Current state: HTML is being developed outside of the W3C by a number of browser implementers, excluding Microsoft. The prevalent feeling amongst those that do so is that if the W3C doesn’t adopt their spec, the W3C will look dull.

Desired state: Many groups representing many different disciplines and constituencies contributing to HTML. Documents with the requisite amount of consensus are adopted by the W3C independent of their source.

Getting from here to there will be confusing. Those with a vested interest will portray portions of the truth in a way that will sound very plausible. This is an attempt to level set.

A Few Select Quotes

It is vital that a vibrant and open web exists based on HTTP and HTML. That’s not meant to be an exclusive statement: coexistence with proprietary RIAs may also be something some of us are OK with; it is the converse that we are concerned with here: a stagnant or closed HTML is simply not acceptable.

The following is a brief history, mostly chronological, focusing mostly on the past five years, a period during which most of the HTML5 effort has occurred. I was not involved in most of this, but much (not all) of the discussion has been publicly archived.

HTML 1.0 was first published by the IETF in 1993.

FutureSplash Animator, the ancestor of Adobe Flash, shipped two years later.

HTTP and HTML became The Next Big Thing

In just over four years, the W3C was formed and HTML quickly evolved into essentially its present form.

Then the W3C took a multi-year turn towards XML.

One last dot release of HTML was produced over a year and a half later, and then activity essentially ceased.

Several browser vendors (i.e., all but IE) got together to form the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) in order to pursue some modest, incremental enhancements.

What is to become RDFa is first published as a W3C Note.

Macromedia releases Flex 1.0.

Adobe buys Macromedia.

YouTube quietly debuted.

IBM donates 50,000 lines of code to Firefox to include the first DHTML Accessibility support.

Dojo adds support for namespaces to DojoML.

The CEO of Google joins the Apple Board of Directors.

Google buys YouTube.

What is to become JavaFX debuts.

Meanwhile, and in less than 2.5 years, the scope of the WHATWG work had expanded to include all of HTML and a number of related efforts.

The WHATWG is clearly in it for the long haul, targeting a Reissued Last Call Working Draft in 2020.

Chris Wilson of Microsoft wakes up and sounds the alarm, a new HTML Working Group is chartered and he is named co-chair of the Working Group.

XForms recognizes the need to superset “classic HTML forms”.

What is to become Adobe AIR first debuts.

Ian Hickson is proposed (and later named) editor of HTML5.

Adobe Flex goes Open Source.

Facebook introduces a new namespace for HTML.

Microsoft goes back to sleep. To date, no such review has ever been done.

Microsoft releases Silverlight.

Roy Fielding, editor of HTTP, coiner of REST, and co-founder of the ASF, comments when the subject of publishing a W3C draft comes up.

Olympics goes with Siverlight.

The HTML 5 Working Draft was published anyway.

Publishing such a draft is entirely according to the rules of the W3C, though the subtleties involved are not something universally understood or appreciated.

The ARIA Roadmap is published.

A not so humble side of Ian shows through.

Ian expresses his opinion on ARIA.

Support for ARIA was added to an online validator.

MathML and SVG are added to HTML5. ARIA and RDFa notably absent.

SVG is removed from HTML5.

As always, Ian has a fallback plan.

Creative Commons makes use of RDFa.

Ubiquity-Xforms implements XForms using AJAX in standard browsers, without the need for a download.

Microsoft adds “Improved” Namespace Support to IE8.

After a period of uncertainty, Google renews its funding of Mozilla.

Google unveils a new browser a few days later.

The W3C Technical Architecture Group (TAG) grows increasingly concerned.

In particular, the TAG is very much concerned about browser vendors reserving extensibility only to themselves.

The WHATWG’s position on this at the time was very clear (and has not changed since)…

… it views the W3C as merely one source of input

RDFa in XHTML becomes a W3C Recommendation. Still not in HTML5.

Netflix goes with Silverlight.

Mike Smith produces a HTML5 Markup Spec (including ARIA but not RDFa), based on input from the TAG.

Ian’s response is swift.

Ian makes his approach very clear.

The syntactic approach of WebForms2/HTML5 is unified with the data interactivity feature set and architectural approach of XForms.

With a new incoming administration comes another high profile of usage of RDFa.

Overlap and clashes between [X]HTML5 and XHTML2 are captured.

A new draft is produced by Rob Sayre, of Mozilla that removes a number of sections from Ian’s draft.

Dan Connolly discovers that Palm has been doing a bit of unapproved distributed extensibility.

I attempt to seek to find a relationship between Rob and Ian’s documents.

ARIA reaches last call, with a separate spec, implementation guide, and best practices document. Still no mention of ARIA in any WHATWG or W3C HTML published drafts.

Google joins EU’s action against Microsoft.

Some groups are not as adept as others at working with the HTML Working Group.

This problem may be beyond the ability of the TAG to address.

Having two Working Groups chartered to do XHTML adds to the confusion.

Perhaps HTML should follow CSS’s approach of vendor namespaces and prefixes.

Perhaps the way that we have organized things is in variance with reality. Or perhaps it is the other way around.

The SVG WG provides feedback on HTML5 SVG Proposal.

From Hixie’s Bible for handling people…


Gatekeepers are anathema to an open web, even if those gatekeepers currently have goals that largely align with ours and may be of short term pragmatic usefulness.

Without a clear and documented path for extensibility, XHTML2, ARIA, Creative Commons, Facebook, Palm, Microsoft, DOJO, XForms, and the WHATWG are all pulling in different directions. We should also endeavor to get the XHTML2 and HTML Working Groups brought together, or at least have the overlaps removed.

Within the working group there certainly is more than adequate representation for the perspective of web crawlers and browser implementors. It is less obvious that we have adequate representation from content creators. Perhaps some sort of outreach by the W3C is appropriate here?

Google’s role is not free from the perception of conflict of interest, and that coupled with Ian’s endorsed role as a dictator will affect the credibility of the outcome produced. In particular, it will give Microsoft all of the excuse it needs to avoid implementing the standards. (Not that eliminating that excuse will magically cause Microsoft to participate…)

It is equally true that Ian is talented, dedicated, and driven. The work that he is doing is necessary, and simply could not be done without him. If there is something that needs doing, he will take it on, no matter how big the challenge. There also is some evidence that he will let go of things once he is convinced that somebody capable of taking the task on is going to see it through to completion.

No concrete action is asked for today, again, this is just a level set. Blocking Last Call until consensus is reached and supporting the publishing alternative documents as Working Drafts will be important down the line. Note: it is not important which spec “wins”, just that there is enough competition to keep everybody honest.

ARIA is an exemplar.