Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

There is a saying amongst engineers:

“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

Making the rounds is an AP Wire story admitting that the stench hasn’t gone away: “Tech Marketing Words Getting Scrutiny.”

At the very least, I can relate. As of the end of September, web site design and production had been a going concern in my life for nine years.

So where was I during the high times five years ago? I was resolving personal grief, but almost as much I was ducking the bullshit.

This thought keeps on coming back to me, as I was invited to participate in a panel at this year’s SXSW Interactive (but had to turn down the invitation on account of finances). I won’t disclose the panel topic (partly because the IA of doesn’t allow me to link to the description of the event), but knew before I refused that institutional politics will loom hugely over the entire discussion — and told the organizer as much when she asked for my feedback.

Institutional politics, and the buzzwords that feed them, are a huge obstacle to standards adoption.

When the Web Standards Project was founded in 1998 — as the buzzword dot com mania was in its ascendancy — the goal was simple: agitate and educate so that any given page or site, free of hacks, conditionals, plugins, and grief, would meet fairly exacting sponsor expectations.

On the user agent side, that goal has nearly been achieved in terms of its original scope: most web browsers with a version number higher than four (and new browsers published in the past few years) need little in the way of hacks, conditionals, plugins, or grief to render site designs created with standards friendly production techniques in mind .

The new target is education and outreach, and buzzwords — rather, the lack of them! — are a big part of that.

The following paragraphs, near to the conclusion of the wire story cited, especially stole my attention:

“Ryan Donovan, a Hewlett-Packard Co. public relations director, concedes that terms like ‘data migration’ and ‘optimizes agility’ — both of which are found in the company’s press materials — might confuse average readers. But the company uses those phrases in documents intended for technology experts and executives, he says.

“ ‘This is the language that they’re comfortable with, and it’s our job to make sure that we’re speaking to them in a language that they understand,’ Donovan says.”

I want a ticket to the planet that Mr. Donovan lives on, just to see what it’s like. The language they speak there must be quite the sugary creature, and with my sweet tooth I’m sure I’d be entertained beyond the limits of good sense.

…Because I like parody and caricature.

The WaSP’s non-buzzwords, meanwhile, aren’t sugary, but piquant:

  • low-maintenance
  • style
  • works
  • fast
  • productivity
  • simply

…And so on.

One of the WaSP’s goals for the first half of this year is to launch a new site at this location that will point directly to our education and outreach goals. Learn resources will be updated and expanded, and features will be added to the site that will make it easier for those outside of our core group to make a visible contribution to the WaSP’s goals.

We promise that it’ll be buzzword-free… especially since buzzword mania was the biggest contributor to the problems the WaSP was founded to solve.

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