Throughout my entire career in web development, I've had to work hard to re-align expectations when "silver bullet" tech trends come into the forefront of business journalism and hype. Since the beginning, web development has been HARD. It's a craft that takes deep understanding of multiple technologies, theories, and methodologies. It also takes tremendous problem-solving capabilities and creativity. Yet, drawing a parallel path to the evolution of web development techniques and technologies has walked a curious, somewhat cautious, non-technical audience—not unlike the gallery at a PGA tournament—waiting for web dev to make sense for them.

Waiting for it to be easy and commoditized, waiting for that silver bullet to make web development something they understand as well as traditional communication channels. Magical "write once publish many" CMS systems, nebulous and mystical catch-all "apps," digital e-magazines, WYSIWYG IDEs (Front Page anyone?), etc., have all come and gone to satisfy this contingent, and all of them have failed to replace or even compliment smart, progressive web strategy and great web developers.

HTML 5 is one of those silver bullet, mega-hyped technologies that has the non-technical gallery boiling over with excitement. And, once again, I'm here to tell you why web development is still hard, especially in a cross-platform web space, even with this great new tool kit. 

First, let's take a quick look at what HTML 5 actually is: at the most basic level, HTML 5 is a solid attempt to take stuff that we used to do with multiple non-standardized technologies and bake that stuff into all browsers in a standard fashion. That's the core idea. For example, to play a movie in HTML 4, we'd evoke a separate plug-in (perhaps a Flash player), embed that Flash object in the page, and tell it to start playing. In HTML 5, we could tell the browser to just play the movie in the page, and, assuming the browser was HTML 5 compatible, it would listen to that command and evoke its own native player. In the end, we're doing the same thing. We're just doing it with a newly-minted, common language when we use HTML 5. It's a Rosetta Stone for all the new stuff we've figured out how to do with the web over the past decade. 

Having a common language across all (newer) browsers for how to do new stuff is a great thing, and it's long overdue. However, announcing that your site is written in "HTML 5" doesn't mean anything on its own. That's a press release that sounds great to the gallery but to me says nothing other than it might be using a couple new tags in the page markup here and there. Maybe it means that the video on the front page is playing without a Flash plug-in because it's using the browser's built-in player. Maybe it's using HTML 5's local data storage to create a super-rich or offline-capable user experience. It certainly doesn't tell me that the site is magically cross-platform, that's for sure.

I know what that press release SHOULD sound like, and that press release goes on to include that Company XYZ has poured tons of content strategy, use-case analysis, context analysis, and exhaustive design into making a truly cross-platform, useful, purposeful, meaningful web application, AND they used HTML 5 to execute that thought process and strategy. If you are out there touting your new HTML 5 site and you honestly can't include that last sentence in your press release, then there is no point in mentioning what version of HTML you're using.

Web development is hard, and cross-platform web development takes more than a new tool kit to do well. So, the next time somebody touts what technology they used to build something, be sure to ask them what they did to ensure it was actually a useful application. What lies in that response is a story that no silver bullet technology will replace.

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