Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No DHTML, Please

HTML5 logo mocked up as DHTML logo.The trend continues where I speak to clients, vendors, young developers fresh out of college, and even the teachers/professors who instruct them and they don't understand that HTML5 and CSS3 aren't the same specification. I have repeatedly shown an HTML 4.01 site with CSS3 to explain that they are each distinct specifications which can be applied in different combinations of different versions. This is further complicated when JavaScript is folded into the mix — some folks even think jQuery is part of the HTML5 specification.

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:

While named HTML5 Please, this site discusses features beyond the HTML5 specification, coming from CSS, SVG, and the greater Open Web Platform umbrella.

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.

3 comments:

  1. Obviously I couldn't agree more. In addition, no more has been said on the issue with regards the removal of the disclaimer. Seems a bit pointless to open an issue for it then to be ignored by the "powers that be".

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  2. Yes, the lack of activity on the Git issue seems odd. I suspect they have day jobs, though, and just need time to process it all. Since feature updates are probably more important, I suspect those take priority, though someone did have to take time to prioritize removal of the disclaimer.

    Really I just want to prevent "HTML5" from becoming the next "DHTML." I've fought that battle, and there wasn't even a real spec in there.

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  3. I suggest that we begin using "smurf" in place of HTML5 for all non-technical purposes to allow formtheninclusin of CSS3, JQuery, NoSQL, etc.

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