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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.


The Web Standards Project

Your Replies

#1 On January 18th, 2011 5:01 pm HTML5 Gets an Official Logo from W3C - Webmaster Forum replied:

[...] [...]

#2 On January 18th, 2011 5:12 pm Alan Hogan replied:

I’ve found myself using the phrase “web stack” or “pure web stack” where others have been using HTML5 as an umbrella term for standards-based browser experiences constructed sans plugins. How does WaSP & the web community feel about this phrase? Are there better alternatives?

#3 On January 18th, 2011 5:15 pm shepazu replied:

Hi, Chris-

We have indeed been looking at a larger effort toward branding for the Open Web Platform, involving our members and the community at large, and you should expect more news on that front in time. You’re right that HTML5 “the specification” is separate from HTML5 “the buzzword”.

But as far as the buzzword is concerned… that ship has sailed. It is not important that a manager or client knows the difference between HTML5 and CSS3.1 and WOFF and SVG 1.1, etc. What matters is that Web development and design professionals know the difference. The client can simply say they want an HTML5 site, and the designers and developers can understand and discuss between themselves the technical details of the site; the client doesn’t need to know that that the developer used the element, but the developer needs to know where to go to read and understand how best to use that element.

We don’t feel that the HTML5 logo undermines that. True Web professionals are not going to be confused about the separation of concerns, and W3C has ongoing efforts to improve the education of those professionals, such as the collaboration with WaSP’s InterAct Curriculum and WebCraft initiative done in part with the W3C Open Web Education Alliance Incubator Group, and even W3C’s online training courses in Mobile Web and SVG.

This logo is neither about education nor misinformation, but a badge of pride and rallying cry for people to keep their skills current, and use the full range of capabilities available in modern browsers, to the betterment of the Web. We are celebrating the fact that so many people are excited about HTML5, not just Web professionals.

So, we take your message to heart, and we hope this leads to a longer-lasting conversation about the Open Web Platform.

-Doug Schepers, W3C

#4 On January 18th, 2011 5:18 pm Brad Touesnard replied:

Yes, the problem is that there is no umbrella term for the smattering of web technologies. I think most shudder at the thought of Jim from marketing throwing around “Web 3.0″ even though it is much better than “HTML5″. Maybe jumping a couple of versions and dropping the dot zero would differ enough from “Web 2.0″ that it wouldn’t bring back nightmares from the past: “Web5″. No?

#5 On January 18th, 2011 6:05 pm Jarvklo replied:

Thanks Chris and Wasp for taking this initiative!

IMHO It’s hard enough to battle current HTML5, evangelism induced, misconceptions about “5″ being everything including the kitchen sink that you’ll ever need (and able to walk on water as well) out there in client land (i.e. IRL) as it is.

#6 On January 19th, 2011 5:05 am AlastairC replied:

Good points, and I certainly agree with not using HTML5 as the umbrella term.

However, I’m not sure Jeremy’s point that we didn’t need a catch-all term for “HTML4.01 plus JavaScript” is helpful here. (E.g. we did have DHTML as an umbrella term).

Presumably the aim of the logo is to let (non-developers) know that a site is built with a certain set of technologies? (I’m not into badges, but plenty of people are.)

So the next question is what should the umbrella term be?

I believe that Eric Meyer has been using “Open web stack”, which is accurate and works with developers. However, I think we need something a little shorter and snappier (preferably an acronym of 6 letters or less you can pronounce).

Something that combines W3C, open, web… the WOW stack? Dunno, any other ideas?

We do need *something*, or HTML5 will become entrenched as the umbrella term.

#7 On January 19th, 2011 11:07 am HTML5 Logo - Barely Creative replied:

[...] The WaSP touches this point perfectly, in a recent post: [...]

#8 On January 19th, 2011 1:13 pm The “Open Web Stack” – Snappy acronym needed | AlastairC replied:

[...] Mills at the Web Standards project posted up an open letter to the W3C about the new “HTML5 logo“, which I commented on, but it seems comments are off. So [...]

#9 On January 19th, 2011 1:39 pm Jimmi replied:

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?

Does “three-legged stool” ring any bells?

#10 On January 19th, 2011 5:33 pm Hamish Rouse replied:

You know something, if we need a name for name sake – instead of HTML5 like W3C has come out with, why not “WAKA”/”Web AKA” or “Web Also Known As”

Its the web that uses various technologies… Just a thought…

Good letter tho.


#11 On January 20th, 2011 10:11 am Exactly what is HTML5? | HasGeek Blog replied:

[...] Mills says, don’t muddy the waters (via Shwetank Dixit): This really isn’t good—I appreciate that it is good to have an umbrella [...]

#12 On January 21st, 2011 12:10 pm Web round up #13: What people are saying about the new HTML5 logo | Mayfield Digital Blog replied:

[...] piss-coloured fleck of no importance to clog-up the footer of a website the rest of the time though.The Web Standards Project:Without being able to draw clear distinctions between technologies, clear communication about those [...]

#13 On January 27th, 2011 4:00 pm Ajeet replied:

It is one thing to make an HTML logo to act as a general symbol, akin to the RSS symbol. It is another to try to establish supremacy in terms of who owns what technology. That is what is happening here, I think.

#14 On January 28th, 2011 3:32 pm HTML5 logo: W3C takes a step in the right direction - The Web Standards Project replied:

[...] receiving a wave of negative feedback concerning the HTML5 logo, the W3C have made steps towards righting things. If you read the HTML5 logo FAQ, you’ll see [...]

#15 On January 31st, 2011 12:45 pm What is HTML5? « Your home for HTML5 news, tutorials and examples replied:

[...] it’s not really an HTML5-logo is it? The Web Standards Project has also criticized the logo with an open letter to the W3C, and I can honestly understand what they are concerned about. HTML5 is becoming a term for anything [...]

#16 On February 4th, 2011 4:54 pm Ajeet replied:

Glad to see that all our protests have not gone unheard and that w3c is making amends already.

#17 On February 19th, 2011 2:08 pm Stacy Jackson replied:

I think the logo is a good idea. To me its marketing 101 and even an open technology needs marketing to quicken the adaptation.

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