An open mind

Volume 9, Issue 107; 30 Oct 2006; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Trying to look at the whole HTML/XHTML/tag soup/future of HTML issue with an open mind.

The continuance and frequent fits of anger produce in the soul a propensity to be angry; which oftentimes ends in choler, bitterness, and moronity, when the mind becomes ulcerated, peevish, and querulous, and is wounded by the least occurrence.

Henry Ward Beecher

I wanted to start this essay with a pithy summary of the HTML/XHTML/tag soup/future of HTML issue because I think it's too early to imagine that everyone reading this (in October, 2006) has become familiar with it. On the other hand, it's such a big issue that almost everyone has probably tripped over it at least twice.

In any event, I couldn't come up with anything pithy. Broadly, it's about the fact that six, nearly seven, years after the introduction of XHTML as a standard, XML has totally failed to replace “vernacular” HTML on the web. The reasons for this are many and varied: there are technical reasons and political reasons, there are organizations at fault, people at fault, vendors and users at fault; the opportunities for finger pointing and shouting “if only” are nearly unbounded. Maybe it was just fundamentally a bad idea.

In any event, the TAG has taken it (though exactly what “it” is remains a little murky just at the moment, see the preceding paragraph) up as an issue. Tim Berners-Lee has talked about it publicly. And Elliotte Rusty Harold has pushed back a bit on what Tim said. I agree with both of them, at least in part. I'm sure this is just the beginning of a long conversation.

I have strong personal feelings about some of the technologies involved, their relative merits over other technologies, and what constitutes the “right” answer to some of the questions that are bound to be asked. I am going to try very hard to moderate those biases and approach the issues with an open mind. To the extent that clever individuals can solve specific technical problems in different ways, it's not always about who's right and who's wrong. It's about building an open, unified, and global web community.


HTML/XHTML is far from the only place where users have let out a collective yawn when someone has offered them a new version of a standard that offers all of the cost of moving to something different without delivering any significant new functionality.

The one thing that you can guarantee is that, if the W3C developers HTML and XHTML in parallel, with the same functionality, there will be precious little change in the relative usage of XHTML.

In other areas, it's the addition of new features is being used to convince users to switch from non-XML formats to XML formats, because then there is a real business case to justify the switch.

Cheers, Tony.

—Posted by Anthony B. Coates on 01 Nov 2006 @ 06:39 UTC #