Letting go of the passion can be a good thing

For years I battled with members of the WhatWG and others over elements and attributes in HTML. Months, we’d go back and forth about the usefulness of the details element, or in passionate defense of the beleaguered longdesc.

I wrote hundreds of pages in defense of RDF over Microdata; the virtues of SVG in addition to Canvas; and what the hell does it really mean when we talk about web accessibility?

But I lost a lot of the interest in fighting over markup about the same time it seemed most of us became burned out on the never ending debates. I dived into the exciting possibilities of Node.js, while also exploring, more deeply, the world outside of technology. My interests were split between JavaScript and circus elephants, web technologies and sustainable food systems. Along the way, I lost the passion I felt about finding the one true way for forward movement of the web. The technologies are still important to me, yes, but I had lost the pounding insistence of rightness I felt about individual components, and even entire systems. And once the noise in my own head seemed to quiet, I could hear others—their passion, their sense of what’s right.

The real epiphany came when I was reviewing Kurt Cagle’s upcoming book, “HTML5 Graphics with SVG and CSS3”. In the book, Kurt has a chapter on HTML5 where he demonstrated an unconventional HTML web page that blasted apart all I thought I knew about what is a proper web page. It did so because as chaotic seeming as it is, it’s still a valid web page. I couldn’t see the validity of the page, though, because I had been rigidly holding on to a perspective about HTML that really was over, done with, gone.

Never to return.

I had been seeing the web through XHTML colored glasses. In the past, I had been trying to map the precision and order that exemplifies XHTML with the loose but more nuanced flow that is HTML5, and there really is no philosophical compatibility between the two. Kurt’s example forced me to see HTML5 it all its raw essence, for lack of a better word. And what blows me away is realizing that browser companies, as well as many web developers, designers, and folks interested in accessibility prefer HTML5, even at its messiest, over the ordered world of XHTML. They do so not because they embrace chaos, but because they saw something in the future of HTML I didn’t.

I don’t seek a second epiphany that would allow me to view the web through their eyes. My passions have gone elsewhere. In the world of technology, my focus now is on JavaScript and Node, and all the new adventures that seem to be exploding about both. HTML is complimentary to my interests, but not central. It is now nothing more than a tool; essential to developing with JavaScript and in ensuring accessibility of my published words, yes, but still just a tool.

HTML is a passion for others, though, and I respect that passion because I respect them. If the people I respect assure me, knowledgeably and with conviction, that using certain elements in a certain way will ensure my web pages are accessible for all across a variety of mediums, I will pay attention. When next I take on the grand redesign of my web sites (typically an itch I must scratch on average every three to four years), I will modify my pages accordingly. I do so not because I believe in the technology, but because I believe in the people.