Managing Expectations

A couple of weeks ago Jeff Croft made what can be considered yet another controversial post about Web Standards, this time ridiculing HTML5’s timeline, which is set for completion in 2022. Unlike various previous posts of his that incite controversy, I actually agreed with him on this one—but with a twist on it.

I posted on Twitter last night that the absurdity of HTML5’s 19-year timeline is most evident when you realize that HTML itself has only existed for 18 years thus far. This created a barrage of responses from people quite intent on convincing me that there’s nothing “absurd” about it, that it is very carefully planned out and that it makes absolute sense.

Now, I’m not saying that HTML5 is not being planned well — in fact, I agree that it’s been planned meticulously well — but the absurdity lies in the expectations that are being set.

For the past six or so years, I have dedicated most of my life to advocating Web Standards and promoting best practices. During most of this time, I’ve closely followed the ongoing progress being made in specifications for various web standards1. A key proponent to keep me steady on my evangelist legs was the simple matter that progress was looming just around the corner most of the time. For instance, a lot of people were very anxious to see when IE on Windows would finally support Alpha-transparent PNGs. It took longer than expected or hoped for, but here’s the crux of the matter: we waited around for that because it seemed like it could be any day now.

If we had been told in 2000 that it would take until well into 2008 before we’d get even close to IE fully supporting alpha-transparent PNGs, my evangelism spirit would’ve taken a serious beating, and convincing others to change their ways and learn web standards-based development techniques would’ve been a lotharder.

Jeff Croft’s painting off his problem with HTML5 being slated for completion in 2022 as something that’s simply funny and that we should all laugh about it, while he and many others will now ignore the spec and focus on getting work done today, using today’s technologies that are supported by today’s browsers (regardless of where the technologies come from). My problem with the 2022 timeframe is that it does nothing to manage expectations for me. In an industry that’s only about 14 years old, really, thinking a whole ‘nother 14 years into the future makes me queasy.

I don’t want to spend time analyzing new technologies and the feasibility of using them on a 14-year scale, I want to make considerations like “can I use this in the project I’m working on now, or maybe the next project?” Imagine the following: “This technology is amazing; let’s grab our 10-year roadmap and see where we can slot this in for inclusion somewhere near the end.” That’s the kind of talk you can expect in the field of Operating Systems; it’s not the kind of talk that makes Web Standards an appealing trade for people who aren’t consciously using them yet.

HTML5 is doing a lot of things right, but when it comes to managing our expectations, it’s doing a disheartening job. I’m sure Simon, Steve or Ben will tell me that it’s really 2012 when the spec will be final enough, and that the remaining 10 years are for testing and making sure every last browser gets it 100% right — but that doesn’t matter. It still tells me I shouldn’t expect much to change for the coming 4 years, and that’s what I have a problem with.

Our industry moves way too fast for that; if change doesn’t come from the spec today, it will come to the spec tomorrow.

  1. This may seem obvious to you but I can assure you it’s not how a large part of the consultancy world works. Perhaps not in the web standards-related part of consulting, but certainly in others.

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