September 23, 2004

Web Standards, Flows & Whatever

This is a snippet of conversation between Cre8asite forums moderator Sophie Wegat and I about making the switch from tables-based layouts to Web Standards coding. Okay, it’s a snippet of my conversation, dolled up a bit for publication here, but anyway:

It started coming together for me when I realized how elements flow on a page, starting at the <body> tag. That even a table that encompasses all of the elements for the entire page is part of the flow.

Simply using tables doesn’t guarantee success; we had years of dealing with table-based layouts that ensured we’d get it right without much hassle at all. But we’ve probably forgotten what’s a hack and what isn’t. The idea of using spacer .gifs, for example: there’s no earthly reason why we should need to put a spacer .gif into a TD when we’re already specified a width for that TD.

It’s much easier with Web Standards-type coding. Yes, one has to get a feel for the flow of elements on the page; they’re not quite as “fixed” in position as they would be in a table. Unfortunately, that “flow” is not the same in all browsers. I can accept the fact that older browsers don’t particularly display newer coding standards well, but there’s also no earthly reason why, for example, MS should decide that margin=X should display as margin=X+X, thereby doubling the margin. It makes no logical sense whatever, and is pure nonsense. And requires a hack.

Which is why I’m now all for supporting the Web Standards Group’s attempt to get browser makers to conform to W3C standards.

This does not mean that I too will begin to decry the use of tables for anything but the most obvious “table of data” usages, assert that tables were only and ever meant to hold “tabular data”, or point an accusatory finger at WS-supporters who might on occasion – gasp! – use a table for a layout! What does anyone care? It’s a bit like accusing Jimi or Eric or Mr. Jeff Beck for using a wah-wah peddle or feedback as being somehow “impure”. I’d prefer simply to thank them for the incredibly brilliant music. The point is that we are creating interfaces that communicate to other people, not simply arguing over code.

I would guess that there are many code-purists who have also not embraced the idea that websites should rank well in search engines, either, or that one also needs to know something about marketing rather than leaving clients to figure it all out for themselves. Yes, good coding is important. And yes, there is more to be learned about marketing on the Web than coding.

The above notwithstanding, I had an interesting talk with Ron Carnell the other day. Ron mentioned <forgive me if I’m mis-quoting, Ron> that tables were meant to hold elements that needed to be in a grid-like format.

That would, like, a web page.

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