Ever since the dawn of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, HTML has been one of the most important standards. The standard is constantly evolving, and with the newest version – HTML5 – things are really changing. To learn what direction the web is going, we invited Philippe Le Hegaret from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to talk at this year’s Web Content Management conference track in Philadelphia. Philippe gave us a unique insight into the future of the web.

He currently heads up the Interaction Domain at W3C, meaning that he oversees the development of the technologies that shape the web’s user interface including HTML5 and CSS3. Part of his job is to meet heavyweight industry companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft to ensure that the tools they develop (e.g. browsers) are aligned with the W3C standards. It is in this 2-way interaction that the future of the web takes shape, and it was thrilling to learn from Philippe what we can expect in the near future.

Many predict that one of the biggest things for the future web is HTML5, which has already been rolled out in many forms, despite the fact that specifications are still being developed and are not expected to reach the final recommendation stage (= “W3C Recommendation – REC”) until 2022 or later! Until then you can find the most recent HTML5-specification version here – and a current status overview from Philippe here. However, many of the new HTML5 functionalities are already very mature and are being supported by the newest browsers such as Firefox 4, Internet Explorer 9 and Safari 4 (although the browsers don’t exactly parse the code in the same or even similar ways).

What can we expect from HTML5?

The best way to explain the tremendous impact HTML5 is able to bring to the table, is done through examples. Here are some of the best one’s I have found:

When you browse through the examples, you will notice that they only work in the newest browsers, and that was another important point from Philippe’s presentation: While the new standards provide many new possibilities, the evolution will still be rather slow, simply because people are not using the newest browsers. This is a truth as old as the web and all web developers/designers know the implications that follow the fact that there are so many different browsers and versions.

In other words: If you don’t want to (or are not allowed to) exclude certain users, you really have to design your site so it is usable in all browsers. Including Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, which most web professionals despise due to its lack of standards support. If you still want to experiment with the new HTML5 features, one option is to make a basic fall-back version, so the site is still usable in older browsers. This will of course require additional work.

The major takeaway is that the technology behind the web is developing fast, but in the near future web publishers still have limited options if they want to make sure to be reachable by everybody. How do you think the new standards will impact the web?

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