You keep using that word.

In a comment on one of Jeffrey’s blog posts, Tantek wrote:

We as a community that is learning/relearning/teaching all this stuff need to vigilantly clarify what’s what rather than calling things “HTML5″ that are not actually HTML5 (e.g. CSS3, Geolocation, etc. etc.), and correct the marketing messages being shouted from various rooftops so we can better understand and reliably build HTML5 websites and web applications that use HTML5.

Jeff Croft argues just the opposite:

Sometimes we just need a word to rally behind. And put in job descriptions. And claim we “support” (another word that is mostly meaningless). It’s a language thing and a human psychology thing.

For the most part, I think what Jeff is saying is fine …assuming we’re talking about managers, marketers, and other people who aren’t making websites for a living. For the rest of us down in the trenches, I think it is important to understand what is in which spec. As Jeff later clarifies:

That “HTML5” means something different to marketers than it does to web developer is an annoyance, no doubt — but I don’t think it hinders us any real way, and I don’t know that we need to, as Tantek suggests, “vigilantly clarify” the matter.

Fair enough. If someone in middle management wants to use the term HTML5 where they previously used, say, “Web 2.0”, that’s fine. But here’s the problem…

A couple of weeks ago, I got a got phone call out of the blue from a local web developer. My mobile number is listed right here—anyone is free to call me whenever they want. He had a reasonable enquiry. He wanted to know if he could pop ‘round to the Clearleft office and buy a copy of my new book directly from me rather than ordering it online.

Alas no, I said. That’s my personal stash, not for resale.

But while he had me on the phone, he asked a couple of questions about what’s in the book. I started talking about semantics and forms. He asked Does it cover CSS?

No. Nope. Definitely not. The book is very specifically about HTML5, not CSS3.

And then he said But CSS3 is part of HTML5, isn’t it?

He’s not in management. He’s not in marketing. He builds websites. And the scary thing is, I think he’s probably fairly representative of many working web developers.

Don’t get me wrong: I honestly don’t care that much about whether something like geolocation is technically part of HTML5 or not: that’s a fairly trifling matter. But CSS3? C’mon! In what universe is it in any way acceptable that a web developer wanting to learn about web fonts begins by Googling for HTML5?

Still, it could be worse. At least, to the best of my knowledge, no working web developers are quite as misinformed as the New Media Age journalist who listed some HTML5 Key Facts such as:

  • Supports sophisticated typography…
  • Supports social content and sharing…
  • Key features are part of CSS3…

Clarifying what is and isn’t in HTML5 isn’t pedantry for pedantry’s sake. It’s about communication and clarity, the cornerstones of language.

In Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote:

A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.

Have you published a response to this? :


Yet again, the debate over whether or not HTML5 should be used as a buzzword is rearing it’s head. This time, the instigator is a seemingly unlikely group–the W3C itself!

The W3C just released an official HTML5 logo that would look quite appropriate on any superhero costume with a cape (see SuperHTML5Bruce as evidence). The issue, as I see it at least, is not really with the logo itself. Sure, it’s kind of an odd idea, but it’s pretty well designed and could theoretically be a good way to market the new standard.

I say theoretically because in it’s current form it fails, at least if we are measuring by accuracy and clarity. To take a quote directly from the site:

The logo is a general-purpose visual identity for a broad set of open web technologies, including HTML5, CSS, SVG, WOFF, and others.

In case you didn’t catch the blunder, the W3C is basically lumping a variety of technologies under the HTML5 buzzword that has become so popular. There’s been great discussion online about whether this matters or not. Back in August of 2010, Jeff Croft wrote a very well thought out post about the topic. In it he argues that we should ‘embrace’ the buzzword because:

Our industry has proven on several occasions that we don’t get excited about new, interesting, and useful technologies and concepts until such a buzzword is in place.

That’s a valid point, and good reason for the need for an umbrella buzzword of some sort. What’s unfortunate is that the buzzword chosen now carries two meanings with it: HTML5 the spec and HTML5 the overarching buzzword that includes HTML5, SVG, WOFF and (shudder) CSS3.

That being said, I can see the case for sticking with it. While ‘HTML5’ was an unfortunate choice, it has spread rather rapidly and it may be too late to change it. Also, as Jeff stated, buzzwords tend to generate excitement and marketers and journalists have effectively used it to do just that.

Here’s where this particular usage case falls apart for me. Who exactly is the W3C ‘marketing’ too? Isn’t it the very people responsible for utilizing these standards to build applications and sites? If so, then what good could lumping all of those different technologies under a confusing umbrella term possibly do?

Jeremy Keith said it best back in August:

Clarifying what is and isn’t in HTML5 isn’t pedantry for pedantry’s sake. It’s about communication and clarity, the cornerstones of language.

In that same article, he tells a story of a web developer who wanted to know if Jeremy’s new HTML5 book covered CSS3. When he was told it does not, the developer replied “But CSS3 is part of HTML5, isn’t it?”

That’s where this buzzword fails and that’s where the issue lies. When the buzzword is causing confusion amongst the very people who have to be able to distinguish between these technologies, we have a problem. It’s a problem that is certainly not helped by the standards body that write the specs that these developers utilize failing to clearly separate and distinguish the technologies from one another.

A lot of work has been in the last decade or so to help clarify these technologies and push their adoption. We’ve seen web standards go from being a tool of the few to a tool of the many. We’ve seen people preach the importance of separation of concerns–HTML for structure, CSS for styling, Javascript for interaction. A great deal of effort has gone into clarifying the ever evolving, never quite sane world of web standards. I fear if we’re not careful with it, improper use of this buzzword threatens to undo at least some of that work.