Futureproofing amps

The high profile Wired News redesign has attracted a lot of attention, primarily because of the Web standards we’re using, and the effort we’re making at keeping our code compliant and error-free. However, daily editorial additions continue to allow XHTML validation errors to sneak into the Wired News markup. The most frequent culprits are the ampersands (&) which separate name/value pairs in URL query strings, or which commonly appear in our English language in company names like AT&T or slang acronyms like R&D. Section C.12. of the XHTML 1.0 specification effectively explains why these symbols need special treatment.

As writers and editors find articles and other online documents to reference for their stories, they often copy and paste the URL from a browser window into our CMS. Do that six or seven times for an article, and it’s easy to miss one of the sly little ampersands hiding toward the end of a long URL. Most writers and developers would never assume such a simple symbol could cause such a troublesome recurring validation error. To be fair, the occurrence of a naked ampersand produces no rendering problems in current browsers, nor prohibits locating a Web document correctly if used in a URL. The majority of browsers ignore incorrect use, allowing the error to escape notice. Thus, proper use of ampersands in today’s pages is merely futureproofing, ensuring compatibility with the stricter XML-based browsers of tomorrow.

Somehow, we have to avoid the constant manual check of pages and retroactive fixes of existing errors. This method is unreliable and time consuming. I’m sure the engineers will be making modifications to our content insertion tool, so that validation errors like naked ampersands can be automatically detected and corrected as they’re entered.

About the author

Designer, advisor, father. Previously led design teams at Twitter, Google, and Wired. Giants fan. Deutsche lernen. Wanna-be runner.

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