Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Ian Hickson discusses HTML 5 features, pain points, adoption rate, and more

Category: Standards

Justin James took some time to interview Ian Hickson, HTML Uber Editor, on features, pain points, adoption rate, and more.

A couple of interesting messages come out for me:

  • We want to do this right, and actually specify what should be done, and this takes time. No more vague specs!
  • Although the final spec will take a long time, this doesn’t mean that we won’t see pieces implemented sooner, and in fact we are already seeing that
  • It is hard to guess what people will find contentious, and what will get by:

    HTML5 defines sort-of-new meanings for the b, i, and small elements, which I thought would be really contentious, but really only a few people complained.

    The things that ended up being the most contentious were things I didn’t really expect. At one point, I added a paragraph in the spec that said that we were looking for a royalty-free, patent-unencumbered, and low-submarine-patent-risk video codec, and we received a record number of e-mails on the topic overnight, as every news site on the Web seemed to take this as a sign of the apocalypse.

    Another topic that’s received a lot of feedback is that we dropped acronym in favor of just using abbr, and a lot of people complained, though few could agree on what exactly the two elements would mean if we kept both.

    More recently, there have been two big topics, both on what I consider to be remarkably unimportant parts of HTML, all things considered. The first was with the img element and its alt attribute. HTML4 requires alt but doesn’t give any advice about how to use it. With HTML5, I added a long section that describes how to use it in detail and said that in some cases (e.g., webcams), there might not be any useful replacement text, and so it would be ok in those cases (and only those cases) to omit the attribute. This caused a firestorm of protest from so-called accessibility experts. There were even some people arguing that Flickr (another site that today shows images but doesn’t always have suitable alternative text) should require photographers to always include detailed descriptions of every image they upload.

  • What are the gotchas in HTML 5?

    Most of the “gotchas” in HTML5 are things that we’ve inherited from the legacy of the Web. For example, the address element is for contact information, not any address; the br element shouldn’t be used unless you’re writing something that really has a line break like a poem (generally people should be using p instead of br); and be careful when writing URLs, you have to escape the “&” characters by appending “amp;” after each one.

    We’ve also introduced some unfortunate features of our own, though. One is that, while we’ve made it legal for the a element (used to define links) to contain entire paragraphs and lists, doing so can cause problems in browsers like Firefox that don’t yet implement the HTML5 parser algorithm. Also, while it can contain what we call “flow content,” it can’t be used to wrap individual list items or table rows.

  • Ian really cares about error handling:

    Defining error handling from day one has got to be the most important change that I would ask Tim to make if I could speak to him then. I think we could have avoided a huge amount of the tag soup mess we have now if we had just defined simple error handling from the get-go.

This is just a fraction of the article. You should check it out!

Posted by Dion Almaer at 7:29 am

3.2 rating from 16 votes


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and be careful when writing URLs, you have to escape the “&” characters by appending “amp;” after each one.

… it has name – HTML Entity :)

Comment by webflake — September 11, 2008

The link has a “” address – you might want to remove one of the “.com”s. :)

Comment by ChrisWilson — September 11, 2008

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