word & image
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 -
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.)
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
• 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
• 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.
scripting language (developed by the European Computer
Manufacturers Association) that can be used to influence
the display/behaviour of web pages.
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.
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
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 -
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 IBM.com"
7 ensure that the site is easy to use
8 update the content, as visitors assign more
credibility to sites that are 'live' or appear to be
9 use restraint with promotional content,
clearly distinguish sponsored content and avoid pop-up
10 avoid errors such as typos and broken
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