Why I’m enthusiastic about HTML5

February 26, 2013

html5planetI find that my best venture investing tends to happen when I structure my thinking around investment themes or theses. One current thesis I hold is that HTML5 will usher in a democratizing force comparable to the advent of web itself.

It almost sounds like I’m overstating the obvious when I think about it like that (and remember, this is the basic crawl-before-you-can-walk VC mind speaking). After all, the very set of standards that laid the foundation for the world wide web see their reincarnation in HTML5, in other words: HTML. Yet in a strange (and immensely pleasurable) sort of way, the iPhone kind of distracted us, playing the role of Pied Piper leading us back inside the walled gardens from which we had escaped.

Before you pigeonhole me as an app hater, let me gush a little: I love apps (especially of the Android variety), I spend time with apps everyday, and some of my best friends are apps. From the consumer point of view, apps are working fantastically (look at all the free stuff we’re getting), and I hope this continues.

But if we look at the state of affairs today: native apps are no longer working so well for developers. 80% of native app developers do not generate enough revenue to sustain a business. The long tail is not able to survive in the native app stores.

The beauty of HTML5 is its ability to level the playing field for developers. Its fundamental tenet as a web standard means that “applications” developed in HTML5 will be interoperable across devices and OS’s. Furthermore, with HTML5, developing an application does not require an expertise in Objective C, C#, etc. but rather only a basic understanding of markup language to create content. Kind of like how the original HTML let anyone publish a web page, and WordPress made anyone a blogger.

These democratizing tendencies of HTML5 are interesting from the standpoint of venture investing for several reasons. First, they will spur a whole range of new fields of innovation, and hence fertile ground for startups, such as in search, discovery, analytics, promotion, monetization, etc.

Secondly, a slew of wealthy vested interests are desperately seeking an escape from the clutches of the native app stores. For mobile operators, the future of customer engagement is on-device. The proliferation of multi-screen devices is just beginning. Solutions that provide a consistent and enjoyable user experience across all screens while helping the carriers stop being bypassed will look mighty tasty. For a startup, sitting in the path of progress of cash-rich global leaders facing transformation can be a pretty interesting place to be.

Additionally, the new worldview that is brought about by the openness and democratizing force of HTML5 will in and of itself represent a step function. The sky’s the limit on where the next insight will bring us (imagine if everyone were a mobile game developer…).

I’m writing this on the eve of the Mobile World Congress 2013. Scanning the program, I do not see HTML5 figuring prominently among any conference discussions, so I’m curious to see the extent to which this topic vibrates at this year’s congress.

tags: , , ,
posted in technology, venture capital by mark bivens

Follow comments via the RSS Feed | Leave a comment | Trackback URL

  • Thanks for your comments. I agree with some of your points, disagree with others, and am not sure I understand the rest. But you clearly have some deep opinions and expertise on the topic. I’m pondering the creation of an informal HTML5 “advisory board” and would be delighted to solicit your involvement !

  • David Bruant

    Hi, I’m David Bruant, Mozilla contributor, Rude Baguette reader, web dev mostly.

    Let’s start with a definition of HTML5.
    On the purely technical point of view, HTML5 is a spec that defines the next version of HTML.
    In the rest of the world (press, business, communication…), HTML5 is an umbrella term that covers all CSS, JavaScript, etc. It’s the thing that runs on top of HTTP (HTTPS when people are any serious about security) and defines things like URLs.

    The latter definition is what you’re talking about.

    “native apps are no longer working so well for developers. 80% of native app developers do not generate enough revenue to sustain a business. The long tail is not able to survive in the native app stores.”
    => I don’t know enough about native apps, but I wonder where you got this information from. Could you link back to your source on that?

    Also, there is a catch. You seem to suggest that a business could rely solely on apps for its business model. Since that’s not the case, native apps are obselete. I couldn’t disagree more. There is no reason to consider apps as an end. Users increasingly use several screens. Also, it is very rare to find businesses where mobile is by essence the only target. I think native apps are a great tool in the toolbox of communicating with your users. But that’s just one tool among several.
    My point is that if the mobile app isn’t working, maybe that’s just because your customers don’t use the mobile. Maybe mobile isn’t a good fit for your activity. However, for a lot of businesses, mobile apps may be a great complement to a “computer” website/game, etc.
    So I agree it’s a nonsense to consider living just out of mobile apps, but it doesn’t mean mobile apps as a technology are dead from the business perspective.

    “Its fundamental tenet as a web standard means that “applications” developed in HTML5 will be interoperable across devices and OS’s.”
    => That’s the ideal world we all hope for. Reality is different. “browser compatibility” is a field in itself ever since there are 2 browsers in the market (1995 I guess).
    Your code is interoperable across OS and hardware, but not across web browsers running your website.

    “Furthermore, with HTML5, developing an application does not require an expertise in Objective C, C#, etc. but rather only a basic understanding of markup language to create content.”
    => For iso-feature, you can’t trade Objective C for HTML. You have to add CSS and JavaScript at least. Expertise in JavaScript is as hard to get as Objective C I imagine. Of course, the reward is different. On one side, you can target iPhones, on the other side, your audience is the web.

    “Kind of like how the original HTML let anyone publish a web page, and WordPress made anyone a blogger.”
    => I wish that were true. Mozilla is pushing a movement called “WebMaker” to help people getting to that point. To some extent, we can consider they are succeeding with their “Thimble” tool, but the JavaScript part is missing and will be hard to get (I actually participate in discussio to make that happen and I have taught web technologies at different occasions. JavaScript is hard).

    “monetization and HTML5”
    => That’s actually quite hard. A lot of people talk about it, but few have seen it. How do you monetize a website? For a lot of people it’s ads. But increasingly, ads are pushed away with Adblocks. Users are increasingly educated about technology, the web and increasingly ignore ads. Free (in France) with its ad-blocking feature at the ISP level (“oops! we enabled it by default! (and made ourselves a free advertisement campaign)”), etc. Monetization in HTML5 isn’t a given and is still trying to find its way.
    When you go to a tech event, if there are people making game and wonder about HTML5, one will at some point ask “but like, people can see my code? and copy it? and republish it? My business is going to collapse as soon as I write my game as HTML5!!1!!1!1§”
    That’s nonsense, but that’s what people believe.

    “(imagine if everyone were a mobile game developer…)”
    => Everyone won’t. A game isn’t really about making it, it’s about distributing it, it’s about having players. Not everyone can be a mobile game developer, because not everyone will have the power to distribute it well enough. Even less in a world where it’s technically easy to distribute. Since it’s technically easy to distribute, everyone does it. Since everyone does it, there is a lot of noise and to get players, you need to have a good communication power.

    “I’m writing this on the eve of the Mobile World Congress 2013. Scanning the program, I do not see HTML5 figuring prominently among any conference discussions, so I’m curious to see the extent to which this topic vibrates at this year’s congress.”
    => Stop by the Mozilla booth. Mozilla is releasing FirefoxOS. A mobile OS where native apps are made with HTML5. Yep, you’ve read that right 🙂 The “web VS native” divide was actually virtual since day one…

    I’m sorry I spent a comment bashing your post. That wasn’t really my intention.
    I’m enthusiastic about HTML5 but only because it isn’t owned and controlled by a single entity (gov, company…). Everything else comes as a natural long-term consequence…

Visit Us On TwitterCheck Our Feed