W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-validator@w3.org > November 2002

Re: Beta: Fatal Error: No DOCTYPE specified!

From: Kim Brooks Wei <kimi@kimbwei.com>
Date: Fri, 1 Nov 2002 02:16:39 -0500
Message-Id: <a05111b01b9e7bc87ba9c@[]>
To: W3C Validator <www-validator@w3.org>

I've been following this issue with interest. As a non-programmer, I 
have a user's perspective that may bring into this discussion some 
useful insights.

It happens that I am tech aware but not a master at coding and am not 
a programmer at all.

The validator service is very useful to me. I am told by 
coder-friends that sometimes html IN-validation is a good thing and I 
take their word at face value; they have experience which I do not.

On the home front, I need the validator service. I'm not using 
sophisticated tricks in my code because I don't know how to. I have a 
better chance of my pages parsing correctly if they validate. In my 
case, I can also assume that if my pages don't validate I've made 
some dumb error (as opposed to some clever trick) which I ought to 

The truth of the matter is, that the user interface in URI leaves 
much to be desired. As for the coding standards themselves, well, let 
me tell you that after almost a year of revisiting them repeatedly I 
understand less than 5% of what's laid out in the 100 or so 
individual articles (subsections) I've read on xhtml, css and html.

As regards URI, the error messages it gives out could be a lot more 
user-friendly. I also often get confused by the little red arrows 
pointing to a line of coding error. In my mind, those arrows should 
correspond to a spot in the line that is wrong, but they usually 
don't pinpoint any particular error. They're simply there in most 
cases and sometimes I wish they would go away.

Now, it happened that this week, I was unable to get my page 
recognized as html. Someone in this list suggested the idea of 
supplying a popup box in the case of incorrect doctype specification, 
providing a choice of doctypes that could be used. This sounds great 
to me.

This week, had I been absolutely certain that my doctype 
specification and html declarations were correct, I could have gone 
on to look elsewhere for the issue that was causing my documents to 
be recognized as text ___ and saved myself about 5 hours of research 
into making absolutely, unequivocably certain that I had in fact 
stated the correct doctype.

Looking through the standards doesn't supply me with straightforward 
choices of what my available options are and yet, there are not that 
many options.

Given examples and choices, I could use a process of elimination or 
logic to help me identify the correct server coding requisite.

If w3c wants more designers/coders to validate their pages, the 
organization needs to face the reality that your coding standards are 
incomprehensible to the lay user and that if validating web pages 
becomes standard procedure in building a web page you will have an 
increase in the number of clueless users attempting to validate their 
pages and facing high levels of frustration in the process, who may 
simply not bother trying to validate pages any more after a couple of 
unfruitful attempts.

My own case is different from many others who do not have a strong 
tech background. For one thing, I am a small business developer by 
trade. I was able to spot the importance to the small business 
community of developing technical awareness several years ago and 
have made this type of R & D my principle and foremost concern as a 
business services professional. I'm willing to struggle through natty 
technical issues until I am able to resolve them because the "bridge" 
service which I provide to connect my clients with the resources of 
the tech world is an increasingly important component of the work I 
do, as well as being a very essential service and one which not very 
many individuals are able to provide.

My client base was traditionally small business owners who are 
technophobes or very ignorant users and now includes technically 
sophisticated (sic) users as well.

There is an abundance of bad information out there, to paraphrase 
Terje, who helped me understand more comprehensively the problem and 
possible solutions of my own recent problem getting my pages to be 
recognized by URI.

It makes no sense to search 2nd-or-lower tier tech knowledge bases 
for the definitive answer to questions such as the one I faced 
recently. I get too many opinions and won't be able to ascertain 
without trial and error, between the good and bad amoung them and 
unfortunately, if I am able to locate correct knowledge at the 
2nd-tier knowledge base level for one issue, this may be a fluke. I 
may have received information to do something right for the wrong 
reasons, or to do something right for the right reasons by an 
individual who happens to have correct information only 15% of the 

It might take me 6 months, a year, or even more time to acquire 
sufficient knowledge of the language and concepts central to any tech 
issue which I want to understand comprehensively, and I also must 
identify the specialists themselves, before I can put (meaningful) 
questions forward to 1st-tier knowledge specialists in any given 
field of technical expertise.

There's a humongous gap between the standards-setters and users such 
as I, who are trying to work within the definitions of standards that 
we may not understand in even the most basic of terms: what the 
standards hope to achieve, the issues they hope to address or the 
problems they attempt to solve.

On a sober note, it is worthy of comment that at the tech workshops I 
give at my local, United States Small Business Administration 
(Fed-gov SBA) office in New Jersey, 70% of my new students are under 
the impression that AOL is the internet. I have among my private 
clientele, a number of individuals whom are are tech speakers and web 
designers and don't understand what a database is, exactly, where it 
may be housed or how it may be queried, do not know what bandwidth 
is, do not understand what a client-side or server-side issue is and 
have no clue what a doctype or a metatag is or what it's supposed to 

Terje commented to me in passing that my host can provide a fix to my 
own parsing issue (pages that are html are identified as text) and 
didn't believe that the tech people at my hosting company were 
unaware of how to fix this issue for me or were unable to explain to 
me what was causing this to happen. Terje felt it was more likely 
that they just didn't feel like trying to explain to me the technical 
complexities of why I was getting this error.

And yet, the tech rep with whom I spoke had never heard of w3c, 
w3.org or of URI. He doesn't know who you are. He didn't believe me 
when I told him that your group are the standards setting agency for 
browser coding compliance. I actually think he didn't even know what 
I was talking about. I eventually broke it down to him this way:

"We are working with HTML 4.01 now, right?" No argument from him.
"So, how does HTML get to be 4.01?" Silence.
"How did it go from being 4.0 at one point to 4.01, which is used 
currently?" No answer.
"Well," I said, "the group I am telling you about are the people who 
define what
HTML 4.01 is. They develop it and it is their organization that then tells the
browser developers like the IE and Netscape staff, that HTML
4.01 is the new standard that is going to be worked with on the web."
The tech's response, given in a tone of heavy doubt, was "Well, I 
don't know about that."

(I know this is only a simplified view of w3c but it was definitely 
the best definition I felt able to provide at that time.)

For page validation to become popular, it is going to be necessary to 
face the UI issue. There are a whole lot of ignorant users out there 
and a lot of them won't get meaningful help from their colleagues or 
hosting providers with finding out how to work around or fix a 
barebones, "your page is invalid" return of their validation 
submission to URI.

The essence of this issue is that by definition, the 
standards-setters live in a world of intracommunication with 
colleagues of similar levels of technical expertise. Why should any 
of you know what the average user, or the 2nd, 3rd or 4th-tier tech 
professional out there in the world, knows or understands any better 
than those persons understand the issues and concerns that you face?

And yet, you provide a service in your URI and CSS validation to 
those users which could greatly benefit them. They, in turn, by using 
the service and learning how to report bugs and wish-list items and 
correct the coding mistakes they make out of ignorance, could just 
possibly make browser-compliance and standards issues and fixes a lot 
easier to identify and faster to implement.

I believe that w3c is overestimating the technical ability of its 
community of potential users and is also unaware of how little 
understood web standards are by individuals not directly associated 
with their evolution.

By the way, a friendly UI, if implemented in the validator system, 
should also include a listing of known bugs and their fixes, e.g. in 
a similar manner as that laid out in the following article by Eric 
Meyer published a few days ago:


" . . . the key to eliminating this problem is simple: turn off the 
standards-compliant rendering mode.

"How, you ask? The secret is in the document type declaration 
(sometimes referred to as a doctype declaration, but not to be 
confused with the document type definition, or DTD). And here's how 
you do it:

". . . (with the elimination of) the URI portion of the doctype 
declaration -- IE 6 reverts to what is commonly called "quirks" mode, 
and renders the table in a manner consistent with previous versions 
of IE:

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">    "

Kim Brooks Wei
P O Box 626
Fair Lawn
NJ  07410
V 201.475.1854
Received on Friday, 1 November 2002 02:16:50 UTC

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