Browser Makers Cooperate On Support For Multi-Platform Web Development

Welcome to your "official" support site, Web developers. The Web’s top four browser developers - Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Opera - teamed with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and technology companies including Nokia, HP, Adobe and Facebook -  to create Web Platform Docs, a Wiki devoted to sussing out and stomping bugs and other issues when trying to develop for multiple browsers.

Obviously, the effort primarily benefits developers, but it should eventually result in a greate number of sites that work properly no matter what browser you use to access them.

Other sites already provide the same sort of collaborative approach to development, including SitePoint and especially StackOverflow, which uses the same votes/answers model of presenting questions and answers. In those sites, designers and developers work together to develop solutions, with some participation from members of the individual browser companies. 

The idea is to smooth Web development, eliminating bugs, development costs and headaches. In one example cited by Microsoft, Erik Klimczak, creative director at Clarity Consulting, had been using a common trick to make an image uniformly scale, but found out it didn’t work on a particular browser. After contacting the browser’s development team himself, he found that the feature was supported, but in an undocumented feature.

A Cooperative Venture

All of the major browser makers have committed to funding the site and providing resources, according to Ian Jacobs, the head of communications for the W3C. He was unable to say, however, what the extent of each company’s contributions would be.

“I think the first thing to note is that there are many great sites out there, but one of the challenges we’ve heard from developers is that when you look at all the sites around there it’s time-consuming, and there might be inconsistencies,” Jacobs said. “Vendors, when they put up information, it may be generic, and it might be proprietary, and so we want to the W3C membership, and said we’d like to do the same thing we do with membership, which is to leverage the collective effort... and remove redundancies, remove inconsistencies and make it easier to find things.”

In an email, a spokeswoman for Google said that the company wouldn't disclose its financial commitment: "We don't disclose any financial terms or details, but in regards to maintenance of the site, the community and some people from the stewards organizations will continue to work on and monitor the site."

Microsoft provided a bit more detail: "The role of stewards is intentionally limited in favor of self-governance by the community," a Microsoft spokeswoman said in an email. "Stewards focus primarily on facilitating the long-term operation of Web Platform Docs. In practice, this means that stewards provide Web Platform Docs with funding and relevant infrastructure, while helping the community address issues that may arise that the community is not able to address. The stewards do not manage the content of the site, nor do they define the processes the community adopts to manage itself, unless requested to by the community. Although some representatives of the stewards participate in developing the site, they do so as peers of other members of the community."

You'll Find What You're Looking For

One of the site’s strengths, according to Jacobs, will be the inclusion of clear, ordered documentation from the W3C. Visitors to the site will find published content from the founding organizations, including more than 3,200 topics from the Microsoft Developer Network, Microsoft said. In addition, there will eventually be a sample library that takes into account real-world scenarios, and tutorials that provide guidance on how to use new and existing technologies.

That may mean that the documentation content will favor IE, at least in the early stages. A generic search for “Chrome” in the documentation portion of the site favored IE in most of the results, although expanding the results offered up more choices. (For example, in the page describing CSS properties for font size, portions of the content were pulled from MSDN, and there are several MSDN links at the bottom.) The Web Platform Docs site does claim that it’s still in an alpha status, however.

“With Web Platform Docs, we now have a central place where we can learn what the standard is, when we can use that particular feature, and the right way to use it,” Rey Bango, a Windows technical evangelist at Microsoft, said. “That’s important to me, and it’s important to Web developers. They want to take advantage of the cool stuff - the toys - and they want to do it responsibly. This site gives them that capability.”

Hands-Off Approach

According to Jacobs, the site will take a hands-off approach toward managing content, allowing users who achieve the same level of expertise - which appears to be assigned through a points system - to achieve the same status as representatives from the browser developers themselves. Content will be developed as much by the users as much by the companies. 

“We decided that it would be better to open up Web Platform Docs to the community as early as possible, so that everyone – including you – can help expand and refine the documentation, and ultimately define the direction of the site,” Alex Komoroske, a project manager with Google’s Open Web Platform team, said in a blog post

Jacobs also said that the “official” nature Web Platform Docs site won’t prevent a free-wheeling discussion. That should mean that a developer who asks about a controversial topic, or who makes a claim about which browser correctly implements a CSS feature, for example, won’t be moderated down just because one of the site’s members disagrees with the premise. Don’t expect a discussion of proprietary technologies like Javascript, Jacobs added; however, nothing’s truly “out of scope,” he added.

“One of the great things is that we have the attention of the vendors. And while they’re keen on accuracy, the policies of the site won’t restrict the nature of the discussion,” Jacobs said.