Happy Ending With(out) Standards

Media Farm creates an inaccessible and invalid site and calls it a “Successful Standards-Based Migration.”

A recent case study on Netscape’s DevEdge details a “standards-based” overhaul of the NYU Stern School of Business’ Executive Programs site by the web design firm Media Farm. What it fails to mention is that, due to their goal of giving users of version 4 browsers the full experience of the site, Media Farm essentially placed the site’s content in a pile of meaningless structure glued in place by CSS, only accessible via graphical browsers.

Here is a simulation of the front page viewed with Lynx, a fully-capable HTML browser without CSS capabilities (this might be a decent representation of how the site will render on a mobile phone or PDA). What’s immediately noticeable is the lack of alt attributes on images, but also general structure. A look at the markup reveals 0 headings, 0 paragraphs, 69 images and 86 table-cells! The W3C states “content developers must not sacrifice appropriate markup because a certain browser or assuasive technology does not process it correctly,” and that is what Media Farm has done. Navigator 4, in particular, simply cannot style a well-structured document to the requirements of the site’s visual layout, so they used meaningless DIV and SPAN elements to replace headings and paragraphs and to hold tag-soup layout tables in position. Although the use of CSS to replace some presentational HTML is certainly a step in the right direction, there is still need for meaningful structure in a document, especially if you are claiming to author according to standards!

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