Web Standards Don't Matter (As much as you think) 11 January, 2007 — Stuart Brown
Rules are supposed to be broken...
W3C. Valid XHTML. Valid CSS2. Ring any bells? If you're learning web design, or even if you have a passing interest, then some standards evangelist has probably told you how everything should be marked up semantically and to current standard definitions set by arbitrary organisations. It's just the way things should be done. But here's what they don't let on - standards don't really matter at all.
Controversial? Perhaps. But the standards set out by organisations like W3C are defined for the general better good of the web, so shouldn't we follow them to the letter? Perhaps not.
Obsessing over semantically correct markup is fruitless when 99.99%+ of your users will still see everything correctly. A missing closing slash on a tag will not cause the world to end - it will go unnoticed by everyone, except perhaps for a few standards zealots. In some instances, circumstances will force you to break validation. Some of these instances are acceptable, as long as they don't negatively impact user experience. Google.com doesn't validate - I suspect it never has - so lack of W3C validation isn't the kiss of death some zealots would lead you to believe.
The key issue is, and always has been, user experience. If you can satisfy the usability needs of 100% of your users, yet your code doesn't validate, then arguably you need do no more. One might consider future upgrades and developments in the web over the coming years, some of which may break badly constructed code, but in all honesty problems such as these are seldom, and it may be many years before problems develop - but you've plenty of time in between to update markup should a problem arise.
I'm not condoning the use of bad code here at all, nor am I for encouraging lackadaisical markup. Mistakes in code and markup are inevitable, though, and some may slip through unnoticed if they produce no visible effects. Simply put, the time and effort expended in trawling through code for the sole purpose of making it W3C compliant may - in the long term - be fruitless, should the validation error have no visible side effects.
A moderate approach, then, of balancing time invested in marking up XHTML and that spend 'debugging' it should be advised - zealotry accomplishes nothing but a collection of smug faces and a collection of 'XHTML 1.1 Compliant' bylines.
Here's the hard truth: your users don't care about XHTML, they care about how your site appears. If you want to be a better web designer, separating Valid XHTML and accessibility & usability is key. While Compliant XHTML is one of the tools used on the way to usability, it is neither the destination nor the sole tool in your armoury. Use it wisely.
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