Emerging Web Standards: Keeping Up to Stay Ahead

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A Long Road to Compliance
In 2008, browser maker Opera, Software ran a test against 3.5 million webpages, using a proprietary metadata analysis and mining tool, with the intent to validate them against W3C web specifications. It found that only 4.13% of the pages were compliant; worse, it found that 50% of pages displaying a badge avowing standards compliance were actually noncompliant.

There's no doubt that fixing noncompliant websites and applications is a daunting task. Rogers says that when his company is hired to check a corporate website for standards compliance violations, it's not uncommon to see 100 problems per webpage. "Multiply that by 100,000 pages on a corporate website, and it can be a long road," Rogers says, particularly at a time when product development teams are competing for scarce resources.

There's also the fact that standards are never set in stone. Melissa Webster, program vice president for IDC's Content and Digital Media Technologies research program, says, "Standards evolve due to the availability of enabling technologies. And, by definition, they come along after innovation; they tend to facilitate rather than drive new development."

Even when a standard is considered relatively stable, there can be significant lag time before it is in common usage. Whatcott points to HTML5, the latest iteration of W3C's standard for markup language facilitating structural semantics for text. "It's not yet supported by all browsers, and even when they do support it, those browser versions will take a while to roll out to desktops. The point is far out in the future when HTML5 will be the lowest common denominator."

Greg Merkle, vice president and creative director at Dow Jones, says, "The question we're all asking right now is, ‘When is Internet Explorer 6.0 going to die?'" Constrained by the widespread usage of a browser that doesn't always render code properly and requires extra work to adapt, Merkle's team was counting the days until July 13, when Microsoft officially dropped support for that version of its popular browser.

And to keep things interesting, when it comes to evolving standards, patent infringements are just a part of the territory. Google recently released an open source HTML5 video codec, VP8, the spoils from its February 2010 acquisition of On2 Technologies. The format competes head-to-head with the more commonly used H.264, the patents for which reside with MPEG LA, a consortium of technology providers who charge royalties for commercial use. "What if H.264 patent holders say VP8 infringes-is it really entirely original?" asks Webster. The idea of an open standard codec for commercial use is appealing, but it could be premature. She adds, "I wouldn't be surprised to see if there are infringement cases filed."

Companies could be faced with a choice of using the VP8 codec as a cost savings move that may end up being adversely impacted by infringement cases or letting the dust settle first and losing a timing advantage.

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