28 December 2008

HTML 5, XHTML 2 - Web 2.5

I've been doing a lot of reading up on HTML5 and XHTML2. I know neither of these technologies are anywhere near well-supported enough to start using in production. However, we should all be starting to get our heads around the changes - if not only to be ready for the shift, but also the benefits it will bring.

There has been a lot of hype in design and developer circles for a good few years surrounding all of this, especially for proponents of the so-called semantic web - the supposed natural evolution of the web.

However, Tim Berners-Lee (seen by many as the father of the web as we know it today) has already suggested that this semantic web will only make up part of what we will come to call Web 3.0. How much of it will be the semantic web is yet to be seen (if much at all given it's progress!)... more to the point, how much of an impact these impending technologies will have on the semantic web is a little hard to judge.

It strikes me that whenever we reach this next phase in syntactical changes for the web as we know it - in terms of it being an officially approved and ratified recommendation by the powers that be (some time around 2012) - and the point in time when it can be considered as globally adopted - probably within 4-to-5 years following that recommendation, similar to that of XHTML1.0 - will be half an evolutionary cycle.

If it does bring us anywhere close to the intended semantic nature of the web, it will, at best, be only half way there. So I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that sometime in 2015 we will confidently say we have reached Web 2.5.

Of course this is assuming we're still here in a fashion. And that this stuff moves on apace. With the current fairly good awareness of standards and best practice, I believe that a small nudge from some big players may impact things for the better. Say Google adjusts various search algorithms to favour HTML5 sites in search listings... we all know that clients will notice and designers and developers will have to pay heed!

So it really is best to start now. Most of the changes (particularly towards HTML5) aren't major. In fact, as can be seen, they should simplify our lives an awful lot! The problem is that there's a lot of web out there to change. You can't just change tags and roll - the implications are far greater: you have to consider CSS, the impact on any server side scripting used, browser rendering and their differences (especially for the new controls)...

This all sounds a little painful. For those using any kind of Web App platform with a good templating structure, this should be fairly easy: set up a new HTML5 template. The only complication to consider then is script-generated mark-up. And that should be tackled by the vendor.

Of course this is somewhat subjective as browser support is sketchy at best, so it's hard to test any development in this area. Looking forward, we should be seeing greater support of these technologies in coming months. For now it's probably best to glean what you can from the WHATWG and if you're a developer building a CMS or other Web App you can probably start writing some test cases and replacement libraries just to stay ahead of the curve.

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