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Musings from Mike Atkinson on Internet strategy, usability, and more...

Standards: Where & why?

One of the tasks I perform for my customers is to ensure that their websites adhere as much as possible to standards and conventions that have been established on the web.

From Steve Krug in the year 2000: “Every publishing medium develops conventions and continues to refine them and develop new ones over time. The Web already has a lot of them, mostly derived from newspaper and magazine conventions, and new ones will continue to appear. Think of how frustrating it is when one of these conventions is broken (when magazines don’t put page numbers on advertising pages, for instance).”

Sometimes these standards are established in the software (like the Back button being the most used interface on a browser); or they’re created by an official group – but sometimes they’re organic, started on one site (usually an influential one, like Amazon or Google) and spreading like ripples in a lake to other sites.

Sometimes the standards infraction is fairly minor. Like one of my customers used the phrase “Who We Are” for the organizational info on the site. Not a huge issue, but “About Us” is almost universally used on the most used sites, thus establishing it as a common standard.

Other times the infraction is more serious. Jared Spool posted a great example of this from the Avis site, which swapped the common use of asterisks on a form from required to optional. ack

A great way to evaluate whether this is happening on your site is to carefully watch as you go around the web. Look for what is commonly done and see if you’re following those most common standards.

Now, let me give the standard standards disclaimer that, yes, there are occasional exceptions. I wish I could think of one right now, but I can imagine that an organizational priority may trump a standard. I haven’t come across one yet, though…

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