Specs Standards

Sugar and spice

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I finally found out what was causing the problems with the post When We Are Needed in IE: it’s called the “Magic Creeping Text” bug. It’s caused by having a left border for a blockquote (or other marginalized blocks), without having an accompanying bottom border. I’ve since fixed the bug, by adding a bottom border the same color as the background.

I found out about this bug through a post that Molly Holzschlag published that referenced another post written by Chris Wilson, a member of the IE team, that listed it among the fixed bugs in IE7. When I saw the title of the bug, “Magic Creeping Text”, I knew it was my bug and sure enough a search on that term returned a description of the problem and the workaround.

Chris published his post because Microsoft has been taking a lot of heat for the release of IE7, and the fact that this first beta release hadn’t fixed some of these longterm bugs. He wanted to reassure people that the next beta release will have these bugs fixed, and to be patient.

The WaSP organization has shared in some of the heat, primarily because members such as Molly have been very supportive of Microsoft, especially since Microsoft has invited the WaSP members in to work with the organization to ensure a standards compliant browser. Many people in the web development community feel that WaSP has been romanced by Microsoft into pulling in its stinger, and I will have to admit that the WaSP of today is very different of the one from several years ago.

I remember back in the late 90′s, when the Mozilla development project was building it’s infrastructure that would eventually not only become the foundation for Mozilla and Firefox, but also Thunderbird and a host of other tools. I watched the members of the development team, many of whom worked for Netscape at the time, as they created a brilliant component-based architecture that I knew was going to be capable of amazing things. And, as we have seen, it has been.

This, however, slowed up the development of the tool, and at times the browser development side was slow in responding with new browser releases fixing this standards bug or that. Well, this pissed off the WaSP folks, who started a campaign to harrass, and there is no other word for it, Mozilla into dropping its development on all that ‘fancy stuff’ and refocus back on delivering a browser that was standards compliant.

I wrote a couple of articles for publications about the potential of the Mozilla framework (including Digital Play Dough, Designing Applications with XUL, Web Techniques, 2000 and Browser, Browser Not for O’Reilly), but the WaSP wasn’t having any of it: that organization was Peeved at Mozilla for not delivering a standards-based browser right now.

So then I wrote Tyranny of Standards, saying:

I’ve long been a fan of the W3C, and I think that the Web and the Internet would be a much more chaotic environment without this organization. However, my fondness for the W3C does not necessarily extend itself to the WSP.

If you haven’t heard of the WSP, it is an example of what happens when standards enforcement is left to the masses. This organization’s intentions are pure: It’s a nonprofit organization of Web developers, designers, and artists who encourage browsers to support standards equally and completely. However, somewhere along the way, the WSP took on the aspect of a holy war, a Web jihad.

The WSP’s behavior is tantamount to lynch mob justice. After all, there are no gray areas of justice: only black and white, right or wrong. The same can be said of support for the enforcement of standards: A company supports standards 100 percent, or the company is noncompliant and, therefore, evil.

Note that I agree with the WSP in spirit: Our lives would be much easier if Microsoft and Mozilla and Netscape would support the W3C specifications fully and equally. I’m more than aware of the cost of having to write different Web pages for different browsers because each has implemented technologies in a different way. I’ve been doing this for years.

However, I’ve also benefited when an organization has expressed an innovation that exists outside of a specification, such as the aforementioned innerHTML, or Mozilla’s support for XUL (Extensible User Interface Language). If having all browsers be 100 percent standards compliant means not having access to these innovations, then I’ll take noncompliance even if it does mean extra effort to compensate for differences.

I encourage Microsoft and Mozilla and Netscape to support the W3C specifications and other standards, but I also encourage these same organizations to continue their innovative efforts, even if the result is a bit of chaos in a world that would otherwise run smoothly, and without a wrinkle.

And who’s to say that a little chaos is such a bad thing?

Oh, my, didn’t I hear about this post. You can see from the reader comments that few people agreed with me. Most disagreed with the words, but more than a few responded at a very personal level:

Tim Bray:

In words of one syllable (the apparent level of discourse here): It is good to add new stuff, OK?

Is this hard to understand?


In closing, I’m frankly surprised that O’Reilly would post a piece so obviously inflamatory. There are no hard facts here, just wild and unspecific accusations. The only people who could take this fluff seriously are those completely ignorant of the subject to begin with, and that’s a sad disservice to the web at large.

Tyson Kingsbury:

While the article is well written, it seems to me that it shows the glaring difference between those that ‘do’ and those who only write about it.

I am a web designer. It’s my humble opinion that if Shelley Powers were too, this article would have been very different….Web jihad indeed…hahaha

(Author’s note: I’ve been working with web application development and design since 1994…)

Lauren B:

Content free article.

and so on

The comments weren’t just restricted to the article’s comment section. (Even showing up in later years.)

Web design and standards compliance in browsers has long been an emotionally laden topic, as designers and web page developers have been caught between client’s unrealistic expectations and inherently buggy browsers and inconsistent application of specifications. I was philosophical about the reaction, knowing that I had used the Marketing 101 technique of “Kicking the Bear” to get my point across — taking an outrageous point of view, to make people realize that perhaps their own perspective is equally unrealistic, as they argued through why my opinion sucked and I was an idiot.

I’ve since become friends with many of the people who disagreed with me, and even worked with one of them (Simon St. Laurent) as editor of my book on RDF. The point is, I knew that I was going to generate discussion, and much of it unhappy discussion, and had to accept responsibility for the reactions to my writing.

Fast forward to 2005 and WaSP, the same WaSP that started a campaign to send obnoxious email to web designers telling them their pages were not standards compliant, is now working hand and glove with Microsoft. More, telling web designers to ‘be patient’ because IE 7 is beta and the company is trying. As Molly wrote:

As a fellow WaSP Microsoft Task Force member bluntly pointed out to me as I was trying to strategize how to respond to upset developers, WaSP should never act as Microsoft’s public relations department. And he’s absolutely right. WaSP isn’t here to forgive Microsoft for past practices.

However, as the relationship person here, I can only do my honest best to communicate both sides of what is clearly a complex concern. I can only work to assure you that I, and everyone within this Task Force is extremely motivated to make sure we keep things positive, honest, and respectful so we can continue to work together and hopefully, once and for all, achieve the goals we didn’t succeed at before

WaSP’s continued effort to work with rather than against Microsoft at a very frustrating time in history means that we all have to have patience, and we have to ask everyone to have patience with us in kind. This isn’t easy for anyone, not the Microsoft developers, not WaSP as an organization and of course not the working Web designer and developer.

Having felt the sting of the angry WaSP in the past, I will have to admit that my own jaw dropped when reading a WaSP member telling developers to be patient. With Microsoft of all companies.

Frankly, it was going against human nature to ask web page developes–frustrated for seven years with having to deal with IE bugs, all the while listening to Bill Gates smugly telling business what a superior product IE is–to focus purely on constructive criticism. Good intentions of the IE team aside, Microsoft sat on a buggy browser for years after crushing Netscape, and only now, after the growing success of Firefox, has the company responded–like a slow moving dinosaur, message finally reaching its tiny brain that someone kicked its tail months ago. The WaSP organization should have expected to take some heat.

And heat it did get, if comments in Molly’s post are anything to go by. For the most part, the heat has been directed at Microsoft, and some, indirectly, at WaSP, as an organization. In fact, unless there were a lot of personal emails and IM messages that said otherwise, there was no personal attacks in any of the commentary.

However, I can understand that not all communication happens in the open, so I wasn’t surprised to read today that Molly had been getting some flack, personally, for her defense of Microsoft and the IE team. I wouldn’t have blamed Molly for telling people to f**k off, the team is doing the best it can and to be patient for crissakes.

What I wasn’t expecting was to read the following:

Somehow by being an advocate and defending Microsoft and doing one thing – asking for patience from the community while all this unravels – has made a lot of people mad at me. This includes friends, some within WaSP and at least two I really have deep personal feelings for. That hurt so much I crawled into a bottle of wine and cried for most of the day.

I’m a sensitive girl.

For some, the idea of standards implementation is work-related, placed in a box, not worried about beyond the end of the day. For me, it’s religion. Why? I really don’t know the full answer to that, but I do know that it has to do in part with wanting to do something that strengthens the foundations of a technology I truly believe can, does and will continue to change the world in positive ways. Give something to the world that matters before I die.

Some women have families, husbands, children and other passions besides their careers. I don’t have those things. Unless I’m at a conference socializing with Web people, I live alone, eat alone, drink alone and mostly move through the world alone caring about the Web and the people who work it with a consuming, fiery passion. You can make fun of me all you want, say I’m wasting my time, I’m Don Quixote, self-destructive, I’m tilting windmills, I should get a life, I’m a dreamer, an idealist, a stupid girl.

I’m a sensitive girl. Some women have families, husbands, children and other passions besides their careers. I’m Don Quixote, self-destructive, I’m tilting windmills, I should get a life, I’m a dreamer, an idealist, a stupid girl.

And in comments, person after another writing, “You go, girl!” and one writing: anybody who makes my little girl cry again will get their kneecaps readjusted.

I wrote in comments:

I do find that WaSP’s response to Microsoft’s effort to be a puzzle after what the group did to Mozilla about five years back. When one considers that it has taken Microsoft what, those same five years and more to finally start fixing these problems I can understand both the frustration and wariness. I would have been surprised if the WaSP expected anything less.

Having said that, I don’t think anyone should have personally attacked you, and wasn’t aware that they had. From comments I read attached to the post, it seemed more that they were angry at WaSP and Microsoft. If you were personally attacked, of course it’s wrong.

As for being a ‘sensitive girl’, and mentioning not having family, friends, etc. not sure what this has to do with your position in WaSP or your being a technologist or even your being an advocate.

I can empathize with Molly if she wants to react to being hurt by friends by crying or spending a day with a bottle of wine. Each of us reacts to hurt in our own ways. I used to cry, then I used to swear a lot and, lately, I take walks and sometimes they are very sad, and very quiet walks– but each individual must deal with hurt in their own way.

What I found troubling and disconcerting was Molly’s emphasis on being a girl–as if somehow this made the reactions that much more heinous.

Molly responded to comments, mine and others, with one of her own:

Thanks for all the kind words, folks. I needed some love as I was feeling pretty beat up there.

Many people have pointed out that taking any stand when it comes to Microsoft is going to arouse anger and frustration. Intellectually, I knew that, but until I began getting emails the other day calling me a ‘whore for satan’ and questioning my personal agenda ‘oh, you just want to keep yourself close to the consulting gigs’ and otherwise stating that what was perceived as my apologetics on behalf of Microsoft was the wrong thing to do, I had to face up to a fact I prefer to ignore: people sometimes really suck.

And once again, I’ve been asked to explain why there’s no apparent separation between the personal and the professional in my writing. Shelley says:

‘As for being a ‘sensitive girl’, and mentioning not having family, friends, etc. not sure what this has to do with your position in WaSP or your being a technologist or even your being an advocate.’

Shelley, first, please don’t misquote me – I never wrote I don’t have family or friends. I referred to husband, children and outside passions. I’m really struggling to get this communicated properly: there is no separation from the flesh-and-blood-person that I am and what I do in my career.

I am not compartmentalized. I realize that’s a fairly unique quality, and I also know that I seem to generally feel more emotion than most people. That passion and unity of vision is what enables me to do the amount of work I do, to achieve what I hope are good things for the Web and for the community of designers and developers with whom I work.

I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Even if one day I decide to stop blogging or walk away from the Web (and I actually see that happening at some point) I will still be the same way. My mother tells me I was like that from birth, and here it is 42 years later: singleminded, stubborn, highly emotional and exceptionally productive.

No one is asking Molly to become an automaton, and not to react emotionally to such personal and vicious attacks. And if someone referred to Molly as a whore for Satan, then they used Molly’s sex as a weapon to attack her at a personal level, like so many others have done in the past –using a woman’s sex in stereotypical terms as a weapon. To this person, throwing Molly’s femaleness back at her, using ‘whore’, was the worst that they could do. It was the ultimate insult. You’re not only a woman but you’re a bad woman, as society judges women.

If Molly wanted to re-assert that yes, she is a women, but what does that and her supposed sex life have to do with her work with WaSP, good on her. And if she wanted to respond that, yes, she was hurt by such a personal attack, damn straight she should be hurt–angry, too. But how did Molly respond? She used her sex as a shield. I am a sensitive girl she writes.

I am a sensitive girl.

When you pick up a shield made of the same material as the sword being used to attack you, you don’t turn the attack; all you do is validate the use of the sword.

I had other things to write this weekend, but first I have to rediscover the reasons for doing so. I’m going for a walk.

Some of Molly’s commenters have said that I’m overreacting. That Molly was just talking about herself, and her reference to herself as ‘girl’ was part of it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Their point is good and perhaps I did overreact. I am sensitive to being a woman in tech, and how others perceive women in tech. And if I dislike guys playing the ‘girl’ card, I dislike women doing the same. However, there is no indication that’s what Molly was doing. My apologies to Molly if I caused her additional hurt.

Standards Technology

What do you want from digital identity

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I removed the last paragraph from my last posting. It added nothing to the discussion and was unnecessarily snarky. Still, doing so doesn’t impact on the message threaded throughout the post that *I’m not supportive of universal (read that ‘federated’) digital identities.

I don’t believe there is a system that can’t be cracked. What I do believe is that there is a tradeoff between the willingness to spend time and energy in cracking a system, and how universally it’s used. One overall, agreed on universal digital identity system that every major financial, economic, government player has bought into seems to me to be a mighty big target. It’s not so much that it represents a widely used identity infrastructure; it’s that behind the infrastructure is some very tasty data.

Additionally, I’m not sure that there is demand for this type of overall identity. In the midst of these discussions, Johhanes Ernst posed the question: why do we want digital identity? Is it for seamless enterprise wide access? Is it to facilitate commerce? Eliminate the existing highly fractured state of security, with implementations that range from heavily robust to wide open?

I personally favor the concept of ’single sign-on’ where I can use the same name and passwords at different sites, without having to re-input my contact information, and without having to remember different connection information with each. Even then, I would most likely only use something like this with sites where the cost of exposure of the data is minimal. Though it would be tempting to want to store my credit card on my machine, and have a remote system handshake with my local computer to exchange the information without me having to do so, I don’t find the fact that I have to re-input the data with each purchase to be an overwhelming burden. Not to the point of storing this information on my machine–whether it is my dual Windows/Linux machine, or my Mac.

Work on enhancing the security of our data exchanges is a goodness; but the farther from my machine I can store sensitive data, the happier I’ll be. In this discussion, rather than focus on separating the specification of a security infrastructure from the implementation, I’d rather discuss separating the storage of the data from the transport.

(Of course, some companies require that you store your credit card information on their machines, but I don’t know how something like InfoCards would eliminate this–unless part of the architecture also provides an ‘on-demand’ request for the card information from the site back to us. )

To answer his own question, Johhanes sees digital identity as a way of empowering people:

So let me tell you what excites me about Digital Identity: it is the transformational power that Digital Identity can bring — assuming it is done right — to empower individuals and groups in ways that are highly desirable but impossible without. Or, in plain language: the new products and features that only can be built with Digital Identity and will be built as soon as we have it. And we will never look back.

I thought this, at first, had to do with authenticity, and establishing that we’re who we say we are. However, from the examples Johhanes lists, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Examples, such as Marc Cantor’s digital lifestyle aggregation, where all of our digital devices work out how to integrate themselves; and Johhanes own company’s software, which …is aware of the user’s immediate situation, and proactively supports them in that situation, instead of being just able to offer a bunch of remote websites that are very clueless about the user and thus not very helpful.

I don’t know that we need digital identity for the latter — I have extensions added to my browser that lets me know when a site has RDF/XML I can examine, or a syndication feed I can link to. I’d rather passively put easily discoverable information out on a site using established ‘hooks’ and then use generic discovery tools to find this data elsewhere, then build something in them reflecting my identity.

I don’t think the power of the internet is based on the concept that eventually, everyone will know your name. I think it’s based on the fact that everyone doesn’t know your name.

*There goes my planetary status on Planet Identity I imagine

Diversity Standards

Accessibility and Geegaws

A good rule of thumb for web design is that indulge your interests in nifty tools–DHTML*, Flash, whatever–but your navigation should never be made up of anything other than a hypertext link, and you should never make your critical content accessible primarily (or only) through a mouse.

Lately, I’m seeing more and more sites use technologies, Flash in particular that violate these rules. As nice as they look, I always wince when I see a dependency on a specific product, focused at a specific audience: internet hip, sighted, and attracted to bright, shiny things.

Learning from DHTML

I didn’t always resist the shiny geegaws myself. When we were studying DHTML after it first came out, we all started using it to create our navigation buttons, and felt pretty cool and very web savvy. Mouse over a top-level button and a small little box would slide out underneath with all your options to click. After static content, this was heady stuff.

Of course, mouseover wasn’t always reliable. Sometimes you’d have to move quickly from the top-level to the sub-topics because leaving the top-level would close the sub-topic box; it then became a game of who could move faster–you or the browser.

This was all until we started running into cross-browser differences and the nightmare that followed for a good 2 or 3 years until Mozilla came along and routed Internet Explorer.

(What do you mean someone is still using IE?)

Then someone came along and said, well, what about blind people or people who can’t use a mouse? After all, it’s pretty difficult to try and tab through a lot of nonsense that doesn’t do anything in order to get to a working link. And if the work is DHTML, well that just mucks with the page reader’s electronic mind, and it doesn’t know what it’s dealing with.

After Google made web search fashionable and especially after it added a thing called pagerank, we found that not using hypertext links to manage our site navigation was actually working counter to seeing our pages show up in the search results, and as highly placed as possible. Pretty geegaw lost its attraction really quick on this one.

Especially when you add in the costs. In the dot-com job I had before it became dot-gone, I was brought in to lead a re-design of an application after another firm had spent close to two million dollars and basically had very little to show for it; all except for a really cool DHTML navigation system. No backend development. Half the pages needed unfinished. No database. No database design. But there were some really cool DHTML and pretty graphics.

Well, we kept what we could and yanked the DHTML and put a system out on the street in about five weeks. With plain old hypertext links.

But still, designers say when showing their latest frufrah, look how cool this all is?

(When I as at that dot-com, I shared an office with the lead web page designer — an art school grad. He was a nice guy and did the Burning Man thing and was all that was hip among designers, and very talented, too. But I still felt like I was sharing the office with someone from another galaxy, especially when it came to priorities. I know he must have felt the same way. Companies should do that more often–house the backend developers with the front-end designers. If both survive the experience, they might learn something from it.)

Let’s see: on the one hand we have cool. On the other hand we have cross-browser compatible, easier to build and maintain, search engine friendly, and accessible.

Bottom line, we came to understand that using DHTML to manage navigation, or to display critical content, was very uncool.

Next Big Thing

Of course, now we have the Next Big Thing in website design, which is Flash and its various incarnations. And it’s true, Flash can help you do some nifty stuff — but it still brings in the same burdens and problems on a page. You have to install the plugin; you have to have special readers for the content; you have to provide an alternative link structure for webbots if you want your pages search engine friendly; and it costs a lot more to design and maintain a Flash navigation system then it does plain old hypertext links.

To work around the accessibility issues one can use page readers that can read Flash, and one can install the plugins to access the navigation buttons; still each of these methods require that the web page reader go through extra effort to access your webpage content; content that supposedly you really want them to access. Site purpose and accessibility, in this case, is sacrificed to site design.

But isn’t design meant to enhance a site, not obscure it? In other words, if Flash and JavaScript hinder access, never use Flash, or JavaScript, or any moving part other than a hypertext link for site navigation–in fact any content that is critical for the site. If you must, have a separate Flash site, but make sure it’s secondary.

The Payoffs in Accessibility and avoiding the Geegaws

I’m not a web designer and I don’t pretend to make the prettiest pages and or use the best CSS and hippest styles; but one thing I have learned over the years is, if you design for those with accessibility challenges in mind, you’ll find that you’ve also created the easiest to build, easiest to maintain, cleanest, most valid, less fragile, and more forward compatible site design. In other words — designing for accessibility ends up being the best approach to designing for style, validity, durability, and economy.

*DHTML is Dynamic HTML, or using scripting language, usually JavaScript to manipulate a page’s contents after it’s been downloaded to the browser.


Out! Out damn standard!

Dave Shea says, like, “Chill, dudes!” about standards. Like, wow, don’t cop a tude, bizatch!

But then my homey Matt goes, Jinkies! Boo that! Bring on the 5-Oh, dude! Don’t murk my standards! Like XHTML is phat, you know? You wanna be part of my posse, you gotta say that yo XHTML is righteous, dude! Like my bluud, Jeffrey. blahhDoww beotech!

I’m giggen, and don’t mean to diss on Matt but like, the word is what matters, man? You hear that? The word is like, Poppins. Yo standards, and yo ‘we be bad, shit’.

I mean, tell it to the ass!

Connecting Social Media Standards

How far is too far

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Making the rounds in the advertising world is an interesting technique, termed viral marketing: making use of social software techniques learned from spammers, virus makers, and other experts of this nature. With viral marketing, rather than a formal ad campaign, with purchased space in newspapers and time on TV, you create ads or content that is notorious enough to generate a lot of Internet activity, seed them via email or through online groups, and just allow what comes naturally. The recent subservient chicken is based on viral marketing…and so is a new ‘ad campaign’ if you want to call it this, for Ford.

A few weeks ago, links to an online ad for a new car were sent out via email. The ad is part of an ‘evil twin’ concept: Ford is trying to market the car, the SportsKa, as the supposed evil twin of its popular Ka model.

The ad opens showing the car in a driveway, when a ginger cat starts walking past it. The sun roof pops open, and the cat, curious, jumps up on the car and sticks its head through the opening. At this point, the sun roof starts to close on the cat’s head. The cat struggles madly before its head is decapitated. Through the window you can see the head fall into the car, and the lifeless body falls down the windshield and off the car to the back.

I’ve been told that this is computer enhanced, and supposedly no cat was harmed in the making of this ad. I hope so. I sincerely hope so. Unfortunately, it was real enough when I first saw it to have upset me quite deeply. Warning people “not to click this if you like cats” cannot prepare you for this. Especially when you assume that a major car manufacturer like Ford has limits.

Evidentally, there are no limits.

After watching the ad, I started looking around for reactions. If the purpose of this viral marketing campaign was to generate notice in the car, one can say the ad has been successful. But whether it will earn the company customers is hard to say because reaction has been strongly divided.

A considerable number of people believe this ad to be humorous, and that those who are disturbed by it lack a sense of humor, and are taking it too literally. There’s this from a weblogger:

I haven’t had a free moment to blog lately, but this is just too good. You’ve gotta see this. This is MY kind of car commercial.

Surprise. UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty doesn’t like it.

By the way, have I ever told you? I love animals; they’re delicious.

However, appreciation is not universal, and Ford has said that the release of this ad was a ‘mistake’ – the one targeted for their viral marketing campaign featured a pigeon being killed, instead:

It was, they say, intended as a “viral marketing” tactic – designed to be sent via the internet from one individual to another – although this idea was subsequently rejected by Ford on taste grounds. A clip costing several thousand pounds and showing a pigeon being catapulted to its death by a bonnet springing open was approved and released last September. However, the rejected advertisement began circulating on the internet last week, at first because of an apparent mistake, and then spurred by black-humoured web users who passed it around.

…black-humoured web users who passed it around. I hesitated to participate in this little viral marketing exercise, except that this ad goes back to a conversation we had about censorship and Howard Stern. At that time, we asked: how far is too far?

According to an Australian ad agent:

“I reckon the line of acceptability has probably been pushed quite considerably by viral advertising because the whole point is to be notorious,” he says.

How far is too far. A month ago, I would have thought decapitating a cat to sell a car would have been too far.