Tim Bray recently wrote an interesting post called </html> in which he stated
interest in work on “vocabulary” (by which they mean the actual angle-bracketed thingies that go into HTML) seems pretty lacking.
Me, I think HTML is done. Which doesn’t mean I think that the whole Web-programming platform is in a good state…
Let’s down tools and focus on more important problems.
I agree with Tim that fixing the web platform is more important right now than adding more elements to HTML. He cites fixing the things that jQuery, Backbone, Angular, Less, DART et al are trying to fix. Those too, but I’d also cite Service Workers, Web Manifest, device APIs as things that are urgently required to bring some level of feature-parity between web and native.
But I think it’s incorrect to claim HTML is finished. We’ve been there before, with HTML 4.01 published in December 1999 and then considered “finished”. HTML5 added lots more elements, some of which are well-used (20% of the top 100,000 sites use the HTML5 doctype, 12.% of those use <header>, for example).
Some of the HTML5 elements haven’t gained good traction. I’m inclined to agree with Matthew Thomas, who wrote (in 2004!) that new elements need to have some form of User Interface:
One way of improving this situation would be to reduce the number of new elements — forget about <article> and <footer>, for example.
Another way would be to recommend more distinct default presentation for each of the elements — for example, default <article> to having a drop cap, default <sidebar> to floating right, default <header>, <footer>, and <navigation> to having a slightly darker background than their parent element, and default <header>…<li> and <footer>…</li> to inline presentation. This would make authors more likely to choose the appropriate element.
Not every manifestation of UI is visual, however. There are still many gaps in the language that have to be patched with WAI-ARIA; on the webkit blog, James Craig writes
Steve Faulkner has a list of Aria roles and properties not available in HTML5. I’m not suggesting all should become elements or attributes, but it shows that what people make constantly outpaces the semantics available in HTML.
Since the WHATWG stopped adding new elements, we’ve seen the <main> element added to the language, which —although comparatively new— is used on 5% of the HTML5 sites in the top 100,000. Although it has no visual UI, it hooks into assistive technologies so that users can quickly get to the main content on a page.
Similarly, <picture> and associated responsive images attributes (srcset, sizes, x and w descriptors) have been added to the language.
Brian Kardell, Léonie Watson, and Steve Faulkner are working on a spec for a Panels and Panel Sets Extension that “defines elements and attributes for constructing a panel or collection of panels based on a single interaction paradigm.”
Elsewhere, attempts at adding other useful declarative features to the language are rebuffed. For example, <table sortable> was specified (with 9 years of anecdata from Stuart Langridge) to allow data tables to be natively sorted in the browser (a very common use-case), but implementation was rejected because “Instead of trying to bake so much into the platform someone should create a web components library that supports Hixie’s spec”.
I’m encouraged by the Extensible Web Manifesto which states
(Thanks to Steve Faulkner for crunching his dataset —ooh, matron— to provide use stats for <header> and <main>.)