, that work will be in collaboration with, rather than agitation against, the companies.

"We have members working with people on the inside at Macromedia as part of our Dreamweaver taskforce," Champeon said. "That's the model for what we want to do more of in the future. Rather than standing up and screaming that Dreamweaver produces nonstandard XHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language), we want to make friends with the people who make this stuff and contribute to making it better."

As part of its reorganization, WaSP named several group veterans "emeritus"--including group leader Jeffrey Zeldman--and said they would no longer take an active role in the group. It also appointed 17 new members.

 

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