I don’t think many of my readers are designers, so many of you haven’t read Alex Russell’s “The W3C Cannot Save Us” yet. I stumbled across it this morning – in short, it argues that because browsers have been taught to follow web standards instead of innovating, and because web standards are created by bureaucratic ‘working groups’ that move quite slowly, innovation has slowed to a crawl. (Innovation being enhancements to CSS / HTML / DOM itself, not what’s being built on them.) Alex also argues that it’s the browsers themselves that have the power to truly innovate – the W3C has authority, but can’t build a rendering engine – and that they need to be encouraged to build non-standard features. In short, a return to the ‘browser wars’. Fascinating. I’m still sorting through the fallout. (See here and here for counterarguments.)
Obviously I’ve got no informed opinion, so I won’t give one, but I smell parallels with the only standards body I’ve had any experience with – the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The IAB sets standards, but it moves slowly, and it tends to codify what already exists in the marketplace. For ad-related businesses, supporting IAB standards is a very safe choice. Lots of parties on all sides will be ready to work with you. Without standards, some businesses – like the one that pays my bills – wouldn’t even exist. But at the same time, vendors are constantly innovating, developing non-standard advertisements – despite all the pain involved in creating a market from scratch. From these innovations emerge successes which get imitated elsewhere, eventually become de facto standards, and then get codified by the slowly-moving IAB. Just how it should be.