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I’ve often heard HTML5 – or “HTML5″/ NEWT – being described as a revolution. It’s not.
I can see why people make the mistake. Some of the demos that are going around are so amazing that they feel like a break with the past (and some of those demos are good old DHTML: nothing new at all). Also, revolutions are fun, they have goodies and baddies. There are heroes and comrades, and there’s an element of year-zeroism: “burn the museums”, said the Futurists.
But HTML5 is not revolutionary. It’s deliberately and passionately evolutionary. While XHTML2 broke backwards compatibility with its own year-zeroism, HTML5 evolves the Web. As Ian Hickson said seven years ago yesterday:
W3C Workshop on Web Applications and Compound Documents (Day 1) Jun 1, 2004
The purpose of HTML5 is to evolve the Web using and extending familiar technologies while preserving backwards compatibility. We see this with the design of
<video> that allows fallback content with older browsers; the fact that all new
input types degrade to
type=text so users of older browsers can still enter data—and look at the cunning way
<datalist> is designed to be be able to swap into a
select in older browsers. See how feature-detection is built into the spec.
The WHATG Charter describes it:
All specifications produced by this working group must take into account backwards compatibility, and clearly specify reasonable transition strategies for authors. They must also specify error handling behaviour to ensure interoperability even in the face of documents that do not comply with the letter of the specification.
“Reasonable transition strategies”. I’ll bet Trotsky never said anything like that.
Heroes of the Evolution
Evolutions aren’t as sexy as Revolutions, but they still throw up heroes. These people don’t necessarily get the attention they deserve: people like John Foliot, using a decade’s experience to ensure that HTML5 is accessible. Or Steve Faulkner, doing the unglamorous research that’s enabling us to map HTML5 and WAI-ARIA.
Silvia Pfeiffer does loads of work with her colleagues on the HTML Media Working Group to bring about easy-to-author, robust, open video and audio to the web that has accessibility built-in. And there are many, many more Heroes of the Evolution explaining and educating, like my fellow HTML5 Doctors who give their time and expertise voluntarily (I get paid to do it).