UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Posts Tagged ‘SVG’

Standards for Web Applications on Mobile Devices: the (Re)birth of SVG?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Mar 2011

The W3C have recently published a document entitled “Standards for Web Applications on Mobile: February 2011 current state and roadmap“. The document, which describes work carried out by the EU-funded Mobile Web Applications project, begins:

Web technologies have become powerful enough that they are used to build full-featured applications; this has been true for many years in the desktop and laptop computer realm, but is increasingly so on mobile devices as well.

This document summarizes the various technologies developed in W3C that increases the power of Web applications, and how they apply more specifically to the mobile context, as of February 2011.

The document continues with a warning:

This document is the first version of this overview of mobile Web applications technologies, and represents a best-effort of his author; the data in this report have not received wide-review and should be used with caution

The first area described in this document is Graphics and since the first standard mentioned in SVG the note of caution needs to be borne in mind.  As discussed in a post published in November 2008 on “Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail?” SVG (together with SMIL) failed to live up to their initial expectations.  The post outlined some reasons for this and in the comments there were suggestions that the standard hasn’t failed as it is now supported in most widely-used browsers, with the notable exception of Internet Explorer.  In January 2010 I asked “Will The SVG Standard Come Back to Life?” following the announcement that “Microsoft Joins W3C SVG Working Group“ and an expectation that IE9 will provide support for SVG. This was subsequently confirmed in a post with the unambiguous title “SVG in IE9 Roadmap” published on the IE9 blog.

The signs in the desktop browser environments are looking positive for support for SVG.  But it may be the mobile environment in which SVG really takes off, since on the desktop Web environment we have over 15 years of experiences in using HTML and CSS  to provide user interfaces. But as described in in the W3C Roadmap:

SVG, Scalable Vector Graphics, provides an XML-based markup language to describe two-dimensions vectorial graphics. Since these graphics are described as a set of geometric shapes, they can be zoomed at the user request, which makes them well-suited to create graphics on mobile devices where screen space is limited. They can also be easily animated, enabling the creation of very advanced and slick user interfaces.

But will SVG’s strength in the mobile environment lead to a fragmented Web in which mobile users engage with an SVG  environment whilst desktop users continue to access HTML resources?  I can recall  suggestions that where being made about 10 years ago which pointed out that since SVG is the richer environment it could be used as a generic environment.  Might we see that happening?  After all, as can be seen (if you’re using a browser which supports SVG) from examples such as the Solitaire game (linked in from the Startpagina Web site which provides access to various examples of SVG uses) it is possible to provide a SVG gaming environment. Might we see Web sites like this being developed?

Perhaps rather than the question “Has SVG failed?” we may soon need to start asking “How such we use SVG?

Posted in standards, W3C | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

W3C’s Online Course on “Introduction to SVG”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 Dec 2010

How do you get training in new (and not so new) standards?  A good choice would seem to be from the organisation responsible for developing the standard.  The following online course on the SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) may therefore be of interest to developers and others with an interest in this standard.

The W3C is running an online course on Introduction to SVG. Professor David Dailey of Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania, will lead the course. The course will last for six weeks and starts in January 2011. During the first four weeks participants learn how to create SVG documents, to use basic elements to create effective graphics quickly and easily, add border effects, linear and radial gradients, re-use components, and rescale, rotate and translate images.

During the (optional) final two weeks of the course participants learn how to: add animation, use scripting to transform and manipulate images, and create interactive graphics. The last two weeks will most benefit those with some background in scripting. The only pre-requisite for the course is to have some familiarity with HTML/XML and the ability to edit source code directly.

The rate for the course is €165. Full details of the course (audience, content, timing, weekly commitment) are available in the Introduction to SVG: Course Description.

I should add that back in November 2008 I asked the question Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail? but then in January 2010 asked Will The SVG Standard Come Back to Life? SVG initially became a W3C recommendation in 2003 but failed to live up to initial expectations.  I feel that we often try to promote open standards too soon and early adopters can get their fingers burnt.  However there does seem to be renewed interest in  SVG , especially in a mobile context, so perhaps now, rather than in 2003, is the time to invest in training. After all,  as described in an article on “Microsoft joins IE SVG standards party” published in The Register:  “Commentors responding to Dengler’s post overwhelmingly welcomed Microsoft’s move, with people hoping it’ll lead to SVG support in IE 9“.

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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?

Posted in standards | Tagged: , | 29 Comments »

When W3C Web Pages Break

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Jun 2008

I was looking at a page on the W3C Web site recently to update my knowledge of the SVG specification and SVG tools.  I noticed a link at the bottom of the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) page to an RSS feed for the page, and, as a fan of RSS syndication, thought it might be worth adding this feed to my RSS viewer. However when I clicked on the link, rather than seeing the RSS feed and having the option to add this to my preferred RSS reader, an error message was displayed:

W3C RSS Feed which isn't being displayed

Now validating this RSS feed with the RSS validator on the W3C Web site informs me of an error with the feed:


This feed does not validate.

    • line 227, column 87: Undefined named entity: reg (5 occurrences)
      ... ability as well as the Internet Explorer® Plugin and the Windows® ...

This feed does not validate.

It seems that either W3C’s workflow process has failed to removed the registered trademark character for the term “Internet Explorer®” or the RSS schema has failed to included a declaration for this character entity.

No big deal, you may think – and, as the page isdisplayed in the FireFox browser, this is surely another failure of Internet Explorer to follow Web standards.

But if you view the page in Opera you get an XML parser error message:

W3C RSS feed error displayed in Opera browser

And here, I think, both Internet Explorer and Opera seem to be obeying the requirement that user agents aren’t expected to render non-compliant pages.

And this hard line approach has been promoted as a vision of the future of the Web by the W3C.  It has been argued that mandating rigourous compliance with specs would help to maximise interoperabilty.

This may be true – but at  what cost.  As someone who studied engineering at University I am aware of the benefits of a fail-safe approach to design, so that if one small component fails it doesn’t mean that the building will collapse. But in this case one small component (the trademark character entity) which hasn’t been properly defined, has led to a total failure for the page to be rendered in two browsers.

Don’t we need Web resources to be designed so they’ll fail gracefully and will be tolerant if humans make mistakes or, as it seems is the case here, there are failures in the workflow?

Posted in standards | Tagged: | 5 Comments »