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The Firestorm of 2022

Jeff Croft started a fire. A fire that needed to be set. I’ve watched luminaries within the Web community jump on and off the standards soapbox. There is so much fragmentation on this topic, no wonder the proposed finalization date for HTML 5 is 13 years away.

I think the value of the firestorm that came from all of this is it brings attention to the fact that somewhere, somehow, the process for creating, adopting, and implementing standards on the Web is fundamentally broken. There are a good many brilliant people working hard on the specs, but without some overarching incentive browser developers and other vendors will just continue to play “Keep up with the Joneses”. The upwards push from the design/development community simply isn’t enough.

The only way standards will ever be properly adopted, implemented, and truly a “standard” by definition is to put a stick in the ground for a deadline when all Websites MUST USE the standard and adhere to it.

Other people do it — why can’t we?

On Feb 19th 2009 analog broadcasting in the US will be turned off. This is the kind of deadline that forces adoption of a new standard. All broadcasters and consumers must upgrade their hardware, broadcasters must also upgrade their programming formats, and adhere to strict new rules. The industry as a whole has worked to comply with the deadline, although not always with a smile.

Bottom line: if a broadcaster doesn’t broadcast in digital, they won’t be heard and will face stiff penalties. If a consumer doesn’t upgrade to a digital receiver, they won’t get any programming — incentive indeed. Simple as that.

Quoting Wikipedia: “While there are many technical, political, and economic reasons for and implications of this change, the end-result for some segments of the American TV audience will be an improvement in picture and sound quality.” — i.e. A better TV experience for everyone.

Granted, the Web is still very young compared to the TV industry, and there is the FCC; but nevertheless we as a group of smart people with a common goal should be able to get there.

What if?

What if Google announced that on January 1st 2012 they would dump all non valid pages from their index and only rank pages that were valid XHTML 1.0 Strict? There would be a mad scramble to rebuild the Web — at least for those that hadn’t previously cared about standards compliance. Browser makers would rapidly recreate their software, development software vendors would race to be first to market with products tailored for the “new specs”, and the end result would be — (ahem) — “an improvement in picture and sound quality”.

Every form of mass media has undergone the process of standardization, usually under governmental supervision or mandates. The Web will be no different. This ridiculously long timeline for HTML 5 shines a bright light on how community based efforts to create and enforce standards on the Web are failing. At some point a giant commercial or governmental agency will step in and force the issue.

The radio industry was taken over by government during World War One, and important advances were made shortly thereafter. Without the FCC, the radio and TV industries would both be a chaotic mess.

I’m not a proponent of the FCC taking over standards for the Web. That would surely create another set of unique challenges that I doubt anyone of us wants to deal with. My point is that if we as the community inside the industry don’t change this process, some form of regulation from outside will.