Now imagine what would happen if each hotel and apartment building on Fifth Avenue staked out a bit of Central Park and put a fence around it, limiting access to its own residents. It's bad enough that those of us on park benches can only glimpse in to "exclusive" areas. But, there's also the problem that folks from one hotel can't get to the piece of park that belongs to the other hotel. Instead of a rich, public resource, teeming with roller-bladers, hot dog carts, and strolling elders, the park is divided into small, sterile, isolated lots.
In 1994, Netscape Communications put up the first fences on the Web in the so-called browser wars. In order to attract users, they threw universality to the wind and created a set of extensions to HTML that only Netscape could handle. For example, Web surfers using Netscape could view pages with colored text, photographs, and other improvements. Surfers with any other browser would get errors and funny-looking results. Or nothing at all.
But people liked those extensions so much that they flocked to Netscape's "hotel". By 1996, it had become the most popular computer program in the world. Microsoft started fencing in its own chunk of the Web. Again, to attract users they added non-standard extensions that only Internet Explorer, Microsoft's browser, could recognize.
According to The Web Standards Project (www.webstandards.org), founded by a coalition of top-flight designers disgusted with the increasing fragmentation of the Web, at the height of the browser wars, Web designers were wasting an incredible 25% of their time devising workarounds for proprietary tags, writing multiple versions of pages to satisfy each browser, and simply educating their clients about the impossibility of creating certain effects for all browsers. It was a mess.