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Shady Illuminations

The HTML 5 Soap Opera

by John Shade

Generic image illustrating the article
  HTML is going to kill Flash! Or maybe Silverlight! No it isn’t.  

If there are intelligent creatures on other planets spying on us, my guess is that they get most of their information about human culture from soap operas. That would be smart. Those daytime melodramas nicely capture the grandiose self-absorption of the human animal. And I hope the aliens are mostly watching telenovelas, those Latin American soaps in minseries format. They’re the best. Patricio Wills, head of development at Telemundo, described the plot of every telenovela as a couple who wants to kiss and a scriptwriter who stands in their way for 150 episodes.

Let’s examine how well that definition fits the HTML 5 standards process.

Generally Inhospitable

High drama? Check. One cast member accuses another of placing a secret hold on the standards process to benefit his company. The accused party hotly denies doing any such thing. The accuses comes right back with a snappy, “Oh, you didn’t? I thought you did. Never mind.”

High drama and nutty plot twists. So far, so good.

Also, I like how the “secret hold” business tars the HTML 5 standards process with the brush of the US Senate health-care legislative process. Because apparently the HTML process resembles nothing so much as one long filibuster. Maybe they’ll have to pass the sucker through reconciliation.

One Life to Live Until HTML 5 Kills You

Come to think of it, though, the moments of drama don’t compensate for the overwhelming tedium of the process of negotiating a standard. That may be why the blogosphere has to make it a life-and-death matter. HTML is going to kill Flash, or maybe Silverlight, depending on your hype source. One thing is consistent, though: somebody’s gonna die. There will be blood.

It’s pretty easy to debunk the “Silverlight killer” meme. That which HTML 5 could kill is that which Silverlight doesn’t have in the first place. That is, ownership of the presentation of video and simple animations on the web. Flash owns that, and Silverlight would have to be a Flash killer for HTML 5 to be a Silverlight killer. I see no signs of that happening.

The “HTML 5 Is a Flash killer” meme is slightly harder to debunk.

Now it’s unquestionably true that a lot of people think Flash should die. But that’s another argument entirely.

The Restful and the Restless

But it’s pretty hard to take the “HTML 5 will kill Flash” hype seriously when you remember that HTML is the product of a standards committee and Flash is the product of a company. Flash can change in response to HTML, HTML can’t change in response to Flash. Both can adapt over time, but Flash is a rabbit and HTML is a continental shelf.

So Flash will add capabilities and developers who create dazzling video or animated ads using Flash will continue using Flash, because it will allow them to make their message stand out by using capabilities Flash has or will have that HTML 5 doesn’t. And since they will want their ads to play on iPads, they’ll also produce a dazzle-deficient version to play on Flashless platforms. Ads without the dazzle? That’s a feature, not a bug.

Days of Gear Lives

HTML 5 may not be a Flash killer or a Silverlight killer, but it has claimed one victim. HTML 5 has sent Google Gears to sleep with the fishes. Gears has been “deadpooled” for Safari, TechCrunch tells us in its understated way, and is on “death watch” for IE and Firefox. It is an ex-App.

We can believe this because Google confirms it. Otherwise, it would be hard to tell. Google products just kind of seep out into the world in a state of permanent beta. Alive, not alive, it’s a coin flip. With no moment of conception when Google inserts the spark of life, there’s not going to be an unambiguous moment of app death. So it’s good that Google confirms that HTML 5 has killed Gears. Now we know.

The Bold and the Apostrophe

I seem to have strayed from my stated theme of examining the HTML standards process. Thank God for that. Standards processes are terminally boring. HTML 5 is more likely to bore standards committee members to death than to kill off Flash or Silverlight.

But I believe, reluctantly, in standards. If all of you would just do what I know you should, we wouldn’t need rules and laws and standards. But apparently that’s asking too much of you. So I accept the need for standards, especially in blogging. If I ruled the world, someone who misused boldface or wrote in all caps or consistently put apostrophes in possessive pronouns would be banned from any standards committee. But don’t worry about it. I’ll be king when dogs get wings, as I told Tom Petty.

On reflection, I guess the HTML standards process doesn’t rise to the melodramatic level of a telenovela. But it’s definitely a soap opera.

John Shade was born in Montreux, Switzerland on a cloudy day in 1962. Subsequent internment in a series of obscure institutions of ostensibly higher learning did nothing to brighten his outlook. He has still not forgiven LA electro-pop band Fol Chen for promising him a fortune but never delivering.