An interview with Jeffrey Zeldman: art, love, web standards and George Clooney
June 11, 2003 by Bruce Lawson
We are delighted to publish an interview with Standards Samurai Jeffrey Zeldman of Zeldman.com, AListApart and the Web Standards Project. Zeldman discusses the human aspects of Standards and their adoption (or lack of adoption), why the W3C should listen to the Web Professional community a little more, the difficulties of being constantly mistaken for George Clooney, and gets all romantic.

Bruce Lawson of DMXzone.com interviews Jeffrey Zeldman, in which Zeldman talks of the human side of Web Standards, how the Web Standards Project got to advise Macromedia on the development of Dreamweaver MX, and the perils of being a George Clooney look-alike Web Designer.

Jeffrey Zeldman was a co-founder of The Web Standards Project, publishes A List Apart - a magazine "For People Who Make Websites", runs the New York web design firm  Happy Cog, and lectures widely on Web Standards. Zeldman's new book "Designing With Web Standards" was published by New Riders in May 2003 and is one of the Amazon.com bestsellers. (DMXzone book review)

What's the history? How did you get to be a Standards Samurai?

I discovered web standards accidentally and stayed with them because they provided a better tool set and a way out of the browser mess.

Like everyone else, I initially saw the web as a visual medium whose layout was controlled by browser-specific, extended HTML. I loved my font tags as much as the next designer. I didn't know about CSS until Microsoft unveiled IE3, which partially supported that specification. Suddenly I saw it was possible to achieve better designs with less bandwidth. But CSS in IE3 didn't work the same way between platforms, and CSS didn't work at all in Netscape 3. And Netscape's JavaScript didn't work in IE.

When the 4.0 browsers came out, and were even more incompatible with each other, let alone with previous versions of the manufacturers' own browsers, many of us had had enough. A few of us got together to do something about it, and The Web Standards Project (WaSP) was born.

Let me emphasize that many of us didn't know or care until much later about the deeper implications and benefits of the W3C's vision for the web. We were interested in enhancing our ability to design  and in simplifying our jobs. We weren't concerned with theory but with practical techniques to improve user experience and reach more people on more browsers, platforms, and devices, with less monkey work. It was that simple then and it is still that simple.

"We were only interested in enhancing our ability to design  and in simplifying our jobs"

How did it happen that browser and WYSIWG manufacturers stopped looking at you like you were madmen shouting at passers-by in the street, and actually seek out the WaSP's help/ advice?

For one thing, we stopped yelling. Once we'd succeeded in getting Microsoft and Netscape's attention, we became more like consultants than combatants.

Todd Farhner led a CSS Samurai effort beginning in 1998. The group's job was to identify the Top 10 CSS Problems in leading browsers - showing where the browser failed, explaining how it should behave, and briefly sharing why the correct behavior was important to web users, developers, and, for that matter, to the company that made the browser. It was like doing a usability study and offering it to the client free of charge. It bred goodwill between WaSP and browser engineers while providing them with a useful roadmap toward compliance.

Another thing is, although hundreds of millions use the web, it's a small industry. A few of us were friendly with a few of the engineers who develop leading browsers. Well, friends talk. Some of these engineers privately agreed with WaSP's assessment of the importance of correct, complete support for common standards. So even if the head of marketing wouldn't talk to us, the people who mattered did - and they often went ahead and covertly did the right thing, improving their browsers' compliance whether Marketing told them to or not.

Bruce Lawson

I'm the brand manager of glasshaus, a publishing company specialising in books for web professionals. We've a series for dreamweaver professionals - the dreamweaver pro series.

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