Berners-Lee: Work is needed to harmonise HTML 5

Berners-Lee: Work is needed to harmonise HTML 5

Summary: The multiple development of web protocols such as HTML 5 could end up fragmenting the effort, according to Tim Berners-Lee


People are passionately developing protocols such as HTML 5, but there is a potential for duplication of effort and divergence of technologies, according to web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee has warned that lack of harmonisation in web development could cause issues in the future.

The harmonisation of new protocols such as HTML 5 is only one of a number of technical and social challenges faced by the web, he told ZDNet UK at the official launch of the W3C UK and Ireland office in Oxford on Monday.

"The new web is such a broad area, there's lots of areas advancing in parallel," Berners-Lee said. "In HTML 5 there is a huge amount of invention. There are so many people with such an idea of what HTML 5 should be like, and open linked data is doubling every 10 months. So there are technology areas that need looking at."

Lack of harmonisation could cause interoperability problems that would make the web more closed, for example.

Berners-Lee added that the web also faces challenges to do with resilience and availability in order to stay open. He cited the unrest in Egypt, which led to internet access being restricted for citizens, as an example of web fragility.

"There are policy areas that have highlighted that the internet cannot be taken for granted," Berners-Lee said. "People looked at what happened in Egypt and realised what could happen in their town. That raised a lot of interesting questions."

HTML 5 is a language for presenting multimedia web content, which also attempts to define a single markup language for the web. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a web standards body headed by Berners-Lee, is involved in standardising HTML 5 through its HTML working group.

HTML directions

Paul Cotton, HTML working group co-chair, said that the group had problems in agreeing on directions in which to take the protocol. Cotton is also group manager in Canada for Microsoft, which has championed what it calls 'native HTML' in its Internet Explorer browser.

"It's a very large working group with a very diverse set of interests and capabilities," Cotton told ZDNet UK. "The challenge is to get all of these people together in a way to find consensus. The process at W3C is about finding the solution that causes the least dissent."

Cotton announced at the launch on Monday that the W3C HTML working group expects to close its last call for HTML 5 within the next couple of weeks, and that the standard will explicitly control the extensibility of HTML 5.

Nominet, the UK internet registry, officially launched its hosting of the W3C UK and Ireland office at Keble College on Monday, but has hosted the office at its premises in Oxford since October. The office was previously housed at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory for 13 years.

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Topics: Software, Emerging Tech

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • I can't believe I'm going to take issue with the Internet giant Tim Berners-Lee. Now, whilst nothing he said in this article is wrong, there are concepts which do not belong together and are, at least in the context given in this article, misleading.

    What I mean exactly is this: He is correct to state that there is a VAST amount of parallel advancement in HTML 5, and that lack of harmonisation between the disparate bodies producing the development output could cause interoperability problems. He is also correct to state that the availability of the web at any given place at any moment in time is a fragile contingent, and that events in Egypt prove this. However, I do not believe that there is any relationship between the two.

    If HTML 5 were to evolve perfectly with everyone involved communicating and sharing, this would have no influence on whether a government could force local telecomms companies to switch off broadband at the telephone exchanges. And likewise if HTML 5 were to stagger to its knees as a result of incoherent fragmentation among developers much like Frankenstein's monster made up of various "bits" that originally ought to have been attached to other entities, governments would still be no more or less able to pull the plug from their citizens' connectivity to the web. Or they could (and sometimes do) disconnect data from outside their areas of dominion whilst leaving a mini Internet running inside the country. The format the information takes (HTML/5) as it sits on the web, or the protocols used to connect the Internet are irrelevant regarding whether a rulership can throw a switch in an exchange.

    Unfortunately there is no other article that this one is taken from for us to check up, so it could also be the case that excerpts of Berners-Lee's comments, when put together in this article, may imply something slightly different from what he said if we were able to read his comments in full with all context in place.

    Just my tuppenceworth
    Fat Pop Do Wop
  • Hi Fat Pop Do Wop,

    Thanks for your thoughtful feedback on the story. Looking at the main point you raise - 'I do not believe that there is any relationship between the two' - it wasn't our intention in the story to imply that Berners-Lee had made this connection. We've now separated the two ideas into two paragraphs to make this clear.

    I hope this helps with the rest of your query - let me know if you need any further clarification.

    Karen Friar
  • An update on this: We've taken on board your and other people's comments and are going to change the headline to emphasise the need for harmonisation, rather than the challenges the possible lack of interoperability poses.

    We've also checked with Sir Tim Berners-Lee to make sure that we haven't misrepresented his remarks, and have been assured that the story is fine.
    Karen Friar