LavaCon Session Summary: Peter Lubbers on HTML5

Day 2 of Lavacon 2011

HTML5: The Next Internet Gold Rush

Just when you thought you had the publishing thing all figured out, someone goes and changes everything on you. HTML5 is one such change. But don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good thing. Just ask Peter Lubbers of Kaazing. His session on HTML5 proves how very much of a good thing this change is for technical communications.

With streamlined tagging for everyday things, like creating a required field in a form, HTML5 simplifies things that are ridiculously complex with plain old HTML. Now doctype declarations, metadata tags, and attribute declarations (no more quotes! Yay!) are all easier to add and manage. Error treatment is now also logical and clearly defined (thank goodness).

HTML5 is built to be universal, enabling content in all languages and embedding  accessibility functionality (for those who can’t read text). It’s also meant for all mediums, not just text, and includes cool features like being able to list the track timings for videos.

There will be fewer inline elements allowed. Instead, everyone is expected to use CSS (cascading style sheets) instead.

The biggest change by far is that there are fewer plugins needed. This means that content users don’t have to download and install Flash or Javascript. Instead, HTML5 has this functionality built right in (glory be!).

Two big changes that will affect existing technical documentation include:

  1. No more frames and framesets: This is going to break lots of JavaDoc/API documentation already published and cause documentation providers to have to re-work their publishing strategies.
  2. Enhanced semantics for sections: Span and div aren’t going to be used everywhere anymore. There are now meaningful elements instead like article and section that will help make the markup of sub-components meaningful to search engines (important for machine readability).

It’s a little known fact that XHTML is actually a broken standard. Most of the content is actually broken (browsers don’t even look at  the doctype and are reading mimetype instead, which is by default wrong). It turns out that all that well-formed markup is ignored and the browser is actually displaying content based on error management. For those of us who deal with the formatting end of publishing, XHTML can be a beast.

So HTML5 is a definite improvement. If you’re in technical communications, expect faster coding, better features for end users, and obliteration of the dreaded frameset. Oh, and you can expect it soon. The newest browsers (Internet Explorer 9 for example) already support HTML5. So don’t put off learning about it and starting to upgrade your publishing strategies. HTML5 isn’t futuristic, it’s right now.

A free HTML5 for Publishers ebook is available for download.