The Commoditization of HTML

I've been noticing these services cropping up all over the place these days. You send them a PSD or PNG and they build out the HTML and CSS for you.

This type of thing existed before and I've certainly received emails from offshore companies willing to do my production work for me. However, they were behind the times and produced inadequate code; at least, inadequate for the 'standardistas' among us.

The new trend, however, is to provide quality CSS-based layouts that are even optimized for search engines (SEO). XHTMLized was one of the first that I heard about but I've already seen others, all ranging in price from about $150 to $500 with turnaround time between one and seven days.

Here's a list of sites that I've managed to uncover:

XHTMLized

XHTMLized certainly has some first-mover advantage and their testimonials page is evidence of that with quotes from many within the web development industry. Their service is priced at the low end, starting at $149 but their delivery is at the high end with turnaround of a full week. The company comes across as professional and capable of producing quality work.

PSD2HTML

I've seen PSD2HTML doing some heavy advertising and look like decent competition. Their turnaround time is much shorter, promising a one day turnaround (currently two days due to production volume). What's interesting is that they've actually broken down their costs based on SEO or browser compatibility. If Internet Explorer and Firefox are all that matters, it's only $117. Add in Opera and Safari along with an optimized CSS file and it'll cost you $153, close to XHTMLized. Finally, their "high-end" service adds optimization for SEO and load speed for $211.

XHTMLGenius

XHTMLGenius is run by Shaun Andrews, one of the guys behind Tick. XHTMLGenius falls in the middle, timewise, by promising turnaround time of under 3 days but is a little pricier at $250. Subsequent page designs, assuming some similarity with the first page, will be about $125 per page to get converted.

Slice 'n Dice

Slice 'n Dice comes in a little on the high end compared to the other services on this page offering a 3-day turnaround for $399. Alternatively, you can save some money by waiting 6 days for your HTML and only pay $279.

Although the people behind SND are no doubt busy, I would imagine it'd be more difficult to compete at that price compared to the other services on the market.

XHTML/CSS

Probably the most poorly named option of the bunch, XHTML/CSS offers up a four day turnaround for $175. Although I have no particular reason to think so, I'd feel the least comfortable going with these guys. Maybe it's the way they market themselves. They seem to market to a different audience than everybody else. While the rest are going after the savvy design crowd who just need a cheap alternative, XHTML/CSS seem to be going for those who just don't have the skillset to produce proper XHTML/CSS. I suppose time will tell if it proves successful for them.

Worth it?

Unfortunately, I haven't taken the time to try any of these services out. The largest problem, for me, has been turnaround time. Being concerned with the quality of HTML I might receive, I'd need to ensure that I had buffer room in my timeline to be able to handle hiccups in the development process. A turnaround time of a week, plus any revisions (either by them or myself) has simply been too long for me to try it.

If you've used any of these or know of any others, feel free to share your story.

(Note: all pricing is in U.S. dollars)

Published October 29, 2006
Categorized as HTML and CSS
Short URL: http://snook.ca/s/710

Conversation

91 Comments · RSS feed
Ron said on October 29, 2006

Very bad trend like the template selling websites. I think it is part of the whole web 2.0 buzz around using webstandard buzz words like XHTML to make a dollar. People that
fall for this stuff should be warned.

Cameron Adams said on October 29, 2006

Sure, it feels like a bad trend to me, because (theoretically) I lose some clients. But whether it's actually *bad* is another question.

If they produce good, semantic markup, what's the problem for the client?

Jeff Croft said on October 29, 2006

I'm not sure I think this is a bad trend. If they do it well, this kind of service could mean designers could focus on design and not on banging out XHTML and CSS. Let's face it -- a monkey can bang out XHTML and CSS.

Ben Lilley said on October 29, 2006

I was actually looking at one of these services just yesterday.

It certainly looks quite interesting, and I would be keen to try one out but, yeah I'm just not sure...

Ed said on October 30, 2006

> People that
fall for this stuff should be warned. <

I think it's a valid service. If you have a fast turnaround print and design agency and can rely on the quality of the work from these guys then it's a neat service. Saves bringing the skills inhouse or investing in learning them. I know many designers who mainly work with print that could use this. It beats the crap they normally punch out when they try using FP or DW. My only concern is how far off best practice they are, as mentioned.

> Let's face it -- a monkey can bang out XHTML and CSS <

Correctly written HTML and CSS is extremely difficult and very few get it right.

Ed said on October 30, 2006

^^^

See, even me. I'm sure I escaped those characters.

Grr.. must be Snooks commenting system ;-)

Fredrik Wärnsberg said on October 30, 2006

Well from my own experience, the XHTML produced by XHTMLized is very poor, there are b and div tags all over the place (they even used b's with classes for headlines). The CSS file was also very very redundant (seems like they have some standard css-file that the modify slightly between sites) and actually finding the stuff that needed changing took a while.

I'd rather write my own xhtml and css, thank you :P

Faruk AteÅŸ said on October 30, 2006

Let's face it -- a monkey can bang out XHTML and CSS.

I'm with Ed on this one, Jeff. Clean, semantic, accessible and yet still very flexible XHTML and CSS is easily a challenging, fulltime job, especially when you have to support more than just IE6 and FF/Safari/Opera9.

T. orion said on October 30, 2006

what scares me in outsourcing production of clean css/xhtml is the vision that one must have for building a flexible site. a services like this may not be in tune to what changes to expect for the site moving forward. where I can see great benefit is for firms that have yet to find a seasoned front-end coding guru who can whip out nice standards based code in a timely fashion to stay within company budget... however, once this code has been created by an outside firm you then have to rely on their support should you need to make small changes. i think any design firm needs their own highly specialized front-end coder.

Dimitri said on October 30, 2006

Hi guys,

thank you for posting!

Clarification: psd2html.com was the first service (check this link: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2005/3/prweb219055.htm)

xhtmlized appeared one year later.

I would like to underline a feature of psd2html.com. There is a ticket system allowing its clients to track status of their orders, communicate with support and see all communication logs.

John Labriola said on October 30, 2006

I have to say seeing those prices certainly was disheartening. I thought some of the pricing I gave to family and friends was cheap.

But I have to agree with Faruk, writing good semantic code to match a design can be tricky. If you gave a design that was a little experimental that called for creative thinking and lots of testing I wonder if the turn around is just as quick.

And it looks like Fredrik is already saying one company mentioned is not so good.
Remember you get what you pay for and cheapie pays twice.

Nate K said on October 30, 2006

I wouldn't say a monkey can bang out XHTML/CSS - at least not (as Faruk stated) semantic, accessible, and flexible XHTML.

I think thats the key for me. When I work with a designer, or design a site, I think of its many uses and how it best needs to be split up and prepared for flexibility. Sending this off to be done could result in a site that is not as flexible as you hoped.

Especially when there are SO many different ways you can construct your CSS/XHTML - sometimes I have a preference of using a specific method over a different one (with such things as Image Replacement, etc).

Aside from that, I like to keep communication with those who I am working on a site. I like to be able to work closely with other members of the team. I feel like this separates a very important aspect from that team.

So, while I don't think it is as bad as templating systems - I, personally, would never use it.

Jeff Croft said on October 30, 2006

Correctly written HTML and CSS is extremely difficult and very few get it right.

No, it's not extrememly difficult. Yes, a lot of people get it wrong. But anyone can learn XHTML and CSS. They're simple languages that embody simple concepts.

The fact that a lot of people get it wrong doesn't mean it's hard -- it means a lot of people learned to do it the wrong way and refuse to re-learn.

Sorry, but that's the way I see it. Anyone (okay, maybe not a monkey), can learn to write good, clean, semantic, and accessible XHTML and CSS.

Programming and design are complex tasks which require certain frames of mind, certain inherent talents, and a certain degree of attention to detail and relentlessness -- skills that can't always be learned. If a business owner can pay low prices to one of these services so that his/her designers and programmers don't have to waste their time on simple monkey work, and can focus instead on the interesting things only they know how to do -- then these guys provide a valuable service that shouldn't be overlooked (if they do a good job, that is -- and I have no idea if they do or not).

James Bennett said on October 30, 2006

You're all right.

Jeff is right when he says a monkey can bang out HTML, because HTML can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, and it takes all of an hour or two to learn the basics. At which point your handler will give you a banana and you can bang away.

Everybody who's piling on is right to say that writing clean, semantic, well-structured HTML is hard and takes more expertise; there's a ton of stuff you need to know to reach that level, and it can't be learned overnight.

In other words, it's an apples and oranges comparison. Or maybe bananas and oranges. Who wants a banana?

Johan said on October 30, 2006

Let's face it -- a monkey can bang out XHTML and CSS

A Web monkey could - but where is the Information architecture, usability, the long-term design vision that makes websites succesful?

But I think that i tmight well be that they are competent webdesigners that use this format to attract clients. But freelancers that offer more services even ask less?

Arjan Terol said on October 30, 2006

I have used XHTMlized twice a few months ago when I had two thight deadlines. I must say I was impressed. Clean valid css and xhtml, and different stylesheets for IE6 and IE7. Saved my but...

Fredrik had a bad experience, bad and wrong code. I think I was lucky because an other 'coder' took on my projects and thats an isue on its own.

"Who do you get to do your project?"

Daniel P said on October 30, 2006

I'll fall in the line of saying that XHTML is easy. Writing well formed, validating XHTML is really plenty easier than any actual programming language.. Although programming languages in general aren't particularly difficult.

So the question is, are they just writing validating code, or are the pages actually well made.. Do they take into regards accessability, SEO, cross-browser functionality..
If they do, fantastic. That's a great price, and it's not really competing with me to my knowledge (custom tailored e-commerce sites).

However, if there's one thing I've grown used to when dealing with these kinds of places.. They'll make a "solution" that works in the particular case that it's supposed to look precisely like the "sketch" css/xhtml file, any kind of alterations of dynamic content and you'll have to rewrite.. all of it.

So I advise against using them personally, for any major project.. But if you're just looking to toss up a nice little site for yourself quickly, it seems affordable enough.

Chris said on October 30, 2006

The fact is not that people learn the wrong way; it is that universities are teaching spaghetti code rather than standards

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on October 30, 2006

Let's face it -- a monkey can bang out XHTML and CSS.

And yet your site doesn't validate. Hmm.

Seriously though, that statement is about as ignorant as saying anyone with Photoshop can be a designer.

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on October 30, 2006

More to the point, I have never used any of these services, but I would consider using Shaun Andrews at some point in the future should the need arise.

Jeff Croft said on October 30, 2006

> A Web monkey could - but where is the Information architecture, usability, the long-term design vision that makes websites succesful?

That's design. And that'smy point. Designers don't have to be web monkeys, also. I'd be happy to have my designers design pages and site, and then pass them off to these wbe monkeys for coding. What's so wrong with that?

Look at it like this: a web designer is like an architect. These guys are like construction workers. You need both. If your team has one person who can act as both and you don't mind paying am architect's salary for construction work, fine. But if you'd rather your high-priced designer focus on being a web architect, then I see nothing wrong with hiring these kinds of folks to do the construction work.

Jeff L said on October 30, 2006

a monkey can bang out XHTML and CSS.

Wow - what an asshole thing to say. I am a front end web developer, and I know more about the web than most of the "web" designers that I know. Just because they can draw pretty pictures in Photoshop doesn't mean they know jack about the web.

Any jackass that can draw can be a designer, it's good thing some of us "monkeys" are around with actual knowledge.

It would be nice for a service to pop up with some donkey that can make pretty pictures for me, and then let me do the real work.

Ryan Wilke said on October 30, 2006

I'd say stick without your own abilities. It will still probably take you less time and give you less headaches to do it yourself.

I have always wondered if it would be worth the money to make them code up something that can't be done in certain browsers like IE. Just for kicks of course.

Jeff Croft said on October 30, 2006

Wow, I guess I really ruffled some feathers here. My apologies to you web monkeys who took it the wrong way.

Clearly, you misunderstood what I was saying. If you're an HTML/CSS guru (and hell, I just finished writing a book on CSS, so I guess I qualify, too), more power to you. Your job is hella important. But there is a world of difference between an HTML/CSS guru and a designer. You might be both -- or you might not. I don't know.

Apparently, some of you (yes, I'm looking at you, Jeff L.) think design is irrelevant and all that matters if good, clean code. Personally, I feel both are vitally important. If I made it seem like I thought clean, semantic HTML was unimportant, then I apologize. All I meant to imply was that it's a different skillset than design.

This whole thing started because the first commenter compared this to templated web designs. I don't see the comparison. Templated web designs are designed one time for as many possible sites as possible -- and therefore, usually turn out to be perfect for none of them. These guys are doing (apparently) clean, semantic HTML on a per site basis for a reasonable price -- I don't see how to two compare at all.

Just a because a monkey could write HTML doesn't mean writing HTML isn't important. Lighten up, guys. It was a joke. Damn.

Johan said on October 30, 2006

How much research is done for each design, or they just copy and paste a stylesheet and change the color codes and background images?

This service ONLY works in large IT firms where you have graphic designers working alongside interface designers, interface developers. There everyone can focus on their part.

But what when there is need for client-side coding (javascript, DOM) or a CMS? Can I do that with HTML and CSS as well?

Jeff Croft said on October 30, 2006

Oh, and Lance:

If you go around validating other people's sites, just so you can call them out in public when their homepage has a couple of unencoded ampersands, you really a need to get a life. Get a job, because apparently your little internet consultancy isn't doing so hot if you really have time for this.

Grow up. You're acting like a pathetic little baby.

Ryan Berg said on October 31, 2006

I'm going to place myself in the middle of the two camps here.

Standards-based HTML and CSS are native language for me - I can practically think in HTML/CSS as I would in English. I have a full arsenal of tags and methods conventions in my vocabulary.

This makes me think, "This stuff is a breeze! Anyone can do this!"

But my recent experience around young designers with no web experience has reminded me that I've been building this vocabulary since maybe 1998, when I was an impressionable junior high student.

I'd like for more of my student peers to achieve competency in designing for the web, and I think it takes a working knowledge of what can and can't be done via HTML and CSS to claim competency in the design realm. But I don't see the need for all of them to know the Tantek or *html hacks, or how to install Django on Dreamhost. This knowledge comes as second nature to us, but it comes from experience, and experience takes time that not all designers will find worth spending.

My kneejerk reaction to the above sites was "Blasphemy!" as I immediately connected them to commodotized template sites. But if these shops are churning out relatively valid code, they're likely a better alternative to the in-house graphic designer who has only been taught to slice a Photoshop document into a Table for Dreamweaver manipulation.

Bramus! said on October 31, 2006

Nice writeup and love the discussion going on here ... go Jeff (Croft that is)!

Johan said on October 31, 2006

http://www.xhtmlgenius.com/
See this project:http://www.scrapblog.com/
(bump up fontsize) -> the nav drops

XHTMLized
See this project: http://jack-howard.com/
(bump up fontsize) -> the nav drops

Sorry, these are no pros but hey it validates.

Johan said on October 31, 2006

.. If they would know that adding position: absolute can fix this problem.

Johan said on October 31, 2006

I am having fun:
psd2html.com
Have a look here at their code *gourmet*:
http://www.psd2html.com/examples/markup/iqn/index.htm

Semantic code? Hell, right!

<ul id="main-navigation">
<li class="btn1"><a href="#">Automobilies</a></li>
<li class="btn2"><a href="#">Home &amp; Mortgage</a></li>
<li class="btn3"><a href="#">Debt</a></li>
<li class="btn4"><a href="#">Credit Cards</a></li>
<li class="btn5"><a href="#">Credit Reports</a></li>
</ul>

I dont see btn1 as semantically outspoken.

This one is my favorite:

<div class="image"></div>

A classic!

Dylan FM said on October 31, 2006

Some people are confident and do not need these services.
Some people do not feel confident in this for whatever reason(s).
I'm sure the work produced is often high quality, but good design and all else are not included here.

I suppose all that matters is whether you need it or not.
I'd prefer to see(access, experience) standards compliant pages made by someone for someone else than non-compliant pages by someone who was not versed in web standards.

Dylan FM said on October 31, 2006

Hmm Johan, maybe btn1 represents "Bentley, Toyota, Nissan - #1!" :P

Johan said on October 31, 2006

> Hmm Johan, maybe btn1 represents "Bentley, Toyota, Nissan - #1!" :P

Or Button to name - #1

Johan said on October 31, 2006

Snook says: The new trend, however, is to provide quality CSS-based layouts that are even optimized for search engines (SEO).

Example: XHTMLized

project: http://www.barkking.com.au/

Sloppy SEO

Empty metatags?

<meta name="description" content="" />

<meta name="keywords" content="" />

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on October 31, 2006

If you go around validating other people's sites, just so you can call them out in public when their homepage has a couple of unencoded ampersands, you really a need to get a life. Get a job, because apparently your little internet consultancy isn't doing so hot if you really have time for this.

Lovely ad hominems, Mr. Croft. The question remains, though, if HTML and CSS are so easy that monkeys could do it, why haven't you managed to do it on your own web site?

Kristofer Baxter said on October 31, 2006

Why does it seem that everytime someone posts something along these lines it turns into a giant bash-fest!

Here is my (very, very, very) humble opinion on services like this. They are making a huge impact on the web because they are at least trying to conform to the standards in a place where noone else even attempts such things.

Take a look at the latest KC Chiefs website redesign as a perfect example of someone not trying to adopt xhtml/css. I'd much rather the firm who made that site contract these fellas to make a more symantically valid site.

Jason Kataropoulos said on October 31, 2006

Johan, this is the content editors responsibility., don't you think?

I belive that there is a market for these services and they are exploiting it successfully creatign a buzz around them. :)

Jeff Croft said on October 31, 2006

> Lovely ad hominems, Mr. Croft. The question remains, though, if HTML and CSS are so easy that monkeys could do it, why haven't you managed to do it on your own web site?

I had ONE unencoded ampersand in a URL that linked to Amazon.com, and you're in fit about it? Why does this bother you? How does it hurt your ability to use my site? I fixed it. Can you stop diverting Snook's thread now?

It sure feels good pointing out the shortcoming of others, doesn't it?

If you want to have a flame war, let's have it in e-mail. I've got plenty of choice words for you, but I'm not about to put them here.

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on October 31, 2006

I had ONE unencoded ampersand in a URL that linked to Amazon.com, and you're in fit about it? Why does this bother you? How does it hurt your ability to use my site? I fixed it. Can you stop diverting Snook's thread now?

There was more than that yesterday, but congratulations on digging up a monkey to do that 'easy' HTML for you.

The diversion began with your flippant and silly comment, Jeff. If you are really concerned with the integrity of the comments here, perhaps you should have prepared your initial post a little more thoughtfully.

Andrew Herron said on October 31, 2006

What of asking each company for an example of their work so you can provide a full review?

James Bennett said on October 31, 2006

Lance, you might want to follow your own advice, dude ;)

Also, be careful: when angered, web monkeys throw more than just bananas.

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on October 31, 2006

James,

My advice is not to claim HTML is so easy monkeys could do it and then not even have a site that validates. Since I'm not claiming that HTML is easy, but in fact the opposite, I fail to see how I need to 'follow my own advice.'

Re: monkey throwing. Mr. Croft has already sent me two emails of a remarkably juvenile nature so I am already aware of what you're cautioning!

Jeff Croft said on October 31, 2006

Lance-

Forgive me for trying to take this discussion private. Apparently you are more interested in attempting to make a fool of me publicly than trying to work out our differences in private.

I, however, refuse to stoop to your level, and therefore will not be commenting on this thread again.

Jeff L said on October 31, 2006

Mr Croft,

I certainly do not thing design was unimportant, but I was simply placing the same emphasis on the design as you placed on the coding.

I won't get into a discussion here on what I think matters more in the arena of the web, for now lets say everything is weighted equally.

Perhaps the disconnect here is your definition of a designer. In my current company, the IA is done by the IA folks, the design by the designers, the front end by the developers, and the backend by the programmers.

It sounds like your definition of a designer is being lumped to included IA, usability, and other potential nuances of the web.

The point being that a designer can be as simple as a guy drawing pretty pictures or can be as complex as someone taking all that other stuff into account - but so can a front end architect as well.

If you take away the other stuff and leave it to just the actual 'design' portion it's about the same as writing HTML and CSS, wouldn't you say?

James Bennett said on October 31, 2006

Lance, anyone who knows me will tell you that I can be one of the most maddeningly pedantic people you'll ever meet. I give Jeff crap (in a good-natured way) about his work all the time, but even I don't generally make a fuss about ampersands.

Largely, that's because I think they're a petty technicality of SGML and not one of the "big ideas" of the Web (where the big ideas are things like well-structured documents, broad accessibility.etc.). Ampersands are an implementation detail, and not one that's particularly high on the list of concerns for the projects I work on.

And personally, I tend to take a pretty low view of people who carp on them, and usually I think it means I'm doing something right if that's all someone can come up with to throw at me.

Your mileage may vary. Watch out for the bananas.

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on October 31, 2006

Apparently you are more interested in attempting to make a fool of me publicly than trying to work out our differences in private.

We don't have any 'differences' to 'work out.' The point I was making, that you blithely ignored in your rush to insult, was that perhaps HTML and CSS are more challenging that you claim if you yourself haven't managed to use it correctly to your own work.

You could have used my comment as an opportunity to reconsider your initial statement, instead you chose to send me email comparing me to a female sexual organ. As such, your comments about 'refus[ing] to stoop to [my] level' are laughable, indeed.

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on October 31, 2006

Lance, anyone who knows me will tell you that I can be one of the most maddeningly pedantic people you'll ever meet. I give Jeff crap (in a good-natured way) about his work all the time, but even I don't generally make a fuss about ampersands.

As I stated above, it wasn't just 'one ampersand' as Mr. Croft claims. If that was the only error I would not have considered it a valid counterpoint to his argument.

Andy Kant said on October 31, 2006

Man does it look like the comments in this post got out of hand. My view is that in a best case scenario you would have a designer, a front end developer, and a back end developer. All three positions are equally important.

Front end takes much more knowledge than Jeff Croft implies, sure a monkey could do it, but that still isn't a valid argument. A monkey could code and design too, that's how MySpace happened.

As far as the actual topic of this article, these services could be useful, although I would probably need to know the developer personally in order to trust it which defeats the purpose.

Jeff Croft said on October 31, 2006

Why do people still seem to think I was serious when i said a monkey could write HXTML and CSS? Haven't I made it clear that I was joking yet?

Jeff L said on October 31, 2006

I was trying to continue a serious discussion above but I can see how it would be hard to do with the insults being hurled around.

Regardless I don't think you were joking - a monkey COULD do XHTML and CSS, but a monkey could also do a design...I take more offense to the fact that you seem to be playing up design and playing down the development than anything. Which I find odd coming from a guy who just wrote a CSS book....?

But again, I think it's just because you are lumping stuff into design that isn't necessarily part of design.

Anyway, regarding the services mentioned - seems like it could be a good service for those that need quick code, but it obviously isn't as semantically correct as it could be, given some of the examples posted above.

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on October 31, 2006

I think the important unanswered question here is whether or not one of those apes that know sign language could code for Section 508 compliance.

Jeff Croft said on October 31, 2006

> Regardless I don't think you were joking...

I was joking. I do not actually believe a monkey could write HTML and CSS. I do believe that HTML and CSS are more easily learned than design and programming. If you disagree with that, that's fine. We'll just have to agree to disagree.

> I take more offense to the fact that you seem to be playing up design and playing down the development than anything. Which I find odd coming from a guy who just wrote a CSS book....?

I'm not at all saying one is more important than the other. I'm saying they are two different skillsets, and being able to do one does not necessarily make you able to do the other.

The guys offering these services are front-end developers. I can't speak to how good they are at it, because I've not seen their code. But my point, as I've re-stated hundred times now, was simply that this is not the same as templated designs.

By the way, what's up with everyone calling me "Mr. Croft?" It's freaking me out! That's my dad! :)

Jeff Croft said on October 31, 2006

This is me, trying hard to get these comments back on track...

....let's look at the big picture. The code examples we've seen here aren't perfect. They suffer from a bit of classitis and a few other quirks.

But they're still better than 80% of the HTML on the web today. Wouldn't you rather have people paying these guys for code that is nearly-valid, nearly-semantic, and nearly-clean, rather than having their designers slice up PSDs into tables or having their secretaries create sites for them in Frontpage? I know I would.

Maybe people need to lighten up a bit, zoom out just a little, and take note when people are trying to do the right thing and do it well. There are thousands of targets out there if you want to get all over people about bad code. These guys aren't one of them. From what we've seen, these guys are at least 90% of the way there. If you want to attack someone's code, I think you can do a lot better than these guys.

Jeff Croft said on October 31, 2006

> I think the important unanswered question here is whether or not one of those apes that know sign language could code for Section 508 compliance.

Haha. Nice one. :)

Andy Kant said on October 31, 2006

My apologies, Jeff, I didn't mean for that to come off as a personal attack. I would agree with you that front end is definitely the easiest to learn of the three. It is also probably the only one that shouldn't need a formal education.

Ryan Berg said on October 31, 2006

>Wouldn't you rather have people paying these guys for code that is nearly-valid, nearly-semantic, and nearly-clean, rather than having their designers slice up PSDs into tables or having their secretaries create sites for them in Frontpage? I know I would.

My thoughts exactly. Working on a project with someone who sliced a PSD into a table for Dreamweaver isn't too far from a "turn your head and cough" moment in my book.

Johan said on October 31, 2006

> Why do people still seem to think I was serious when i said a monkey could write HXTML and CSS? Haven't I made it clear that I was joking yet?

We do have Go bananas website

Steve Tucker said on October 31, 2006

This to me seems like one of those "I cant believe someone didnt think of it earlier" things. I can imagine this service being useful for larger companies who dont specialise especially in web design/development; perhaps a marketing company with a talent for visual design rather than code.

I think i'll stick to my own two hands.

Jeff L said on October 31, 2006

Jeff,

Sorry about the "Mr." - just trying to avoid confusion, not make you seem older. We are about the same age.

If we are getting back on track to these services, my question now would be how they do it for the price they do it for? Are they definitely outsourcing overseas somewhere?

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on November 01, 2006


If we are getting back on track to these services, my question now would be how they do it for the price they do it for? Are they definitely outsourcing overseas somewhere?

Not having used them I can't say, although I would guess at least in Shaun Andrews case he is doing the work himself.

My guess based on user comments here is that these places offer something of a one size fits all solution, rather than spending much time devising the optimal way to code a site.


Wouldn't you rather have people paying these guys for code that is nearly-valid, nearly-semantic, and nearly-clean, rather than having their designers slice up PSDs into tables or having their secretaries create sites for them in Frontpage?

For me, that is not the question. Would I rather spend a few hundred dollars on "nearly" good code rather than do it myself and produce better code but at a greater expense in development time? And my answer is that it would depend on the client.

Adam Messinger said on November 01, 2006

Jeff Croft said:

If you go around validating other people's sites, just so you can call them out in public when their homepage has a couple of unencoded ampersands, you really a need to get a life.

I think maybe this should be considered special case of Goodwin's Law for discussions involving Web designers and developers. Someone inevitably trots out the "Yeah, well your page doesn't even validate!" non-argument, and it's usually a good sign that the discussion is running low on helpful contributions.

Matt said on November 01, 2006

I run the XHTML/CSS site and do most of the coding there. Although you didn't give us a very good review I appreciate the critique.

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on November 01, 2006


I think maybe this should be considered special case of Goodwin's Law for discussions involving Web designers and developers. Someone inevitably trots out the "Yeah, well your page doesn't even validate!" non-argument,

Adam, you are completely wrong. If one makes the argument that HTML is easy (so easy monkeys could do it) then it is a perfectly reasonable and logical response to point out that the person who is making the argument can't seem to get his own HTML correct. The invalid site undermines the argument about the ease of HTML. It's the same as someone telling us that quitting smoking is easy while he lights up another Marlboro.

And it wasn't just "a couple of unencoded ampersands" either.

Adam Messinger said on November 01, 2006

Lance, allow me to impart a bit of netiquette for your future reference: calling people out on validation errors is generally considered to be "bad form." That's because a whole host of things can cause a page to become invalid: CMS software cock-ups, "creative" visitor input into comment forms, invalid advertiser or affiliate markup, etc. Unless one's website is a completely closed system, there is ample opportunity for a markup bug or two to creep in.

Furthermore, your complaints about Jeff's markup might carry more weight if your own site weren't such a mess. Yes it validates, but it's a perfect example of following the letter of the specs rather than their spirit. Layout is done entirely with tables, there's no structural organization of the content using headings... at all, and you've used images to represent content and navigation while providing no alt attributes to give those images real meaning. Do you know what your site sounds like in a screen reader?

Graphic slash ljpone thousand one hundred four underline six .gif Link Graphic slash ljpone thousand one hundred four underline seven .gif Link Graphic slash ljpone thousand one hundred four underline zero.gif Link Graphic slash ljpone thousand one hundred four underline zero.gif Table with one column and four rows Table with one column and three rows Table with one column and two rows Table with three columns and one row...

Accessibility is where solid, semantic, professional markup really shines. You can tart up crappy HTML to make it look decent, but it won't fool screen readers and other accessibility aids. And here's the real kicker about validation: users don't care, and neither do your clients.

Is it important? Sure. It's also a big help in pinning down CSS bugs and other problems. But in the final analysis validation isn't nearly as important as making sure your client's visitors can accomplish their goals on the website, and have a pleasant experience doing so. I haven't had a single client ask me about validation, but ever since Target got sued for having an inaccessible site, there are clients that will actively insist on accessibility.

Bottom line, Lance? Until you can walk the walk — not just in terms of getting a validation sticker, but in true best practices for modern Web development — how about pointing that finger somewhere else? Yourself, perhaps?

Jem said on November 02, 2006

The sad thing is, I used to do this free for anyone who asked. I only stopped because my job keeps me far too busy... think of the money I could have made!

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on November 02, 2006


Lance, allow me to impart a bit of netiquette for your future reference: calling people out on validation errors is generally considered to be "bad form."

Congratulations Adam on missing the point in spectacular fashion. I was not "calling [someone] out", whatever that means. If one claims that a task is easy, such a claim is negated by an example of the same person's work that demonstrates mistakes in the performance of the supposed "easy" task. As such, whether or not one's site validates is entirely relevant to the discussion.

That's because a whole host of things can cause a page to become invalid:

Your statement is both true and obvious. Had the validation errors been limited to your examples I would not have considered it a valid counterargument - as I have already stated once.


Furthermore, your complaints about Jeff's markup might carry more weight if your own site weren't such a mess.

First of all, that claim is not logically sound. My site has no bearing on the whether or not Jeff's work is consistent with Jeff's arguments.

Secondly, as I am not the one claiming that HTML is easy you can't claim that whatever errors you think you have found in my site contradict what I have argued.

Third, I have not updated my portfolio site in three years. I have been too busy with actual client work to get to it. This is not an excuse, but a frank admission that it needs work. I can assure you that you have not stated anything that I was not already aware of re: accessibility.

You seem to think this discussion is about validation. It isn't. It's about someone making a claim that is blatantly contradicted by the same person's own product. Now Jeff has since said it was just a joke, so it's not a big deal, really. But you seem to have taken up a side in a debate that's already over - and so far you aren't really addressing the issue at all.

Kai Malloy said on November 02, 2006

My biggest problem with these sites, in addition to the points mentioned above, is that as a small web design company owner who works mainly with small businesses, non-profits, and so on, is the lack of face-to-face contact and interaction with customers. I guess I come from the old school, but I was always taught that business is about building relationships and these sites seem to be in direct contradiction to that idea.

Jeff Croft said on November 02, 2006

> Sorry about the "Mr." - just trying to avoid confusion, not make you seem older. We are about the same age.

Oh, no ned to apologize for that. I was just teasing. :)

Jeff Croft said on November 02, 2006

> For me, that is not the question.

That's the question for you, because you can do it yourself. But I don't think you're the target market for these services. The target market is business that employ graphic designers but not front end web developers. For them, the choice is whether to use these guys or find someone in-house to do the job, even though no one is really qualified.

Jeff Croft said on November 02, 2006

> I guess I come from the old school, but I was always taught that business is about building relationships and these sites seem to be in direct contradiction to that idea.

You're right, and there's no doubt that a quality full-serice web firm who will interact face-to-face is almost always going to be the better choice. But it's also almost always going to cost exponentially more.

I still contend that these services are doing a pretty good thing for the price.

jason lynes said on November 02, 2006

it goes against much of what i believe, but i have to actually agree with jeff croft on this.

we have been hiring Sr. Interaction Designers over at northtemple.com and while xhtml and css is something critical to the job, it isn't something that can't be taught. DESIGN often cannot be taught. passion cannot be taught. xhtml and css can, however, be taught to good, passionate designers with little problem.

and while i prefer to write my own code, services like these show that the skill is a commodity. a cheap one at that.

great analogy to the architect and construction worker. xhtml and css are tools to be used (yet not even required) to achieve great design.

Ryan Thrash said on November 02, 2006

I am probably going to use (one or more) of these services soon. If they get close and allow me to kick off additional projects more quickly, I'm a happy camper (and likely more cost effectively than my internal costs). I'll outline my expectations for the structure and CSS formatting style; hopefully one of the firms will be able to work with me in this regard. (I fully expect to make tweaks to the delivered product, too.)

If I didn't know what to look out for and how to polish the deliverables though, I might reconsider this stance. You really need to know which rules are OK to break (and some are). Some technically invalid sites have zero consequence on site usability, accessibility or visual presentation. Technically, you shouldn't ever break the speed limit...

To me, this is functionally analogous to a Creative Director at an ad agency working with Jr. Art Directors and/or Design Staff. In the end, I think it's pretty much inevitable and a very good thing. I just hope they meet my modest expectations. ;)

Lance Jonn Romanoff said on November 02, 2006


That's the question for you, because you can do it yourself. But I don't think you're the target market for these services. The target market is business that employ graphic designers but not front end web developers.

I see banner ads for PSD2HTML pretty often - and not on the sort of sites that someone not in the industry is likely to visit. Furthermore, many of their testimonials are from web development firms who use them as a subcontractor. I think in their case I may be their target audience, or at least one of their targets.

Randy said on November 02, 2006

Jeff, how much do the monkeys charge? That might be a better option. I mean, if they can do it then that would be the cheaper route to go I'm sure.

;-)

Shaun Andrews said on November 03, 2006

I'm going to try and stay clear of the argument here. I just want to say that I'm a professional. XHTMLGenius started out as a marketing experiment. I only spent a few hours design/developing the site during a slow week, and it has paid for itself.

Screw it...

XHTML and CSS aren't hard - but coding a site can be time consuming, especially if you don't have a ton of experience dealing with the many browser bugs. I've been doing it for a while and can deliver beautiful code on a dealine. XHTMLGenius is far from my sole business (I do design and coding under shaunandrews.com, and I'm a part of Molehill, the group behind Tick) - but it seems to serve a purpose for many - and its introduced me to a few new clients.

And for those skeptical of XHTMLGenius: Trust me, I'm good at what I do.

Kiper said on November 06, 2006

And here I thought we were all brothers and sisters...
And all along we were just monkeys and chipmonks.

;)

paul said on November 06, 2006

has anyone actually tried any of these services? instead of bashing (or even praising them), i skimming the comments and didn't at first glance see any comments from people who had any of the services in question.

Jonathan Snook said on November 06, 2006

paul: Johan is one of the few who's actually tried one of the services and has given his thoughts on the matter. I'm also in the midst of trying out XHTMLGenius, with which I'll report back the results next week.

Jeff Croft said on November 06, 2006

> XHTML and CSS aren't hard - but coding a site can be time consuming, especially if you don't have a ton of experience dealing with the many browser bugs. I've been doing it for a while and can deliver beautiful code on a dealine.

Ding ding ding! FTW!

This is exactly why services like this has a place. It's time consuming -- especially for those without a lot of experience -- and tedious work. Well said, Shaun.

Jesse C. said on November 08, 2006

I'm a little late to the party on this thread - but I just tripped over another service called The Choppr . Hope you'll keep us posted on your experience with XHTMLGenius. I'm also quite interested in the value proposition of using one of these services for when I am (las I usually am) swamped :)

Enrico said on November 08, 2006

Hi everyone,

The Choppr here! I just wanted to add my 2 cents to this discussion and say that the main two reasons I saw this as being a service that has validity on the web is firstly - most web developers i know would love to outsource this kind of thing for the right price to someone who does good quality work, why wouldnt they its a time thing, outsource and concentrate on something else whether it be finding more work or the other 3 project syou have going at the same time.

And secondly - For those starting out their own blog or small website and on a budget and would like not only some clean professional code but a little advice to go with it, i think its a small price to pay.

I think this kind of thing could help alot of web dev agencies aswell as freelancers to leverage their time effectively and even though its a small part of the job, its one that im sure mst would be happy to hand over to someone who is going to send back some quality code for a small price.
(heck some of these developers might learn a thing or two looking at the code when they get it back)

Also i didnt start this to compete with the other guys as i believe that its quite a big arena we are in.

So great post Jonathan, and interesting to read the views of everybody here, and by all means rip my site apart with its validation and code, would love some feedback!!

Jonathan very interested to see what your experience is with XHTNLGenius as Shaun does some great work.

Enrico said on November 08, 2006

Geez, i should type slower!

Johan said on November 10, 2006

Another one: http://thechoppr.com/

Rob said on November 13, 2006

Jeff Croft and Lance, shut up.

Jeff Croft said on November 13, 2006

Rob-

We did, about seven days ago.

Phunky said on November 16, 2006

Very intresting read, im currently working on this type of service but aimed at UK designers.

Taking some of the things said on here it would seem that a cheap and quick turn over for the single page markup are the most important factors.

Im also surprised at the extra charges given for making a site x-browser compatible on anything other than Firefox/IE

Should be intresting to see if what i have to offer will take off or not...

Harvey Ramer said on November 28, 2006

I recently started a service like this called CSS Sage (http://csssage.com), simply because I wanted to stay busy with smaller projects in between my larger jobs.

I found the market is overly commoditized, but money is money and the service is certainly clear cut.

Though I don't consider people who don't understand Web technologies Web designers, I understand that they consider themselves in this light. As such, I'm providing them a tool to experiment with Web design and to learn what it's all about.

Anyway, not everyone trying to provide a commodity service as part of their design business is an evil offshoring type. Some are trying to meet a felt need at the request of businesses and organizations who feel they are qualified to design but don't want to code.

Just my two cents. By the way, my code isn't perfect either! :) It is however, valid, and carefully thought out.

PSDXHTML.COM said on November 30, 2006

PSDXHTML.COM also provides top quality PSD to XHTML / CSS Conversion Service.

FEATURES:
* Hand coded XHTML 1.0 Strict markup
* Light-weight table-less
* Optimized for search engines
* Comented and shorthand XHTML/CSS
* Html Slice is identical to the original design
* Clean W3C Valid XHTML/CSS
* Optimized images for fast-loading
* Real text wherever possible, rather than images
* Compatible with IE, Firefox, Opera etc.
* 12 hours per 1 page or faster
* Free tech support
* 100% satisfacion guarantee!

Andy Ford said on March 11, 2007

I've just launched my xhtml/css markup service Aloe Studios. After designing/programming sites from the ground up and working directly with end clients, I've decided I much prefer to work with web and design agencies on a sub-contract basis just doing the xhtml/css.

There are plenty of companies do great design and work well with clients, but need help with coding. I don't see this commoditization of html as being any different than sub-contracting Flash work for example.

Ted said on October 15, 2008

www.djaxo.com offers good value for money, with high quality and speed, I liked working with them and I would recommend.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.