2011 NTC Preview: Practical HTML5/CSS3 for Nonprofits

(Orignally posted on the NTEN Blog)

Many thanks to the good people at NTEN for agreeing to let me stand up in front of a huge cheering crowd at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference to drop some serious science in my session, “Practical HTML5/CSS3 for Nonprofits (or ‘How to Party Like it’s 2011 When it’s Really Still 1999′).” The crowd will be huge, right? And cheering?

HTML5 is the latest in a long line of buzzwords — Web 2.0, AJAX, SEO, B2B anyone? — around Web Design and Development. In my session, I hope to do what I can to dispel some myth, clear up some misunderstandings, try to separate it from some of its buzzwordiness, and start a discussion about what nonprofits can stand to gain from this new standard — nonprofits who may be serving audiences trapped on outdated browsers and using slow dialup connections.

We often hear from clients that they want to convert something to HTML5. What they’re often talking about is a need to take something currently in Flash and make it “not Flash”. This is of particular importance as site visitors increasingly use iPhones or other mobile devices that do not display Flash. It’s a tricky request because more often than not what they actually want is not conversion to HTML5 at all. The misunderstanding, as is often the case, is all about definitions.

Many people hear about things that people have done with HTML5 and don’t understand that the whiz-bang awesomeness they just witnessed is actually a combination of HTML/CSS3/JavaScript that may or may not be (or even need to be) HTML5. If things are moving around your screen in a really exciting way, chances are there is some serious CSS3 or JavaScript doing the heavy lifting and HTML5 has only served as the canvas on which those scripting gymnastics occur. Don’t forget that word: “canvas.” That’s a big one in HTML5 that we’ll discuss in the session in March.

HTML5 is merely the latest in a line of HTML specifications that started with HTML 1.0 back in 1995 and (thankfully) sped pretty quickly to HTML 4.0 by the end of 1997. An HTML specification specifies what code we use to build web pages. That’s why it’s called a specification! It defines what tags we can use (<h1></h1>, <p></p>, <em></em>), describes what they are (first level header, paragraph, and emphasize), and outlines any rules about how we can and cannot use them. It does not describe how these elements look (that’s the job for browsers and for CSS) or what neat things we can make them do (JavaScript). In many ways, and with the majority of tags defined in it, HTML5 is nothing new at all.

The exciting news is that there are some really revolutionary new bits in the soup. Some of these new bits are very, very, cool. Some of them add functionality that is going to prove to be indispensible for building mobile apps and all kinds of interesting, dynamic interfaces. Some of these new additions will cut development time we used to have to spend doing all kinds of mundane validation on forms and whatnot. We’ll focus on these new tags in March and discuss how to use them, when to use them, and when we can start using them.

And that’s the real question, isn’t it? When can we start using them? See you in March!

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