Comic Update: Who Really Is the Wizard of HTML5?Monday, June 22nd, 2009
Today’s comic portrays my misgivings about HTML5 through the lens of L. Frank Baum, imagining a world where Chris Wilson, Manu Sporny and John Foliot were my companions through a standards-creating journey roadblocked by a guy in a purple coat with a big curtain.
Let’s review the facts.
It can be argued that HTML5 is an important upgrade to one of the most vital technologies of the 21st century. Billions of people are using the Internet to facilitate communication and business, share their culture, access otherwise censored information when living under harsh regimes, and so forth. Most of the sites they use for these purposes are built in some fashion upon HTML.
At the currently accelerating rate of content creation, it’s safe to say that billions of pages will be built with HTML5. How these pages are designed, and how they’ll meet the needs of people both in the present and in the future rest upon how this standard is outlined. Everything from preserving the portability of microdata, ensuring the accessibility of web users with special needs, and finding ways to share media without the hassle of brand-specific plugin wars (anyone seen a flash site on an iPhone yet?) are determined by this effort.
So why is it that the person who is the center of this process is allowed to be a man who rejects consensus, actively denies issues (based on his own admitted policy) and substitutes expert advice in important areas like accessibility with analyzing data from the Google Index and parsing numbers? Numbers that we cannot have a third party confirm because every request to do just this is ignored?
There is no doubt in my mind that Ian is brilliant. However no man, no matter how brilliant, should be allowed to be so influential on a spec when he is bringing all this baggage to the table with him.
The biggest problem for me is as follows: Google. Ian’s work is highly influenced by data harvested by Google. I am positive Google has some spectacular views of the web, resulting in some highly accurate views of the current state of the Internet. I’m also sure that this doesn’t matter one bit if we have to take their word for it, because we can’t view it ourselves.
Most people search the web through Google. I get mail through Google, site analytics through Google, news through Google, and sometimes even browse with a browser used by Google. It’s impossible to throw a rock at the Internet and not somehow hit Google. It’s to the point where even the US government is getting a bit itchy and considering taking antitrust actions against them.
I don’t want to sound paranoid, but perhaps we shouldn’t craft HTML5 solely on Google’s say-so. If the data-harvesting Ian performs can’t be independently verified, then perhaps we shouldn’t accept it as fact. It’s just not prudent. We definitely shouldn’t use it as a substitute for actual experts in discussions like accessibility (which I spoke about last week). If Ian can’t accept that limitation or provide access to the raw data, then we need to consider whether a conflict of interests exists and whether he should remain as the editor. With him doing such a poor job of playing well with others (whether they be individuals, experts, or other WC3 working groups) while relying on private information from his employer, how can he be expected to create a HTML5 that meets not just his needs, or Google’s needs, but everyone’s needs?
I’m not convinced he can.