You with the html editor, listen up:

I wrote this way back in … 1999, I think, just after svg was announced. If I had the chance to go back in time I’d preach the gospel of web standards to myself until I learned my lesson. While I think my remarks here are fairly accurate, I really missed the boat on how many nonconformant web pages there were going to be in 2008.

In the beginning, there was mark–up, and lo, the mark–up was good.

The Web is not entertainment (although it can be entertaining). It’s not a replacement for television, movies or plays. The Web exists so you can find the information you need in a format you can use. Re–read that a few times with me, please.

It exists so you can find the information you need in a format you can use. The “you” here isn’t you–the–page–author; it’s you–the–person–looking–for–information. Please don’t forget that. Too many pages out there are obviously written someone who’s more interested in a “look at me!” site than a “here’s the information you want” site.

It exists so you can find the information you need in a format you can use. If your page isn’t contributing to the amount of useful information on the Web, please take your page down now; the signal–to–noise ratio is bad enough already.

It exists so you can find the information you need in a format you can use. If you’re going to use Microsoft “smart quotes” to create proper typographic punctuation marks, your page will only render properly in a Microsoft browser. If you use Netscape–specific tags, will Internet Explorer render them properly? Vendor–specific tags and file formats aren’t just bad for people who use different software; it flies straight in the face of what the Web is supposed to be, which is vendor– and content–neutral. We have standards which can replace most proprietary stuff, anyway. Use svg instead of Flash, use Javascript or Java applets instead of ActiveX controls, use “ and ” to create typographic quotation marks instead of Microsoft “smart quotes” — the standards are out there begging to be used. Use them.

Anything on a page which detracts from its informational content, its usefulness to the viewer, or its compliance to standards, is thus a Bad Thing.

Shockwave animations which exist only for gee–whiz effects? Bad.

Pointless use of the <blink> tag? Capital offense.

Poor spelling? Almost unforgiveable[*]. You wouldn’t send out a cover letter that was rife with misspellings and poor grammar, would you? Why should Web pages be an exception? A site is often not just the first chance a visitor will get to know you, but the only chance you’ll have to make a good impression on that visitor. Spelling and grammar count!

Under Construction signs? What it tells people is that you lied to them; they followed a link thinking you might have the information they wanted, but no, your site has been “under construction” for the last five years and the information they’re looking for will be added to your page as soon as you get around to it — which may not occur until the heat death of the universe.

Inane music that welcomes people to your site? Did I ask you to play music? Am I looking for information on music? Do you know if I’m already listening to some Prokofiev on my CD player? Do I really need to have his magnificence tarnished by a bad MIDI version of R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People”?

Let’s look at something as simple as images. Think for a moment: do these images really help the user with their information–searching task? If you have a link that says “click here to see my dog” and the user clicks the link, then yes, you’d probably better show a picture of your dog. The user is expecting that. It’s the information they expect, the information they’re looking for, and maybe even (God help them) the information they need. But putting a 100k image of your dog on your front page isn’t going to endear you to anyone but the few people who want to see your dog.

As a rule of thumb, a 56k dial–up connection can pull down about 4k per second. 20k of images which aren’t necessary and don’t help the user with their information–searching tasks amount to an extra five seconds of download. Most people think that’s not all that bad; after all, what’s five seconds? — But think: that means a 28.8k connection has an extra ten seconds, and a 14.4k connection an extra twenty seconds. If your visitor is using an old rig, or if your user is using a 56k dial–up from overseas, you might be adding considerable time delays for no reason whatsoever.

Also consider the needs of the disabled. If your site is conveying its information in a purely visual form, how can a blind person make use of it? Pages which conform to standards are generally far easier for the blind. Text can be read aloud by an automated system, but how’s a blind person supposed to navigate a Web page via an image map, or make sense of a Flash animation?

I’ve heard it said that if a web page hasn’t finished loading in fifteen seconds, half the users will just hit back instead. That means there’s fifteen seconds in which your page can load; fifteen seconds to send the information you want to share with the world down the pipe. Because if it takes longer than that, it doesn’t matter if you want to share it — half your audience is going to decide they don’t need to know it that badly.

Make the most of your fifteen seconds.

[*] Before you send me email complaining about this word being misspelled, please check this link to get set straight. Thanks. :)

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