Tim Berners-Lee has a blog that is, more often than not, worth reading. Certainly that has been the case over the weekend as the inventor of the World Wide Web has been talking about reinventing HTML.
Referring to the W3C HTML group Berners-Lee admits that it is important to have real developers on the ground “involved fully with the development of HTML” and just as important to have browser client developers involved and committed. In his all encompassing vision, Berners-Lee goes on to say that users and user companies and makers of related products should also be involved. Which all starts to sound like one of those committees that is so large and diverse that nothing ever gets done.
But the problem that Berners-Lee and the W3C HTML group face, rather than nothing getting done is the majority of folk out in the real world accepting what they have done and adopting it as the norm.
Take XML, for example. Berners-Lee admits that with hindsight “the attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn't work”. This was because the HTML-generating public did not want to move, did not see the value in moving, did not even know a move was available because their browser clients continued to function just nicely thank you very much. Sure, some large communities made the change and Berners-Lee insists they are “enjoying the fruits of well-formed systems” but these are in the minority.
So what was the problem, does Berners-Lee think? Simple, the all or nothing approach to maintaining HTML. “It is important to maintain HTML incrementally, as well as continuing a transition to well-formed world, and developing more power in that world” he states. And the solution is a new W3C HTML group which will be chartered to produce those incremental improvements, in parallel with XHTML, in fact it will work on both together it seems. XHTML2 will get a new working group, however, to ensure that there is no dependency of HTML work on the XHTML2 work.
First to face the new group would appear to be forms, or rather to extend HTML forms so that they can be thought of as XForm equivalents. The goal being to “have an HTML forms language which is a superset of the existing HTML language, and a subset of a XForms language with added HTML compatibility” Berners-Lee explains.
But wait, there is more. Another thing Berners-Lee wants to change is the validator which everyone would probably agree is of value to both user and developer alike, the latter in helping with standards deployment of course. Noting that W3C have just purchased new server hardware, paid for out of the Supporters program fund, Berners-Lee goes on to outline exactly what he wants to see happen to the validator. “I'd like it to check (even) more stuff, be (even) more helpful, and prioritize carefully its errors, warning and mild chidings. I'd like it to link to an explanations of why things should be a certain way.“ Which all sounds very good indeed, although there are no timescales mentioned in these meanderings.
Don’t think this is pie in the sky blog spouting either, remember this is Tim Berners-Lee making the comments here, holder of enormous power within the web standards development community and rightly so. Let’s just hope that his vision of the new collaboration via the HTML group being “one of the crown jewels of web technology” bears fruit, and sooner rather than later.
After all, nobody can deny that in recent years HTML development has become rather torpid, and the value and authority of the W3C has suffered as a direct result.