Striking a Balance
You ask yourself not if this or that is expedient, but if it is right.
Author Alan Paton was probably not writing about the conundrum of designing for Internet Explorer 6.0 versus Google Chrome, but he gets to the heart of the conflict for businesses that are weighing standards compliance. "After a decade of working in the web world," says Whatcott, "publishers have learned that they have to be pragmatic. If a standard is going to restrict your audience in any way, it's not that compelling. They're looking for the best possible user experience that will also help them make money."
Merkle likens the process to looking through a dual lens, keeping up-to-date both with current standards and the ones that are emerging. Merkle says that Dow Jones continuously polls its customers to find out what they're using and why they might not be moving to newer standards. He says, "We classify our customers. There are early adopters who can help us validate our long-term vision with regard to standards. And then there is the reality of other customers."
Beyond learning from customers what standards they're tracking and at what pace, content industry companies can help influence the discussion via participation and membership on standards boards. "If you're developing new products, you should try to be part of the conversation," says Hlava. That's not difficult to do; for instance, W3C invites public comment
on its drafts and charters and encourages membership participation in other aspects of its specification development. Early participation in these discussions can help companies anticipate the eventual impacts on product strategy.
Standard in the Spotlight: Video
With standards for everything from authentication to mobile web applications to internationalization under scrutiny right now, it may be instructive to drill down into one high-profile subject-video on the web-as a case study in the careful balance between standards compliance and commercial realities.
For years, the de facto web platform for viewing video has been the Adobe Flash Player. Stable, versatile, and powerful, a Millward Brown survey conducted in March 2010 showed that Flash is the world's most pervasive software platform, used by more than 2 million professionals and reaching 99% of internet-enabled desktops.
And then along came the iPad. With the announcement that Apple would support HTML5 for video, but not Flash, on its devices, the stage for a standards showdown was set. IDC's Webster observes that, "There's no technical reason why Apple can't support Flash. But they've decided to make it about standards because it plays into their interest to control content viewed on their devices."
As defined by Mark Pilgrim in his digital book Dive Into HTML5 (2010, O'Reilly Media), "HTML5 is the next generation of HTML, superseding HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0, and XHTML 1.1. HTML5 provides new features that are necessary for modern web applications. It also standardizes many features of the web platform that web developers have been using for years, but which have never been vetted or documented by a standards committee." While it is still in Working Draft form within the W3C organization, many of the specifications are considered stable and have already been implemented in commercial products.
Brightcove has supported HTML5 since 2008. But, according to Whatcott, it has not been a "top of mind" issue, requested mainly by customers targeting the iPhone. Compared to functionality Brightcove could offer to Flash users, says Whatcott, HTML5 lacks features of analytics, ad technology, and player customization. Even so, as soon as the Apple announcement was made regarding HTML5, Whatcott says, "Our phone started ringing off the hook."
Publishers are looking at the attributes of the iPad target audience-affluent and loyal-and seeing the clear business impetus to embrace HTML5. To meet customer demand, Brightcove has rolled out a two-stage road map for HTML5 support for its users, which will provide them basic reporting and advertising and eventually analytics as well. "The iPad created immediate urgency around HTML5," Whatcott says, and it may have finally given the push the emerging standard needed to gain broader market acceptance. But for publishers focused on how to provide the best customer experience today, HTML5 may not yet be ready for prime time.
As the debate continues, Dow Jones' Merkle describes a reasonable framework for thinking about standards in general. He says, "I have to consider both where I can make my money now and where the money is eventually going to be."
Access Innovations - www.accessinn.com
Adobe Systems - www.adobe.com
American National Standards Institute (ANSI) - www.ansi.org
Apple - www.apple.com
Brightcove, Inc. - www.brightcove.com
Dive Into HTML5, Mark Pilgrim - http://diveintohtml5.org
Dow Jones - www.dowjones.com
Google - www.google.com
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) - www.iso.org
Internet Society (ISOC) - www.isoc.org
Library of Congress - www.loc.gov/standards
PowerMapper Software - www.powermapper.com
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) - www.w3.org