Monday, May 05, 2008

Slow Growth in the Right Direction

Growth, Slow and Painful

HTML 5 is not set to finished for 10 to 15 more years. It will provide many needed upgrades. This includes a much desired concept: HTML5 doesn’t just define how valid documents are to be parsed, it also defines how parsing should work if documents are invalid, ill-formed, and broken, so that browser vendors can make their products fully interoperable with each other.

But that's 10 year away. In "web time," that is an eternity. So what do we do in the mean time? HTML 5 (or some other well, thought out solution) will be a new standard for developers and designers to use. Proper use of this new standard will allow for more semantic, consistent web pages.

The reason this sounds like a dream is most of the content on the web adhears to nothing. Perhaps, we should fill the next 5 to 10 years with this: teaching standards and CSS. Before semantic web, there's got to be a better mark up language. Before the better mark up language, people have to even get the point of standards. Part of those standards include seperating content from presentation, thus the the need for CSS.

None of this change we want is going to happen over night. As quickly as trends come and go on the web, the languages that it is written change at a much slower rate. There is a hodpoge of HTML version in use. Despite the fact that CSS 2 was released in 1997, many web developers and designs do not know or do not use CSS despite its obvious benefits. CSS adoption has been hinder by the very same thing as HTML has: cross-browser inconsistencies.

So when we push to teach standards to ourselves and to others, perhaps we should also include the browser programmers in this. Perhaps a half step in the progression is to put enough pressure on browser developers to provide similar and consistent output.

Where does that leave our grand plan?

  1. Consistent browser output
  2. Acceptance and practice of standards
  3. Thought-out, more semantic markup
  4. The web as it should be
    • semantic data and content
    • separate content and presentation mark-up
    • robust page renderings and visualizations

To move foward, we need to hit each of these points square on the head. We need walk before we run. If you want use the popular wild west example, we need to bring law and order before we can advance. So what would this all look like?

I would love to something like this: (take from A List Apart)
With this, there should separate file for styling the output. Inside the layout blocks, should be semantically defined (I leave this how to the semantic researchers) content and data. A more semantic DOM would be probably help.

These features fully enabled and in practice, I can see search, api's, and data mining becoming far more practical and powerful. Advertising will continue to blossom; if it is easier for machine to understand a page, then the software can present better target ads.

Speakng of ads and money, the last and thing that would help all this is money. Search, advertisements, and business need to be able to see the clear benefits from these efforts. Before a company would ponder why it would need a website, now most companies launch a website at their conception and wouldn't do business with out one. Perhaps, one day, we could convince companies that they shouldn't launch a new venture without first creating a standards-based, accessible, semantic web site.

I look forward the to web of the future.

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