Author spotlight: Susan Simkins’s 3 reasons why web standards matter
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After quite a bit of prompting from her brother, Pluralsight author Susan Simkins reluctantly got into the web field. Fortunately for her, she ended up falling in love with web design. And luckily for you, we sat down to chat with Susan about one of her favorite topics: web standards, a perfect blend of two things she loves - computers and creative design.
“One of the things I’m most passionate about when it comes to web design is trying to solve problems for the user,” Susan said. “There’s something very satisfying about bringing together problem solving and design.”
Solving problems for users if they can’t access your site, or if Google’s penalized ysfou, is difficult, which is why Susan cares about web standards. Here are Susan’s top three reasons why web standards matter:
Get some context
“The most important thing to know about web standards is why they exist and some of the historical context and significance behind them,” Susan said. “Then you can read the standards with an understanding of why things are done, and if you have a reason not to follow a standard, you’d have the context to make that decision yourself.
Web standards go back to the mid-90s and the browser wars between Netscape and Internet Explorer. Rather than doing what was best for the product or for websites, they were focusing on building the coolest new feature that would only work in their browser.
Susan explained that it was a frustrating time for web developers because they had to build completely different websites to work in each browser.
“Finally, they created the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) so you only had to focus on making the best website possible, rather than trying to make something that will work in different browsers,” Susan said.
The W3C and the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) both build web standards. WHATWG works on the living standard – they’re constantly evolving and moving forward, whereas the W3C publishes versions of a standard.
Hopefully, websites will be able to be viewed for years to come, especially since we’re creating historical documents that live on the internet. If developers follow the W3C guidelines, they should stand the test of time since they’ll be both backwards and future compatible.
One of the biggest reasons standards were implemented was to make the web for everyone. Accessibility and web standards have the same ultimate goal.
“One of the most important parts of web standards is the role it plays with accessibility,” Susan states. “The internet is such a life-changing thing in our time, with all the access to information we have, and sharing and connecting to other people, it’s important to make it accessible to as many people as possible.”
There are business concerns alongside the ethical concerns when it comes to not following standards. Web standards help you with SEO. Search engines are optimized in a way so that if you aren’t following them, you’ll be penalized. For example, Google will penalize you if your site isn’t mobile-friendly. People might not be able to find it if you’re not following standards.
Approximately 25 percent of people have some kind of accessibility concerns.
“It’s not just major disabilities,” Susan said. “Maybe a user has issues seeing or they need things designed a specific way. If you create a site that doesn’t follow standards and therefore isn’t accessible, you’re cutting out a quarter of your potential customer base.”
It’s also in your benefit to make your site work in all browsers. Following standards will make that much easier for you.
It can be difficult to stay current on web standards, since the web is in constant motion. Susan shares how she finds the information she needs:
“Newsletters are one of the greatest ways for me to stay up-to-date because it’s really easy if other people are doing a lot of the work gathering information for you and then they just email it to you. I also love reading the blogs of ‘web celebrities,’ like Eric Meyer, Brad Frost, Jeffrey Zeldman and Chris Coyier. They really care about web standards and they’re passionate about educating other people. Reading their blogs really help me stay up-to-date.
Susan’s currently working on a course called, “Introduction to the web.” She’ll delve deeper into the history of the web and where standards came from. Check it out in October. But in the meantime, listen to Susan discuss web standards, accessibility and other hot web topics in a recent PixelHub podcast.