HTML5: the future of the Internet

It has been hailed as the future of the Internet.

HTML5, the next revision of the Internet code, is a standard for structuring and presenting content on a website.

HTML5 has been linked to the recent data leak of Facebook users’ personal information. An application company partnering with the social network is accused of sharing this information with third parties.

The leak, which was revealed by a Wall Street Journal investigative report Oct. 25, sent user data to outside companies without user consent. The outside companies then sold information like a person’s age, gender, interests and names to advertising agencies.

The apps responsible were among Facebook’s most popular, including Farmville, Mafia Wars and Frontierville.

Facebook and Internet gaming company Zynga are both being sued over the breach, which violates Facebook’s privacy agreement.

While the exact causes of the leak haven’t been determined, Michael Goul, chair of the Information Systems Department at ASU’s business school, believes HTML5 is partially at fault.

Facebook has promoted its use of the experimental HTML5 in the past, leading Goul to believe it was partially responsible for the leak.

In a developer’s blog on the privacy breach, a Facebook representative blamed the leak on “the technical details of how browsers work.”

Goul believes programmers instituted HTML5 too soon, before the code was fully tested and before the programmers understood it fully.

“HTML5 is still more of a goal,” Goul said. “Some sites jumped the gun.”

The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group has been working to develop HTML5 since 2004, and it is not expected to be officially certified until 2022. But some aspects of the code are already in use, which could have led to the Facebook leak.

“All the bells and whistles aren’t there yet,” Goul said.

Among the bells and whistles will be video embedded directly in-browser.

In HTML5, video players would no longer be required, making load times shorter and establishing an Internet-wide standard for video, said Mark Ng, lead Web developer for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

HTML5 could eliminate the need for programs like Adobe Flash entirely, Ng said.

Another feature HTML5 offers is improved geolocation services that can pinpoint a computer’s position on the Earth more accurately than with older code, said Retha Hill, director of ASU’s New Media Innovation Lab.

“From a news standpoint, you can deliver hyper-local information with HTML5,” Hill said. This means news aggregators can specialize news to each user’s location.

“The Wilderness Downtown” is a website by Chris Milk, a computer programmer and director of the video, that acts as a demo showcasing some of the things HTML5 can do. It uses the new code to update the traditional music video by utilizing HTML5’s in-browser video and geolocation capabilities.

The site, which plays the song “We Used to Wait” by the band Arcade Fire, permits the user to input any address in the world and then uses HTML5 to superimpose a video of a young person running to that address using images from Google Maps.

The idea is that the person running down the street is the user, and the street they are running down is the one the person grew up on. This adds a level of interactivity to the video, Hill said.

“It takes something very personal and puts it in a video,” Hill said.

The site even allows a person to write a letter to their “former self,” typing straight into the browser without any word processing plug-in.

HTML5 is also intended to reach mobile devices like smart phones and tablets, which do not have flash and therefore cannot access many websites that use flash, Goul said.

“Long term, it means consistency in media,” he said.

Goul added that standards are common in many industries, including television and telephones.

“As standards get better, we get better consumer goods,” Goul said. “But right now, it is caught in a quagmire.”

Many aspects of HTML5 are not ready, and many others do not work correctly at this point, Hill said.

The Wilderness Downtown is a demo to the extreme, with many aspects that do not work correctly, Hill said. Realistically, a regular website could not utilize HTML5 in that way yet.

Gail-Joon Ahn is an associate professor in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering at ASU. He is skeptical that HTML5 is the future of the Web.

“HTML5 is still under development,” Ahn said in an e-mail. “We don’t yet know for sure what the final specification looks like. “It is not clear whether we can consider HTML5 as the future of Internet.”

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