Founders of the Web Standards Project take a hiatus

After three years of working with Web browser makers to create standards that would improve Web browsing for users, the organizers of the grassroots Web Standards Project are taking a hiatus to recharge their energy before taking on the next part of their crusade.

In an announcement on its Web site, the group said it's taking some time off after being successful in working with browser makers, including Netscape Communications Corp. and Microsoft Corp., to introduce standards that allow Web developers to build sites that can be viewed properly in any browser.

Starting next year, after some time to reflect on its past, the group will begin its next mission -- a focus on Web designers to get them to adhere to the standards, said Jeffrey Zeldman, group leader and co-founder of the project. "We need to find ways to persuade clients and developers that the Web's future is based on standards," he said.

In a message posted on their site, the group said that "browser makers are no longer the problem. The problem lies with designers and developers [who have] ... nary a thought for document structure, open standards, separation of structure from presentation or the long-term durability and viability of Web documents."

The problem, according to the group, is that as new technologies allow new access to Web content, Web designers must keep pace so that their sites can function on a wireless device, Web phone or even a Braille reader.

"We [originally] focused on the browser makers," Zeldman said in an interview from his New York home. "They were the ones we needed to persuade."

But with that battle finished, the group is taking "a gentle leave of absence," according to the message posted on its site.

"It's like we just had a baby and we're going to spend a little time at home with our baby" before returning to their mission of "standards evangelism," Zeldman said. "It's like the Mafia -- you really can't quit."

None of the browsers used today are perfect, he said, but they now do a much better job of recognizing the standard languages used in the coding of Web pages. "That's what we asked them to do and they're doing it," he said.

The group was created in 1998 to work toward standards that would make Web browsing easier for users who all too often ran into incompatibilities between sites and their chosen browsers.

"Millions of users all the time are constantly reaching sites they can't view," Zeldman said. "You shouldn't have difficulty viewing a Web site."

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