Mark Zuckerberg's opinion of HTML5 is meaningless

Facebook's HTML5 problem is a Facebook problem -- not a salvo against open standards winning in the end

Mark Zuckerberg may be a legendary entrepreneur, but he's no programming genius. So when the guy who slung together a crude but functional PHP app and marketed it into a multi-billion-dollar company says HTML5 isn't up to snuff, developers would best be served to take the advice with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Facebook's abandonment of HTML5 in favor of native code is being viewed as a blow to open standards. But the inside scoop is that Facebook did not hire enough bona fide mobile UI developers and that its mobile app was poorly engineered. As a user of the app, I can say it was ugly and not very functional. The new one is just not very functional -- why can't I reshare the latest George Takei funny on the mobile version?  

As a business guy, marketing guy, and application designer, Zuckerberg's work speaks for itself. But that doesn't mean he's a great judge of technology. Anyone imagining him slinging code would be better off imagining him going to meetings with the boss of the boss of the boss of the guy slinging code, give or take a level or two. And as anyone who's been to one of those meetings knows, no one ever says, "I effed up."

The reality is that Facebook is under enormous pressure from what was a fairly unsuccessful IPO. "We can't execute on a pretty basic mobile app project" isn't a message that can be delivered. "We bet on new technology, it didn't work out, so we pivoted, and it was a successful failure" is a much better message to send to users and investors.

Zuckerberg's remark about HTML5 underscores the fact that we are re-creating history, this time with Apple in the role of Microsoft looking to lock users into its platform. The strategy is even the same, though "don't use the Internet, use ActiveX delivered over the Internet" has become "there's an app for that" -- a much better marketing slogan. As it happens, Apple is simply better at executing the strategy. Its brand of monopolistic lock-in is a little more secure than Microsoft's "open market with us on top" business model.

Microsoft gave developers incentive to use ActiveX controls on their Web pages (locking the pages to IE and Windows), but Apple just rejects apps from its store for not using enough native functionality. It is probably too early to do a completely "pure" HTML5 app (as opposed to "mobile website"). Instead, most companies involved in HTML5 development are developing "hybrid" apps that are HTML5 with native components.

But the great part about trying to re-create history is that history often repeats itself of its own accord. A standard emerges, and after a few years of arguing the point, the industry settles on the standard because more money goes into developing and marketing the open standard than goes into any closed market.

Facebook failing at a mobile app project and blaming a technology isn't really a mark against HTML5. It is a mark against Facebook.

This story, "Mark Zuckerberg's opinion of HTML5 is meaningless," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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