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Prophet Without Honour

I tried selling web standards today. He was the director of an IT solutions company and I was the small fry recently returned with an overseas education. It basically boiled down to a "what can you do for me" kind of discussion. The final outcome was nothing short of downright ugly, but I came out of it with some valuable lessons.
Being all excited about speaking to the director of a IT solutions company, I delved right into how the XHTML and CSS helped separate content from presentation, and how semantic markup made websites more than just the visual displays they now are.
Halfway through my diatribe he turns to me and says, "I'm not a programmer. I don't code. I'm the businessman". Maybe he didn't say it as succinct, but those was his point. It's important to <strong>know who you're talking to</strong>.
Businessman. Right. Having read <a href="http://veen.com">Jeffrey Veen</a>'s article on <a href="http://www.adaptivepath.com/publications/essays/archives/000266.php">The Business Value of Web Standards</a> I tried baiting him.
"Do you conduct cross-browser testing?" I asked, hoping to draw him into admitting to code-forking. I'd have him on the ropes then, I thought.
"We don't really care about people who use macs". Well, that'd be me, I thought silently to myself.
Still listing the quantifiable value of using web standards I told him that the separation of content and presentation would normally bring down file sizes, reducing bandwidth costs. He was hardly impressed – the costs were miniscule.
"Smaller file sizes would result in shorter loading times for your users", I urged.
"Broadband is so readily available." I wanted to tell him the a large majority of web users around the world still use <56k dialups. His company's site had markup uglier than a hydra: it had two &lt;head&gt;s and three &lt;body&gt;s. Didn't think arguing over the value of semantic markup would help.
While I emphasised the need for usability, he countered by saying that no one knew the user better than the customer, if the two weren't one and the same. Nothing seemed to hit. Curveballs, fastballs, slowballs. They were all flying past me as I was quickly striking out.
He concluded that he was in business, and being in business meant being pragmatic. Being pragmatic meant making money. Making money meant lowering costs. Semantic markup is usually more work than generating table layouts in an outdated version of Microsoft Frontpage.
I left the building with the sinking feeling that I was no good to nobody (the double negatives do not cancel themselves out here). During the bus ride home I even thought that maybe all this semantic shit (pardon the alliteration) was an adult's version of IRC or some role-playing game. That coding semantically is all fine and dandy, but it <em> ain't so in real life</em>.
I know that there's a move towards more intelligent markup. I've seen it in <a href="http://diveintomark.org/">diveintomark.org</a> and so many other semantically rich sites. I just don't know if I've the strength to sell this same vision in a local web design industry that applauds shortcuts and getting away with sloppy work as profitability.
It is true that businesses are set up to make money, but it is not something I believe in. I believe that businesses are set up to serve the community, and I treat my clients that way. I'm not in it for the big bucks or the fancy car. I just need enough to get by and to know that I gave of my best.

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