Long and painful is the road of overcoming buzzwords and catchphrases in the interactive space. I've had to isolate the specific qualities that result in a "Web 2.0" solution. I've had to "make social" experiences from inanimate technologies. Yes, I can smell new jargon five months out. And thanks to Apple, Google, and Adobe, soon I'll be reading request-for-proposals that require me to take a new experience and "HTML5 it."
So what is HTML5? I won't break it down beyond stating that it's an ongoing evolution of HTML (hence the "5") that allows for better experiences via page load speed, interactivity without plug-ins and other features like offline viewing. For a great primer, view "WTF is HTML5?"
Like every buzzword, there's a slice of reality behind all the momentum and excitement. In this case we're just scratching the surface. HTML5 isn't brand new (W3C published the first working draft back in 2007). But in this case, there is a huge fight brewing over the future of interactivity and who owns it--and HTML5 is in the eye of the storm.
Pushing the change is Apple's schoolyard fight with Adobe. From Steve Jobs first jab, "Thoughts on Flash," to Adobe's response of Mike Chambers calling Apple "closed" to Google holding Adobe's arms back in saying it slowed nexus one to Apple's right cross with an HTML5 mini-site of examples to Adobe's Fredo Corleone-like response of creating and marketing display ads that claim they love HTML5 ("I'm Smart! I'm Not Dumb!")
And in broad strokes the outcome of this fight will force designers to become more acquainted with HTML5. Right now the buzz will drive the change. Today I updated to Safari 5, which touted many updates for better HTML5 rendering.
Chrome is also on its way as well as Firefox. Internet Explorer...well...IE is IE (Microsoft claims IE9 will support HTML5, they didn't say how they'd support it). However, when the buzz dies, and trust me it will, we'll all land on a simple question: "Which approach is easiest to work with?" And the answer will depend on the skills of the designer.
Designers have a lot of questions. Do I need a gradient to be a .png file? If I'm used to working that way, then I might not bother to learn about the programmatic way of creating virtually the same design element. Is it easier to produce and publish videos in the exact way I've always done (with my compression settings exactly the way I like them)? Sure it is. But one line of code may open the door to more options and time spent elsewhere (no, HTML5 doesn't set compression settings for you).
And there are also a few elephants in the closet. Will users find my content easier via SEO when text isn't buried in an .swf or .flv file format? Can my content management system publish content to HTML or Flash better and easier? Apple's coup d'état is, of course, will my design and interaction display flexibly on any device? (Sorry, Adobe.) These are thoughts to consider and reasons companies may want to explore what can be done with HTML5.
At a minimum, learning the differences between HTML5 and 4 or HTML5 and Flash will help designers eloquently explain that HTML5 can't drive your car, pick up your laundry, or produce instantly gratifying experiences. But please help me kill the buzzword part of it before it's too late.
Giovanni Calabro has over 13 years of experience leading interactive research and design efforts for a wide range of business sectors. At Siteworx, Giovanni leads the design team responsible for user experience strategy, brand analysis, search engine optimization (SEO), search and analytics integration and social media strategy. With clients as diverse as MTV Networks, USATODAY.com, NPR, and JPMorgan Chase, Giovanni provides expert strategy and advice in the areas of stakeholder and staff alignment and new publishing models for emerging platforms such as social media and mobile channels.