Revising HTML

October 31, 2006

Topics: Web Development, Web standards.

So, Tim Berners-Lee (Sir) has a plan to Reinvent HTML (HyperText Markup Language). It’s an interesting idea. For years, it seems that HTML 4.01 was a closed book: story was finished, manuscript not to be picked up again. Instead, we were going to be moving on to XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language - HTML reformulated as XML (eXtensible Markup Language)). But suddenly we’re changing course: why?

I can’t help but suspect that this is somewhat of an admission that the path the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has been taking is flawed. Rather than dedicating the bulk of their resources to perfecting the existing system, they had decided to pursue a new method of web presentation – and it hasn’t been taken up nearly as quickly as they’d hoped.

Some things are clearer with hindsight of several years. It is necessary to evolve HTML incrementally. The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn’t work. The large HTML-generating public did not move, largely because the browsers didn’t complain. Some large communities did shift and are enjoying the fruits of well-formed systems, but not all. It is important to maintain HTML incrementally, as well as continuing a transition to well-formed world, and developing more power in that world.

Tim Berners-Lee

Now, moving quickly is hardly a characteristic of the W3C. Nonetheless, it’s also not a characteristic of browser developers, the developers of web creation programs, or of most web users. Thus, the tools we have today still seem predominantly developed with HTML in mind, and XHTML as an afterthought.

Of course, whether browsers and HTML creators will wrap their heads around the changes in HTML is open for debate, as well. Nonetheless, I would welcome the addition of certain improvements to HTML. HTML is a language which works reasonably well – but there are unquestionably areas in which it could do more. Roger Johansson suggests a number of improvements that he’d like to see – and I can’t argue too much with that.

So, it’s an interesting idea, if it works. It will probably be several years before we see any results, unfortunately.