Open Standards in Web Design

Open Web

As of 2018 the World Wide Web is looking open. Not all in the world of computing is open. What is open, and what closed, and why should it matter in a website?

Defining Open

The word "open" is popping up a lot in the world of computing. We hear of open source and open standards and recently open data. Each of these has its own meaning and nuances. To say the least, it can get confusing figuring out just what is what.

Whatever the expression, whether open source, open data, or open standards, "open" brings the idea of being available or accessible to anyone who might want to use it. Open source refers to software -- its opposites would be closed or proprietary. Open data refers to information, and an opposite might be classified. Certainly there are many subtle nuances, gray sectors, and areas of legal or technical dispute concerning the term open, but for our purposes we can stick to open as meaning available, accessible, or freely usable.

Also, we are concerned here not with open source or open data but open standards. Back to square one then, what is an open standard, and why should it matter?

Consider the English language, now a language of global scale, as an example of both being open and an open standard. English, with all its vocabulary and rules, is open in that anyone who might want to use it to communicate for whatever reason can do so. Persons born into non-English speaking cultures may have to spend considerable time and effort -- even money -- to learn it, but it is openly available to them to learn and use should they want to. We can rest assured we'll be able to freely use English tomorrow and the next day just as we use it today. With its position as the most widely used language in the world, English can be considered a standard, and so an open standard.

Computer Use

The web is also based on languages, computer languages. HTML5 and others are such languages. Like the English language, an open standard in computing means it is publicly and freely available. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) also lists transparency as a criteria, meaning open rather than secretive, with availability and free access at all stages of development.

Not all is clean cut and crystal clear. Gray areas exist where there isn't total agreement on whether a particular standard can be defined as open or closed. If you are interested, check out the Wikipedia definition or Ken Krechmer's. It can get pretty legally technical so fortunately we are not dealing specifically with those grey cases here.

Examples

As the World Wide Web was designed to be an open phenomenon it is natural open standards would fit nicely.

The HTML5, CSS1~3, JavaScript, and PHP we use to create websites are all open standards. In contrast are closed or proprietary systems. Proprietary refers to being the property of an individual or company with the owner setting conditions of use. Even Apple, known for its secretive nature, states "we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open". Also, in July 2013, Hawaii passed a law that sets as a government standard "whenever practicable, the use of machine readable, non-proprietary technical standards for web publishing." Non-proprietary means open standards.

At Alama net we design only using open standards. We design for an accessible web. We feel that favoring open standards develops websites that will survive into the future and always be accessible across all the many devices that have emerged to access the internet. We design this way for these practical reasons, and simply because we like "open".