Acting locally

After an e-mail discussion with W3 staff people (Olivier, author of [LOCAL-ACTION], and Karl and his [WEB-QUALITY] article), web came to the conclusion that sharing my experience with Web standards promotion could help other people replicating and/or adapting the French projects I have been participating to in their respective countries and regions.

Challenges in Web Standards Evangelism

Web Standards are here, documented, implemented in modern Web browsers, but many developers, around the world, seem to ignore that fact. They also seem to ignore that Web Standards bring a lot to the table in terms of accessibility, ease of maintenance and coding.

Why are Web standards so little known in non-English-speaking regions of the world? The answer is complex, but here are a few takes:

Basically, it comes down to marketing and education: specifications are well done, but surely need evangelists to make them accessible to the average developer who may not have the patience to learn how to read specification in English, but may want to read easy-to-understand, ready-to-use documentation in his mother tongue.

In this article, I'll detail what efforts have been put together in France / French-speaking par of the world to promote Web standards, in the hope that it can be useful to other regions. The English speaking world is an exception in this sense, as there is already quite documentation and therefore awareness of the problem, while in other places, English is not well read, so bad habits tend to stick longer because lack of information.

You're not alone

Taking over the task of promoting Web standards in a given country can be exhausting. Actually, it may not even be doable by a single person (wait, maybe in the Vatican ;-) Therefore, the first thing to do is to find other people, speaking the same language, having the same willing to help the Web move to the next step. How could you achieve that?

Open-source and Free Software associations

Such assocations are concerned by Web standards and are active in discouraging the monopoly of a single browser; they care about Web standards because of their inherent interoperability. Contacting such local associations could help you in your gathering of contributors to the effort you are undertaking. Also, such associations can help you in hosting a common tool for contact. See below.

Meetup service

The MeetUp service enables you to physically meet up with other people around a cup of coffee and some common interest. In our case, the Web Standards meetup is probably the best choice, while the Web Design meetup is also interesting.

Usenet Newsgroups and Website forums

Usenet newsgroups and Web forums dedicated to authoring and browsers can be a nice place to prospect for fellow web developers that may have an interest for W3C standards.

Getting Started

Once you have met (in real life or online) these people who share the same interest, the more difficult is to unify those people, and to come up with a plan. What we did in Paris (France), was to make an inventory of existing or burgeoning projects. Then people around the room were asked to which project they would like to participate, and what would be the boundaries of each project, so that we eliminate work replication as much as we could. After that, we came up with a mean of discussing together our common efforts, which was basically an existing mailing-list. You may also consider using a Wiki, on top of the mailing list.

Various projects to bridge the gap between the Consortium and Web developers

Here is a summary of the projects we have started or reactivated at that occasion:

Translating US content

There is a very significant amount of material already available in English that can be leveraged. Either as an individual or a group, you can start translating some of this content

Providing technical, Standards-based tutorials

While it may currently exist several resources for Web developers to learn HTML, most of those are promoting development techniques inherited for the last century, making extensive use of tables, GIF-spacers and font-tag-based design. After quite some effort, it has not been possible --at least in France-- to convince people who manage these resources to upgrade their content to teach standards-based design. Therefore, a dozen volunteers (from a French Usenet Newsgroup) has started creating some content that would teach that. The resulting effort, named OpenWeb, is aimed at 4 different audiences:

  1. Decision-makers (how can standards can benefit my company),
  2. Beginners (how do I create a Web page),
  3. Experienced developers (how do I use standards to be better at my job), and
  4. Gurus, who already know the specs by heart, but are willing to learn more of bleeding edge Web design

While it has been exhausting to build this Web site (professional-level design, XSLT-based backend, currently more than 60 articles), it was surely and exhilarating experience, which has taught a lot to each of us, leveraging each other's experience with all the technologies involved. Furthermore, creating original content is very rewarding. Creating such a site shows that it is possible to create a very good-looking, real-life-sized site, and challenged existing HTML-teaching Web sites to upgrade their content.

Helping Web developers switching to standards

While Web developers now have some technical tutorials about Web standards, they also need assistance while teaching themselves these new techniques. It may prove itself difficult, because one often tries to replicate with CSS old table-based techniques. In many cases, discussing his/her problem with more experienced developers, the person will find the experience more rewarding. Such experience sharing can be done on Usenet newsgroups, Web site forums or mailing lists. For example, OpenWeb contributors often participate to FCIW.auteurs and FCIW.navigateurs Usenet groups, the Pompeurs mailing list, and other web site forums.

Contacting Webmasters owning incompatible Web sites

Because of a chicken-and-egg situation, incompatible Web sites have the tendency to remain incompatible over time with modern, alternative browsers. Why is that? Because standards-compliant browser users avoid these services. Therefore, the alternative browsers do not look significant in terms of marketshare when the webmasters looks at the site's statistics. While users of such services should take the initiative of contacting these Websites, an existing association, such as the open-source association mentioned before, can be of great help. Because they represent many users at ounce, they do have more impact when they contact Web sites. Very interesting progress has been made in this field in France by the AFUL/APRIL Interop project. It is to be noticed that a similar endeavor is being done by the Mozilla Technology Evangelism project, which may be used to unify efforts in a global manner.

Leveraging Accessibility policies

As new policies about people with disabilities are made, Web Content Accessibility is becoming a major challenge for big web sites in many countries. Webmasters suddenly realize that their existing sites are far from being accessible. By design, Web standards may help a lot in achieving accessibility. Showing the relationship between Web standards and accessibility may be a way to get attention from large private or governmental Web sites. For this very reason, the OpenWeb project has a section on accessibility and is itself accessible.

Creating buzz

With the fast-growing number of blog-tools, it has now become very easy to publish information on the Web. Creating your own blog on Web development based on W3C standards is also an interesting way to share your knowledge and progress in this field. It also helps raising awareness about modern browsers, and recent techniques for Web design. If you consider starting a Web log, then talking about Web standards could be the excuse you have been waiting for, just make sure your blog is standards-compliant, and even accessible!

Promoting modern browsers

This last point may sound a bit off-topic, but promoting modern, standards-comformant browser also helps the cause of web standards. They tend to offer better standard conformance than other older browsers, along with very useful tools for the developers, such as Mozilla's DOM-Inspector and JS-Debugger. In our case, we chose to translate the Mozilla documentation into French, while other groups translated the application itself or the news around the project.


By applying all the means described before, the Web standards evangelism in France has made very significant progress these last two years. Victory over proprietary coding practices cannot be claimed yet, but the future is definitively brighter than before, and continuing this evangelism effort is needed to ensure that the Web will be able to pass to the next level. To achieve this, a few things have been instrumental in making progress:

By adapting what is being done in french speaking regions of the world, you may make some impact in your region. It will be hard, very demanding in terms of time investment, technically challenging, but the outcome may be immensely rewarding, as you realize that in your region, Web developers start using modern techniques and produce accessible, compliant web sites.