Daniel Burka and Closing List Tags

On Friday, at the Formosa Tea House, I was assailed by web maven Daniel Burka for having sent him an HTML file for the Zap website that had HTML list items that were left “unclosed.”

For those of you outside the web intelligensia, a list item looks like this in your browser:

  • This is a list item!

To make a bit of text into a list item, someone writing HTML starts an “unordered list” with <UL>, and then sticks <LI> in front of every item on the list. For example, to produce this list:

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Pumpkin Pie

…I would use the following HTML:

<LI>Pumpkin Pie

Now the issue at hand here — the one that bothered Daniel — is that proper HTML requires adding a closing </LI> at the end of every list item as well. The thing is that almost any browser in the world will still render the list properly if you leave this out, and it’s been that way since the beginning of time. So if you don’t have to do it, why bother?

Daniel’s argument would be that leaving off the closing </LI> means that the resulting HTML won’t be following standards, and what’s more, that there are some instances when using cascading style sheets where the closing </LI> is required and, if it’s missing, bad things will result.

My reply to Daniel’s accusations of HTML standards flouting was to say that as long as my content was readable in most browsers, most of the time, I was happy.

This isn’t strictly true, of course — I care about web standards as much as the next guy. But it’s at least partially true. And I certainly don’t attend the same standards church as Daniel does.

Now I don’t mean this to be a “standards vs. no standards” argument — I can happily argue for or against either side of that issue.

What intrigues me is why this matters so much to Daniel, and so little to me. We both derive our income almost entirely from things that happen on the web, and yet something that Daniel cares passionately about means relatively little to me.

The easy answer here would be that Daniel’s uptight and I’m footloose. Or that Daniel’s responsible and I’m negligent. Neither are very satisfying.

I think some of the answer might lie in the same issues I discussed in my Designers who don’t program and programmers who don’t design essay on the Zap Your PRAM Weblog: Daniel is a designer. Period. I am a programmer who happens to design.

In my world, the centre of the web is the server. If it’s important, and it involves the web, it’s happening behind the scenes, and is probably written in Perl or PHP. I tend to treat the browser as simply the canvas upon which the art — which is conjured on the server — is displayed.

I suspect that in Daniel’s world, the centre of the web is the browser, not the server. And that Daniel would see the “art happening” in the browser, not on the server.

And so I imagine that Daniel takes the browser more seriously than I do simply because we’re standing in different positions in the web universe; my planets revolve around the server, Daniel’s around the browser.

Or maybe I’m just negligent. Or footloose.

I welcome comments.


Will's picture
Will on October 5, 2003 - 21:54 Permalink

Close your list items. Code for the future, not today.

From The Business Benefits of Web Standards:

…invalid HTML which happens to be displayed correctly in permissive older browsers. As the web evolves, web browsers may eventually become either less permissive, or behave differently when given invalid markup (e.g. parse invalid data and render it slightly differently). Using valid, standards-compliant markup ensures that data will still be re-usable for a long time, as specifications on how to parse the standard formats are well documented and here to stay.”

Wayne's picture
Wayne on October 5, 2003 - 21:58 Permalink

Logically speaking…
Consistancy is the important issue here…as long as you are consistant, there less chance of making an error. Being consistant is a habit, and if you have a habit of not closing some tags and closing others, there is a greater chance of making an error.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 5, 2003 - 22:05 Permalink

In my world, the future extends to approximately the end of the next week, with some faint shadows of the end of the current month somewhat visible.

To reiterate, I’m not interested in debating standards vs. not; I understand the arguments on both sides very well.

I’m simply interested in the different world views of Daniel and I and how they got us to where we are.

ken's picture
ken on October 5, 2003 - 22:28 Permalink


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on October 5, 2003 - 23:11 Permalink

Have developed my views on web standards along side said Daniel (better known to me as “dude” or “hey you”), I can comment a bit on our development.

A year-and-a-half ago, Daniel and I were both turned off by what I saw as religion yammering about web-standards and cascading style sheets (two related, but distinct issues). We were far more interested in make sure our websites worked for the people that used them today (include a lot of Netscape 4 users). I even wrote a bit of a rant asking why I should redesign my site with CSS. I found none of the responses convincing.

However, as time passed and our knowledge of web standards developed we grew to appreciate the value of standards. We know rely on HTML validation to point our mistakes (not just validation mistakes, but real broken tags).

In the end, it seems that the only way to learn and understand was to do it — and now I can’t imagine coding any other way.

There’s something elegant and submlime about a page that has nice clean, semantic (H1 for headers, blockquotes for quotes, etc.), and valid markup. I especially yearn for this elegance in a site like this one, that already has esthetics of elegance and simplicity, and I imagine is coded from the back-end with similar goals.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on October 5, 2003 - 23:15 Permalink

Oh, and after taking a look at the source here (I know you don’t want to get into standards vs. not, but I think this is worth pointing out), the only elements I can see that are invalid on this page are some uppercase tags and some attribute values that should be in quotes.

I think I might have become the standards-promoting lunatics that used to annoy me so — you’re site is so close to being valid that it’s killing me!

Alan's picture
Alan on October 5, 2003 - 23:24 Permalink

As I am neither a programmer or designer but only a writer on my little square of the ISH, I find that tags are like good grammer and, while my spelling is terrible and I do not mind, I cringe when I see a dependent clause, like the one you are reading, not concluded with the second comma and admire the well-placed semi-colon. Both the written grammer of text and the operative grammer of tags are guides to functional meaning — perhaps you are just the e.e.cummings of tags.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on October 5, 2003 - 23:35 Permalink

At the risk of further exceeding the approriate number of replies by one person to a single post, I did think of something else to add.

Daniel and I speculate if maybe this difference was a possible advantage of the specialization of having a larger team. Daniel and I had the time and resources to explore how we can make our HTML and CSS better. Maybe?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 5, 2003 - 23:38 Permalink

Steven, that’s a good comment: as a “jack of all trades,” I am an expert in none. I don’t have enough overheard, in my schedule, to delve into issues like standards: I do what works now, with, alas, little thought of what works “in the future,” at least from a standards and compatibility perspective.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 6, 2003 - 00:16 Permalink

For some reason I am reminded of Mr. Sarabura, in Grade 9 English, making me write out the word “beginning” 1,500 times because I spelled it wrong in an essay (I spelled it “begining”). I haven’t spelled it wrong since.

nathan's picture
nathan on October 6, 2003 - 02:04 Permalink

What intrigues me is why this matters so much to Daniel, and so little to me.

I’ve wondered that myself so many times…

Alan's picture
Alan on October 6, 2003 - 02:29 Permalink

Pity Sarabura didn’t teach me “grammar”…