The New Yorker Explains HTML5 and the W3C

You’ve probably heard at least a passing reference or two to HTML5, but do you really have any clue what it is? The New Yorker recently wrote a fun primer on what HTML5 is, how it came to be, and the messy arguments and competing standards that popped up on the way toward becoming a formal “recommendation.”

Should you care about whether you understand HTML5?

The answer, at least for citizens of the Internet, is yes: it is worth understanding both what HTML5 is and who controls the W3C. And it is worth knowing a little bit about the mysterious, conflict-driven cultural process whereby HTML5 became a “recommendation.” Billions of humans will use the Web over the next decade, yet not many of those people are in a position to define what is “the Web” and what isn’t. The W3C is in that position. So who is in this cabal? What is it up to? Who writes the checks?

The article is technical but, I think, understandable and has an enjoyable mild snark throughout:

Despite W3C’s acceptance of HTML5, there remained many questions about how and when HTML5 would come into being. CNET’s Stephen Shankland has diligently tracked this standardization process for years; in 2010, he documented the anger expressed:

Some examples of language that’s cropped up this month on the W3C’s HTML Working Group mailing list: “childish,” “intolerable,” “ridiculous,” “shenanigans.”

You even get some fun tidbits about web languages that failed like Emotion Markup Language!

EmotionML was also good at expressing anger, anxiety, hurt, and contempt. If the standard had made it to recommendation, and then had been widely adopted, you might have tagged political blog posts by their level of outrage, or tracked Barack Obama’s crankiness during a press conference. Or you could have entered the Web and read only happy thoughts.

The whole thing isn’t too long and I bet you’ll learn something and laugh a few times while you’re at it.

Read “The Group That Rules the Web” in The New Yorker.

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