A Short Story of HTML

written by aext on July 28, 2010 in Web Design and Web Development with 15 comments

The history of HTML is a tumultuous series of teaches-in, many disputes and hard work of the specialists…The results? Sounds maybe too great, but I afraid it is true, HTML has a great role in the evolution of the Homo sapiens sapiens to Homo digitalis.

First of all, what does “HTML” stand for and what is its role?

HTML is the acronym for HyperText Markup Language and it is the main language used for creating websites. It impresses with its short but tumultuous history which is linked with the evolution of the Internet. Nowadays the subject “HTML” is very commented upon due to the implementation of new standards, in fact a normal evolution of this language which has reached its fifth version- HTML5.

Who invented HTML and what was the initial purpose?

We all know that Switzerland, more precisely Geneva is the home of CERN –the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, in French) and it’s there that the “Experiment of the Millennium” took place, an impressive event that attracted a lot of people, a large part of them seeing the experiment and the place as the beginning of the apocalypse. Anyway, I do not want to comment on that, what’s relevant is that this is the birthplace of HTML.

Tim Berners-Lee is the father of HTML even if in he had some precursors that stressed the large possibilities of the hypertext (Wikipedia says that hypertext is “text displayed on a computer or other electronic device with references to other text that the reader can immediately access, usually by a mouse click or key press sequence”). In 1989 he invented the HTML as an easy way of changing information between scientists and the success of it was still moderate. Tim initially came up with a list of only 20 tags, inspired from SGML but what stands out and impresses is that thirteen of them are still present in HTML 4.

HTML 1 (many designers/programmers didn’t see it as being a version)

It didn’t allow a complicated page structure, but was enough to create one. As all the beginnings the thing moved very hard with many efforts on the part of the developer and his associates. The initial concept was released at the end of 1990 and its specifications almost a year later. In 1993 HTML standards became the base of Mosaic- the first browser.

Editorial comment: Should we use the term “HTML designer” or “HTML programmer”? It it possible for to call “HTML designer” because it’s a markup language and we create and modify HTML documents which is displayed for end-users. It is also possible to call “HTML programmer” because HTML comes along with many of tags, elements, attributes… and the data types such as script and stylesheet. We all know that not all web designers can work well with HTML.


Many large companies underestimated the power of hypertext but slowly HTML standards became widespread. Because there wasn’t a group to take the reins of HTML and methodically submit future tags, everything degenerated into a Tower of Babel. In July 1994 HTML2 was released, an improved version of HTML which was created with great efforts with the help of worldwide contributors. The collective that developed the language undertook a titanic effort to pay attention to all suggestions from all around the world. In response to this unnerving situation, in the same year the World Wide Web Consortium was founded being headed by Tim Berners-Lee. In 1995 new tags as “bgcolor” or “font face” were implemented; I chose these tags on purpose to emphasize the level reached…we can say that the difference between the initial version and the situation in 1995 was huge.


The Internet evolved and that implies an evolution of the HTML. W3C allowed new improved versions of HTML with new tags and new possibilities. Dave Ragget brought an interesting version with a lot of cool tags and good improvements but because of the slowness with which browsers rendered these, it was abandoned. The HTML 3.2 is the most powerful version of this series and before its release it was reviewed by the W3C but also by the most important browser vendors -Netscape and Microsoft.


The entire year of 1997 was dedicated to the new version HTML4, a major evolution from the previous editions. HTML4 has another valuable tool that brings many new opportunities to designers: CSS- initially wasn’t considered so important but nowadays is as important as HTML itself. Another interesting event is the evolution of browsers: Microsoft implements almost all the tags and Internet Explorer became the users preferred browser overshadowing Netscape which was brought to its knees. In April 1998 HTML 4 was certified by W3C and the future was bright.HTML has an “enemy” called XHTML (Extensible HyperText Markup Language) and from ’98 till nowadays the fight was grim but with benefic effects for Internet users.


In January 2008 W3C released the working draft of HTML 5 and the fight HTML and XHTML seems to be won. The majority of us know the possibilities of HTML 4.01- the latest version but what are the new features of the fifth version?

My opinion is that this version will bring many improvements and we should expect probably a few years of implementing until we’ll see how designers handle the new possibilities. One of the most intriguing tags will be that allows the viewing of videos without any plugin or flash; the discussions aren’t finished but surely is a novelty of the next version.

Other interesting tags are the ones which allow you an easier handling of documents:

  • article
  • aside
  • nav
  • section
  • header
  • footer
  • … and so on.

The names of the tags are self-explicatory for their actions; these will be the guns of the future developer. The number of tags in this edition is probably greater than previous even if many tags will disappear as: basefont, big, font, s, strike, small, b, I and so on.

The HTML5 came with more tags but there are a lot of problems and it is very hard to make a decisive affirmation because tomorrow can bring about a whole new situation. A single fact is sure: that this version is studied by all the companies and developers and the result can only be an impressive leap in the continuous evolution of the web, Internet and design. In the complete standardization of HTML another factor will have a great contribution and will have its role: CSS3.

Incase you missed:

The good news is that the new version of CSS comes together with HTML 5 and for designers this is a great chance to put their creativity to work. Hope the implementation won’t take much time and that we will see the new HTML5 websites shortly.