David Emberton on Web Standard

Have you ever had an experience of reading an article that makes your blood boil? I have just received my June 2004 issue of APC magazin yesterday, and apparently one reader felt this way. Garry Buckle from Perth said:

David Emberton made my blood boil by arguing that Web standards are big, dumb and don't work (APC April, page 26).

The original article written by David Emberton, can be found online - "The Word Wide Web is Not Enough". In it, Emberton has boldly asked,

Web standards. They're big, dumb, and they don't work. Yet, they persist. Why?

Later, he compared the people who advocated web standards to communist radicals, who would brainwash everybody to push something that is subjectively more efficient. He then points the gun at W3C, its web standards, and their followers. Some of his interesting remarks:

... Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are a classic example of the madness.

... While XHTML and CSS have been at least moderately successful, many other W3C recommendations have failed to gain any traction. It's these lesser creations like SMIL, MathML and SVG that really demonstrate the flaws in the group-think process. Not to mention the 20 other projects that no-one even discusses.

... Spend time reading A List Apart, and you'll soon get the impression that accessibility is bigger than cancer, and we're all about to go blind and lose our mouse-bearing limbs. The solution? Web standards!

When I first read the printed version 2 months ago, I was going to respond with some comments. However due to the lag of the on-line version, which is usually a few weeks behind the printed magazine, I forgot and did not bother afterwards. Until I read Buckle's rebuke yesterday.

Buckle replied:

His (David Emberton's) reasons for hating CSS?

  • You need a degree to understand them.
  • Microsoft doesn't care about them.
  • They suck.

My rebuttal:

  • Any Web developer worth their salt will understand why CSS is important, will know it makes Web page development easier, and will make it a professional mission to muster enough IQ points to understand them.
  • Microsoft doesn't like anything that doesn't benefit Microsoft.
  • No, Mr Emberton, you do. Your demonstrated reasoning ability isn't worthy of publication.

Garry, I whole heartily agree with what you have said! On the comment regarding Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft might not care (i.e. in their best interest trying to comply) about anything that does not benefit them, but in the case of CSS, they too have to bow down to the standard. Do people actually consider that Internet does not equal to Microsoft? To be part of the playground, every kid needs to conform to a rule. So is Microsoft. However, Microsoft does care about its market share, and in fact they are a member of the W3C group working with the web standards very closely. While Internet Explorer 6's compliance is still something to be desired, I am certain that Microsoft is working hard to make the next version of IE even more conformed to the latest standard out there, in order to compete against Mozilla, Opera and Safari. Microsoft cares about their market share and their dominance, why shouldn't you?

But David Emberton fights back. He responded:

This proves my point about certain "standards" being promoted through emotional arm-twisting, as opposed to their merits. But I will say this: two top-heavy, anti-competitive wrongs do not make a right, and the W3C is (in spirit) as much about monolithic control as Microsoft ever has been. They're little more than rival dictatorships, in my opinion.

Not only did Emberton correlate W3C with communist radicals, he is now making it to the very top of control-freak league, together with Microsoft. Meanwhile, there is still no good argument that why web standards are bad. Because of its anti-competitive rival dictatorship? Then, where are the competitions? Who are the rivals?

From Emberton's original article, he said:

But now I'm fed up. I want the browser wars back. I want to use Flash* and PDF (you know, technologies that work) without being accused of bourgeois elitism.

* The emphasis is mine. We need to understand who David Emberton is so that we can understand his argument. According to APC Magazine,

David Emberton is a professional Web developer, author of Flash 4 Magic and Flash 5 Magic, and regular APC contributor.

David Emberton has also been contributing regularly in ActionScript.com, a site dedicated to scripting language behind Flash. With such background, you should not be surprised to see him arguing against the web standard advocates, who have been policing the websites to make them moving away from complicated table layouts and fancy "user-agent unfriendly" scripts. Because of these web standards, HTML pages today has became more "content-driven". Web designers are encouraged to think in data-centric views, looking at HTML as a piece of document, and writing code (CSS) around the data to transform it to be presentable. This is exactly what HTML was designed for in the first place - a hyperlink mark up language for text documents! The philosophy is very different from Shockwave/Flash, whose purpose is to display interactive objects and vector graphics inside a text document. It is just plain silly to use nothing but Flash to craft a information-driven site. The same can be said to PDF. Different document types were designed for different purposes. I do not see how Flash and PDF are in inferior position competing against W3C's web standards, unless they are trying to do what they were not designed to do.

At the end, Emberton needs to learn why W3C is pushing XHTML. When any web developer worth their salt will understand why CSS is important, you need to ask yourself why people think this way, instead of just shouting out "too hard!" "MS doesn't care" "they suck" without convincing arguments to justify your opinions.

At the same time, I felt quite disappointed that APC Mag actually published his original article and his reply to Garry Buckle's rebuttal. Defending someone who rants and shouts because he cannot understand the future? APC has certainly lost my respect.