The Story of The WaSP

The Mission

The Web Standards Project (WaSP)  was founded in 1998 by George Olson, Glen Davis and Jeff Zeldman. It began as a grassroots effort by a group of professional web developers as an effort to encourage the main browser makers at the time, Microsoft and Netscape as well as Opera and others, to ensure that they adopted and adhered to an across-the-board standard for HTML, XHTML, CSS and related scripting. While influential groups like W3C were also attempting to similarly influence the big companies to adopt these changes at this time, the WaSP’s founders felt that they weren’t being forceful enough. For example, W3C couched their suggestions as “recommendations” rather then “standards”. The WaSP also took more direct action, like using the “roadblock” advertising technique of simultaneously publishing op eds on all professional internet developer forums and online journals at once, forcing the industry to take note and talk about the problem. If this group had not persuaded browser makers to do so, the web would likely have fractured into pockets of incompatible content with numerous websites only available to people who possessed the right browser. Another benefit of standardization was that it also reduced the cost and complexity of development, while increasing the accessibility and long-term viability of any document published on the web.

The Players

Wasp’s founding members were truly a group of web development pioneers:

  • George Olson, a web architect, was project leader from 1998-1999. His credits include being the design director at 2-Lane Media, which, at the time, was one of the premier agencies in interactive communications. During his tenure with the company, 2- Lane Media earned over 50 major industry awards. Mr. Olson also teaches web design classes at UCLA and lectures at various conferences.
  • Glenn Davis is considered to be one of the very first web designers. As a co-founder, he was with WASP from 1998-2000. As one of the web’s pioneers, Mr. Davis has been monitoring and encouraging the growth of the web since 1993. He is often credited with helping to shape the way the web looks today and has been cited by Newsweek as one of the most influential people in the development of the Internet. Mr. Davis is an author as well as the website reviewer for Internet magazine and continues to encourage the dissemination of knowledge for website architecture.
  • Jeffrey Zeldman was not only a WaSP cofounder but also led the project from 1999 until 2002. He has been active on the Internet as a blogger and content publisher since 1995. Zeldman’s book “Designing With Web Standards” has been translated into 13 languages and has had several editions. He’s been active in Internet media as founder of the e-zine “A List Apart”, as a podcaster and conference speaker, and is the founder of the web design studio Happy Cog.

The Future

The WaSP’s primary goal was convincing browser makers to support the standards set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium. Today, the threat of fragmentation is still present, but it’s no longer considered to be as big of an issue as it once was because the big companies like Microsoft and Google now recognize the potential threat of driving up the cost of building websites, denying users access to content and services they need, and largely screwing up the World Wide Web. After Microsoft beat Netscape in the Browser Wars, other companies like Firefox, and eventually Chrome, helped prevent it from becoming a monopoly. This pushed Microsoft to innovate again, leading to a significant improvement with Internet Explorer. As such, the organization says it has largely achieved its mission.

The mission is up to us now

I think we need to examine the take away from the 15 years that this organization has given to us, the web-using community. And, to do that, I would like to include part of the quote from the WaSP’s brief closing message in which they say,

“The job’s not over, but instead of being the work of a small activist group, it’s a job for tens of thousands of developers who care about ensuring that the web remains a free, open, interoperable, and accessible competitor to native apps and closed eco-systems. It’s your job now, and we look forward to working with you, and wish you much success.”

The Internet has always been a self-perpetuating organism. Since its creation, it has only continued to exist by building upon ideas that work. This is literally a definition of evolution. In the Internet’s case, the agents of evolution are the web developers who, although many of them may work for huge corporations such as Microsoft and Apple and Google and IBM, cannot be beholden to those corporations nor can they be constrained by them.

As Microsoft and Netscape proved during the Browser Wars, corporations inherent priorities of competitiveness and profitability are really not in the best interest of the growing and evolving Internet. Therefore, as WaSP’s closing message points out, it will be up to the exponentially growing amount of web developers and users to continue to shepherd the web’s growth and maintain pressure on the big corporations, whether as individuals or consortiums. The big companies cannot exploit the power of the web without the developers, and this, ultimately, is the power that will ensure the web continues to grow smartly and responsibly.

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