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Lessons from working with Web standards, revisited

Just over four years ago, I wrote about a large-scale Web redesign on a news site. Today, I’m doing a similar thing, for a different site. Both projects relied on Basecamp for project management and bug tracking, and the improvement to that tool have been tremendous. Other things, however, remain surprisingly the same.

Web standards

In 2006 I wrote that building a Web-standards-based site, using the best practices … with a few smart, skilled, and talented people can be done more effectively than most in the industry can imagine. Although people are more aware of the effectiveness of standards-based development, it still is surprising how much more productive it can be.

Revenue compromises

The context for my next lesson has blurred with time: The best intentions, when encountering commercial needs, always result in hideous workarounds, no matter how hard you try. I can say, though, on the current project, the commercial constraints have led to some incredibly innovative ad and design solutions. And what work arounds there are, could not be described as not “hideous.”

Opera

Another exception. Four years ago, I declared that Opera produced one of the most eccentric modern browsers available. However, The company’s latest version (10.5) is far more predictable and reliable and is a rock-solid, X-grade browser.

Debugging tools

Declared in 2006: DOM inspectors are an essential tool for debugging CSS-based sites. Still true. Today, I would also add a Macintosh with at least one virtual machine for IE6, IE7, and IE8/IE9. Or Adobe BrowserLab and Spoon’s Browser Sandbox on a Windows machine.

Advanced CSS features

Minimum and maximum widths can make for a compelling Web site — if the browser supports min-width/max-width, (today I’d replace that with rgba, opacity and CSS3 selectors) If not (I’m looking at you Internet Explorer), the workarounds are messy.

Internet Explorer 6

Sadly, even after much effort from Microsoft during the past half-decade, this is even more true today: Internet Explorer 6 … is the Netscape 4 of this era The productivity lost to providing support for this browser is astounding.

Unfortunately, there is little to suggest news sites will be able to completely drop support anytime soon. This even though IE6 weekday usage has declined to 10 percent, about half of it what it was 12 months ago. The catch lies in the weekend usage which drops by nearly half again, to 6 percent. The realistic conclusion suggests that the most of the remaining visitors are forced to use that browser at work.

The future

The promising thing about the consistency of this experience over the years is that Web standard development is no longer an exception.

Design planning, project management cycles, and the daily workflow have all adapted to this more flexible way of creating Web sites. The result is projects that completed more efficiently and are easier to quickly scale.

The next challenge, though, lies optimizing the performance of these pages. And that involves a whole other set lessons, to be discussed in a future post. In the meantime, look for a more about this year’s project very, very soon.