No DHTML, Please
I am repeating a request that when we who know better (developers, tech writers, robots named Frank) speak about discrete specifications, we refer to them as such.
When I talk to another developer about a feature, I want to know that when one of us says “HTML5″ we are both talking about that particular specification. When we use terms like “WOFF” or “WebGL” I have comfort knowing the developer has a particular set of technical standards in mind, but when one of us says “HTML5″ we each have to pause to consider what related specification the other might actually mean.
It seems fair to raise what sounds like a semantic point when we are discussing a specification that is all about encoding content in semantic and structural elements. I don’t think I should let this go, otherwise it feels like I have failed the semantic goal of HTML right at the outset.
What Motivated the Mini-Rant
Another free and fantastical service was released to the web development community on Tuesday, HTML5 Please. The same folks who also brought us sites like HTML5 Boilerplate, Modernizr and CSS3 Please are the fine team behind this resource. And this is part of the reason why I am so frustrated. Each of them knows the difference between HTML, CSS, and unrelated specifications like WOFF, SVG, Geolocation, WebGL, and so on.
In a (Google-doc-brokered) conversation with Ian Devlin (author of HTML5 Multimedia: Develop and Design), Paul Irish (one of the folks behind HTML5 Please) agreed to add a disclaimer to the site for the chronically unlikely-to-read-any-specifications-or-bother-to-know-the-differences-among-them. Mr. Irish made short work of it, too:
On Wednesday I went back to the site and noticed that the disclaimer was gone. I tweeted about it and was ultimately directed to a bug/issue report that provided justification for its removal:
[…] However, HTML5 represents an umbrella term for all new technologies (as is inferred from platform.html5.org). Also, the specification itself is now a living standard known as HTML and not HTML5.
Of course I was motivated to leave a comment:
I feel the ship has sailed when trying to communicate this point to the general public, tech writers, bosses, clients, and small children up the street. However, since the site is aimed at developers I think it does a disservice to not remind them that HTML5 means a very particular specification, and that it makes it easier in the future to cite new specifications that will be supported on the site (as they come up), but are otherwise distinct. For those who do know better (me, a couple folks above), it just looks like the site got it wrong and doesn’t understand the difference itself.
If we as technical professionals cede the meaning of HTML5 when speaking to other technical professionals, we are falling prey to marketing speak that has no place in discussions about specific technical matters.
That’s it, that’s the background. I’ve explained my thoughts on this before and am concerned that HTML5 has become a distilled marketing term that, unlike DHTML and Web 2.0, neither of which shared the exact same name as the version of a technical specification, only leads to confusion when developers are interacting with marketers, bosses, clients and vendors.
You may read previous variations on this rant here:
Update: January 27, 2012
The online version of .net Magazine covered this post with a news bit that has garnered some additional comments. Read it at Dev rallies against HTML5 confusion.
Update: February 3, 2012
Aaron Gustafson wrote a response piece on his blog titled HTML5 is the new DHTML. His is less ranty than mine, so already it’s worth a read.