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At W3C, few practice what they preach

Most home pages of World Wide Web Consortium members do not pass the standards body's own test for compliance with W3C recommendations, a survey shows.

Members of the Web's leading standards consortium are leading by fiat, not example, according to a survey.

The third semiannual survey, published Monday by Helsinki, Finland-based Web designer Marko Karppinen, showed that a vast majority of the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) member home pages do not pass the standards body's own test for compliance with W3C recommendations.

Karppinen's study has indicated some improvement by W3C members over the last 18 months. The number of standards-compliant member home pages leaped to 6.5 percent, up from 4.6 percent in August 2002 and 3.7 percent in February 2002.

But Karppinen said that the improvement was no cause for rejoicing--especially while browser makers like Microsoft, AOL Time Warner and Apple Computer and authoring tool producers, including Adobe Systems, Macromedia and Microsoft, remained noncompliant.

"Their behavior on this front is becoming increasingly embarrassing," Karppinen wrote in an instant message interview. "The authoring companies...are pouring millions into the development of (Adobe's) GoLive and (Macromedia's) DreamWeaver--why are these tools producing invalid markup by default?"

AOL declined to comment. Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Macromedia could not immediately be reached for comment.

Now that most browsers have fallen in line with W3C recommendations, standards advocates have increasingly focused their attention on the authoring tools that produce the vast majority of the Web's pages.

These tools, in an effort to produce code that works with older, nonstandard browsers, typically spit out nonstandard code.

The W3C put a bright face on news of its members' noncompliance with its own standards, saying the survey showcased the small percentage of those who did comply.

"I'm glad that Marko is doing these reports because it does build awareness of members that are doing the right thing," said W3C representative Janet Daly.

Daly echoed Karppinen's call on authoring tool makers to pay more attention to standards.

"I hope this provides an additional call to action to authoring tool developers," Daly said. "There has been some progress, but everyone would like to see more, and the W3C would like to see more too."

In the coming month or so, the W3C plans to expand its stable of free quality assurance tools for Web developers seeking to test their pages for standards compliance and improve them. Among these tools is the validator that Karppinen used to test members' home pages.

Karppinen lauded those sites whose home pages passed the W3C's validation. These included a number of university pages, along with small Norwegian browser maker Opera Software, which has been involved in an escalating spat with Microsoft over the standards compliance of Microsoft's MSN portal site.

Karppinen attributed the larger software companies' noncompliance to apathy rather than malice, and urged them to take standards more seriously.

"I think that Web infrastructure is critical enough for the whole Western economy these days that all the systems vendors like Microsoft and Apple really should make it a priority," Karppinen wrote. "It's going to take the lead of these big Web technology vendors to make this approach mainstream. And why aren't they leading this push? I don't know. I'd like to find out."