Open standards in the web sites

Preface

This section of the manual will introduce you to using open standards in a web site.

Open Standards and Internet

Open standards are standards which are freely available for people to read and implement. If a standard describes some technology that requires licensing some patents, it cannot be considered open, even if its text is freely availabe. Open standards create a fair, competitive environment, encourages competition between vendors, and thus create an advantage to the consumer.

Open technologies were essential to the Internet's popularity, and allowed them to conquer the competing proprietary technologies. This openness created a global Internet hardware, software and service market. Computer/information networks that existed before the spread of the Internet either switched to the Internet technologies (MSN, AOL), or got extinct (Compuserve).

Domination of open standards enables the user to freely choose email server and client software, web servers, browsers and ignore the interoperability issues.

Open standards of the WWW

HTTP appeared in the early 1990-s as a collection of informal standards. It was standardised by W3C in 1995 as HTML 2.0. The standard has quite limited features by modern-day standards.

During the ensuing "browser wars", Netscape and Microsoft competed by adding unique features to their browsers, which resulted in divergent dialects of HTML and major incompatibilities among the leading browsers. Most of the features added by the browser vendors were geared at making visual effects easier available, but that was not in line with the original idea of HTML

There were attempts to reconcile the differences by releasing the HTTP 3.2 and HTTP 4.0 standards. The currently relevant standards, HTTP 4.01, and XHTML 1.1, promote separation of content and presentation, but still allow exact and visually intensive designs by providing the style information in a CSS document.

Why bother with standards compliance on WWW?

The main function of municipal web sites is information dissemination, so maximum accessibility is important. Open standards will ensure the website is accessible to disabled people using speech generators or Braille terminals. Additionally, the standards-compliant website will be easily accessable via smartphones, indexable by search systems, available to automated tools extracting information from the web site.

Open standards provide equal opportunities to the users, as they do not lock in to any particular vendor. Additionally, a standards compliant web site will be more future proof, as the standards will be supported in the future, and the web sites employing non-standard features of the contemporary browsers can have to be correted. The change of the technologies is so swift that these changes might be needed in several months.

Testing standards conformance of LT and LV municipal web sites

The 60 Lithuanian municipal web sites were tested for compliance with open standards. There was just one (http://www.prienai.lt/) which has some parts compliant with HTTP and CSS specifications. 6 sites used a standards-compliant CSS stylesheet.

Out of the 30 Latvian municipal web sites tested, none used valid HTML, 7 used standards-compliant CSS, and 13 used CSS which was standards-compliant, but elicited warnings from the validator.

These results are alarming, even more so considering that most of the web sites were created by contract by companies specialising in web technologies. This means that contractors of municipalities did an unacceptable job. Municipalities should require standards compliance from contractors creating their web sites.