HTML5 As a Buzzword


Yet again, the debate over whether or not HTML5 should be used as a buzzword is rearing it’s head. This time, the instigator is a seemingly unlikely group–the W3C itself!

The W3C just released an official HTML5 logo that would look quite appropriate on any superhero costume with a cape (see SuperHTML5Bruce as evidence). The issue, as I see it at least, is not really with the logo itself. Sure, it’s kind of an odd idea, but it’s pretty well designed and could theoretically be a good way to market the new standard.

I say theoretically because in it’s current form it fails, at least if we are measuring by accuracy and clarity. To take a quote directly from the site:

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

In case you didn’t catch the blunder, the W3C is basically lumping a variety of technologies under the HTML5 buzzword that has become so popular. There’s been great discussion online about whether this matters or not. Back in August of 2010, Jeff Croft wrote a very well thought out post about the topic. In it he argues that we should ‘embrace’ the buzzword because:

Our industry has proven on several occasions that we don’t get excited about new, interesting, and useful technologies and concepts until such a buzzword is in place.

That’s a valid point, and good reason for the need for an umbrella buzzword of some sort. What’s unfortunate is that the buzzword chosen now carries two meanings with it: HTML5 the spec and HTML5 the overarching buzzword that includes HTML5, SVG, WOFF and (shudder) CSS3.

That being said, I can see the case for sticking with it. While ‘HTML5’ was an unfortunate choice, it has spread rather rapidly and it may be too late to change it. Also, as Jeff stated, buzzwords tend to generate excitement and marketers and journalists have effectively used it to do just that.

Here’s where this particular usage case falls apart for me. Who exactly is the W3C ‘marketing’ too? Isn’t it the very people responsible for utilizing these standards to build applications and sites? If so, then what good could lumping all of those different technologies under a confusing umbrella term possibly do?

Jeremy Keith said it best back in August:

Clarifying what is and isn’t in HTML5 isn’t pedantry for pedantry’s sake. It’s about communication and clarity, the cornerstones of language.

In that same article, he tells a story of a web developer who wanted to know if Jeremy’s new HTML5 book covered CSS3. When he was told it does not, the developer replied “But CSS3 is part of HTML5, isn’t it?”

That’s where this buzzword fails and that’s where the issue lies. When the buzzword is causing confusion amongst the very people who have to be able to distinguish between these technologies, we have a problem. It’s a problem that is certainly not helped by the standards body that write the specs that these developers utilize failing to clearly separate and distinguish the technologies from one another.

A lot of work has been in the last decade or so to help clarify these technologies and push their adoption. We’ve seen web standards go from being a tool of the few to a tool of the many. We’ve seen people preach the importance of separation of concerns–HTML for structure, CSS for styling, Javascript for interaction. A great deal of effort has gone into clarifying the ever evolving, never quite sane world of web standards. I fear if we’re not careful with it, improper use of this buzzword threatens to undo at least some of that work.