Working together for standards The Web Standards Project


HTML5 logo: be proud, but don’t muddy the waters!

By Chris Mills | January 18th, 2011 | Filed in Action, Bizarre, CSS, Education, Emerging Technology, HTML/XHTML, W3C/Standards Documentation

In which we ask that the W3C to come up with a new monicker for the umbrella of modern web technologies.

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Today brings to us the news that the W3C have unveiled a logo for HTML5. Does an open technology need a logo? Perhaps not, but many see it as a good idea, including myself. I think it is a great idea to create a rallying flag/focus point for people to use to show their support of HTML5, and to help increase awareness and propagation of this important new technology, thereby aiding the evolution of the open web.

But wait, things are not quite right. If you delve deeper you’ll see that, included in their definition of the technology that comprises HTML5, is CSS3, WOFF, SVG, and a few other cuckoos in the HTML5 nest. If you look at the HTML5 Logo FAQ, you’ll find the following:

The logo is a general-purpose visual identity for a broad set of open web technologies, including HTML5, CSS, SVG, WOFF, and others.

This really isn’t good—I appreciate that it is good to have an umbrella term for a group of related technologies and techniques that would otherwise be difficult to talk about in conversation. “Ajax” and “Web 2.0” serve that purpose well. And it is ok to talk about closely-related specs such as Geolocation and Web Sockets as being under the HTML5 umbrella, as long as you clarify it somewhere (you can find a good example in Get familiar with HTML5!). But this is different—HTML5 and CSS3, for example, are two distinctly different technologies, and should not be confused with one another. To do so will impede learning and cause problems with development, documentation, and all manner of other things.

You could perhaps forgive marketers for getting it confused, but then again their confusion is not so critical as long as their end product looks and works great, and they have a web developer behind them to put them right at critical points. But I have talked to many web developers that are confused, and honestly think that CSS3 and SVG are part of HTML5.

There has understandably been some bad feeling about this in the web community. Jeremy Keith put it nicely in Badge of Shame, and Bruce Lawson also gave a good view in On the HTML5 logo, as well as providing a good rant to put things straight: HTML5 != CSS3. At Opera, my colleagues and I are constantly reiterating a more accurate definition of HTML5 to help overcome such confusion, and many allies at other browser vendors are doing the same.

But standing against the W3C is not the way to solve this either. In light of this, we at the WaSP are sending an open letter to folks at the W3C, urging them to fix this oversight. The letter is thus:

Dear W3C,

We are writing to address a major concern we at WaSP (and in the web professional community in general) have with the newly-unveiled HTML5 brand. While we are excited that the W3C is doing so much to promote new technologies being developed, we are incredibly concerned that using “HTML5” as the umbrella for these technologies does more harm than good.

“HTML5,” as a term, has become a bit of a beast and is already presenting problems:

First, you’ve got HTML5 “the spec” which isn’t just HTML markup anymore, but includes specifications for everything from local databases to web workers. Explaining what we mean when we talk about “HTML5” requires use of modifying phrases, as in “HTML5 the markup language” or “HTML5 geolocation”.

Then Apple and Google began promoting the use of “HTML5” as as a catch-all term for marketing their browser advancements, much as Microsoft and Netscape (and journalists) had used “DHTML” in the past. The term became less meaningful because it was being used to cover more ground and, consequently, it made communications between developers and clients more difficult because both sides did not have the same understanding of what HTML5 meant.

Now the W3C has come out and essentially condoned the branding of everything from CSS to actual HTML5 to WOFF as “HTML5”. We can’t imagine a single action that will cause more confusion than this misguided decision (and the W3C has produced some pretty impenetrable specs in its time). Our own Jeremy Keith summed it up perfectly when he said

What we have here is a deliberate attempt to further blur the lines between separate technologies that have already become intertwingled in media reports.

We need for the W3C, as a standards body, to understand the importance of clarity with regard to the term “HTML5”. Without being able to draw clear distinctions between technologies, clear communication about those technologies becomes increasingly difficult if not impossible. As an organization of web professionals promoting the inclusion of web standards in the education of future web professionals and the adoption of web standards among practicing professionals, we are deeply concerned that your decision will make our job even harder.

So, when push comes to shove, what do we want you to change? Well, we think a good place to start is backing away from the use of “HTML5” as a catch-all term. If you feel you need a catch-all term, come up with something else, but as Jeremy also said

We [developers] never needed a term to refer to “XHTML 1.0 plus CSS2.1” or “HTML4.01 plus JavaScript” or “any combination of front-end technologies.” Why this sudden all-conquering need for a term that covers so many different technologies as to be completely meaningless?

With a new moniker for the umbrella of modern web technologies, the blurred distinction between the diverse languages and systems that comprise it will evaporate and we won’t have to worry (as much) about the potential for miscommunication. Hey, it will even give you a chance to create another logo.

Signed,

The Web Standards Project

Your Replies

#1 On January 18th, 2011 5:01 pm