The Fifth Element (Part I) – Long Term Benefits

HTML5 is W3C’s shiny new offering promising interoperability, speed and maintainability – almost everything, it would appear, but vacations in the tropics! It is going to live in ‘Webville’ for a while so let’s really get to know it. Sure, we can break the ice talking about the weather worldwide, but then, let’s really dig down and investigate HTML5’s personality and find out exactly what it can do. Chances are you may have already used HTML5 without realizing it, and chances are, you loved it – e.g., the file drag-and-drop feature in Google Docs. HTML5 was preceded by its reputation; now let us see if it delivers!

HTML5 will make web pages portable across devices, platforms and form factors – an idea that supports convergence with the proliferation of tablets and smart phones. Problems of varying resolutions can be artfully handled through use of related technologies like Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs). The fact that all browsers will support HTML5 represents the holy grail of page styling and interface design – i.e., cross browser compatibility, which means no more hacks, browser-sniffing or code-branching.

There is synergy between Apple and HTML5 around the issue of Flash support; the Apple platform does not support Flash, and HTML5 does not require Flash. HTML5 and Google are also aligning because HTML5’s native video format (WebM) and the latest browser, Chrome 10, are both Google products! Contradicting the age-old dictum, it appears IT services may benefit by placing all of their user interaction eggs in the HTML5 basket.

Long Term Benefit

HTML5 hype is focused mainly around its short term advantages, but buried under that is a feature that will eventually make the World Wide Web data-aware, context-aware and intelligent. The language will enhance the data organization of the World Wide Web and make it ready for the next generation – the Semantic Web. This “Semantization” will require retro-fitting billion-odd legacy web pages into the Semantic Web, possibly resulting in a deluge of work not seen since the Y2K days. IT Services can either anticipate this change, or more favorably, drive it. Here is a short discussion on how HTML5 will accelerate the second wave of the Web:

Today’s internet deals with data without any built-in context or awareness. This is reflected in that fact that performing internet searches is a skill that demands an understanding of text and context. Searching for “Japan” and “tsunami” simply returns all pages that have the words “Japan” and “tsunami” in them. The data store is not aware that that “Japan” is a country or that “tsunami” is a geological event. Results are ranked by proprietary search algorithms that guess context and relevance. This kind of targeted, parametric search is currently not in scope because data is not structured. Now let’s look at this other search example:  “List of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumni from class of ‘93 who weigh over 70 kg and majored in Mechanical Engineering”. A search like this would be commonplace on the Semantic Web, a world in which web data explicitly identifies MIT as a University, 1993 as a Year and Mechanical Engineering as a discipline of study.

This change will be powered by HTML5, which in addition to providing everyday benefits, is essentially a spring-board for launching today’s Internet to Semantic Web status or “Web 3.0” as its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee likes to call it. HTML5 introduces the concept of “microdata” which is a structured way for content providers to define custom dictionaries to assign semantic meaning to web content. Microdata is the latest avatar of RDFa and microformats. Search bots of the (near) future will become data-aware from the microdata and then enable targeted searches. How this will transform consumer and advertiser behavior is difficult to predict but there is no doubt that it will be a quantum leap in searching, knowledge discovery and targeted advertising.

In the second part of the blog series on HTML5, we will focus on other advances and benefits that will accrue from HTML5.