WordPress and HTML5: It’s Coming Along

So at last week’s Web414 meeting, Arlen Walker gave a great talk on “HTML5: The State of the Dis-Union.” (The links to resources mentioned in the talk are here)

Afterward, my buddy Pete comes up and says WordPress must have all kinds of stuff ready for HTML5. I had already assigned myself the task of finding out how HTML5-ready WP was, as I really didn’t know. A week later I know a bit more, but am perhaps a little bit disappointed with what I found.

(Before I get to the meat of this post — and I know you’re probably wondering when that’s going to happen already — let me offer an unsolicited testimonial: If you’re looking for a speaker on a range of issues related to making web sites, you could do a LOT worse than Arlen Walker. Smart, organized, and quite opinionated, I try not to miss him when he’s on a program. </digression>)

Perhaps all you’ve heard about this new web standard is that “it’s gonna kill Flash on the web!!” Journalists love stories with conflict, so often the best way to write about the dry process of standards creation is through the lens of real or incipient corporate battles. There’s so much more to HTML5 than multimedia, especially when you consider that this area is the most technically difficult/unresolved issue.

If you need a primer on HTML5, Arlen’s slides are a good place to start. To see what really floats my boat , scroll down to slide 39: Thinking in HTML5. Herein begins the discussion of … outlining (yes, I’m really this dull). You see, as a technical communicator, I’m all about structure, styles, and logical progressions. It really aids people’s understanding of things when the explanations follow those logical progressions.

Software user assistance has long been traveling the road to more structured, topic-based writing, to keep up with the generations of users who have gotten used to getting their information from the web. Nearly all my career, I’ve been hearing about separating content from presentation. On the web, that separation is enforced through cascading style sheets (CSS). HTML5 also takes us more down the road to the Semantic Web ideal by adding more descriptive tags. This will make information more findable, which is good for everyone.

Which brings us to WordPress, and my vague disappointment. But first the good news: You can get WordPress themes today that support HTML5 (and usually CSS3 too). I’m told that WordPress 3.0’s default “2010” theme supports HTML5. Just four themes come up in a search for “html5” in the Theme Directory. Similarly, just 28 plugins come up with an html5 search (with a dozen of those tagged html5). This will certainly change as the standard becomes widely adopted.

What’s really disappointing is that TinyMCE, otherwise known as the WordPress Visual Editor, doesn’t support using the new semantic tags, even for standard text. Currently, the editor does some curious things when encountering unfamiliar tags (which Nicholas Gallagher describes, and helps resolve, here).

TinyMCE forums indicates that some support for basic HTML5 elements (such as section, article, header, footer) is planned in v3.4; the editor is currently at v3.3.8. We don’t know when that update is planned, though.

This post just scratches the surface, and I hope to return to the subject soon. Are you using HTML5 in WordPress yet? In your other web work? What problems are you encountering? Or is this topic just rubbish? Let me know in the comments!


6 thoughts on “WordPress and HTML5: It’s Coming Along

  1. I love HTML5 and I’ve started using 2010 (theme) in some blogs 🙂 I’m not taking full advantage of it yet, but that will come (when I get a bit more time!)

  2. I have basic knowledge of XHTML at this point, and I’m at the same level with WordPress. I’ve completed an upgrade and a fresh install. I can build a page in a text editor linked to a CSS, but it will look like it’s from 1995. 🙂
    However, I’m ready to actively learn more about both. I’d like to just learn HTML5 and build a few sites with WordPress as the CMS, but I’m concerned that the sites might not render for some visitors and I won’t know why. And after your post, I’m worried about finding plugins. Should I maybe build XHTML sites, for now?

    1. Kristi, Judging from what you’re saying, I’d stick to XHTML for now–it’s also valid HTML5, BTW. When IE9 comes out (allegedly later in 2010), all browsers should have at least basic support for the new standard (I tend to agree with Arlen when he says “I’ve never been so excited about an Internet Explorer release.” Of course, you’re missing the sarcasm in tone). WordPress plugin support for HTML5 features should only increase as well. While you’re building your XHTML sites, learn more about the new standard. Then when it’s ready, you’ll be ready too!

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