HTML is of course the major language of the web. Over time the web grows into new areas not previously envisioned by W3C and the holders of the HTML protocol so from time to time they must bring out a newer, up-to-date, version of the language. The current version of HTML is 4.
The next version will be HTML 5 and it will contain tags specifically for audio and video. Since podcasts, streaming audio, vodcasts and online video are now in widespread use and broadband is getting faster, it was inevitable that HTML would get new tags corresponding to the media making audio and video 'first-class web citizens'. While HTML 5 is still under discussion in the HTML Working Group and WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group), they have made some progress on it.
New elements specifically for media are being worked into the new version including:
- audio and video for multimedia content. Both provide an API so application authors can script their own user interface, but there is also a way to trigger a user interface provided by the user agent. source elements are used together with these elements if there are multiple streams available of different types.
This means that audio and video will become full-fledged pieces of the HTML puzzle. With these new elements you will be able to arbitrarily add a piece of media to a web page like so:
<video src="http://www.example.com/example/video.ogv" />
Additionally you would be able to specify every element attribute just like what is already in place with the <img> tag. The same holds true for the new audio element. This is where things get interesting from an SEO perspective.
With element level tags in HTML every piece of audio and video can be specifically tagged and have attributes, such as meta-data, title, alternative text, etc. built into the tag making if far more noticeable to the search engines. An example of its usage might look like this:
<video alt=”Example Video”
title="The Video Tag Example Video"
Along with the element they could also introduce new attributes for the tag such as content which would then allow the developer to put content keywords into the tag that state exactly what the content of the video is.
Perhaps they would also incorporate a rating attribute. They will also have fallback content for browsers that are not compatible with the tag similar to the alt attribute in img. Another possibility for accessibility is that if the video cannot be played perhaps the captions should be shown chronologically or as plain text.
But what does that truly mean for everyone who uses audio and video online daily? Well first we must understand the issue. The HTML Working Group and W3C only wish to incorporate royalty free elements; in this case a video or audio codec is needed that is royalty free. Unfortunately this does not exist at the moment. Additionally there are also no codecs that are natively supported by all browsers. So W3C wants a
"codec that is known to not require per-unit or per-distributor licensing, that is compatible with the open source development model, that is of sufficient quality as to be usable, and that is not an additional submarine patent risk for large companies.”
If you look at the <img> element as an example W3C put the element in HTML and the marketplace decided that it wanted to use GIF, JPG and PNG as a standard. This might very well become the case with video and audio as well. In the case of audio it will support WAV though MP3 may take over as the preferred audio format. On the video side of things the two major contenders at the moment are Ogg Theora (cousin to Ogg vorbis) and H.264 but as most browsers have plug-ins for Quicktime, Windows Media and Flash these could very well become the marketplace standard as well if the WHATWG were to do the same as they did with <img> and let the marketplace decide.
Overall we as content authors must take a wait and see approach, though it might be best if we take a more active role in the creation of the element and tell W3C and WHATWG what we would like in the tag. This could be done by joining any of the bodies mentioned and entering into the discussions of the upcoming standard. The main purpose of the new element tags is to make it easier for everyone to place media content into HTML pages without having to use a complex embed and object tag as we have been. If that is truly the case then the content authors, the people who use the tag, need to be involved in its creation so that it is useful for us.