How to look like an asshole

A week or so ago, I made a post on Amputate, a message board for Utah-based designers that I discovered via a post on Cameron Moll’s website. In this post, I asked the following: How do you compromise between web standards and clients with out-dated browsers? I had dealt with a long exchange with my business partner on the subject, and I wanted to know if people just ignored standards, or if they whole heartily embraced them, or maybe something in between. It was a rather innocent post; I was just looking to see if anyone had advice like “well, I try to do X and Y as often as I can, but at very least always do Z.” It started off in the right direction, to a certain extent. A few people talked about transitional doctypes, but questioned my use of XHTML when I “wasn’t using XML.” (I won’t go into the “because XHTML is the standard, and not just something you use when doing a project with XML data” arguement). One pointed me the direction of some great articles on teaching clients about standards and why they are important. I then decided to post my thoughts on perhaps using php to serve up a special version of sites just for Netscape 4, and a compliant version for everyone else, until we could see who actually used the non-compliant browsers, and if they were actually needed. It was an idea, for which I was questioned “why go to the trouble” and “is there something you can do with CSS positioning that you can’t do with tables?” To which, I responded as such:

Oh, I just tend to want to follow the purpose of certain types of markup. Tables are meant for tabular data, rather than positioning. I guess I’m mostly concerned about alternate browsing methods… people with screen readers, text only browsers, etc. Hell, even enlarging the text on a lot of table based sites screws up their layout. I want to use things how they are meant to be used. I’m well aware that there are transitional doctypes, et al, but while that still validates on W3C’s validators, it doesn’t make it what I’m going for… accessible. You know… separation of style, content, and structure. But maybe I’ve been reading too much of A List Apart.

Reasonable enough, right? I thought so. Well, after one encouraging remark about teaching the importance of standards to clients (from someone who had worked with the same type of clients as I am in my new company), things went all haywire. One user decided to take it upon himself to tell me I’m living “in a happy, fantasy land,” calling people who believe in standards “ccs [sic] positioning nazis.” He went on to state that if I were to try anything aside from a “text heavy” site with CSS, I’d be pulling out my hair as to why “it works in ie, but not modzilla [sic] or not on a mac. Or why it doesn’t work at all.” Looking back, I kind of want to scream “Uh, that’s why you learn how it works!” but in retrospect, that may just make things worse.

One of the only people who really got what I was asking was Blake Scarbrough, who proceeded to encourage me to stay the course of Standards… that I would be better off for it in the end. He even came to bat against the “well, Netscape makes up 5% of my employers market!” cries. I responded to Blake’s help, saying that I totally agreed, but I’d tried those angles with my partner and got nowhere. Then he and a few of the “my demographics say this” crowd returned volleys for a while. In my view, his points made the most sense, but that shows you where I stand.

Things seemed somewhat friendly (most of these people knew each other) but the temperature was rising a bit. Then one user made a post about his situation, and went into his opinions on a few things, but stating them in a manner as to make them seem factual (possibly not by intention). I had to say something (a fault of mine) when I knew some of the things simply were not true. To whit:

  1. Government contractor: Government contractors are supposed to follow section 508 guidelines. IE, accessibility. http://section508.gov/
  2. WYSIWYG editors, Contribute, etc.: The major players in visual editing (Dreamweaver, GoLive) have been writing compliant code for the past few versions (so says jeffrey zeldman, and I tend to believe him). Contribute, also a Macromedia product, should not alter the compliant code that Dreamweaver wrote (this is the whole idea behind Contribute, to allow content to be updated without affecting the structure).
  3. Hours getting CSS positioning to work: funny, all the css positioned pages I’ve done have taken much less time or effort than table layouts (mainly in the debugging stage… If current techniques are used and you understand the limitations and workarounds necessary for certain browers (IE 5, for example), css debugging is very simple. Tables, however, behave bizarrely in many different browsers – in window resizes, with iframes, in user-end text enlargement, etc.).
  4. Browsers have their differences: Yes. They always have, simply because different people are writing different rendering engines. Some care about getting most of it right (you can’t do everything at once… especially when standards are continually evolving), while others (rhymes with Licrosoft) tend to avoid making changes unless they feel threatened or need a new “feature.” I, too, hate the box model problems with IE, the lack of support of alpha transparency in PNGs in IE, the lack of a properly implemented min-height attribute in Safari, etc. But we deal with these things, and get creative. Just like before we had CSS, we had to position things via tables… but now that we can use CSS to position, we can abandon old hacks.
  5. Seeing the bigger picture: Funny, I would think that uniform code, accessible sites for everyone, and standards are the big picture. The whole idea is making things easier for eveyone. Sometimes things have to be hard for a little while to make it a lot easier in the end.

I finished up with a rather sugary speech on everyone just at least trying to make this work. Yes, it was a bit emblazoned and a lot more partisan than my initial intent for the thread. This is what happens when I get fired up. Some people think it’s condescending of me, but I feel I have the right to defend ideas and people that can’t exactly “join in the conversation.” And often I look like an asshole, regardless of whether I’m right or wrong.

The next thing I know, the said user comes back with an extremely sarcastic rebuttal, proclaiming in “Wo is me!” fashion that I am right and that they have seen the error of their ways. Which ticked me off a bit, but I tried to diffuse the situation by commenting on the sarcasm (a tool I’m well acquainted with) and offering to go get a Fanta with him. Another user noticed how heated things were and accurately commented on how it was “time to play the usability game sweeping fannies across the globe ‘Who Has The Bigger BUG Up His Ass?!'” I had simply become a bit passionate (like ya do), and thus came off a jerk. The user had just come back with childish guns blazing, and thus become a jerk.

Having stayed out of the conversation during the parts where people actually had some clue as to what they were talking about, Mr. “CCS nazi” came back and “questioned” (I use quotations because I don’t find statements such as these to be questions, but more of statements of condemnation) me on why I even “pose[d] the question, when it’s obvious [I] already have [my] mind made up before [I] even posted it[.]” I took a chance to try and explain that I am a passionate person, and while I may come off as a jerk, I’m not trying to be one. I explained why I posted the thread (as mentioned before, to try and gain some insight on how to deal with clients in regard to standards). I didn’t want to sour the users of a message board against me (another fault of mine… I want to me liked).

I thought it was over. I thought wrong. Our friend, the misspelling commenter on all things, retorted that the thread was pointless, that I was just trying to start an argument or something. He then stated that in 5 WHOLE YEARS (!!!) of doing web work, he had never had a client who “knew what the WYSIWYG [sic] standards were and wanted to comply.” Hell, I’ve never heard of “WYSIWYG standards” myself. WYSIWYG… hmm… oh, wait… you must mean W3C, or perhaps WaSP? Unfortunately, it’s not just a case of one miss-typed entry. Our friend has taken it upon himself to make reference to my thread, making snide remarks about “WYSIWYG standards”, or, more accurately “any browser will do, prefibly [sic] one that is WYNYSYC compliant?” I guess that is an attempt to be clever, but unfortunately it just calls up the fact that this guy has no idea what the hell he’s talking about. [Opinionated Bastard stepping in…] Stick to drawing pictures and designing your sites in FrontPage, you condescending twit [/O-Bastard out]. I haven’t bothered retorting in the thread, because, really, it wouldn’t get me anywhere, except to make me look like more of an asshole to the people of the site, some of whom, at some point, I may have to work with. It’s like that adage about arguing with fools (also heard it used with lawyers): “Don’t do it. It’s like wrestling with a pig. You both end up rolling in the mud, except the pig enjoys it.”

From Mezzoblue is a voice of reason. In regards to the “Standards don’t work”/”Standards MUST work” debates, comes this bit-o-wisdom: “Can we all just shut up and start listening to each other please?” Instead of arguing, how about the people who know how to make things work spend the time they spent arguing making a write-up answering the hidden concerns of the anti-standards folks (or more appropriately, the ones who just don’t know how to make it work yet), showing them HOW TO DO IT. I try my best to offer insights into how I make this site work, look somewhat decent (I won’t toot my horn and say it looks awesome) and still be standards compliant and accessible. Looking back over my posts in the said thread, I believe I made my posts in the best spirit I could, and yet some people still choose to tear me to bits. I guess sometimes it is better (to quote Mark Twain) “to keep one’s mouth shut and appear a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”