By Craig Buckler

5 Reasons Why Zuckerberg Has Not Killed HTML5

By Craig Buckler

Mark Zuckerberg did not kill HTML5 but you might believe that from the headlines published after his TechCrunch Disrupt interview.

Zuckerberg’s quote:

When I’m introspective about the last few years, I think the biggest mistake that we made as a company is betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native. Because it just wasn’t there.

It’s not that HTML5 is bad. I’m actually, long-term, really excited about it. One of the things that’s interesting is we actually have more people on a daily basis using mobile Web Facebook than we have using our iOS or Android apps combined. So mobile web is a big thing for us.

We built this internal framework that we called FaceWeb, which was basically this idea that we could take the infrastructure that we built out for pushing code every day, not having to submit to an app store, to build web code on the web stack that we have, and that we could translate that into mobile development. We just never were able to get the quality we wanted.

We burned two years. That’s really painful. Probably we will look back saying that is one of the biggest mistakes if not the biggest strategic mistake that we made. But we’re coming out of that now. The iOS app, I think, is in good shape, and the Android one will hopefully be soon.

Is that the end for HTML5? No. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t worry…

1. Facebook Still Uses HTML5

Facebook’s developers may be working on native mobile apps, but the primary website continues to use HTML5. That has not changed. Zuckerberg also admits more users access the website on mobile devices than use the native app.

Unless you’re a particularly active Facebook user, the mobile web offers a recognizable experience with nothing to install or update.

2. We Don’t Know What Facebook Was Doing

Facebook developers attempted to build a complex browser-based app which worked on multiple mobile platforms. We don’t know what they were trying to achieve or how they approached the problem, but I guess it involved features such as audio, video, camera integration, file uploads, offline processing and responsive interfaces over relatively sedate mobile networks.

Were issues really such a surprise? HTML5 is an evolving standard. Browser support for mobile hardware is patchy at best but even Zuckerberg remains excited about its future.


3. Native Will ALWAYS be Better than Non-Native!

What offers a faster, more responsive interface:

  • a program running directly on an OS, or
  • a program running within a web browser running on that OS?

Why the debate?

If time and money is no object, native applications will always be slicker. If you’re prepared to invest in distinct versions for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Symbian, Windows Phone, Java, WebOS, and a few game consoles, then go for it. If not, an HTML5 application could offer 90% of what you need on 99% of devices for 10% of the development cost.

4. Facebook’s Problems are Not Yours

If you’re tempted to abandon HTML5 because of the Zuckerberg interview, perhaps it’s time to leave the technology profession. HTML5 may not be the ideal solution for your application, but failing to consider it because of something said by someone who runs a successful social network is ludicrous.

5. It’s All About the Share Price

Until the IPO, few people cared about Facebook’s failure to monetize the mobile web or deliver a great smartphone experience. Then the share price plummeted. Understandably, the stockholders — who own the company — aren’t pleased.

I don’t doubt Facebook had development problems, but passing a little blame to HTML5 is very convenient. Zuckerberg claimed Facebook was at the cutting-edge of technology but it let them down. It wasn’t their fault, but they have the funds and expertise to learn from that mistake. Clever.

Facebook’s stock price rose 7.9% immediately after the interview.

  • Jeremy

    Could not agree with this any more. I always thought it was mainly to increase the share price. They are taking a long time to release an android version though. The monetisation is still not done in any way for mobile and they probably want users to keep using the desktop version when they have the choice.

  • and facebook isn’t the owner of HTML 5!!!

    • megasteve4


  • cpradio

    I completely agree, and have been so frustrated that many news outlets took this entirely out of context to mean “HTML5 is dead!”

    In the end Facebook learned an expensive lesson, the process they had hoped to use didn’t pan out, so they are back tracking a bit to get the end result they wanted originally. Who in the technology world can’t say they have been taught that same lesson? I have.

    That lesson also taught me to provide ample proof of concepts and performance testing up front so you don’t waste 2 years to find out it doesn’t scale/work (A lesson Facebook should have already known — hence the true biggest mistake).

    Do I use a lot of HTML5? Sadly, no. I want to see it more refined and integrated before I do any heavy usage. I am also a person who will wait a year before buying the latest and greatest as I don’t want to have to work through the bugs or incompatibility issues (so please take it with a grain of salt).

    Do I think HTML5 has the potential to be spectacular, you bet! Hopefully this article and others like it go viral to help others realize the media got this wrong. Terribly wrong.

  • duality

    First of all, I don’t have any issues with this post, it’s a good description of the situation.

    Over the past year or more we’ve been dealing with a complete love fest of HTML5 so it was refreshing to see the other side where it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. Maybe the frustration some HTML5 fans are feeling now can remind them that sometimes they’re guilty of taking the fanaticism too far which frustrates those on the other side of the fence and when they get a chance to fight back you see a backlash like this one.

    • To be fair, anyone with a little web development experience understands that HTML5 is still an evolution of HTML. We have some cool new features, but many are poorly supported or inconsistent at this time.

      The HTML5 love-in has been caused by marketing. If memory serves, Apple and Google started it then Microsoft and even the W3C jumped on the bandwagon. While it grated at first, you can benefit from the hype. Tell a client you’ll build them a website in HTML5 and they can’t sign the check fast enough.

  • Craig

    HTML5 is good for web & mobile web. Is is ok for certain mobile applications when the company doesn’t have the resources to build multiple applications for each platform, but native is better. Facebook’s problem was they stuffed up and choose the wrong tool for the job. They have the resources to build native clients for every platform but took the cheap route instead.

  • H.E.A.T.

    I was never a fan of HTML5. HTML5, just like RDFa Lite, is a compromise of the W3C from the bullying of renegade members.

    What I have noticed in the web world is that you have two types of web professionals: those who write articles about the web and those who actually build the web.

    Using HTML5 to design a site full of articles may be beneficial, but try using it to design a full-fledged and SUCCESSFUL social networking site. The difference is in the application. I have yet to see the web professionals writing articles about HTML5 put together a large, multi-dimensional site using HTML5 and that site becomes known to folks other than those on a mailing list.

    The innovations, so to speak, of HTML5 could have been easily incorporated into XHTML 1.1…easily. Additionally, some of the newer tags and attributes could have been implemented AND standardized way before the 2014+ date.

    The perpetual corruption of HTML5 can be seen in the reformulation of the B and I tags. These are purely presentational tags that, in HTML5, will inherit some crazy new definitions or semantics that do not make sense. I am sure a lot of developers know this, but are reluctant to speak on it for fear of attack by the HTML5 zealots.

    Fortunately, I could care less.

    HTML5 came about because some spoiled brats in the W3C did not like the rules and decided, like a character from a cartoon, to take their basketball and go home. If the WHATWG did not have an abundance of resources needed by the W3C, would HTML5 even be an issue?

    HTML5, like responsive design, future-friendly design, elastic layout, mobile first, POSH, et al., are just buzz phrases spoken by those wanting to join a pseudo-exclusive group of folks who feel they know what are best practices for the web…

    …but who have not built anything for the web, or at least something that have gained the attention of over 100 million non-mailing list users.

  • pippo

    “…and they probably want users to keep using the desktop version when they have the choice”

    In my case it will be an effortless attempt.
    While I’m obviously amazed, like everyonelse, by what mobility has to offer in terms of user experience and daily practical actvities, unluckily I still spend a good part of my life sitting in front of my pc, and I don’t see it changing any time soon.
    If I take mobility aside, most of touch ui that I use are very often just dumb down version of what I have on the desktop.
    When putting data into an excel sheet, a smaller screen and the lack of a proper keyboard are a problem and they will always be until they day I can point my phone/tablet towards something that fills it for me and zooms automatically (it is no fun watching my thumbs trying to do it).
    This apparent dichotomy between mobile and desktop apps stems from the false prediction that mobile will soon totally replace desktop. They are complementary tools.
    If you look at gaming this is even more evident:
    a sophisticated formula 1 simulation based on touch or played holding your tablet like a wheel can only suck while a en plein air shooter game can probably benefit a lot from having a smart device on the gamer’s body

  • ralph.m

    Facebook’s “primary website continues to use HTML5” … Apart from the doctype, all I see is divs on my Facebook pages. Not that I’m complaining. I actually applaud FB for not using s, s etc. yet.

    • ralph.m

      Oops, that should read “I actually applaud FB for not using navs, footers etc. yet.”

      • Patrick

        haha, you put them in the angle brackets didn’t you. I hate that.

  • Grzegorz

    Totally agreed. Just right after the interview I also thought to myself: “I wonder how much stock price will raise”. But really: 8% is still so veeeryyyy little, taken the amount of “potential-awesomenesses” Mark sold to us.

    • Well, 8% is an impressive rise for a single interview. Perhaps he should have done it before Facebook dropped 50%.

  • Yeah, I was a fan of HTML5 !

    Mua ban oto | Dien dan oto

  • Facebook is not the whole web, it’s just one site. Facebook is great for kidding ourselves that we’re connecting with each other, and is has some entertaining games, but it contains almost nothing in the way of real content. You know, information about stuff.

    And mobile is not the whole web, it’s just one channel of consumption. Mobile devices are great for consuming content, but they’re rubbish for producing it.

    And H.E.A.T.’s comment made me laugh. It’s a bit of an over-generalisation, because SitePoint is a good example of real developers who also write. But still, some of the web’s biggest pundits (I’m talking to you JK) haven’t actually built a site in the best part of a decade.

  • If this means there’s a prospect of a usable android app then so much the better. It’s an absolute disgrace.

  • megasteve4

    Little confused by the article – seems to cover two separate topics

    1) Facebook’s dev strategy
    2) And the success (…or failures) of HTML5

    Lets be honest HTML5 is here to stay (well at least until HTML 6 is the next new toy ;-) but as many have mentioned already it still feels to me like its still too its infancy in many respects to get really stuck into yet. With many of the features – HTML5 Video – for example still seeming quite patchy from browser to browser and many still requiring js polyfills and shims which seems like exactly what the new ‘advancements’ were meant to avoid as far as I could see?

    Also despite Facebook being one of the biggest sites on the net they definitely are only one in millions. Whether they fully embrace HTML5 or not I don’t think should be a barometer to the success of the new mark up. In short FB is an exceptional site with a unique infrastructure, their own crazy FBML and half of the world as users so I probably wouldn’t expect them to follow conventions or new standards. There are millions more sites out there which are probably much more applicable to us as developers falling under the 95th percentile, the realms of sites we might actually work on……shouldn’t it be the uptake of HTML 5 in these millions of sites that designates its success rather than just looking at what FB do?

  • While I do not want to comment on Mr.Zuckerburg’s reaction, I do want to bring up what I call the ‘go forward’ for all native apps. With HTML 5’s local DB and CSS 3’s awesome features, websites can be tweaked to behave like mobile apps, completely eliminating the need to build a separate app for individual platforms. For e.g. http://www.facebook.com can behave like a native app without being installed on your phone! Unbelievable? Read Apple’s developer library – https://developer.apple.com/library/safari/#documentation/iPhone/Conceptual/SafariJSDatabaseGuide/Introduction/Introduction.html

    I’ve copied a snippet from the entire article to make it simpler.

    “HTML5 client-side storage can make a web app nearly identical to a native app on iOS-based devices. Even without client-side storage, a web app can look and act much like an iOS native app—you can hide Safari’s UI so your web app uses the full screen, use CSS to rotate the view when the user flips the device between portrait and landscape modes, and provide an icon that launches your web app from the user’s start screen, just like a native app. When you add client-side storage to these other features, your web app comes very close to being a native app—the app is stored on the device, launched from the start screen, works when the user is offline, stores data locally, and looks and feels like a native app. Of course, there are still good reasons to write a native app and distribute it through the app store, but client-side storage puts web apps on a much more equal footing.”

    If Zuckerburg has not thought through this possibility and blamed HTML5, I’m surprised!!!

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