“A casual relationship with reality”

Why doesn't Google validate? An open letter

Dear Google,

I, like millions of my fellow internet citizens, love Google. I can't imagine an internet without it. You've changed the way I search the internet. You've changed the way I read the news. You've even changed the way I do arithmetic. I love Google.

Your company motto, "Don't be evil", is a breath of fresh air in an often greedy and exploitively commercial internet. Your homepage is a brilliant model of functionality reigning supreme, and the greatest testament to that is the way Yahoo, MSN and even Amazon are playing catch-up to you.

Which is why I was so disappointed when I opened up the source code of your homepage. It seems that your website doesn't validate, nor even come close! How can this be? How can the homepage of Google, probably the single most visited page anywhere on the internet, not be compliant with the standards set forth by the World Wide Web consortium?

Now, I'll admit, I'm one of the new generation of web programmers led by the likes of Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyer that consider validation an essential part of the web programming process. However, in the grand scheme of things, it's not the worst sin, and I'd say 99% of web pages on the internet don't validate. Browsers have long since tolerated errors in HTML, to the degree that most authors don't even know about standards compliance, let alone particularly care.

So then why does it matter if Google doesn't validate? Well, first of all, because you're Google. If Google doesn't validate, what motivation is there for other sites to do so? For many, Google practically is the internet. It's their homepage, their first step in researching anything. As Google goes, so goes the web. To whatever degree you can lead by example, you should.

But it also matters because Google employs some of the very smartest people in Silicon Valley, and that's saying something. Your hiring practices are legendary for weeding out the brilliant from the merely very, very smart. And that pays off, as your uncannily accurate search results, your leaping stock price and your phenomenal uptime can attest. If Google is the model of what great minds greatly motivated can do, then every aspect of Google should reflect that. I hold Google to a higher standard because that is the standard you have set for yourselves, so it's disappointing to see such a cavalier attitude towards helping the cause of good HTML on the web, not to mention the simple pride in craftsmanship that comes with a well authored page.

Now, of course, I understand some of the reasons behind this. As I mentioned, the Google homepage is probably the single most visited page anywhere on the internet. With that comes a premium on every single byte in that homepage, and I'm quite impressed that the code for that page, in its entirety, at about 2,900 characters. Even at that tiny weight, a 10% increase in page size will mean tremendous bandwidth costs for you. But that's no reason not to include a doctype. Or to quote attributes where needed, or to encode your own URLs properly. And it certainly not a reason to use table-based markup, which carries a high premium in extraneous, unnecessary and semantically meaningless tags.

And all of this brings up another important point. Even if the basic validation errors are fixed (your style and script elements having "type" attributes, properly encoding ampersands, id attributes following starting with a letter, to name just a few), the homepage for Google would still not be a model for good HTML. Make no mistake, it would be leaps and bounds better than not validating at all, but certainly less than I expect from Google. Ditch the tables and embrace CSS. You can do without them. You can do without the attributes on the body tag (except for the "onload" attribute). You can do without "<br><br>" after your logo. You can do without the <font> tags (seriously, <font> tags in 2005?). And the upside of this is that your page will be as small or possibly even smaller than the page you have now.

And of course, this can go so far beyond the Google home page. The search results themselves are certainly no better in terms of validation or good code.

And I know you have some sort of feeling for web standards. When you redesigned Blogger, a great emphasis was put on well executed CSS. This extended to the Blogger templates that were clean, efficient and authored with standards in mind. Now, granted, Blogger does have its own validation problems, but small ones. The direction you're heading with Blogger is a positive one, and hopefully that commitment will filter down into the rest of Google as quickly as possible.

In the end, of all the companies on the web, and that pretty much means all companies, you're in the best position to integrate standards compliance into your website. You've got the resources, you've got more than enough skill, talent and brainpower, and you clearly have a dedication to technical excellence and innovation that is driving the industry in positive ways. If you were to remake into a standards compliant, well crafted home on the web, you'll be doing what you've always done and what we all admire you for: You'll be making the internet better.

Sincerely, and with great respect,
Mark Kawakami

Blog Roll