OPTGROUP and the Pace of Standards

OPTGROUPis a grouping element that can be used in SELECTelements. For instance instead of…

Which Web browser do you use most often?

…you might see…

Which Web browser do you use most often?

(That sample courtesy of the OPTGROUP page above, which iswhy the browser list is obsolete. I’m too lazy to updateit)

Whether you see those or not depends on your browser (someancient ones dislike form elements that aren’t in a form), and thevisual styling of the group headers will differ.

It’s a pretty useful little addition to HTML, and has beenaround for quite some time. Remarkable, then, that it has seennegligible use in the real world. This despite the fact that it iseminently useful, clear by the fact that lots of sites are doingexactly this sort of thing manually: Adding custom hacked ingroupings, where the group headers themselves are selectable butnot really selectable (it’ll be script-overridden or refused by theform handler if it is selected by the user, which is confusing froma UI perspective) for things like grouping states and provinces bycountry, and so on.

Of course my point here wasn’t to evangelizeOPTGROUP, though I do think that it’s underused.The profound thing to me, brought to mind by the power of thistrivial and underused element, is how marginal the advances inweb technology (specifically HTML) have been over thepast several years. Everyone is busy doinggrossly redundant scripting and hackery for the mostmundane of things, trying to use the coarse paintbrush available tobuild a subpar pseudo-fat client. Maybe they’re spending weekstrying to replace their table layout with DIVs to satisfy the XHTMLpedants.

How many lame derivatives of combo-boxes have been hacked out?How many intolerable scripted spell checkers How many hacked outdate/time selectors Every one of them a mystery-meat to unwillingweb victims.

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that these things could be a part ofthe basic toolset of HTML by now, allowing rich clients to usetheir power to present it in the most intelligent way possible?

For that matter, why haven’t we made the leap to “databound”controls Would it really be that difficult to standardize some ofthe standard “AJAX” type functionality into declarative HTML 5.0?Not only is AJAX farfrom new, but the fundamentals behind it have been understoodsince the nascent days of the web. This is painfully obviousstuff.

Is it really that difficult?

Of course, it absolutely would be thatdifficult. Once a standard is entrenched, it becomes moreand more difficult to change through consensus.

History is rife with examples where someone hacked somethingtogether and unleashed it on the world, and it was good, and it wasrevolutionary. The rate of innovation quickly slows, though, asmore and more people get involved, and their vested interests andaversion to change takes hold, to the point that the mostridiculously trivial and profoundly necessary of changes take yearsto see the light of day. RSS feeds are just barely gainingtraction, yet already many evangelists have their feet firmly stuckin the concrete, unwilling to even consider trivial changes.For instance alternativesto the absurd RSS/XML icon (who knew that peoplecould get so defensive over a 36×14 icon). RSS will eventuallyrust, until some new disruptive standard comes along and eats itslunch, and then it will repeat. It is the way these things tend togo.

Oh well, I hear that they’re developing Duke Nukem Forever using XForms.