The power of HTML

Acknowledging the source of the Web's strength

For a growing number of developers, “web” means “JavaScript”. Programmers like to focus on programming languages, but the Web’s basic power comes from its support for communications, not programming.

I asked Jen Simmons, host of the Web Ahead podcast, to keynote Fluent after seeing her give a talk on responsive layouts at the ARTIFACT conference last year. It wasn’t just a great talk on responsive layout, but an exploration of the Web foundations that make responsive layout possible. Responsive layout’s foundations are deep in HTML, which contained those multi-device values from the beginning.

At Fluent, Simmons delivered A Love Letter to HTML, exploring HTML’s origins. The goals driving a memo written 25 years ago gave the Web strengths that developers need to study today.

Highlights of her keynote include:

  • “The Web has changed us so much already.” [0:34]
  • TimBL “had to write a memo to his boss – he had to ask his boss, even he did – hey, is it okay if I work on this thing?” [1:40]
  • “How to best collaborate and share information among a wide group of people.” [2:10]
  • “As close as possible to no rules at all.” [3:50]
  • “So why did the Web crush everything else? Why was it so popular?” [4:29]
  • “Flexible, simple, and forgiving…. it’s simple on purpose, not simple because it’s old.” [7:24]
  • “Because of the flexibility, because of the simplicity, because it’s forgiving, HTML doesn’t get a lot of respect.” [8:29]
  • “It’s not procedural, it’s not functional. It’s a declarative language, but that doesn’t make it not a programming language.” [9:21]
  • “Dang that stupid HTML, I’m just going to load an empty page… then I’ll run the real program, I’ll run the JavaScript.” [9:40]
  • “If your HTML looks like this [endless divs], you’re doing it wrong.” [10:52]
  • “But which is it? Is it too hard or too easy?” [11:27]

After the show, we talked – Simmons interviewed me on her show, but it was a great back and forth – about the future of the web stack. Some of it echoes my earlier Web application development is different (and better) piece, but an hour’s conversation gave us time to explore more of the power and peril in the Web today.

As I prepare for today’s Extensible Web Summit, this keynote is ringing in my ears.

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