UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 Nov 2008

Following my blog post on Open Standards and the JISC IE which I wrote back in September Stephen Downes responded with some comments which I include below:

In retrospect many of the W3C standards which I had felt should form the basis of the JISC IE have clearly failed to have any significant impact in the market place – compare, for example, the success of Macromedia’s Flash (SWF) format with the niche role that W3C’s SMIL format has.” Just so. But these standards didn’t fail because they were open. They failed because, for various reasons, they didn’t do what people wanted. Open standards are still better – but the lesson here is that standards are not necessarily better just because they’re open.

Absolutely, the standards didn’t fail because they were open. The point I was making in my post was that the openness of a standard is no guarantee that it will be successful.  And it is important to remember this to avoid policy makers mandating open standards which in reality may fail to have any significant impact.

But why do open standards, such as SMIL and SVG, fail? Stephen suggests they failed “because, for various reasons, they didn’t do what people wanted“.  There may be something in this, but I feel there are other potential reasons why standards may fail, which I’ve listed below.

Failure to promote the standards: A standards body may fail to promote the benefits of its standards to the user community or to potential vendors.  I don’t think this is the case for SMIL and SVG as W3C is very good at promoting its technical developments.

Standards are not accessible:  In an environment in which the accessibility of digital resources is becoming important in the selection of formats by user organisations, especially in the public sector, there may be reluctance to make use of standards which are not felt to be accessible. This is definitely not the case for SMIL and SVG, which have been developed with the needs of users with disabilities being addressed right from the start.

Failure to get vendor buy-in: Potential software vendors, such as Microsoft, Macromedia, Adobe, etc. are W3C members and have been actively involved in the development of these standards.

Failure by vendors to promote: Tim Berners-Lee, in a post entitled “MS IE “slow in supporting SVG” pointed out that “If you look around at browsers, you’ll find that most of them support scalable vector graphics,” Berners-Lee said. “I’ll let you figure out which one has been slow in supporting SVG.”  The lack of SVG is all Microsoft’s fault, you may feel.  However an article on “SMIL Standards and Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8” touches on some of the complexities of vendor support for rapidly developing standards. As described in this article other vendors have their doubts regarding the the effectiveness of W3C standards such as SMIL, with the Macromedia Product Manager stating that Macromedia “[doesn’t] feel that SMIL integrates well with HTML and the current evolution of the DOM, SMIL is a decent standard for synchronizing audio and video, but isn’t really a multimedia standard. And it does not enable an author to create a rich, interactive multimedia presentation with any kind of sophistication.”

Lack of interest by the users: And perhaps Stephen Downes is correct when he says that such standards don’t do what people want.  Do we have real evidence that there is sufficient interest in these standards for the market place to support the standards?

Insufficient motivation to change existing working practices: Even if there is evidence that there is a marketplace for SMIL and SVG are the benefits sufficient for users to be willing to change their existing approaches, purchase new tools, training staff, etc.

I think it is clear that W3C have failed to deliver a solution which is being widely deployed.  Now this may not be of concern to W3C – they may regard their role as simply developing standards and are happy to leave it to the marketplace to adopt or reject the standards. However as user organisations we can’t take this stance.  So we will need to ensure that we have learnt form the failures of well-promoted standards to have any significant impact. Or perhaps we should simply be prepared to wait for a longer period for new standards to gain impact.  Perhaps we may find greater take-up of SMIL and SVG, with the mobile market providing the arena for the standards to demonstrate their worth.

Or have I got this wrong and will I find a horde of happy SMIL and SVG users commenting on this post with examples of how they are successfully using the standards?

29 Responses to “Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?”

  1. stelt said

    Maybe they’re used more than you think?
    For example see this broad range of SVG examples.

    Maybe they just take a lot of time to implement?
    State of the Open Web shows how ready things are.

  2. fischx said

    In reality, there is not one browser that really supports SVG.

    History: 20. Century


    A real simple SVG, only Opera gets it, but the Opera SVG engine is also slow and buggy.

  3. fischx said

    Example again :-)

    <?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″ standalone=”no”?>
    <svg xmlns:svg=”” xmlns=”” width=”410mm” height=”297mm”>
    <title>Die Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts in 442 Zeichen</title>
    <text style=”font-size:448px” x=”-7″ y=”652″>
    ☧<tspan style=”fill:red”>☭</tspan>
    <animateMotion begin=”0s” dur=”5s” repeatDur=”indefinite” path=”M -310,-310 L 300,50 A 10,10 0 0,1 600,400 Z”/>

  4. stelt said

    > In reality, there is not one browser that really supports SVG.

    Tell me which browser perfectly supports CSS, or HTML even.
    Then you understand why SVG is used a lot ‘anyway’, as you can see in my earlier mentioned URL.

  5. Alex said

    SVG is supported in Safari, Mozilla and Opera, and SMIL is supported by Safari, Opera and Mozilla (In the next version) IE is the one lagging behind here.

    It’s not in large use because of IE, the only plugins for IE are buggy or unsupported or both. If/when somebody writes a proper SVG plugin for IE (Like they are with ) the will be no real issues with using the format on normal web sites.

  6. In the last year SVG browser support has been quite amazing; yes, it was pretty much dead, but Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Chrome now support a large set of SVG. However, Internet Explorer supports none of it… I’ve been working on an open source SVG drop-in JavaScript library for Internet Explorer that magically gets SVG working there. Once we have that we should have a baseline of SVG support that we can start working with. I’m hacking on this full time here at Google until I can finish it.

    Brad Neuberg

  7. rkgeorge said

    I wonder if SVG is more successful than apparent from merely looking at the market. Certainly the need for a cross browser graphics standard is still self evident. SVG’s existence proved threatening enough to Microsoft that it committed major resources to produce Xaml/Silverlight. (and I guess the jury is still out even on its success)

    Perhaps W3C was resistant to acknowledging some of SVG’s deficiencies in complexity, performance, media, and 3D, which worked to Flash and Xaml/Silverlight’s advantage. I imagine that open web has no alternative at this stage, but to implement some type of rich graphics alternative to both Adobe/Flash and Microsoft/Xaml. Thin client interfaces are here to stay, and without the rich granularity of an xml graphics standard the browser interface will always appear rather flat and archaic relative to proprietary technologies. Just look at DeepEarth relative to OpenLayers and you can see the problem.

    From an historical perspective SVG was very forward thinking at its introduction. I believe its implementation complexity slowed adoption, allowing time for its power to threaten commercial interests. In spite of Sun’s generous support, it still lacks major backing from big stake players in open web, like IBM and Google, which would appear necessary to implementing a plugin for IE.

  8. Clinton Gallagher said

    Who are we trying to kid? Even the non-technical neophytes know as do all developers know that the W3C standards have been poorly adopted for the most part because of the intentionally predatory presence of the worst software program written in the history of computer science: Internet Explorer.

    There are other parasitic and predatory vendors such as Autodesk that reportedly paid $10,000 to buy a seat on the W3C SVC committee enabling them to spy and determine how to continue crippling their CAD products which the U.S. federal government’s research has determined to be a fundamental reason for the growing $15 billion in annual losses in the U.S. Facilities design and contruction markets which themselves are corruptly controlled by fascist licensing used to enable the fascists to determine who can and who cannot work in America enabling them to continue operating oligopolies.

    So yes, as I have been victimized by the vendors it became increasingly clear there was nothing wrong with the standards themselves that men and women could not and do not intend to diligently work to improve but for the lack of integrity of parasitic and predatory vendors such as Microsoft and Autodesk and the corrupt governance that allows just about anything to be perpetuated by unethical cpmpanies engaged in commerce attempting to rationalize generating their profits for stockholders.

  9. […] 2009 conference on ”From eLib to NOF-digi and Beyond“ a number of the open standards (such as SMIL and SVG) which were felt to provide the basis for development work failed to gain acceptance. And might it […]

  10. […] by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 11 January 2010 In November 2008 I asked “Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?”  The post suggested reasons why the W3C’s Scaleable Vector Graphics standard (which […]

  11. […] a lot that can be written about SMIL and SVG’s failure in the […]

  12. […] post I wrote in November 2008 entitled “Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?” has been referenced by the Stevie 5 is Alive blog. The post on the lack of Flash support for […]

  13. […] post I wrote in November 2008 entitled “Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?” has been referenced by the Stevie 5 is Alive blog. The post on the lack of Flash support for […]

  14. […] Recent Comments Brian Kelly (UK Web … on Blog Experimentspaulmilne on Blog ExperimentsReflections on CETIS… on An Opportunities and Risks Fra…iPad, Flash, HTML 5 … on Reflections on CETIS’s …iPad, Flash, HTML 5 … on Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail… […]

  15. IAdea said

    A growing number of digital signage vendors are supporting SMIL in the latest open standard digital signage media appliances. Perhaps after the hype the technology is finding its right use.

  16. […] Top Posts DBPedia and the Relationships Between Technical ArticlesHave You Claimed Your Personal And Institutional Facebook Vanity URL?Has Google Replaced the Institutional Directory of Expertise?Best UK University Web Sites – According to Sixth FormersWhat Can We Learn From Facebook?EPub Format For Papers in RepositoriesWhy Did SMIL and SVG Fail? […]

  17. mcameira said

    Well, there’s a lot of things to do with SVG and SMIL. I’m just trying (and really doing) some editorial infographics with it. And I remember very well old days when I could’t use Flash on the newspaper website because a big part of the audience didn’t had the Flash plug-in. Now there’s Apple, the iPad and the proliferation of mobile devices to force W3C standards on. Helping to turn SVG ubiquous, in the next years, it will be a nice challenge for all who builds the web :)
    You can see some SVG Infographics here:

  18. Ryan said

    You look like a real idiot now don’t you? Every modern desktop and mobile browser implements SVG to some degree. Wikipedia are using SVG images where appropriate, the GNOME desktop has had SVG directly integrated for quite some time and heavily uses SVG icons.

    You complete and utter moron.

    • You are almost correct in saying that modern browsers support SVG to some extent. As Wikipedia states: “All major modern web browsers, support and render SVG markup directly with the very notable exception of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE)” and then goes on to add “The Internet Explorer 9 beta supports the basic SVG feature set. Currently, support for browsers running under Android is also limited.“.

      However this is the point – take-up has been slow since SVG was launched as a W3C Recommendation in 2001, almost eleven years ago. But, as I asked in a post entitled Will the SVG Standard Come Back to Life? perhaps developments in the mobile environment and the dropping of support for Flash by varius vendors will see renewed interest in SVG. But it was worrying to read thatthe Android built-in browser still does not support SVG. Currently, only Firefox Mobile 4.0b2 (beta) for Android supports SVG by default“.

      Perhaps there is a need for an agreed definition of success and failure for a file format?

  19. […] (and by standards bodies themselves) became apparent when we realised that W3C standards such as SMIL and SVG were not significantly challenging proprietary solutions such as Flash.  In addition in 2005  a panel session entitled  Web Services Considered […]

  20. […] a Response… on An Opportunities and Risks Fra…Preparing a Response… on Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail…Preparing a Response… on “UK Government Will Impo…Preparing a Response… […]

  21. saurabh said

    I’ve recently started working extensively with the SVG standard in an effort to port our code away from Flash, which seems to be dying. However, the support for SVG in the DOM is TERRIBLE. It took me several hours to figure out how to embed an SVG and scale it to an appropriate size – in the end I had to wrap the SVG in a tagged group and scale it with javascript. Kind of pathetic for “scalable” vector graphics, isn’t it? Given this kind of poor thinking in the standard, poor integration into the browser, slow loading and rendering and generally poor performance, why do we expect SVG to take over magically, because it is a free and open standard?

    SVG itself seems to be quite feature-complete and well-thought-out. I haven’t had a problem actually implementing any images in SVG. Using them in web pages, however, is extremely cumbersome, and when it comes to animation – forget about it. Can you find me an example of a frame-based animation on the web (not some circle being animated to transform, but actual SVG-based frames, like many Flash animations use)? I’ve been hard-pressed to do so, and I’m still not clear on what the standard way to do this should be, if there is one. Given these failures, it’s not at all surprising that SVG remains far behind.

    Perhaps these things have remained crippled as suggested above because of IE and others sitting on the standards committees. But Mozilla has done a lot of pioneering work in CSS by coming up with tags and supporting them for years beforehand before the standards bodies caught up to them – why hasn’t the same been done with SVG? I see a lot of work being done promoting HTML5, but it doesn’t seem like SVG is being cultivated or its integration improved, and examples of how to implement these things developed and used for education.

  22. […] 2 months later a post entitled Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail? generated a discussion about criteria for identifying failed […]

  23. Rhino said

    Why is SMIL and SVG Back? Was: “Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?”

  24. I guess in retrospect this article is very wrong. SVG is a prominent use, and has active development and support today -> in 2013

  25. @Fresheyeball: I would agree that SVG has, at last, made a comeback following the growth in popularity of the mobile web and HTML5. As Fischx said in 2008, back then only the Opera browser provided decent support for SVG. There still doesn’t seem to be much interest in SMIL, though.

  26. I was originally very excited about SVG and SMIL, and wrote an entire experimental site by hand in 2000/2001 using the Adobe SVG viewer for IE.
    I just recently, finally, went back and updated it so it will work with other standard browsers. Chrome has very a extensive implementation with which I am quite pleased.
    Of course it’s ancient now, and simple in many ways, but does have a different look than most web pages, which it part of what I was trying to accomplish.
    (Works best in Chrome. Some errors in Firefox and Opera)

  27. SMIL is dead. Even though SMIL has been used in digital signage it can only be used with media player devices that support it and the media players cost many hundreds of dollars. Can you imagine what it is like for the poor bastards who have to write the code that must be saved to a file, uploaded to a media player and then played just to determine of the code does what the developer expected?

    I expect somebody to develop a JavaScript library with databinding that supports all of the functionality of SMIL. Oh wait a minute, there is a framework called AngularJS that shows promise.

  28. […] made this point in a post published in November 2008 which asked Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail? The post generated much discussion, primarily about the level of support for SVG. In August […]

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