Why buzzwords like HTML5 are useful

But I think there’s actually a very good reason why we should, in fact, embrace the term “HTML5” as an overarching buzzword for this latest round of web standards and specifications. Our industry has proven on several occasions that we don’t get excited about new, interesting, and useful technologies and concepts until such a buzzword is in place.

“AJAX,” of course, is the canonical example of this. DOM scripting, XMLHttpRequest, and dynamic Javascript all existed long before the term “AJAX”. But it wasn’t until the clever term was coined that anyone really cared. As soon as we had a single, simple word we could all get behind, Javascript really took off. A proliferation of frameworks and libraries hit the scene, and suddenly we were all building dynamic web projects. And the term was misused. Badly. Left and right. Much of the great code being written didn’t use XML. Much of it wasn’t asynchronous. But most of it was pretty great, and it was usually called “AJAX” wether it really was or not. And pedants went crazy. They argued about the semantics of the term “AJAX” until they were blue in the face. But in the end, no one would argue that “AJAX” wasn’t a good thing for our industry. Without that term, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

And it’s not just AJAX. If you want other examples, look no further then “Web 2.0” and “Microformats.” “HTML5” is today’s “AJAX.” Just as with “AJAX,” people are misusing the term all over the web. But it wasn’t until influential people and companies (notably Apple) started misusing the term that web developers at large (myself included) starting taking this new collection of web standards, specifications, and best practices seriously, as something that might be useful before 2022.

Sometimes we just need a word to rally behind. And put in job descriptions. And claim we “support” (another word that is mostly meaningless). It’s a language thing and a human psychology thing.

So be pedantic about the semantics of “HTML5” if you want, but don’t be surprised if no one really listens. This is something most people can understand and get behind. This, on the other hand, is not.


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