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HTML5 and the Future of the Web

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As a business owner, entrepreneur or developer, making the decision to adopt the new HTML5 web standard or continuing to utilize older technologies like Flash can be a difficult one. Len Payne, content creator on Elance and web development enthusiast, shares his thoughts on HTML5 and the future of the web.

The Internet is not a place to be caught standing still. With the constant shifts and twists of technological trends, it's important to be aware of what's coming, and to make sure you're not getting left behind. With the recent adoption of HTML5 and CSS3, we're looking at a brand new set of open standards for web development. HTML and CSS make up the backbone of all web content and the native language of our web browsers. They're growing, expanding and leaving unprepared companies in the dust. Do you know what changes are coming, and how that's going to affect your business?

Escaping The Past

First of all, let me give you an example of what it's like to be left behind by internet technologies. I was recently linked to the actual, honest to goodness, ticket ordering websites for the two most-watched game shows on North American television today. I'm talking about Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Click on that, I'll wait. It's a blast from the past, but it's the web presence of a very successful business. Today. Would you seriously feel comfortable giving your personal information out on a website like that? It's functional and cost-effective, but in an age of eBay, PayPal and Facebook, is a 1996 Geocities template the kind of face you want for your company?

That's an extreme example, and we all know that it's always important to keep up with the times, but what's really changed? What is the cutting edge of web design and how do these web professionals actually make things look so professional? The big changes we're seeing in HTML5 and CSS3 are leaps and bounds beyond what you saw from "America's Game", but the hugest shifts from last year to this year are the inclusion of inline media tags—bringing movies, sound and games back in control of the browser.

Now somebody out there is gonna say, "What?! But I can already watch movies in my browser!" And they're right… sort of.

For years, we have relied on Flash and Java to provide rich multimedia web content. Why? What did they offer? They offered programs that would run within your web browser to play sounds, videos and even interactive games. It's an added layer, like paying someone else to wash the windows. What you're seeing in today's web browsers, however, is the built-in ability to show rich media content without bloated overhead. In other words: Everyone's windows are washing themselves for no extra cost.

So with the inclusion of the Video, Audio and Canvas tags, along with some Javascript, you're able to do anything that Flash or Java could do, without the need to ask your end-user to install and maintain a piece of inefficient software that's prone to security holes and licensing disagreements.

Hitting Your Target

If your company is currently using Flash or Java, or in the early development stages of any browser-based application, then there are some important factors you may want to consider as you choose how to go forward with your web strategy. The first and foremost issue you want to look at is compatibility: Will your application be able to reach your target audience?

In the wake of the launch of the Apple iPad, there was a great deal of bad publicity for Apple. The iPad had no Flash support. What it did have, however, was CSS3, HTML5 and Javascript support. So to help support the new open standards and to support its own product Apple went out of their way to tell their audience what major sites support HTML5 and thus work on the iPad. The Android platform was late to the party too, receiving HTML5 support as early as May, but even today Flash support isn't rolled out to most devices.

The web is driven by consumers, and those consumers are pushing for smaller, faster devices. Adobe's closed standards are making quick rollouts of their media platform difficult. The need is there for rich web applications that are compatible with both mobile devices and standard computers, so someone has leapt to the challenge: HTML5.

Planning Ahead

The other vitally important factor when considering your web presence is scalability: a kind of forward-thinking. HTML5 is not just some new technology coming in from left field – it's a well-researched and developed set of standards to meet the demands that the evolving web is facing as we race headlong into the future. The inclusion of browser-based rich multimedia controls allows for faster performance by removing an abstraction layer. What that means for your business is that when the dust settles, the end-user will see better response times on your website than with traditional web-based technologies like Flash or Java, and they will be able to interact with your business more effectively.

Before diving head first into HTML5, though, it's very important to consider what your business goals are. Being an early adopter is not the best idea for everyone, and being on the bleeding edge of new technologies is not for the faint of heart. Remember HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray? Being caught on the losing side of the technology battle can cost a lot of money. The biggest problem with HTML5 right now is not one from a coding standards perspective, but from a design perspective. The web-authoring tools to create fully optimized HTML5 pages are not out there yet, and training your staff to make the changes by hand may be costly if they are already swamped with work.

However, if you have a talented web designer, and your business could gain a meaningful benefit by creating a streamlined, professional web-presence that's only available with HTML5? Go for it!

How, exactly? First of all, get in touch with your web professionals. Do they know what the changes to HTML5 mean for your business? Ask them. If they're trained in Flash or Java, push them to train in using the HTML5 Canvas, Video and Audio tags as well as the new CSS3 animation tools. Even if it's not viable for your current web presence, the key to success on the web is changing with the times, and having your personnel trained to face those changes is a good thing.

Are You Ready for the Future?

The web is getting both smaller and bigger at the same time: is your business ready for the changes on the way? Can your company reach their customers both at home and on-the-go? By adopting new technologies like HTML5 with its cross-browser built-in media support, your business can be ready not only for this evolution of the web, but be on the right path for whatever comes next. Don't be like Jeopardy: don't get stuck in the past. The web is constantly changing: keep an eye out, keep your business up-to-date and keep up the good work.
 

About the Author:
Len Payne has spent most of his life in a classroom, both as a teacher and a student, and his subjects of choice range from Shakespeare to Schema, from Homer to HTML. Seeing technology as just another puzzle to solve, Len is ready for any task from building a website to building a house, from writing a blog to cutting up logs.

Comments

Nice article (especially the funny link and mention of GeoCities). However I have a comment about this statement:

"So with the inclusion of the Video, Audio and Canvas tags, along with some Javascript, you're able to do anything that Flash or Java could do..."

That statement is inaccurate. A much more accurate statement would be that the inclusion of those tags and JavaScript allow a developer who learns HTML5 to do a lot of the common things that Flash had been used for -- though definitely not all, and many not as easily.

And it would have also been helpful to mention that cross-browser support is much more an issue with JavaScript than with Flash, although JavaScript libraries help.

If it can be done in HTML5, it probably should be. If it is any type of Rich Internet Application however (like my clients hire me for) the decision is always to use Flash along with the Flex framework. Also having a modern IDE and a strongly-typed language helps developers with maintainability and scalability. I think only Google, Microsoft, and Apple have the money and developers to make a JavaScript-based Rich Internet Application work.

What about issues of backward compatibility? If we change to HTML5 + CSS3 won't there be a large group of users who cannot access our content?

Great article, Len! I appreciate you quick overview of the benefits of HTML5. As a web developer, I am often concerned with issues of back-ward browser compatibility. I'm not sure what an HTML5 website will look like in older web browsers, so I will most likely be holding off on mass implementation for now.

With multimedia - especially video - becoming more and more important online, any tools to make it easier for including that content in website content is a definite step forward. I develop CMS websites for my clients, so making it easier for them to add multimedia is worth looking into.

~Heather

Just happened to be considering how I might add some interactivity to a Prezi and had no idea how I'd do that in HTML and JS. Don't you think there will always be simplified coding languages for the rest of us?

I keep hearing that HTML5 will kill flash dead but I'm still waiting to see an HTML site that is even half as impressive as some of the top flash sites I've seen. And yes I went through the list of sites in that visionwidget link.

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