It's hard to remember what the Web was like in 1995, when Jeffrey Zeldman designed his first site. But suffice it to say that in those days "WWW" might as well have stood for the Wild West Web?there were no rules and no best practices. In a way, it was a time of great experimentation. But Zeldman soon came to see the flip side: The chaos was leading to user frustration and spiraling development and maintenance costs that threatened healthy development of the Web.

At the time, Zeldman was working as an art director at an advertising agency, and a client wanted a Web site. That project launched a new career that now includes the 11-person New York design consultancy Happy Cog; the Webzine A List Apart; the traveling conference An Event Apart; and a new book imprint - all dedicated to Web design. Perhaps most important, Zeldman helped to pioneer the movement known as standards-based design?a yawn-inducing term that basically ensures that a Web site can be used by someone using any browser and any Web-enabled device.

This concept may seem obvious today, but during the Browser Wars of the 1990s, Microsoft and Netscape each claimed close to 50% of the market, and their browsers were almost entirely incompatible. It wasn't uncommon to type in a URL and find that the site didn't work. Companies eager to open their virtual doors had to invest in multiple versions of their sites. In short, it was a bad situation for businesses and consumers alike. Yet the browser makers were behaving as many software companies do - by trying to out-feature the competition with the introduction of new proprietary technologies.

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