First Editors Draft of HTML5+RDFa Published

This blog post was written by our Founder, Manu Sporny


The first public Editors Draft of RDFa for HTML5 was published earlier today. You can view the draft in two forms:

The blog post explains how this draft came to be, how it was published via the World Wide Web Consortium, and what it means for the future of RDFa and HTML5.


For the better part of a year, the RDFa Task Force has been attempting to convince Ian Hickson, the Editor of the HTML5 specification, to merge RDFa into HTML5. While we failed to convince Ian that RDFa merited a mention in the HTML5 specification, we were able to convince him that the problem was important enough for him to go to the trouble of creating a solution of his own. An amalgamation of RDFa, Microformats and some secret HTML5 sauce was combined to form Microdata — the only problem is that it doesn’t work for all of the use cases that RDFa solves (watch Mark Birbeck’s blog for more on that in the next few days).

RDFa is an official W3C Standard which has been adopted by Yahoo, Google, Creative Commons, The UK Government, Drupal, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), The Open Document Format (ODF), Digital Bazaar, and Slideshare (to name a few). It is enjoying rapid adoption and deployment and is becoming an integral part of the Web.

The W3C decided to not re-new the XHTML2 workgroup (XHTML2 WG) charter last week. Since RDFa was chartered under the XHTML2 WG, this announcement led many people to believe that RDFa was in danger of being shut down. This couldn’t be further from the truth – there are several of other workgroups that would support the RDFa work and there is now talk of a separate RDFa Interest Group that would help other workgroups to integrate RDFa into their languages. RDFa is here to stay. The release of the HTML5+RDFa draft is proof positive that work will continue to unify the RDFa syntax and processing rules so that the technology will continue to work across an increasing number of languages (HTML4, XHTML, HTML5, SVG, ODF, etc).

The HTML5+RDFa draft was primarily edited by Manu Sporny with input from the entire RDFa Task Force as well as members from the HTML Working Group (HTML WG). Today, we open the HTML5+RDFa Editor’s Draft up for public comments.

Publishing HTML5+RDFa via the W3C

Some might wonder how an Editors Draft of the HTML5 specification can be created without the express permission of Ian Hickson, and what a separate HTML5 Editors Draft means to the overall relationship of WHAT WG (who have editorial control over the base HTML5 specification) and HTML WG (who are tasked with working with WHAT WG to standardize HTML5 via the W3C).

To date, all text that made its way into the HTML5 document had to be approved by Ian. That meant that if he didn’t agree with your reasoning, then your feature wasn’t added to HTML5. HTML5 also operates on an edit cycle called “commit-then-review”, while W3C operates on an edit cycle called “review-then-commit”.

Basically, with HTML5, Ian figures out some text to solve a particular problem (with help from the community to identify the problem and use cases) and then places it into the HTML5 specification. In the W3C, a group of Invited Experts (with help from the community to identify the problem and use cases) discuss the various solutions over a long period of time and then, when there is consensus on the solution to the problem, the agreed upon text is added to the specification. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks. Sometimes you need one person to make the decision on particular problems, at other times you don’t want to standardize on something that hasn’t undergone the proper due diligence required for Web Standards.

We’ve been asking Ian to be the central figure in HTML5 through our actions for a very long time. It started out as his specification and he has put an enormous amount of time and energy into ensuring that HTML keeps moving forward. He is criticized daily for his actions and is under a great deal of stress to produce the best possible specification for the future of the Web. It is wholly unfair for us (people that use the Web, yes, this means you) to continue to ask him to bear that editorial burden alone.

Most open source projects operate under the “commit-then-review” edit cycle, but then again, most open source projects have more than one person committing. When Sam Ruby was brought on to co-chair the HTML WG, he outlined a mechanism where more people could contribute text directly to the HTML5 specification, without the need for Ian’s review or approval. This HTML5+RDFa Editors Draft is the first specification to take advantage of this new publishing cycle. Sam has re-iterated that the HTML5+RDFa Editors Draft will be given equal consideration in relation to Ian’s HTML5+Microdata specification. The HTML WG will consider both approaches and merge the agreed-upon text when consensus is reached.

What this means for the future of HTML5 and RDFa

Just to be clear, this is not a fork of the HTML5 specification. It contains alternate language to the HTML5 specification that we intend to merge into the official HTML5 specification in time, via the W3C’s HTML Working Group. I specifically did not remove the Microdata section from the HTML5+RDFa specification because it provides competition for RDFa – competition is a good thing. It forces the RDFa Task Force to re-think some assumptions we’ve made and to see if we can provide both backwards-compatibility and some of the features provided via Microformats as well as Ian’s Microdata proposal.

In this release, we focused on ensuring backwards compatibility with XHTML documents and providing rules for use of RDFa in HTML5. We specifically did not add new features or extend RDFa’s functionality, even though we are nearing solutions to some of the more long-standing requests to ease expression of RDF triples in RDFa. Expect these extensions to be announced in the coming months and to be integrated into HTML4 and HTML5 as they are integrated into XHTML.

We will continue to work with Ian, the WHAT WG and HTML WG to ensure that integration of this technology is a smooth process.


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