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Henny Swan

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11/24/2008

Web Standards in Today's China


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.

Market forces


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.

Legal support


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 Xia Nan or Real Lazy as he is known. When talking with Xia 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.


Resources

Web标准在中国


在十月初的时候,我有幸在中国呆上了一段时间,与 Web领域的专家、学生等交流Web标准以及他们的现状。很有意思的几个礼拜,也让我大开眼界。印象最深刻的,在中国推行Web标准的仍在少数,并且通常是孤立无援的,无法实施、无法去解释为何需要标准及标准的价值。所以这里我想写一下我所了解的情况、面对的挑战和一些希望能有效的方法。

如果你有任何意见建议,欢迎留言!如果你有相关内容链接,也欢迎提供,我会更新文末的资源列表。

市场力量


在中国,驱动Web标准的主要动力与欧洲国家、澳大利亚以及美国几乎是相反的。没有任何法律要求你的网站具备可访问性(Accessibility),整个市场也起不到什么推动作用。市场的推动很有意思。我经历过的那些商业项目,Web标准都是很重要的基础,即便是在有法律约束的国家。为什么说市场推动很有意思呢,因为网站的拥有者虽然清楚法律要求网站达到可访问性要求,但除非看到切实的利益,否则仅仅会只花最小的成本去满足法律上的要求。

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。

对网站兼容性的低需求导致了开发者、公司都没什么动力。不过这应该会改善,尤其是越来越多的跨国公司外包或将开发工作放在中国。希望这种逐渐渗透能够生效,在中国的外国公司应该会对知识的提升有所帮助。我问过一位Microsoft的开发者是如何开始接触Web标准的,他说因为公司请了一些专家来培训Web标准的开发知识。这是相当好的,而且是推广Web标准发展的一个关键渠道。Opera一直是Web标准的拥护者(声明一下,我为Opera工作但此处并非借机推广),也一直在推广Web标准,在中国的也是核心的开发部分,开发团队也是非常活跃的参与着聚会、会议。


法律支持


因为没有具体的法律要求网站具备可访问性,我们来看看奥运会对此的影响,很有意思。因为比赛,公共区域、街道和建筑已经具有很好的适应性及无障碍措施,也让人更清醒的意识到这一点。最起码这是一个开始,且中国已与2008年7月批准了联合国 残疾人权利公。这是历史上第一个保障和促进残障人士权利的国际性法律公约。中国批准了此公约,意味着残障人士在获取信息、康复、就业和教育方面都有了法律依据。如公约第九条所说:

"缔约国应当采取适当措施…促使残疾人有机会使用新的信息和通信技术和系统,包括因特网"

接下来还有很长的路要走,但起码中国已经加入了。

基层的拥护

最让人激动的是我从很多Web领域的专家身上看到的激情和责任感。在中国有一些有影响力的博客在推广着Web标准。比如 JunChen、Realazy。与Realazy沟通时他提到了2005年时候他第一次开始写关于标准的博客,每天能有接近1000的点击。这或许意味着人们渴望学习更多相关知识,即使他们并不是真正在搜寻这些信息,但他们访问到他的网站,看到了关于标准的介绍。

与我交流的几乎所有开发者都说他们基本上是自学的。在很多国家,Web开发和标准并非都存在于大学课程中,所以设计师、开发者必须自学。在中国,最大的学习障碍是缺乏资源。对大部分人来说一些昂贵的电子书也加剧了学习障碍。

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。


支持Web标准,在中国


有些事我们已经可以开始做起,来促进Web标准和网站可访问性设计在中国的发展。可能看上去有些吓人,但从一点点做起,Web 标准不可能不会变的更加流行。如同一句中国古话说的:"纸上得来终觉浅,绝知此事要躬行"。不久前我们在欧洲、澳洲和美国也还在努力为Web标准做一些基础工作,这些经验值得我们回过头去学习。目前我认为以下途径对Web标准在中国的发展是有利的:

  • 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、Web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。


    如果你是一个博客、开发者或者企业内部的布道者,请一定分享你的经验。如同我上文所说,如果你有任何意见建议,欢迎留言。如果你有任何相关链接希望分享,我也会更新拓展文末的资源列表。


资源

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Related Items:

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