In Soviet HTML5…

August 29, 2012
CSSquirrel #97: In Soviet HTML...

Today’s comic features Mat “Wilto” Marquis (Internet folk hero) in a nightmarish world that I imagine Ian Hickson envisions if HTML were ever allowed to slip from his hands and be created by the common man.

We’ve discussed the issue of responsive images in HTML and the proposed <picture> element before, you and I. Here’s a look back in case you need a refresher. It’s a bit cheeky. I get worked up over things like one smart person thinking his brain is more efficient than the combined powers of dozens of smart people.

<Picture> has had a rough road.

All the way back in December 2011, Bruce Lawson posted this idea for how the syntax of <picture> might work. Several people started a community group chaired by Mat Marquis back in February (based on a WHATWG email suggesting such) to push the idea forward so it could see eventual adoption into the HTML spec. They did a great deal of good work to make a workable, problem-solving piece of markup. Scott Jehl even created a polyfill script to provide support for the proposed markup until browsers implemented it, which you can find here.

Then Hixie stepped in. It’s been well documented in the past before, so I’ll summarize: he decided to ignore the community group and efforts of the developer community and went with srcset. Classic Hixie solo action. Here’s an aptly named summary, WTFWG by Tim Kadlec, and a piece on A List Apart by Mat Marquis.

Developers were mad. Developers were vocal. Then for the most part, the web moved on.

If it wasn’t for the continued effort over the past several months of people like Mat, that would have been that. But he and others didn’t stop, and they kept on pushing, and wouldn’t you know it? Something came of it.

Not in the WHATWG, of course. Someone hoping for that sort of miracle would be essentially signaling to everyone that they finally lost their last marble. (Here’s an example of how things were going over there, AKA, Hixie’s got his blinders on like normal.)

But over at the W3C, Mat and his allies accomplished this: an official w3C Editor’s Draft of a proposal for HTML Responsive Images Extension, featuring both srcset AND <picture> to be included into the HTML5 spec. It’s just a step, but it’s a fairly big one, and a great deal of validation for the developers that worked so hard, despite Hixie’s best attempts at ignoring them, to create a responsive image solution that works for them.

I could tell you how it’s a heroic accomplishment that is leading us towards a better web. But I won’t. Not because I think it isn’t (it in fact is!) but because Marc Drummond already said it better. Go read his article Responsive images, the picture element and the W3C: This is how you deal with Hixie and WHATWG. It’s worth it.

It’s hard to say if <picture> will ever make it into the browsers. The browser makers are mostly (but not entirely) involved in WHATWG, and would prefer to work around the W3C. But I do believe that enough community effort will continue to build on the success that Mat and the others have brought us.

I asked Mat about what he saw as the future of <picture> in light of these recent accomplishments, and what interested developers should do to help. Here’s his response.

I totally stand by that follow-up tweet I posted earlier ( http://twitter.com/wilto/statuses/240486846801514498 ): no matter how things play out from here, the dev community has done something that I don’t believe has ever been done before. You just don’t see specs – proposed or otherwise – with a developer’s name at the top. If nothing else I hope this marks the beginning of that, and that it leads to we authors having a voice in web standards equaling that of the vendors.

To get involved, more folks should join up with the RICG! http://www.w3.org/community/account/request

Let’s not waste the opportunity this has given us. We’re the developers that will have to work with the spec that’s being created, and will be answerable to the clients and site visitors that will use the sites we create. We should and can have a bigger voice in the direction of HTML. What Mat and others have done is show us how.

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