After reading about Microsoft’s proposal for a new meta tag and the pages (and pages) of debate that followed, I’ve been subconsciously trying to find a metaphor to use to express my gut feeling on the topic. Considering myself fairly sensible, I’ve been hesitant to post anything about this because the debate has apparently been ‘glowering‘ at times and I’m cautious about bringing that negativity here (even though I don’t suppose I’m widely read). As eminent bloggers have seemingly said in unison, when the dust settles, a considered response will hopefully emerge from the web developer community.

Eureka! (Sort of). This week the fluoride story broke in the UK, something that could change the way I live for a long time to come. I couldn’t help but see the similarities between these two issues and this prompted the following post (two birds, one stone) – stay with me here…


  1. Proposal One. Add a tiny meta tag into your code in order to tell IE what iteration of the rendering engine you’d like to use. This is not because you’re doing anything wrong, in fact if you’re reading about it you’re more likely to be a standards aware web developer. It’s catering for the nonconformist (not conforming to accepted rules or standards*). Microsoft has to deal with a lot of fault calls when it updates its browser and would like a cheaper easier option that covers everyone and reduces the size of its headache.
  2. Proposal Two. Let the government add a tiny amount of fluoride into your main water supply to help prevent tooth decay. This is not because you’re doing anything wrong, in fact if you’re reading about it you’re more likely to be an individual who’s aware of their dental health. It’s catering for the unaware, those who glug fizzy drinks and forget to brush. British health services have to deal with a lot of the after effects from years of tooth decay. They would like a cheaper and easier option that covers everyone and reduces the size of their headache.

Whether or not you agree with either of these proposals seems less bound with the facts of the situation (or their portrayal) and more reliant on your philosophy of life. Should the conscientious, the responsible make sacrifices to cater for the rest? Should I make small sacrifices with my (as I believe) health or code, to allow for those that can’t look after their own?

The arguments in favour of both are quite compelling. Put simply, implementing these fundamental changes means that in one fell swoop the majority of problems disappear. Web developers no longer need to worry so much about their sites ‘breaking’ in future versions of IE, similarly parents no longer need to worry whether their children are brushing their teeth properly. We’re all now protected due to this change in our environment. Also, it keeps the managers happy. Numerous posts hint to problems (again, see Zeldman’s article) faced by the IE team when trying to justify their apparent divergence from the development path of previous versions of the product (all thanks to ‘web standards’). Given Microsoft’s position in the market and the flak the company seems to get when it releases updates, the ‘standards’ argument is supposedly wearing thin with the management. Similarly, the NHS has limited resources and not enough dentists.

Fluoridation is a small addition to the structure of your daily life, if the experts are to be believed it won’t lead to conditions that compromise your health (although some disagree). In fact, if you compare the cost of fluoridation to the bill incurred correcting dental decay, it’ll be better for society in the long term (I guess). It will get us out of the current situation where dentists and GPs waste time and money trying to fix what should have been prevented in the first place. It will free up resources to improve public health in other areas.

Meta tags really are tiny pieces of code that there’s no point getting upset over. The burden incurred implementing this new tag in future sites should be minimal. If we can help Microsoft produce a better browser by relenting to their proposal, then surely that’ll produce a better web for all.

So where’s the problem?

I’m happy that plans are being made and people less fortunate than myself (I currently have no fillings and the time/patience to code properly) are on the verge of being helped. But, when these large organisations make such plans seemingly in my best interests, they sometimes (arrogantly) miss the point in the implementation. Standing behind bloggers such as Jeremy Keith and hopefully adding to the calls, I think both of these proposals need to be opt-in.

In the case of fluoride, it can be provided in salt as has happened in other countries; with the meta tag, let people find out about it only when their sites break (at least that way they’ll understand there’s a problem). Doing it any other way would cheapen life for all (which is funny because these descisions will have come from the economics originally). At least now dentists and Microsoft technical support will have an easy answer, but let people explicitly agree to be included.

Another option is to medicate the Microsoft offices water supply – instead of fluoride put aspirin in their water, that’ll cure their collective headache in the mean time.   ;)

* However, I don’t want to get sucked into a debate about how to define what ‘rules and standards’ means. Molly’s already doing a good job.

Posted on Wednesday 6 February 2008.

Posted in browsers (UA), development tools, health, politics | Add a comment »

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