Reinventing HTML and the evolution of standards


Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, has just announced that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will establish a completely new working group to work on the development of HTML, in his words “reinventing HTML”. This bold move has been prompted by the too-slow shift from a mark-up system which works reasonably well, but is still flawed. Attempts to evolve HTML to a “well-formed” structure that draws on the power of XML have been stymied by most people’s satisfaction with the current standard.

In my book Living Networks I created a chart showing what I described as the gradual progress towards open, accepted standards – see below. On one level, HTML is a poster child for an open, accepted standard, shown on the upper right of the diagram. There are no competitors for HTML – it is fully accepted as the standard for representing data on the Internet, and the W3C, for all the critcism it garners, genuinely attempts to represent and incorporate the views of all stakeholders. Yet, as anyone who has been involved in a standards committee knows, maintaining and developing an existing standard, particularly one with the impact of HTML, is no easy task, with ample scope for personalities and politics, which will certainly have to be addressed in this case. The developer community seems split between the positive and enthusiastic on one side, and skeptical on the other, with also other interesting analysis.

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The gradual shift to open, accepted standards