A Brief History of Markup

by Jeremy Keith

27 Reader Comments

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  1. Delightful writing,
    One little thing, ‘Sir’ title should be used only with family name or full name, Using this title with good name only will change it’s meaning and context.

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  2. That’s not quite right, hiredgun. When speaking of a Knight of the British Empire, ‘Sir’ should be used only with a given name or full name e.g. Sir Ben Kinglsey, or Sir Ben, but never Sir Kingsley.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir#Formal_styling

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  3. Thanks for clearing that up.

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  4. Very much looking forward to the book, although I only see a paperback option on the site. Any thoughts on a Kindle version?

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  5. Actually, there was an “HTML1”, just not a formal standards spec.  HTML1 was generally held to be the original standard that Sir Tim supported (I can’t remember if there was an official document or not, or just the libwww code).  This is similar to the oft-referenced but never-written DOM level 0.

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  6. “It’s no different with HTML5. There won’t be a single point in time at which we can declare that the language is ready to use. Instead, we can start using parts of the specification as web browsers support those features.”

    That’s exactly the problem. The failure of browsers to implement CSS 2.1 in a reasonable amount of time has been the bane of my existence as a web developer (cough IE cough).

    To put it simply, I’m preemptively cursing Microsoft for the acts of incompetence that they have yet to commit.

    For that one reason alone, don’t consider me a fan of HTML5.

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  7. Chris, it’s true: there was a document called “HTML Tags” which is what Sir Tim supported in WorldWideWeb (aka Enquire) but as you say, there was a never an official recommendation called HTML 1.

    I don’t even think there’s a URL for the HTML Tags document, although I’d love to be proven wrong on that. Has anybody seen it?

    Here’s an email from 1991 where Tim Berners-Lee is responding to Dan Connolly’s progress on X11 and I believe this is the first mention of HTML Tags but alas, the URL on CERN that’s referenced is now 404:

    http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-talk/1991SepOct/0003.html

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  8. Stargazer, I think you misunderstand how standards bodies and browsers work. They don’t produce a fully-written spec that’s then handed over to browsers. Neither do browsers wait until a specification is finished before implementing parts of it.

    So, to talk about CSS2.1 or HTML5 or any other specification as a monolithic thing that can’t be used until every single piece of the spec is implemented in all browsers …well, that’s not really how standards (or browsers) work. Surely you’d rather see some incremental implementation in all browsers rather than despair that one browser hasn’t implemented everything?

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  9. Hi Jeremy,

    The “HTML Tags” document lives on at:

    http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/MarkUp/Tags.html

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  10. Awesome! Thanks, Phil.

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  11. It doesn’t really matter if browsers implement incremental changes or not—we are always at the mercy of the worst widely used browser (not going to call out names like Internet Explorer).

    At best, we can use creative hacks to gain access to a fraction of the market. However what are the hacks for HTML5?

    Consider the <footer> tag. I think this is a useful tag that makes more sense than using <div> tags everywhere, but what is the point if it is not supported by widely used browsers? The hack is to use <div> tags instead; this makes the <footer> tag meaningless for now, because the hack is what is done already.

    I’m not saying that there won’t be a day eventually when HTML5 will be useful, but it is a long wait for that day, and this fact must be recognized.

    Until that day comes, web developers will simply have to suffer when trying to use HTML5. Users will also have to suffer through websites that were poorly designed by those who were overeager to use HTML5. Lastly, we’ll have to listen to out-of-touch idealists who actually believe that HTML5 will be a good replacement for Flash in the near future.

    I will eventually be fond of HTML5 and all it has to offer; In the meantime, I’m not a fan.

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  12. Stargazer, there are actually a number of different strategies for using the new semantic elements in Internet Explorer. Using divs is just one of those strategies. In the final chapter of HTML5 For Web Designers, I outline some of those strategies e.g. using Remy Sharp’s html5shiv script:

    http://code.google.com/p/html5shiv/

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  13. first i’d like to say thanks for the very informative and humorous article.

    it seems as if we will be mostly stuck using the parts of html and css that work the same in all browsers well into the future.

    i don’t subscribe to hacks, and i do what i can for IE, i prefer to code for the majority and peek at what IE did with my code last, lolol.

    personally i wait until new code becomes standard across the major browsers before i use it, if people don’t want to upgrade their browser that’s their problem, i’m not going to fill my head with a bunch of hacks and useless code that’s likely to be replaced or stop working when a new browser version is released. for the most part you can make sites look the same across all major browsers with just a few core html and css tidbits.

    the sad part is if you don’t use the new code the browser makers won’t have much pressure to standardize the new code – but we have plenty of adventurous web developers that like wading in code.

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  14. Jeremy,

    I’m really interested in html5shiv. When using it, what happens if the user has no javascript?

    By the way, thank you, it was a pleasant reading.

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  15. Very nice read makes me curious for more. Maybe there is no real need to use HTML5 today, but i think getting familiar with is a must and if you are familiar with something you will use it.  Just my 2 cents.

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  16. A bit disappointed by this. Even though it’s a nice read (for its intended audience I guess), the fact that ALA has taken a broader view makes it a waste of html-related talk. Articles on HTML are getting rarer so a simple book excerpt feels a little sloppy.

    Next time something edgy, revolutionary or at least useful?

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  17. Niels:

    There is plenty of what you are looking for here:

    • http://www.alistapart.com/topics/topic/html5/
    • http://www.alistapart.com/topics/code/htmlxhtml/

    This, however, is an excerpt from the first A Book Apart. (If A List Apart were a book, it would be A Book Apart book.) We occasionally publish worthwhile excerpts from other folks’ books; made sense to us to offer our community a chapter from our first book as well.

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  18. Copy-editing alert.

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  19. Good catch, Joe.

    To paraphrase Eric Raymond: given enough eyeballs, all mistakes by this author are shallow.

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  20. You should have seen what it said before the copy-editor got to it.

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  21. I certainly hope HTML5 developers stick to a strict standard of implementation.  We’re just getting to the point now where “developers” (quotes for a reason) are learning not to rely on browsers to correct and display bad markup properly.  In addition, as the web becomes less and less a series of sites and more a mash-up of web services, online applications and syndicated content, using strict markup is key to manipulating and maintaining the integrity of the DOM.

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  22. The HTML5 movement looks to be a great leap forward in the right direction, can’t wait to get my hands on this book :-). That first chapter was a fun read.

    It’s nice to know there are a conscious group pushing standards, semantic HTML, and future technologies to bring down the idea that anyone who can run a WYSIWYG is web designer.

    Looking forward to the era of compliant coders, not obtuse dreamweavers.

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  23. This appears to be an article upon “A Brief History of HTML” opposed to markup.  There are markup languages, that people actually commonly use, outside of HTML.

    I did enjoy your extremely brief mention of XHTML 1.1 apart from 1.0.  I always seem to get pissed when I bring such things up or mention differences thereof.

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  24. Interesting read.

    This is a good example of how a market-driven standard with a few key leaders (such as Ian Hickson) proved more suitable than the “pure” consensus approach taken by the W3C.

    Apple, Microsoft, etc are happy to conform and advance a standard like HTML5 because it’s driven by market demands rather than bureaucratic processes.

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  25. Nicely written article but I couldn’t be more delighted to hear about the HTML 5 book, Jeremy. Your DOM scripting book is fantastic and I will definitely be ordering this latest work.

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  26. I have translate “the article into spanish”:http://www.desarrollofacil.com/breve-historia-del-marcado-por-jeremy-keith-para-a-list-apart/ as I found very interesting and useful to understand a little where it comes from this standard of so many speak.

    Greetings

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  27. Keith—

    In the book you recommend using the HTML5 doctype right now.  Won’t that cause most browsers to fall back to “quirks” mode?  I can’t imagine that IE 6 or 7 recognize that doctype.  (Or am I misunderstanding how doctype works?)

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