The Thinker's Guide to HTML5

Tech Review's Bobbie Johnson has a great rundown of what the next iteration of the web's standard language, HTML5, will mean for the websites you know and love. This is lovely technology writing, dense with context and history. From this solid base, Johnson's able to provide you with a peek into the near future:

The Web has been showing its age.

Superficially, it appears healthy: websites have grown more powerful and clever over the past decade. Unlike the sites of the 1990s, which mainly showed static text and images, sites in the 2000s could do things. We could manipulate a stick figure on a Google map and bring up photos taken at the real-world location.

But beneath the surface, this "Web 2.0" era required a lot of tape and glue, because video and other multimedia elements often didn't work smoothly on basic Web pages. To make everything come together, website developers needed help: they found it by turning away from HTML, the open programming standard that originally made the Web blossom.

To get videos to play and animations to run, websites added proprietary programs to their sites--programs with futuristic-seeming names like Flash and Silverlight--and forced users to download a corresponding "plug-in" to run each one. That made websites complex and slow, which was annoying enough on a PC. But on mobile devices--the computing platform of the future--it was often unacceptable. After all, their screens are small and their connections apt to be uneven. And that problem fueled a development that further undercut the Web: the rise of apps. These programs, customized for specific devices such as smart phones or tablet computers, deliver information, movies, and games from the Internet without making the user go to a page on the World Wide Web. Sure, there's talk about "open platforms" for apps; in contrast to the application store controlled by Apple, Google's Android Market lets any developer make an app available for devices that run the Android operating system.

But this is a limited form of openness, far short of the founding ideal of the Web: that online information should be available to anyone with access to a browser and a search engine, which is to say everyone. Before the rise of the Web, it was possible to go online, but many people did it through closed services such as Prodigy, CompuServe, and America Online. Not until the Web emerged as a common platform, with its openness spelled out in the shared DNA of HTML, did the Internet turn into the world's greatest generator of economic value. But as time went on, the Web's status was jeopardized. Fortunately, a handful of key people put aside the rivalries between them and led an insurrection in time to give the Web another chance.

Read the full story at Technology Review.