Communicators need to get familiar with HTML52012-11-13
Update: This is a four-year-old post and things have changed in the HTML5 world. The post offers an HTML cheat sheet, but there’s a new (and accurate) one here. Thanks to Tadeusz Szewczyk for sharing it with me, so I could share it with you.
You have a smartphone and/or a tablet and you’ve loaded it with apps. There’s a whole economy emerging around app development, most of which are built specifically for an operating system, mainly iOS for Apple products, Android and Windows. But a shift away from these “native” apps is inevitable. That shift will increasingly involve the use of HTML5. And just as we communicators—once skeptical that we need needed to know any kind of code at all—got to know at least the basics of HTML as the Web’s popularity grew, we’re going to need to get familiar with this new standard.
HTML5 opens a lot of possibilities for traditional web development. For example, it dispenses with the need for plugins to view video. But it’s in the mobile arena where HTML5 will have a real impact.
Developers are embracing responsive web design as one fundamental way to ensure pages look right regardless of the screen size on which it’s displayed. HTML5—along with CSS3—is at the heart of the concept.
But apps are where HTML5 development will have its greatest impact. Rather than pay for development of each version of an app, you only need to create it once. There’s also no need to push out updates, since any changes you make to the code kick in as soon as a user opens the app. There are drawbacks, of course. Users need to have an Internet connection to run a web app; they don’t work in airplane mode. Native apps also tend to look and feel slicker. And the standard hasn’t been finalized; work on various components is still underway with a final recommendation not even due until 2014, even as more and more developers apply it to their current projects.
But its dominance is inevitable for reasons that go beyond its being the primary alternative to native apps. HTML5 also offers geolocation functionality without using GPS and multiple video streams (Apple limits its devices to one video at a time), among other advantages. More than a third of the world’s top 100 website use HTML5.
A lot of people talk trash about HTML5. Native app developers have a vested interest in dismissing its potential. Gartner—whose track record doesn’t rate taking any of its predictions for granted—believes widespread HTML5 adoption is a decade away. There was a lot of buzz when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called it a “mistake” to build the Facebook app on HTML5, but most people took the statement out of context. What he actually said was:
It’s not that HTML5 is bad. I’m actually, on long-term, really excited about it. One of the things that’s interesting is we actually have more people on a daily basis using mobile web Facebook than we have using our iOS or Android apps combined. So mobile web is a big thing for us.
Despite what you may hear from detractors, adoption of HTML5 by app developers is continuing apace. A recent survey of more than 4,000 developers shows outside influences aren’t slowing developers from embracing the standard. The study, from Kendo UI, showed more than half of developers believe HTML5 is important for their jobs right now; another 31 percent believe it’ll be important in the next 12 months.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is among the reasons communicators will need to pay attention to HTML5. Discoverability is a vital element of any online communication, so communicators have had to pay attention to SEO, and HTML5 adds some complexity, according to Gerald Hanks, writing for Webdesigner Depot. The content inside new markup tags for multimedia content (like menus, audio and video) can boost your rankings. New values for the “rel” attribute of link tags should also “provide greatly immproved search results,” Hanks says. but you’ll get the benefit of these enhancements only if you know enough to incorporate them into your writing or issue appropriate instructions to your web developers.
Ultimately, communicators would be wise to bet on the web in general, which has shown remarkable resilience against competing approaches to online access.
While some might argue that the guts of HTML5 is a developer’s job, it has always been important for communicators to understand the basics. Back in the print days, if you didn’t know what presses were capable of and how they worked, you had a much harder time managing projects. So it is with HTML5, which will be the foundation for much of what we undertake online as we make the transition to mobility.
There are several good primers that can provide you with a basic understanding of HTML5. Smashng Magazine has created an HTML5 Cheat Sheet. The World Wide Web Consortium has created an exhaustive HTML5 reference guide. I enjoyed Sencha’s HTML5 Primer for the Overwhelmed. And Ants Magazine has curated a list of 50 beginner tutorials for HTML5.
Get up to speed. Knowing the building blocks of HTML5 will soon be as important as it was 25 years ago to know what it meant to go four-up, two over two with perfect binding and a blind emboss.