“HTML5” — let’s move on, shall we?

Months ago I concluded that “HTML5” means whatever you want it to mean. This week, Jeffrey Zeldman and Jeff Croft took up the discussion, with Tantek Çelik and Bruce Lawson commenting.

Tantek Çelik said:

However, [the test site HTML5test.com] has one very big problem.

It tests things that it claims or implies are HTML5 (or conflates them as such) that are not actually part of HTML5.

Bruce Lawson said:

And what really makes my old-timers’ blood boil is people calling CSS3 or patented Apple CSS-extensions HTML5. The work of the Web Standards Project was incredibly successful in making people aware the structure and style are different. There’s an even greater separation in HTML5.

Jeff Croft said:

Sometimes we just need a word to rally behind. And put in job descriptions. And claim we “support” (another word that is mostly meaningless). It’s a language thing and a human psychology thing.

Needless to say, I agree with Jeff Croft here. There are several points that merit our attention:

  1. It’s already too late. “HTML5” has taken on meaning as a marketing term and is being used as such — not least by the browser vendors. Any opposition is pointless.
  2. Bruce’s argument would carry more force if the HTML5 spec hadn’t habitually blurred the line by inserting behaviour into what’s supposed to be a structure spec. Besides, any web developer is able to see that the <section> element, a -webkit-transform and Web Workers belong in different layers.
  3. The HTML5 spec is changing constantly, and time and again features are yanked out of it. No doubt that makes sense from a spec-producing point of view, but the problems of spec writers should not dictate what web developers do. We just want to use cool new stuff and sell it to our clients.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t be bothered to once again rise to righteous fury about minor semantic points. Explaining the separation of structure, presentation, and behaviour was very important in its day (hell, I was the first to discuss separation of structure and behaviour back in 2004), but the concept was accepted by the web development community long ago, and I don’t see the use “HTML5” as a broad term contributing to its decline.

And I don’t care whether something is in a document called “HTML5” or not. What matters is what the browsers support, provided they communicate with W3C in the process. (And everybody is very serious about that nowadays. Whatever else happens, we won’t slip back into a Browser War. That danger has gone forever.)

But it seems one more round of pointless semantic purity discussions is called for, and many will rise to the occasion. Not me, though.

Let’s move on, shall we?

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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Comments are closed.

1 Posted by Andrew Hedges on 3 August 2010 | Permalink

I agree. It's like Ajax. The term has taken on a life of its own. If that offends you, take a deep breath...and try to let go.

2 Posted by cancel bubble on 3 August 2010 | Permalink

"Whatever else happens, we won’t slip back into a Browser War. That danger has gone forever."

ORLY? You don't think we're in the second wave of browser wars?

3 Posted by Steve Armstrong on 3 August 2010 | Permalink

This is off-topic, bug Google Reader (on Chrome on Windows 7) is showing me the raw encode of special characters for your blog post title (#8220 instead of a quote). The RSS feed doesn't seem to have a charset in it's content-type, which might be doing it.

I really like the blog, by the way.

4 Posted by Brent Ashley on 3 August 2010 | Permalink

I agree with Andrew - when the Ajax thing happened, a lot of effort was spent by all sides trying to shoehorn their worldview onto the bandwagon, or to insist that it had to be taken literally as an acronym and that no diversion from XML (eg JSON) could be called Ajax.

I'm afraid HTML5 for better or worse is now a platypus, and anyone still insisting it's a duck or a beaver had better just learn to love the furry little bugger for what it is.

5 Posted by kl on 3 August 2010 | Permalink

We do get "browser war"-like crap from WebKit.

For example meta viewport has been unleashed by Apple without any warning and became de-facto standard. And a stupid one: it should have been @viewport in CSS (I can't make mobile view alternate stylesheet!)

6 Posted by George Papadakis on 3 August 2010 | Permalink

We people need new to get a life and stop coming up with fancy names just to feed our ego and vanity.

Web2, HTML5, Ajax (as someone mentioned already) etc are just false ways to promote false motives and hide our ignorance.

Words and terms don't make great stuff. Working hard does.

7 Posted by Thomas A. Powell on 3 August 2010 | Permalink

Yes HTML5 = Buzz word. Nobody knows what it means but damn do they want it. :-) Ajax was the same way, before that XML, and of course DHTML. Consumerist attitudes reign supreme with a Web mob mentality driven by marketing waiting for the next awesome thing around the bend.

A few points though PPK

- Terms are important. If the Web world is to mature to a more engineering style we need to get on the "same page" Without precision in language we try to find our muddy way with intention. We should amongst our community of Web professionals encourage precise discussion as much as possible. I acknowledge that the masses are not capable of this but professional Web devs sure are

- The Browser War II is in effect - to suggest not is to ignore the rapid innovate / release cycle going on. Sure the browser vendors aren't quite so stupid about it this time, collective understanding and a sense of rules of engagement within the constructs of the WhatWG and W3C is clear. However, "war" for market share is clear as day with corporations and their faces Jobs, Hickson, and all jockeying for the holder of the true vision - the mantle of most HTML5y :-)

Anyway keep up the fight for an improved Web!

8 Posted by tom on 4 August 2010 | Permalink

i tend to agree about not being pedantic (just like with all language issues), except on one thing: Web SQL Database.

that is not, and can never be a "web standard" of any sort (and would not be a good idea even if it could).

2 eurocents..

9 Posted by Tino Zijdel on 4 August 2010 | Permalink

I disagree; 'HTML5' is confusing since it is the name of an actual specification, which was not the case with DHTML or AJAX. I think marketeers should come up with something better to describe features of modern webbrowsers...

10 Posted by Ryan Kinal on 4 August 2010 | Permalink

"Besides, any web developer is able to see that the element, a -webkit-transform and Web Workers belong in different layers."

I would not generalize as such. I've met plenty of people who consider themselves web developers that know very little of the proper way to construct a front-end.

Those not as enlightened as you (or I, if I may be so bold) still use inline styles and onclick="" (or href="javascript:..."), as well as deprecated markup and attributes.

And while they may not be "true developers" in our eyes, they are still developers in the eyes of their clients.

11 Posted by Sean Fraser on 7 August 2010 | Permalink

When it was the WHATWG years ago, it had such a bright future; it seems to have gone elsewhere. Yes, I agree - Let's move on.

12 Posted by Constantine Vesna on 8 August 2010 | Permalink

HTML5 is a buzzword.
Hell, even CSS3 is a buzzword...

Browser War II is going on right now, its bigger than first one, but for now combatants more or less keep the "Geneva convention".

Still, Google releases its 0.X versions as X, Apple forbids Flash and bring a crapload of new properties, MS adds hardware acceleration (with DirectX) and Opera pushes EU to implement browser choice-screen. WebVideo, JS speed, malware/phishing filters, standards' compliance - vendors are fighting everywhere, and probably only the mass of legacy code prevents them from implementing something really disruptive.
Though i wouldn't be surprised Apple will try to pull something like that in mobile web.

13 Posted by Kai on 10 August 2010 | Permalink

Yes HTML5 is a Buzzword.
But there are several really cool techniques and if every browser has implemented, there will be no more Flash! :D

14 Posted by Kai on 10 August 2010 | Permalink

Forget the "official" W3C recommendation and implement the cool stuff :)

If we have to wait for the finished standard, we will see no HTML5 out there before 2020!

15 Posted by nashekrashe on 28 August 2010 | Permalink

"HTML5" is like a "beta" widget back in 2000.