Posts Tagged ‘Google’

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.

Ian Hickson, editor of the HTML5 spec and top dog of the WHAT WG, is an employee of Google. He also adheres to a policy when dealing with people that can be summed up as: Deny, Delay, Too Late.

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.

The Week of Microdata

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

It’s been a really busy week for microdata. So busy that I haven’t personally had a chance to read up on all the details of the various announcements. That won’t stop me from trying to summarize it all for you, though.

First, Ian Hickson (HTML5 editor, Google employee, cat lover) finally made a concrete move on the long-simmering microdata in HTML5 issue. Instead of backing either Microformats (which works in HTML5 as-is due to its methodology) or RDFa (which Ian seems to be stating is a poor solution to the use cases it’s made to address), he decided to make his own new microdata syntax “based on RDFa”. I’ll leave it to the audience to determine whether this is a side-effect of the WhatWG’s NIH mentality or whether it’s genuinely a better tool than RDFa. Here’s Ian’s WhatWG annoucement, and here’s the new section in the HTML5 draft. For another perspective on it, the always fiery Shelley Powers gives us her two cents (adjusting for inflation) on the matter.

You would think a move like this might spell certain doom (cue dramatic music) for RDFa’s future in HTML5. However, at the same time Ian is trying to move us away from RDFa, his company makes a very concrete move towards adopting it. Google, during their big Searchology event, introduced Rich Snippets, wherein webmasters marking up relevant data in either RDFa or Microformats will have the possibility of Google making extra use of that information when their site is displayed in search results. Here’s the official Google blog post about the topic, including a delicious FAQ.

I’m not trying to be snide here, but if Ian’s own company is supporting RDFa extraction, as well as Yahoo’s Search Monkey, there’s little reason to believe that RDFa won’t somehow get adopted into HTML5.

In case Google’s Searchology event took up all your attention, on the same day the Microformats community made an annoucement about officially adopting the value-class pattern. Here’s their news post about the topic. If you’re already using Microformats, they suggest you get busy updating your syntax. If you don’t, this might be a good jumping point to look into what Microformats can offer your site.

If you’ve somehow gotten this far in the post without knowing what microdata is, I’d suggest you take a look at both the RDFa and Microformats websites. Marking up data so it’s both human-readable and machine-readable is an important step towards the semantic web, which Google’s recent annoucements have indicated they’re supporting as we move forward. So dig in, and see what use you can make of either solution in your own websites. Also feel free to check out Sam Ruby’s recent microdata blog post about the recent developments.

Comic Update: Doug Bowman’s Nightmare

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Is Google really buying Twitter? Techcrunch certainly is committed to telling us it is so. In response to the buzz, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone had a recent, short, non-committal post that sums up with the phrase “Sometimes We Talk“, which seems to indicate is that Twitter probably isn’t going the way of the big search giant. And some, like Kara Swisher, are flat out saying that no, Google isn’t buying Twitter.

So who to believe? Time, I’m thinking, as it proves more accurate than any pundit’s predictions. What I find interesting is the gut reaction by many (including myself) that Google buying our favorite little micro-whatever service would be a bad thing. I don’t know why that is, maybe some sort of fear of the mega-giant absorbing the entire Internet and branding it with rainbow text. Yet, I’ll admit, they’ve done right by me so far. Their search, maps, mail, rss reader, analytics and news services are all tools I use daily. They clearly are providing me with content access that matters to me. So why am I unhappy with the idea of them handling 140 character text messages?

Maybe I’ll never know. But I do know one man who has very concrete reasons for disliking the idea of an acquisition: Doug Bowman. Once designing for Google, he recently parted with them due to a number of reasons involving dozens of shades of blue, and has moved over to design for Twitter. I can only imagine how horrible it’d be to finish setting up your desk to find that you don’t have to change your business cards at all.

Today’s comic documents such a tragic incident.

[Edit: As noted in the comment below, Kara Swisher corrected me in stating that what she was in fact saying was that Google is not in any late-stage talks for acquiring Twitter, as opposed to "not buying Twitter". It was my mistake in misinterpreting her point. Check out the link in her comment for more from her on that topic, though.]