Comic Update: The HTML5 Show (AKA, A Mess)

January 11, 2010

HTML5 is a mess.

That was a phrase in my Refresh presentation in December, when I was speaking of the dueling organizations jockeying for control of the spec.

At the time of my writing, I did not know how clean it was by comparison to its status today.

Today’s comic features Hixie the Leviathan interrupting a Muppet-show like meeting of the W3C HTML5 group. Blame the parody of Henson’s creations on the commentary of one Mr. Jeremy Keith. Tweets like this are candy for people like me. The comic also features Sam Ruby, John Foliot, Manu Sporny, Jeremy Keith and Bruce Lawson as Muppet parodies.

The fact is that it seems that Ian “Hixie” Hickson, the HTML5 editor, has taken his ball and gone home. He’s started splitting out the HTML5 spec on the W3C side of things into a shredded mess, by his own words with the hope that if the W3C spec becomes a giant mess, people will drift to the WHATWG spec by default. He’s petulantly insisted that microdata (his own creation) is part of HTML despite the recent W3C work that resulted in it being moved out of the spec. He states that the WHATWG spec trumps the W3C spec, so the latter organization has to get over itself and get back with the program. He’s implied that he’d prefer authors (that’s web designers/developers) stop using HTML5 features as much as they have because it’s causing problems. (This further reinforces my belief that Hixie is following an Implementer > Author > User mentality instead of the User > Author > Implementer mentality that HTML was built upon.) He’s made HTML versionless, insisting that HTML5 is a snapshot that he’s already gone past, and is sitting as monarch for life on the continuing evolution of the spec.

All this from a guy who’s catch phrase seems to be “I don’t understand.” Which is, to me, a dangerous trait in a person empowered with absolute rule over the spec.

In short, like Jeremy, I’m frustrated with a lot of the recent HTML-related issues from the front of advocacy. I’ve tried to sell HTML5 (and it’s grab-bag of toys) to co-workers, peers in web design, total strangers, and friends who didn’t escape a conversation early enough. I want to see it used more, so the browsers speed up implementation of juicy features, so I can use it even more excessively, and so on.

But if people don’t even know if HTML5 exists anymore, or the status of the organizations working on it seem to be out of whack, why would they bother using the <video> tag or exploring <canvas>? We need to give people something to work with. Which means we need to not have insane grandstanding by a single individual.

But hey, this is just one squirrel’s view: HTML5 is a mess.

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31 Responses to “Comic Update: The HTML5 Show (AKA, A Mess)”

  1. Just noticing this now?

  2. No, I’ve noticed it before. It’s just getting worse at an accelerated pace.

  3. Every time we have one of these stupid 7th grade girl level tiffs it moves me that much closer to pulling a Joe Clark and walking away from a decade’s worth of web design/development/advocacy.

    It’s not about creators, it’s about the browser makers, goes the tired WHATWG refrain. Any input from users or creators is rejected by Hixie, lambasted on IRC, and/or goes down the memory hole. Make a scene like Shelley Powers and suddenly you’re the problem. And should anything you suggested actually make it into the spec, well, it wasn’t your idea, Hixie was thinking about it last week.

    Weren’t they supposed to be different from the W3C? At least the W3C has a process where you are more likely to get heard, even if they’re as open to change as the Catholic Church (and work on the same timeline, it seems).

    But I’m tired. Right now it’s pretty unlikely I can even use HTML5 in my work since I need to comply with 508 and WCAG, and the changes needed to bring HTML5 in line with them are stalled in that same petulant attitude. Meanwhile, I’m just working trying to build decent, accessible, compliant sites while the Pilgrims and Hixsons and van Kestrens of the world act like 13 year old girls.

    Joe Clark may have had the right idea when he walked away from WCAG three years ago. I can’t believe I just said that, given that WCAG 2 isn’t that bad and I thought he overreacted, but the process of getting to recommendation was bad, and HTML5 makes that process look reasonable by comparison.

  4. It’s unfortunate, really. XHTML2 was, let’s say, somewhat out of touch, but a tidy and expressive hypertext markup vocabulary nonetheless. HTML5 is a War-and-Peace-sized pastiche of bells and whistles. I’ve been watching this clown act since 2005, and I’m waiting for the part in which everyone squeezes into the tiny car and goes home.

  5. Thanks for keeping track of this. If I followed it too closely, I would probably suffer some horrible fate while looking at all the amazing toys hidden behind bulletproof glass.

  6. Unfortunately its not just HTML5 where I’m running into the problem of moving targets. Watch aspects of the CSS3 spec and you’ll see the same type of movement and questions, uncertainty and general difficulty in promoting and discussing specific aspects of the spec. Box Shadow, for example, which I see some good discussion of, have written about, and have used in the ‘wild’ is currently not in a spec at all and thus quite difficult to help adoption either by designers or to work with browser vendors on quirks or behavioral differences. I don’t even know what to call it at this moment after so long referring to it as “css3 box-shadow”

  7. Fuck it, I’ve had it. People at work have been pushing Silverlight for months, but I’ve always said no, Ajax, HTML 5, and the open web are the right way to go. Not any more, because it turns out the “open web”, rather than being the driven by the profits of a single company, is instead driven by the ego of a single man and his clique of sycophants. And that’s supposed to be better? And companies like Google, Opera and Mozilla, supposedly the bastions of the open web, don’t even give enough of a shit to keep watch on what their own employees are doing. Well if they don’t care, why should I?

  8. Now now, don’t be so mean towards those 13 year old girls Dw.

    Yes, the state of HTML5 just went from sad to tragic.

  9. @Chris Casciano – Regarding Box-shadow: I am acutely disappointed in its removal from the CSS3 spec, especially since it is in the wild, while travesties like Marquee are still there. I’m pretending it’s still part of CSS3 and actively continuing to advocate it for now, though.

  10. Now now, don’t be so mean towards those 13 year old girls Dw.

    I apologize to any 13 year old girls reading this. Dramatic and overwrought as you may be, I unfairly compared you to the stupid babies in the W3C and WHATWG, and am truly sorry.

    I apologize to any stupid babies reading this. Dumb and infantile as you are, I unfairly compared you to the complete wastes of human life in the W3C and WHATWG, and am truly sorry.

    I apologize to any complete wastes of human life reading this….

  11. The longer these…people… in W3C & WHATWG etc. squabble about standards, or recommendations, or whatever they are now, the more likely the open web as we now know it will die. Google, Apple, Adobe, Facebook, Amazon, et al are not pissing away years and years in endless turf wars, they’re moving RIGHT NOW to carve up & monetize every last bit of the web that they can. Meanwhile standardistas are seeing hard-won victories ground to dust by egotists and incompetents. What to do? No easy answer presents itself, except maybe fire the whole lot of them and draft some new volunteers.

    Oh wait, we can’t fire them, can we? “We” aren’t even really a “we,” are we.

    Sorry to sound cynical, but things are not looking good right now.

  12. [...] Pro Tweets Interesting to watch the trainwreck that HTML 5 is becoming – Carnage4Life – Mon 11 Jan 23:44 0 votes All Things [...]

  13. Now that I’ve shouted “fire” in the theater, I’m going to suggest people take a look at Andy Clarke’s, which provides a needed sense of calm to the whole thing.

    Yes, the organizations responsible for HTML5 are doing us no favors.

    No, it doesn’t mean it’s all over yet.

    (I hope.)

  14. I hope the standard moves forward, the alternative is almost as bad with vendor lock-in for the likes of Silverlight (blech!) or Adobe’s Flex (a far more palatable alternative than anything from MS). Vendor lock in like that is a far worse fate as we need to then give up far to much control to a single non-standards based agency.

  15. Unfortunately, Silverlight and Flash are not just proprietary, they both use on-the-wire representations that have some drawbacks.

  16. The real gatekeepers are the browser vendors. Apple pushes CSS forward and all Webkit derivatives benefit. Mozilla always does cool stuff, and sometime Opera comes up with something crazy. Microsoft and the standards organizations slow it down by a factor of 2 or three, but it’s looking like IE might catch up (since progress has been so little anyway) and hopefully keep up the slow pace.

    JavaScript is great, because you can create features that are eventually moved down to CSS or HTML. Like, JavaScript sorely needs package importing, but frameworks have created solutions to this until the real thing comes along.

    What ever happened to extensibility? One should be able to make any feature needed with XML or JSON and some kind of IO, like canvas and mouse/keyboard events.

  17. The web is broken in some pretty obvious and uncontroversial ways, and I think HTML5 built up the momentum it has because the community saw it as a way to get implementers to solve the real problems we have to deal with every single day. And if the WHATWG had turned those obvious and uncontroversial fixes into a finished spec and released it as HTML5, it’d probably be fully implemented in Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and maybe Opera, and we might even be a few months away from an IE9 right now.

    But it’s a lot more fun to play astronaut than it is to hammer out a finished spec, so guess what?

  18. Maybe you’ve actually put your finger on why all this is happening. After all, it’s said that Jim Henson’s description of what he regarded as the perfect Muppet Show was: “Chaos 98, Frog 99.”

  19. “All this from a guy who’s catch phrase seems to be “I don’t understand.” Which is, to me, a dangerous trait in a person empowered with absolute rule over the spec.”

    Would you prefer that he shut up and just pretend that he does understand, even if he doesn’t? I prefer the honesty. Knowing and acknowledging your limitations is not a weakness, it’s a strength.

  20. @Breton – Ian is by all accounts quite intelligent. Yet, he repeatedly professes a lack of understanding on incredibly simple matters (in addition to, I’m sure, genuinely perplexing ones). I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he is not, in fact, an idiot.

    Some attempt on his part at not belittling other viewpoints would go a long way for him and the credibility of the organization he’s spearheading.

    If, in fact, he actually doesn’t not comprehend all the issues he claims to not understand, then whether he’s honest or not he shouldn’t be tasked with something like writing a spec for one of the most relevant web-related standards of the present.

  21. I haven’t been as deeply involved in the html5 process as you, so you seem to know some things about hixie that aren’t obvious to me. Perhaps I am simply out of the loop.

    Do you have any examples of Ian belittling other’s viewpoints? What are some of these incredibly simple matters? In the google search you posted in your article, it looks to me that he uses the phrase mostly to try and get someone to explain what they’re talking about with a bit more clarity and specificity- Not that he literally does not understand the issue itself, just that he doesn’t understand what a particular person is saying. Which is fair enough, real communication is difficult, far more difficult than most people seem to appreciate. Once you get as deep into a subject like html, as Ian has, what a “normal” person has to say on the subject can seem quite uselessly ambiguous, and possibly ignorant of larger issues that bear down on the matter. At that point, someone like Ian is in a difficult position, because then what can you possibly say that wouldn’t be interpreted (by at least a few people), like you were belittling the other person’s viewpoint?

    I’m not saying that this is definately what is happening. I’m not even necessarily defending Ian’s behavior specifically. I’m just pointing out that if someone actually does know more about a subject than you do, then maybe they’re not being egotistical, or belittling your viewpoint. Maybe they understand the subject perfectly well, and they are just confused by what you’re saying about it. They are simply responding to the facts as they understand them, not being intentionally and malicously offensive.

    But you know, I’m just guessing. Some actual examples of what you’re complaining about would go a long way towards clarifying your position.

  22. I don’t think it’s useful to pick heroes and villains in this tale. A system can be broken even when everyone is acting on the best of intentions, with only the sin of hubris combined with an inability to see other people’s point of view.

    I think the role of organizations like W3C and IETF are to supply process and governance to make sure those other points of view are heard and that broader requirements are met. As people have found ways to route around those, it damages more the credibility of the standards organizations than it does the individuals; they’re just pursuing what they likely honestly believe are noble goals, just using the modern means of snarky disdain.

    It’s easy to get sucked in. If you join the HTML working group yourself (go ahead): don’t flame, just say no.

  23. @Adrienne Perhaps they need to be forcefully ousted from power. Who else is interested in staging a coups d’état? Raise your hands! We can wear tricorns!

  24. @Rachel – I’ll wear a tricorn (especially if it involves tea and harbors). But do we then have to run it ourselves? That sounds suspiciously like hard work.

    @Larry – It’s the routing around those people after the public process has happened that is among the most annoying aspects of the process. I’m sure the motive of all parties involved is to have the best spec possible. I wish, though, that the one person holding the reins wasn’t so intractable when it comes to accepting outside opinion (even expert outside opinion in fields like accessibility.) He follows the process until it doesn’t match his view, and then just chucks it to the side.

    It’s sad, really.

  25. It’s all kind of moot. I’d be happy with a page that didn’t require me to highlight the text in the comments section just to be able to read it because someone thought dark text on a dark orange background looks good.

  26. @Libby – Well, on the plus side, I had the comment visibility issue brought to me in a mature, polite fashion. Quite nice, I assure you.

    Despite the tone (and off-topic nature) of the criticism, thank you for the feedback on the contrast. It looks quite distinct for me on the monitors I’ve viewed it on, but now that I’m aware there’s an issue for some, I’ll take the opportunity to look into a replacement combination.

  27. What exact thing or things did I “overreact” to? Do please provide a full list.

  28. Rachel (and everybody interested), I’m already aware of a few other calls for a coup d’état and some actual efforts (including this blog, but also something more related to standardization). I intend to contribute in a new way to this movement soon and I’ll post a link under this entry, under the newest one here at that time, and email you personally.

  29. Interesting rant.

    I don’t know Ian Hickson at all, but I do remember his incredible, hyperbolic campaign against faux xhtml. Faux xhtml does no harm, of course, so long as one doesn’t try to serve it as real xhtml – and the majority of people writing faux xhtml would never dream of doing something so technically demanding or unnecessary. And those who did serve faux xhtml as real xhtml would correct it soon enough if they had the technical nouse, and if they didn’t would just revert to faux. The argument really always seemed to be that the vast majority of people writing content were much more stupid and technically inferior and inexperienced than Hickson, so they shouldn’t be trusted to hold a fork, never mind a knife. Some view faux xhtml as better than plain html for reasons of clarity and style – no other reason is needed – and people will keep on doing it and future browsers will continue to support it, even if some Hickson spec says that xhtml must be served as application/xhtml+xml and not as text/html.

    So that you partly lay the current difficulties in specifying html5 at the door of Ian Hickson does not altogether surprise me.

  30. It seems to me that this leaves me back where I was in 1996. Put together a web page, test it in a browser, and – if the page looks like I meant it to look and operates as I intended it to operate – publish it. Then I do not have to worry if it is W3C compliant or WHATWG compliant. A couple browsers now deliver HTML+CSS+SVG+MathMl, some even include SVG animation. I am getting the technologies I need, my thanks to however that is happening.

  31. I didn’t “walk away from WCAG.” The now-deceased cochair and his colleague got ever so tired of having their group told day after day they were screwing up that they revoked my Invited Expert status, i.e., claimed I was no longer an expert. So I wrote a highly public article that shamed them into fixing WCAG 2, which they did.

    Hence it didn’t produce the results they desired, but did produce the results we wanted.