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My name is Rob Cherny and I'm a professional Web Developer with 16 years of experience creating Web sites and Web-based applications. This site is where I write about my work, and random other things...

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Web Development

Web Standards and CSS for the Large Enterprise

I've been thinking a lot lately about large enterprises which are looking at adopting Web standards-based solutions for their Web sites. Which, really is good for them and everybody else. It's to be encouraged, of course.

However, there are some notes of caution and smart ways to do things for the enterprise when implementing large scale XHTML, unobtrusive JavaScript, and/or Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) solutions, some of which may or may not apply to the smaller scale sites out there. The differences really start at the sheer volume and number of varying systems involved.

So what follows is really a hastily put together list of considerations and questions to start asking internally when about to consider pushing for a Web standards-based enterprise wide solution.

  1. The company might need to be prepared to determine and justify the return on investment (ROI) by touting the benefits of moving to an all Web standards, CSS-based approach, such as:
    • Bandwidth savings from smaller documents
    • Potential XML interoperability
    • Easier syndication of content
    • Easier "email this article" implementations
    • Multiple media (hand held, screen, etc.) and device support
    • Speed of site wide updates and easier maintenance
    • Easier to enforce brand standards and look and feel
    • Enhanced user experience (faster download from cached CSS, etc.)
    • Cleaner UI (X)HTML markup
    • Minimize CMS template volume and thus support
    • Separation of content from structure, presentation, and behavior for multiple purposes, several of which are mentioned above
  2. The company must evaluate and inventory the current staffing landscape:
    • Who are the stakeholders of each system, and owners / responsible parties?
    • What are the skills of staff members? Will they need to be trained or will you (can you) hire additional staff?
    • Is there going to be any resistance to change?
    • What will the organization need to do differently when publishing content?
    • Quality Assurance or Support -- what sort of education must happen for the QA staff or the site support teams in evaluating customer feedback such as for users using older equipment?
    • What sort of education must happen for the content authors?
      • Some larger sites have dozens or more authors -- what do they need to know to proceed with using CSS in their WYSIWYG editors?
      • What do they need to know to proceed with using standards-based markup, if they do any free-form content editing and simple HTML work? Their HTML needs may in fact be largely simplified by a standards-based approach.
  3. The company must evaluate and inventory of current software architecture:
    • What is the markup like on the marketing / content sites?
    • What can the Content Management System handle?
    • Can you control the markup being generated?
    • What is the markup like on the dynamic applications?
      • Is it hopelessly intermingled with application logic?
      • Evaluate and measure the risk associated with software changes for presentation purposes
    • Do the tools the staff use (WYSIWYG ) properly support Web standards-based markup and CSS?
  4. For CSS in particular, locate visually similar and different systems and designs:
    • Modularized CSS can be reused in some cases. Can you mix and match libraries of CSS rules?
    • Distill the look and feel down to the basic design and layout elements
    • Are there any opportunities for redesigns or bringing random sub-sites into better design and brand compliance?
  5. Validation: Is that a goal? Most cases it's unrealistic, at least at first:
    • Some IT departments, and certainly most marketing departments, don't care about front-end code validation; UI front end code has to look good and it's rare to convince them of other benefits except for the occasional comment about accessibility, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), or bandwidth savings -- but you get those things by using CSS layouts, not necessarily by using valid code
    • Most enterprise level CMS tools, Ad Servers, etc. have very little support for standards built in and will NOT produce valid code
    • Watch out especially for ASP.NET and Sharepoint -- any tool really which might feature server-side browser detection or writes UI code for software developers
    • Any technology which injects outside code will be suspect as it's rare to see valid Web UI code from enterprise grade software
    • What DTD (XHTML vs. HTML) and level of support (Loose, Transitional, Strict) can be achieved
  6. Printer Style Sheets:
    • This is a bigger issue than people expect; reactions can be wildly different that expected
    • Browser support is flaky but doable
    • Do the sites have "Print this page" features already in place? Will they be replaced or just augmented?
    • A lot of people aren't used to the printer not putting out what's on screen, especially vocal executives
    • Educate them and make sure the client buys into the approach picked
  7. Are there opportunities for new techniques such as Ajax?
  8. Accessibility:
    • To what level are you going to address accessibility?
    • Any specific standards (Section 508, WCAG/WAI) that you're going to use as the baseline?
    • Any desktop or online tools that you are going to use to help validate and test?
    • Can you do testing in alternative devices such as wireless hand helds or cell phones to verify the implementations for those media types?
  9. What is the browser and operating system software audience?
    • What can they support that you want to do?
    • Do you have a graceful degradation strategy?
    • Are you going to include messages and or / frequently asked questions (FAQs) for users which are confused by a different experience?
    • Are you going to link to more modern browsers to encourage upgrades?

These are just some of the things to think about. I'll add to the list as I think about it some more.

May 21, 07:06 PM in Web Development (filed under CSS, Web-Standards)

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