When programming a web site, it is often suggested that we stick to the standards, but what are those standards, and why should we follow them? When I develop my site, I look at it in the browser. It works, so why should I bother to make it standards compliant?
You don't have to follow the standards to make a site work. Some standards are a but hard nosed and might make it difficult for you to do the page the way you want, so why not just hack away and make it look the way you want it to?
Standards are a specific method to follow when programming. For HTML the standards are put forth by the World Wide Web Consortium. There are several versions of the HTML standards. These standards state what the code means, how it is to be interpreted, what the properties of it are, how it needs to be programmed, etc.
Using standards means that the page will look similar in every browser. If the browser follows the standards properly, then the page should look the same if every browser. See Browser Standards for more on browsers.
Many times a page is programmed to look right in one browser (FireFox or Internet Explorer, usually). This can block out some of your potential readers who are using the competitor. Sticking to the standards will ensure a greater amount of compatibility between browsers.
Future proofing is also important. If you use some proprietary software, what is to say that software will be around in 5 years? Standards change, they evolve, but if you pick the right standard your document will be around for a very long time. ASCII is one such standard. ASCII has been around since the beginning of computers. If you write a document in ASCII, that document will still be readable in 100 years, most likely. Do you have any documents in Word Perfect Format? That format is not around any more and while there are still programs that will read them (OpenOffice) the standard is no longer supported.
Picking the right standard for the job is also important. I've seen people use Word documents on their web pages. Yes, most people will be able to open these documents, but the bulk of your web pages should be in an HTML standard. Which standard you use is an important question.
HTML has 4 major revisions, but the XHTML standard as well. I prefer to program in XHTML 1.0 Strict, but you might prefer transitional, or HTML 4.0. I would not go with any of the earlier versions of HTML at this point. You will see a post soon about what all these different standards mean, that is well beyond the scope of this document.
Unfortunately the browsers to not all interpret the standards the same way. FireFox is more standards compliant that Internet Explorer, but IE 7 has come a long way and is fairly compliant now. The others range from fairly compliant to not so compliant. While sticking with the standards will make it look the closest in all the browsers, you need to look at each browser to see own they differ and make any changes you need. You will need to look into cross browser compatibility if you want it to look really good in every browser. This is an important task that you should take the time to do.