Although the cluster of HTML5, CSS and related technologies has been widely touted as the solution to the web's interoperability problems, the resulting tangle has so far been a much bigger mess than the problem it was supposed to solve: Adobe Flash. The late Steve Jobs didn't like it, but Flash certainly provided a simple solution to most cross-platform web development problems.
However, the industry has taken a significant step towards solving the problem with the launch of Web Platform Docs, a "community resource" for developers who use HTML5/CSS/etc to build websites. The site has been launched in alpha form by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It is backed by the leading browser suppliers — Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Opera — plus interested parties such as Adobe, Facebook, HP and Nokia. [Note, I've listed companies in alphabetical order.]
The site is a MediaWiki based on "a massive import of data" from the supporting companies, but it is "still in a rough form, that needs a lot of polishing. It has a chat channel and Q&A forums, a blog and a Twitter account. And all this material will be available free, for anyone to use for any purpose," says the site's opening blog post.
The Web Platform's slogan is Your Web, documented. It covers topics such as HTML5, CSS, Canvas, WEB GL, SVG, Video and Audio. Although much of it is very complicated, it includes things like Web development for beginners.
Rey Bango, Windows technical evangelist at Microsoft, said in Microsoft's launch statement: "With Web Platform Docs, we now have a central place where we can learn what the standard is, when we can use that particular feature, and the right way to use it. That’s important to me, and it’s important to Web developers. They want to take advantage of the cool stuff — the toys — and they want to do it responsibly. This site gives them that capability."
There may well be dancing in the streets when web developers hear that they will no longer need to spend days poring over incomplete documentation on multiple websites trying to figure out which bits of the standards are supported on more than one browser. As Google said in its launch announcement, "this scavenger hunt is soon coming to an end."
How soon the alpha version of Web Platform Docs makes the idea a reality remains to be seen, but it's a lot better than nothing.
But real progress will depend on community involvement in developing the content. The site's sponsors, aka stewards, haven't actually done that. What they have done is dump their documentation in a communal public space and say, in effect: "OK, you sort it out."