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By Cynthia Scott |

Author James Williamson discusses his new HTML5 course on structure, syntax, and semantics

We’re very excited to be releasing a series of courses on HTML5 this week. Senior staff author James Williamson kicks off the content with a new course releasing today, HTML5: Structure, Syntax, and Semantics. This course is designed as the starting point; other courses will teach how to use HTML5 web forms, local storage, rich media, and graphics with the HTML5 <canvas> tag. Let us know what else you’re interested in learning about HTML5 by leaving us a comment with this post.

I had a chance to ask James about his experiences preparing for this course.

Q: What got you interested in HTML5?A: When it seemed that the implementation of XHTML 2 just wasn’t going to happen. I remember hearing about the founding of WHATWG and how they planned to keep working on HTML. At the time I viewed it as a pleasant curiosity, but as we can see, they were on the right track.

Q: What are some of the most surprising uses of HTML5 you’ve seen?A: I have to be really careful here, because there are a lot of demos and examples floating around out there that, while amazing executions of HTML and JavaScript, aren’t technically HTML5. Overall, I’d have to say I’m most surprised at how quickly Canvas is maturing. Although the Canvas API is in its own spec in the W3C, the canvas element is native to HTML5. Check out Hakim El Hattab’s demo page and you’ll see how far some people are pushing the envelope.

Q: What are some of the main issues for developers as they develop their HTML5 skill set?A: One of the more difficult things to keep track of is how browsers are handling the implementation of HTML5. I spend a good bit of time in the course, for example, explaining the outline algorithm and how elements like hgroup should affect a document’s outline. It all sounds great, but currently not a single browser implements it as recommended in the specification. That means that in the near term, much of what we’ll do as authors will be in anticipation of how user agents will mature. That is going to require us to be very vigilant and to speak up as to how we want to see HTML5 implemented. The other, really large challenge that I see ahead for web developers is in developing mature apps with the new capabilities that are being given to us. In many ways, HTML5 is a security nightmare, and features like Canvas and Local Storage are bound to be misused. I remember the justifiable pushback against Flash intro sites. HTML5 and the technologies related to it have the potential to be abused in ways that Flash never dreamed of. I’m hoping web developers will heed the lessons we’ve learned in the past.

Q: What is the most recent HTML5 project you’ve built?A: Honestly, I’ve been so busy writing courses recently that I haven’t had time to sit down and experiment the way I’d like! I’m moving into developing mobile applications, so I’m really excited to start playing around with HTML5 in that arena.

Q: What inspires you about HTML5?A: I’m really excited about how the web is evolving into an application platform. The line is so blurred now that we don’t really think about web sites as applications anymore, we just expect it. That trend is only going to accelerate, and HTML5 is going to make it easier for people to create wonderful things. I get inspired when I think about what the web will be like in another five years.

Q: Where do you get your information about HTML5?A: Most of it I get straight from the specifications themselves or sites related to the WHATWG and W3C.  I also recommend watching the Editor’s Draft of the W3C specification for the latest changes. The WHATWG blog is also an excellent resource for staying current.

I highly recommend joining the WHATWG and getting on both the WHATWG and W3C mailing list, as there’s no more current source of information out there. I also spend a good bit of time on the various browser vendor sites. Mozilla has an excellent developer’s center and even has a page dedicated to HTML5. There are also blogs for Chrome and WebKit that can help keep you up to date with WebKit implementations, and Microsoft and Opera both have blogs and resource pages dedicated to helping web developers get the most out of their browsers. Remember that reading the specification is only half of the equation; you have to know how browsers are implementing it as well.

Q: What are some of your favorite HTML5-oriented web sites or blogs?A: Although not all of them are strictly HTML5 related, I recommend checking out HTML5 Doctor, Bruce Lawson’s blog, Lea Verou’s blog, and A List Apart frequently. For a deeper look into HTML5, check out Mark Pilgrim’s outstanding Dive Into HTML5. I also watch the other HTML5 related courses on lynda.com as well! I’m really looking forward to Steve Heffernan’s course, HTML5: Video and Audio in Depth, which will be released this week.

Q: What’s one thing you’d love to see in future web technologies?A: Well-designed API’s and continued growth of application-focused elements that make it easier for designers like me to build applications. Web design is currently undergoing a fundamental change in that the future of the web is in apps across fragmented user agents. To make life easier on those of us that aren’t programmers, simple APIs and HTML-based UI elements will help fulfill the promise of HTML5 as an application development tool. In many ways, we’re already seeing that with things like the PhoneGap framework and jQuery mobile. PhoneGap makes it extremely easy to create mobile applications and distribute them across platforms, while jQuery makes it easier to design mobile interfaces. I expect that we’ll see many common UI patterns eventually show up as native HTML5 elements.

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