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Encouraging Standards-Based Web Development. Presented by: Shan Osborn and Geoffrey Elliott, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The evolving technical landscape. Originally, only a handful of Laboratory staff developed web sites.

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Encouraging standards based web development l.jpg

Encouraging Standards-BasedWeb Development

Presented by: Shan Osborn and Geoffrey Elliott,

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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The evolving technical landscape

  • Originally, only a handful of Laboratory staff developed web sites.

    • HTML initially designed as a markup language to structure and describe content separate from presentation.

  • Companies eager to establish a unique, branded web presence wanted more.

  • Netscape/Microsoft responded by creating browser-specific presentational elements which were adopted by the W3C.

  • Developers subverted existing markup elements for presentational benefit.


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Identifying the problems

  • Web developers were not cultivating a basic knowledge of the fundamental principles of web site development.

  • Isolated work environment did not allow for knowledge sharing and teaming.

  • Level of quality and consistency diminished.


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Identifying our goals

  • To provide a set of standards that would enable staff to team effectively and learn from one another.

  • To provide the information and tools staff need to implement the standards in their work.

  • To provide a process for reviewing work to ensure staff are learning and using the new tools and methods.


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Things to consider

  • The standards must be flexible enough to adequately support diverse customer/project needs.

  • The standards must focus on forward compatibility while still allowing pages to degrade gracefully for older browsers.

  • Adhering to the standards must not dramatically increase the time or cost of development.

  • The structure of the standards must allow for future updates without extensive staff re-training.


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Things to consider (contd)

  • The standards must provide the means to measure staff performance and career development progress.

  • The standards must not conflict with existing Laboratory publication and information release policies.


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Research and Discoveries

  • First action was to investigate how other institutions attacked the problem.

  • Our situation is not unique!

  • Similar institutions tended to go for a pre-defined look/feel for all pages/sites developed throughout their organizations.

  • Our only realistic option was to aim for code compliance with W3C recommendations and Section 508 requirements.


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Determining the standards

  • The standards were divided into categories to help make implementation/compliance easier for staff. For example:

    • Syntax

    • Display/Browser Support

    • Scripts

    • Directories & Files

    • Site Documentation


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Requirements: Syntax

  • Pages must validate against the included document type definition.

  • Images must include appropriate alt text.

  • Special characters must be encoded (e.g., ™).


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Requirements: Browser Support

  • Pages should be designed for current (and future) browsers that support:

    • HTML 4.01

    • CSS Level 1

    • DOM Level 1

  • Pages must degrade gracefully for older browsers such as Netscape 4.x.

  • Pages must be useable in text browsers, PDAs, cell phones, etc.


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Requirements: Scripts

  • Scripts should function in all supported browsers.

  • If a browser lacks the necessary functionality, provide documentation to the peer reviewer and be sure to alert users.

  • Scripts must be appropriately commented (e.g., function descriptions, explanations of complex code, reasons for disabled code.


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Requirements: Directories & Files

  • File and directory names should be descriptive of their content.

  • File and directory names should not include uppercase or special characters.

  • Files should be organized in separate directories to avoid clutter (e.g., images should be stored in an “images” or “media” directory).


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Requirements: Documentation

  • A text file named “siteinfo.txt” will contain the names of the developer(s), content owner(s), server locations, and site URLs.

  • Each site must contain a directory named “site-info”, which will contain the siteinfo.txt document, and a copy of the completed Peer Review Checklist.

  • Staff must document any deviations from the standards along with the reason for the deviation (e.g., budget/time constraints, outside customer requirements).


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Promoting quality

  • A Peer Review Process was developed to

    • Help staff develop good, consistent coding practices

    • Share knowledge and techniques

    • Give management a tool for measuring staff performance.

  • Staff are eligible to become peer reviewers after consistently demonstrating knowledge and compliance with the standards and best practices over a period of time.


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Stepping through the process

  • Templates for each level of a web site are prepared and submitted complete with production or dummy content.

  • Reviewer checks code for validation and compliance with department standards.

  • Templates are tested on various platforms and browsers for functionality and browser-specific issues.

  • Completed Peer Review Checklist is returned to the developer for resolution of any non-compliance issues.


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Tools of the trade

  • We established a department web site with

    • Links to both internal and external developer resources, e.g.,

      • Lab policies and procedures

      • W3C specifications

      • Instructional resources

      • Lab writing style guide

    • Sample HTML Template

    • Sample Stylesheet

    • Web Development Standards Checklist

    • Contacts.


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A little training never hurt

  • One-on-one training:

    • Project-specific informal reviews and instruction

    • General career-development instruction

  • Brown Bag Presentations

    • One-hour overviews of the standards and what they mean

  • Hands-on classes:

    • Creating standards-compliant web pages

    • Designing for accessibility

    • Developing with Cascading Style Sheets


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Our Work Has Just Begun

  • These standards are not static; they will be reviewed and updated as necessary to incorporate new technologies and industry practices.

  • Staff are expected to keep abreast of current industry trends. (Who are we kidding?)


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Questions? Comments?

  • Shan Osbornshan.osborn@pnl.gov

  • Geoff Elliottgeoff.elliott@pnl.gov