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HTML5 Meets World. Oh, the Irony ...

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It's been an important year for front-end development. We went from rather stale and somewhat bored to fresh and exciting. Emerging standards like html5, css3 and javascript upgrades fueled the renewed browser wars and opened up a whole new can of possibilities for us to toy around with. All this excitement has a serious downside too, but through all the hype and euphoria these bumps might be a little harder to spot.

HTML5 is the new web 2.0

We've come to a point where clients are specifically asking for html5 sites. Not because they have any clue what it is all about, but because it's a new technology and they don't want to lag behind. It's very much like the web 2.0 hype we experienced a couple of years ago. They don't care whether we're actually using html5 or any other new technology, as long as they're seeing the bling these new technologies promise they feel happy and comforted.

It's been interesting to see how this hype developed over time. First it was pushed forward by front-end developers to ease our work, later on the infamous Apple/Adobe/Google feud took a run with html5. And of course browser vendors and rendering engines are continuously bragging about cutting edge support for new features. All of this led to one single conclusion: there's a new web and you need to be part of it unless you want to feel left out.

And much like the web2.0 hype this new web needed a new hype word. That hype word became html5. What a bummer.

Hollow words

Somehow html5 became an encompassing term used to hint at all these new technologies available today. It doesn't matter if we're talking about css3 effects, new javascript functionalities, actual html5 elements or even simple oldskool javascript effects to mimic all this new tech, it's all html5 in the eyes of sales people. Even the Apple team ran head-first into this wall when they launched a special section on the Apple site for showcasing their fancy "html5" demos (working in Safari only).

If you'd think the big names of our industry would rise against this semantic abomination you're mostly wrong. Many even seem to embrace this evolution as it brings a lot of positive (note: definitely not always factual) press to the development of html5. And surely, it helped to speed up the acceptance of all these new standards beyond the borders of the front-end slang. But it comes at one important cost: misuse and abuse of the semantic value of html5.

Sad semantics

It's not uncommon for a single word to hold several different meanings. Some even completely different and unrelated from each other. To stay close to html, just think of the English word table. A grid-like structure to show tabular data, but at the same time it is also used to describe a piece of furniture. The thing is that depending on context it's always easy to differentiate between these different meanings. Even though such a simple word may bear different semantics, the context will usually clear up any possible confusion.

The case of html5 is not like that. There's a more incestuous relationship going on here as html5 (the spec) is actually a subset of html5 (the new web). If you take html5 and add css3, the javascript upgrades and a few recent design patterns, you get html5 once again. The biggest problem here is that context usually won't provide any resolutions either. Even amongst professionals it's often quite difficult to find out what "html5" they're actually talking about.

I really don't care what kind of hype word they use to indicate the new web, but when it starts to hinder professional conversations there's obviously something wrong with it. Furthermore, as a supporter of the division of content, style and function I really don't think it's a good idea to give newcomers such a muddled impression of the technologies used to create front-end code. Before you know it, 10 years of hard work is flushed down the drain.


If you ask me, html5 is all about tags, structure and semantics. Not very exciting stuff to sell to the outside world, but they'll just have to deal with that and find a new buzz word to capture all the cool things. Not that my stubbornness will have any effect on the overall use of web lingo, but I would advise you to think twice the next time you're using "html5" in a conversation. Unless you're talking about the spec, it's better to use a more precise description.

Isn't it just too ironic that a language built around semantics is now being semantically abused? Hype rarely brings about something positive in the long run and I'm sure the hordes of newly converted html5 fans will end up creating a rather big mess unless they are properly introduced to the finer points of our job. And a good place to start would be by using html5 for what it was intended.

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