If you’re in the web developer world, you’ve noticed by now that there isn’t a space before the ‘5’ in HTML5. This is different than HTML 4.01, HTML 4, HTML 3.2, and HTML 2.0. Why this new direction? Actually, it’s more in line with the old direction than most realize. The first version of HTML wasn’t called “HTML 1.0,” in fact there is no such thing as “HTML 1.” It all started out with a document called “HTML Tags,” which is, for all intents and purposes, the first version of HTML. Things were a little muddy there for a while as updates came in rapidly, but the next real version was called HTML+. Sure, you can go back and find the incremental numbered versions of HTML in some official specs, but in terms of reality and use, there was HTML Tags, then HTML+. These were real innovations and steps up in the language, but after that there was a drive to clean things up a bit, and the numbered versions dominated. I’m not saying that HTML 4 wasn’t groundbreaking and painfully needed (and it took way too long for developers and browsers to implement), but it was truly an incremental update, fixing and adding things that were obvious next steps.
Things changed with HTML5, which starts out with an awareness of the internet today. A search for “HTML 5” will find any page that mentions HTML and has some numbers on it–not very useful. But removing the space allows search engines to key in on just the term we need. This is just the first indication of what characterizes HTML5: an awareness of the world as it is today, and where it is going. We learned from HTML 4 that the internet is run by people, lots of people, and an official specification or update doesn’t do anything unless all those people–browser vendors, web developers, users–get on board. What if Tim Berners-Lee had submitted his “HTML Tags” document to the IEEE or some official organization, got it approved, registered, published, and then just waited for the world to adopt it? We wouldn’t have the internet we have today.
Tim Berners-Lee made something that worked, and he publicized it–created documents to help people use it, he facilitated it’s growth. The same with the market-minded naming of HTML+. It’s true that HTML was in deep need of regulation, but regulation was not enough to magically make HTML 3.2 or HTML 4.01 become a universal standard. That’s why HTML5 doesn’t have a space. And why it has it’s own logo. Have you noticed that people don’t really talk about “Web 2.0” anymore? HTML5 has completely encompassed both that term and that concept–HTML5 has come to mean not just the next version of HTML, but the next version of the web. It includes the newest version other languages, like CSS 3, dozens of little technologies like offline storage and location detection, it includes rapid-release browser schedules like Firefox and Chrome have, it stands for everything the internet has been waiting for.
Here’s something that I think is telling. The doctype for HTML 4 looked like this:
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN"
Besides being messy, you notice the prominent versioning of it. 4.01. But here’s the HTML5 doctype:
No version number! HTML5 is the end of the idea that we can just release a new version of HTML and wait decades for people to update. From now on, the expectation is that you’re up to date–you’re using the latest browsers with the latest standards and the latest technologies. If you’re not, we’ll still display your content, but the internet is done pandering to the lowest common denominator. HTML5 is not the next version of HTML, but rather it’s a vision for the future of the internet, and it has a lot more in common with
HTML Tags than with
HTML 4.01 Strict.