UK government demonstrates lack of comprehension of web standards

The UK government’s Central Office of Information (COI) has produced a draft report on governmental departments' adherence to browser standards and asked for feedback. Depressingly, the report is not available in a web friendly format even though there's no real reason for it to be only released as Word and PDF.

You can read a breakdown of the worst bits on The Web Standards Project, but here's the feedback I just emailed


I appreciate the COI's desire to provide roadmaps for cross-browser support, but I'm otherwise dismayed at the recent publication's back-to-front emphasis regarding browser standards support. It feels like the publication has been put together by people who are remote from the current thinking on web standards and how best to both promote them and take advantage of them.

As a web developer I've had a reasonable amount of experience in developing sites cross-browser, and generally the quickest and cheapest site creation (and the least patronising or inconveniencing to the eventual end users) is effected by developing first on the most standards-compliant browser available, regardless of its user base. Then, once the site is stable and well-built according to the standards (which are there for reasons other than semantic fussiness), one can use *freely* *available* frameworks to compensate for browsers which do not follow the standards (which may be more popular). It involves more effort at the start in exchange for a much smoother site construction later on.

Let me repeat that: building sites according to web standards, then accommodating bad browser behaviour, is CHEAPER, QUICKER and MORE ROBUST than what you implicitly propose i.e. building with bad-but-popular browsers in mind, and then looking at shoe-horning in browser-specific fixes for the others.

If you inconvenience the users of good browsers because there aren't many of them, you are taking us back to the bad old days of 1990s browsing. I haven't seen the phrase "We advise you to upgrade your browser version" (which I take verbatim from p4 of your report) on any site I respect and trust for almost ten years. Ask any decent web developer: it's no longer necessary, and frankly it reveals far more about the mindset of the site designers than about the state of web technology.

Like the proposal's guidelines, its consultation is happening the wrong way round, and highlights a top-down mentality behind composing such documents. Sharp, savvy developers recruited from any of the vibrant UK web conferences---dConstruct, OpenTech, Barcamps---would have been glad to have helped the COI out before this fundamental missing of the point was published, were they to have been asked. It would certainly have saved both COI and the web community at large a lot of heat, friction and wasted effort.

Yours faithfully,

J-P Stacey

PS: I was originally going to send this via your website's feedback form. After having read your proposals for building good sites I decided to email it instead, just in case.

You've got a month to comment yourself, if you're a UK or European developer. Feel free to use the above template, only I'd recommend changing the name at the bottom.