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WaSP's Fresh Buzz: Fixing Javascript

The Web Standards Project -- a sort of volunteer enforcer wing for the W3C -- is back on the beat. And they're got one tough job on their hands: to let Web developers use "Javascript" and "standards" in the same sentence.

The Web Standards Project is at it again, bless their agitated little hearts. The group has functioned since 1998 as a sort of volunteer enforcer wing of the W3C: you can pretty much picture them standing around cracking their knuckles and drawling, do what Tim Berners-Lee says and we won't hafta hurt youse, got it? Despite struggling to regain relevancy in the wake of the browser wars, these gadflies for justice haven't given up; they're launching new attacks on several fronts, fighting for web accessibility, unobtrusive DOM scripting, and better standards support in Microsoft Visual Studio and ASP.NET. And this time it's personal!

I tease, but I do so with respect. I'm sufficiently obsessive myself that I won't allow a WYSIWYG generator anywhere near my personal websites; they're hand-coded all the way, baby, with fluid columns and CSS rollovers instead of rigid tables and nasty JavaScript, and every page run through the W3C's markup validator service. I even went far enough to make sure the sites render properly in Amaya, the W3C's own relentlessly stringent editor/browser.

If you've never viewed the Web through Amaya, it's probably worth a shot, just to see what the world looks like to a W3C stalwart. It looks, in a word, broken. Many pages aren't even readable, and as far as most interactive content goes, fahgettaboudit. If this is how they see the Web, it's no wonder that the WaSP folks talk about the Internet in near-apocalyptic terms. "Most of the Web remains a Balkanized mess of non–valid markup, unstructured documents yoked to outdated presentational hacks, and incompatible code fragments that leave many millions of web users frustrated and disenfranchised," the WaSP site complains. "W3C standards, supported in all popular browsers, are the only means of ensuring that the sites you build today will work for all—today and tomorrow. If not now, when? If not you, who?"

They're a wee bit shrill, it's true. But their message, beneath the reproachful tone, is one of hope. Take the JavaScript Manifesto that launched WaSP's new DOM Scripting Task Force. In it, Peter-Paul Koch writes: "Many talented front end developers, especially those who are standards-aware and work with CSS a lot, are afraid of JavaScript, both because it's a programming language and because of the many mistakes made in JavaScript's history. Unobtrusive thinking will remove these ancient fears by making JavaScript fall in line with the rest of the standards compliant techniques. JavaScript belongs in the bag of tricks every web developer should carry."

WaSP isn't crusading against JavaScript; it's out to redeem the language by creating a set of guidelines and best practices. That's helpful work that will benefit many, many web designers. Heck, maybe when they're done I'll be able to replace those CSS rollovers without shame.

I just wonder—will it work in Amaya?

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