In early October I was lucky enough to spend some time in China talking to web professionals and students alike about web standards and their current status. It was an interesting couple of weeks that really opened my eyes to what the challenges are when following best practices. What hit me most is that those who support standards are a small and often isolated voice with little or no resources in Chinese to help back up or explain why we need standards and what the benefits are. Here I give a broad overview of what I learnt, challenges and hopefully some ideas of how we can help improve things.
Please do leave a comment if you have any suggestions, thought or insights. I’d also like to expand on the list of resources below so if you have any then post links and I will update the list.
In the main those drivers that we see supporting web standards in some European countries, Australia and the States almost act as the opposite in China. There is no legal requirement to make your website accessible and market forces don’t seem to provide a significant enough push. Market forces is an interesting one. I’ve long held that the business case around web standards is essential even in a country that has a legal requirement for sites to be, for example, made accessible. The reasoning for this is that a site owner may be aware they legally have to make a site accessible but unless they see the direct benefit to them they may not implement accessibility properly and instead merely opt to do the bare minimum that needs to be done to comply with the law.
Currently in China there is a weak business case for web standards for a number of reasons. For one Internet Explorer 6 is still the dominant browser with a 95% market share. In general people are tied into using IE6 as most e-commence sites rely on ActiveX to work. This means that there is a trend towards building web pages that only work in IE6 with other browsers given less focus. This is gradually changing however with the rise of alternative browsers such as Opera, Safari and Firefox and Google Chrome. In fact the arrival of Google Chrome did a lot to raise awareness of alternative browsers in the web design community. Developers I spoke to however were very quick to point out that while they may use an alternative browser to IE when building and testing sites they still made heavy use of IE in day to day browsing simply because so many sites depend on it.
This lack of demand for compliant websites is a problem as without the demand there is little incentive for individual developers as well as companies. This may change however, especially as more and more multinationals outsource and base their development work there. With this increasing hopefully the trickle down theory will hold true and multinationals will have an impact on raising knowledge and awareness. When I asked one developer from Microsoft how he got into web standards he said that it was because the company sent over someone especially to train employees in standards based development. This was great to hear and certainly a key channel for advocating web standards. Opera, a long time champion of web standards (disclaimer, I work for Opera but all opinions are my own) are also playing an active role in advocating web standards. It’s at the heart of the development cycle in the Chinese office and the team are also very active in taking part in meet-ups and conferences.
While there is a lack of concrete law to support accessible websites it was interesting to see how the Olympics had affected awareness. Public spaces, streets and buildings were much more accommodating and accessible as a result of the games and had done much to make people more aware. This is a start at least and links in well with the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which China ratified in July of 2008. The Convention is the first international legally-binding convention designed to protect and promote the rights of persons with a disability. As China has ratified the Convention they now have to legally support access to information, recreation, employment and education. As Article 9 states:
“State Parties shall also take appropriate measures to…promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet”.
It remains to be seen the direction this will take but at least China is signed up.
Grass roots advocacy
Most exciting of all was the passion and commitment shown by many web professionals I spoke to. There are some influential bloggers in China who are doing great things to promote standards. Notable bloggers include Jun Chen Wu and Xian An AKA Real Lazy. When talking with Xian An he mentioned that back in 2005, when he first started blogging about standards, he was getting around 1000 hits per day. This seemed to prove that there was a desire for people to learn more or, even if they were not researching for information about standards directly, they are landing on his site which was able to introduce standards.
This seemed to make sense as all the developers I spoke to said they they were more or less self taught. As with many countries web development and standards aren’t always covered in university courses so designers and developers have to self teach. One big drawback here however is the lack of resources in Chinese. This is compounded by the fact that while some ebooks exist they can be too expensive to buy for many people.
Probably most exciting while I was there however was the opportunity to take part in the first ever Web Standards Cafe in Beijing sponsored by Opera. The subject was Web Standards and Web 2.0 and focused largely on how we can support web standards in China. Combining grass roots advocacy such as this with BarCamps I think is a positive way forward.
Supporting web standards in China
There a few things that we can start doing now to help promote web standards and accessible web design in China. It may seem like a daunting task but if this is tackled bit by bit there is no reason why standards can’t become more popular. As the old Chinese saying goes “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand”. It’s not long ago that in Europe, Australia and the States that we were fighting for basic adherence of web standards, it’s worth while to look back and learn from that experience. For now I see the following as being instrumental to enabling web standards.
- Translated resources – top of the list has to be the availability of translated and free resources for people to use. Currently many individuals have contributed their time to translating (see the resources section below) but I can’t help thinking that larger organisations should contribute to these efforts. Check out instructions and guidance on translating W3C resources for more information.
- Multinational responsibility – large international organisations who actively promote and support web standards internationally should do what they can to help support web standards locally in China. This could be done via training in-house, sponsoring free or affordable courses or helping translate resources into Chinese. This should not be restricted to China only.
- Grass root advocacy – developers understand the challenges and problems developers face better than anyone else. Advocacy through blogs, forums, BarCamps and Web Standards Cafe are always a useful way to go. This may take a different shape in China to suit cultural norms but communication and sharing have to be at the root.
So if you are a blogger, a developer, someone in a position to translate or communicate knowledge within your organisation then share what you have. As I mentioned above please do leave a comment if you have any suggestions, thought or insights. I’d also like to expand on the list of resources below so if you have any then post links and I will update the list.
- Information Accessibility for People With Physical Disabilities Technical Requirements for Web Accessibility (Simplified Chinese), Ministry of Information Industry Telecom Research Institute, the Internet Society of China, Harbin
- Web Content Accessibility Guidlines 1.0, translated by Jun Chen Wu (simplified Chinese)
- Dive into Accessibility, Taiwan, (traditional Chinese)
- Dive into Accessibility, Taiwan (simplified Chinese)
- Realazy, blog about Chinese web standards (simplified Chinese)
- Web Accessibility Toolbar Chinese language version developed by WAT-C and Jun translated by Jedi (Chinese)
- Getting started, making a website accessible, translated by Eagle Liang (simplified Chinese)
- Don’t use “Click here” as link text, translated by Eagle Liang, (simplified Chinese)
- Why tables for layout is stupid: problems defined, solutions offered (simplified Chinese)
- Why tables for layout is stupid: problems defined, solutions offered (traditional Chinese)
- Web Standards switch, translated by Yammie Yuen (simplified Chinese)
- Government web standards usage, People’s Republic of China (English)
- W3C China office (simplified Chinese)
- BarCamp Beijing (English)
- BarCamp Shanghai (English)
- CSS Zen Garden (Simplified Chinese)
- Opera, W3C and Web standards by Zi Bin Cheah (Simplified Chinese)
- Opera Web Standards Curriculum (English)
For a full list of translated standards in Chinese visit the W3C translation page.
Finally, a huge thank you to Jun Chen Wu for the translation.
目前在中国，Web标准因为一些原因在商业上比较脆弱。比如IE6仍然占据浏览器市场份额的95%。大部分依赖于ActiveX控件才能运行的电子商务网站使得人们必须用IE6。这就导致了在制作网页的时候趋向于满足IE6，而很少的关注其他浏览器。伴随着Opera、Safari、Firefox、Google Chrome使用率的上升，这种状况正在逐渐改善。实际上，Google Chrome的问世让Web设计届更加关注浏览器兼容性。开发者们也谈到了，虽然他们经常使用IE外的浏览器来开发和测试网站，但仍需要不时的使用IE，仅因为很多网站依赖于它。
我最激动的事就是参加了在中国的第一次Web Standards Café。在北京举办，由Opera赞助，主题是Web标准和Web 2.0，基本上讨论集中在在中国我们怎样支持Web标准。结合开发者和BarCamps这种聚会，我认为这是一条正确的道路。
- 翻译资源- 首要的任务就是有中文的、免费的资源供大家使用、学习。当前很多个人已经投入到翻译中（见最后的资源部分），但我忍不住想那些大公司也应该贡献他们的力量。详见W3C资源翻译介绍和指南。
- 跨国公司的责任 – 大的国际公司在国际范围内推广和支持Web标准，也应该尽他们所能帮助中国的Web标准发展。比如通过内部培训、赞助或者提供课程或者中文化Web标准资源。当然也不仅限于中国如此。
- 基层的拥护 – 开发者比任何人更了解面对的机遇和挑战。博客、论坛、BarCamp聚会、Web Standards Café 等形式都是比较有效的途径。这可能会根据中国文化的不同采取不同的形式，但本质上一定是交流和分享。
- YD/T 1761-2008 信息无障碍 身体机能差异人群 网站设计无障碍技术要求，信息产业部电信研究院、中国互联网协会等起草
- Web内容可访问性指南1.0（WCAG 1.0)，（简体中文） JunChen译
- Dive into Accessibility 深入亲和力, 台湾（繁体中文).
- Dive into Accessibility 深入亲和力, 台湾（简体中文）
- 用Web标准进行开发，liushen译 （简体中文）
- Web可访问性工具栏繁体中文版, Jedi译（简体中文)
- 开始: 使网站容易使用需代理，[镜像]，梁英志译
- 不要使用”点击这里” 作为链接文本需代理，镜像，梁英志译
- 為何使用表格排版是不明智的, (简体中文)
- 為何使用表格排版是不明智的, (繁体中文)
- CSS Zen Garden 简体中文)
- Opera, W3C, 网络标准 Zi Bin Cheah
- Opera Web标准课程（英文）
- #1 On November 24th, 2008 8:13 am