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section heading icon     standards, questions and terminology

This page looks at standards, one of the more contentious aspects of the web. It also highlights some guidelines about online credibility.

It covers -

subsection heading icon     accessibility

Will your site be visited by people with hearing, sight or other disabilities (around 25% of the population, according to some studies)? 

Or by visitors in regional Australia, often equipped with older browsers or who choose text-only access because of connection times/costs?

Irrespective of legal requirements such as the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act highlighted
here, it's good sense to ensure your site is accessible.

We've provided a detailed guide on accessibility. It explores the impact of Australian legislation and highlights tools and emerging standards. (Pointers to Australian and overseas anti-discrimination legislation are here.)

subsection heading icon     other standards

Are there global standards regarding the design of sites and their display on browsers or other tools?

The answer, as with much standards development, is that depends.

• HTML 4.0 - is the final version of HTML prior to XML. It features support for Cascading Style Sheets and frames, improved page management and more functional tables.

• Extensible HTML (XHTML) - is a reformulation of HTML as an XML application. The extensibility is meant to facilitate future improvements in web-page design and defines several levels of markup complexity to assist access by handheld devices.

• XML 1.0 - uses tags to describe a document’s content, in contrast to HTML which broadly describes the way a document appears. XML is thus a meta-language that allows user communities to establish their own agreed-upon metadata sets and forms the basis for the semantic web.

• Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) - the current versions are CSS 1 and 2 - offer some control over how browsers display pages, including the separation of data from presentation formats to simplifying the porting of pages to non-PC-based viewers such as handheld devices.

• Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) - still under consideration, is also intended to enable a separation of style from content using a language for transforming XML documents, and an XML vocabulary for specifying formatting semantics. Unlike CSS, XSL will let developers specify the way web pages are printed and will let users transfer XML documents across applications.

• Document Object Model (DOM) - is an object-programming scheme that enables developers create and modify HTML and XML documents as program objects. DOM provides greater programming control over documents and, by hiding data within objects, helps limit who can manipulate web pages.Dynamic HTML uses DOM to dynamically change the appearance of Web pages on a user’s browser.

• ECMAScript - is a non-W3C JavaScript-based object-oriented scripting language (developed by the European Computer Manufacturers Association) that can be used to influence the display/behaviour of web pages.

An Australian e-learning group offered a report on standards for online presentation of course material (PDF). If you like a buzz from the left, check out The Wasp at The Web Standards Project (a coalition of designers and developers "Fighting for Standards in our Browsers"). 

US metrics group StatMarket reports that, as of February 2001, Microsoft's Internet Explorer had 87.71% of the world browser market (defined as "the percentage of people using a particular browser). Netscape had a 12.01% share, with other browsers such as Opera occupying the remaining market space. Nestscape's share had declined from around 33% in February 1999. By August 2002 StatMarket argued that Netscape's share was down to 3.39%, Microsoft's IE had 95.97% and 'Other' browsers an aggregate 0.64%.

The significance of browser standards is gaining increasing recognition. Different browsers display information differently and Explorer for example has been 'optimised' to display websites built with Microsoft products.

Marcus Maher's 1998 paper An Analysis of Internet Standardization offers a legal perspective on connectivity standards. There is a broader exploration in Martin Sloan's 2001 Journal of Information, Law & Technology paper.

subsection heading icon     terminology

Many of the books and sites highlighted on preceding pages of this guide (and in the Accessibility guide) include definitions of online design terms, often illustrated with online examples.

The Argus design group has published a succinct Information Architecture Glossary (PDF) that is one of the better standalone explanations of the lingo.

subsection heading icon     credibility

The Online Consumers guide elsewhere on this site highlights studies about trust and credibility. The Stanford University Persuasive Technology Laboratory for example proposed a set of Web Credibility Guidelines in mid 2002 -

1 assist visitors to verify the accuracy of information on the site by providing third-party support (citations and source material) for information, especially through links to that evidence. "Even if people don't follow these links, you've shown confidence in your material."

2 indicate that there is a real organisation behind the site by listing a physical address, featuring a photo of offices or listing a membership

3 highlight the expertise in the organisation and its services by identifying credentials and affiliations

4 indicate that trustworthy people stand behind the site through for example photos and biographies of real people

5 make it easy to contact the site operator by providing ready access to information such as phone and fax numbers, a physical address and email

6 as Stanford puts it, "Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose)" since many people quickly evaluate a site by visual design although "not all sites gain credibility by looking like"

7 ensure that the site is easy to use and pertinent

8 update the content, as visitors assign more credibility to sites that are 'live' or appear to be recently reviewed

9 use restraint with promotional content, clearly distinguish sponsored content and avoid pop-up ads

10 avoid errors such as typos and broken links.

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version of October 2002
© Bruce Arnold