Facebook puts its weight behind industry-wide initiative to push HTML5 forward

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By Kim-Mai Cutler Comment

Facebook announced a new industrywide consortium including manufacturers like Samsung and carriers like AT&T and Verizon meant to push HTML5 forward with a single set of standards. It also announced a test suite called Ringmark, that will help everyone from manufacturers to developers test to see whether their mobile web apps work uniformly across devices and platforms.

Called the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group, the new industrywide consortium includes players like:

Samsung, HTC, Sony Mobile Communications, Nokia, Huawei, ZTE, TCL Communication, AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, Orange, Telefónica, KDDI, SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp., Qualcomm Innovation Center, Inc., NVIDIA, ST-Ericsson, Intel Corporation, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft, Adobe, Netflix, VEVO, Zynga, @WalmartLabs, Electronic Arts, Sencha and Bocoup. You can read more about the group, and how to join, here.

Apple and Google are conspicuously absent.

Over the past year, Facebook has turned to HTML5 as a way to circumvent a mobile ecosystem that is increasingly dominated by Apple and rival Google. Because Facebook does not own the lower levels of the mobile stack with a proper mobile operating system like iOS or Android, the company’s options for deriving revenue from third-party mobile apps like payments or fees are more limited. If HTML5 improves, Facebook will have an easier time convincing developers to build for the web instead of focusing on native iOS or Android applications.

Facebook’s chief technology officer Bret Taylor said that the company had to address three pain points in fixing HTML5 for developers: 1) discovery 2) fragmentation and 3) payments.

“There’s no app store for the mobile web, so there’s no easy way to have users discover mobile web apps,” he said. “Secondly, technology fragmentation means developers don’t know which parts of HTML5 work on which devices. Thirdly, there’s no easy payments solution for the mobile web.”

Addressing the discovery problem, Facebook launched new viral channels for mobile apps late last fall. That lets activity from mobile apps appear in notifications and news feeds. If users click on links from apps in the news feed, that will take them either to the app store where they can install the app or to the relevant part of the app.

Facebook pointed to a couple case examples where the mobile platform has been able to drive serious traffic. Taylor said Facebook is the top referrer of traffic to Spotify, bringing the social network 7 million users in its first month. Those users are twice as likely to pay. He also said that 20 percent of Pinterest’s users come from Facebook.

The problem, however, with many of Facebook’s example mobile apps is that they’re ones that already have a strong competency on the desktop version of the platform. Or they are preferred partners that get special treatment from the company. Spotify, which shares a key investor with Facebook in Sean Parker, got a spot on-stage at Facebook’s last developer conference while many other music apps were mentioned in passing. So it’s unclear whether Facebook’s mobile platform performs for brand-new developers that do not already have a strong footprint on the desktop version of the social network.

The new industrywide group, created with the involvement of W3C or the World Wide Web Consortium, is meant to address the second problem with fragmentation. It’s meant to speed up improvements in mobile web browsers so that HTML5-based apps works uniformly across devices.

The new test suite, Ringmark, can be found at http://rng.io. It includes more than 400 tests to help developers see whether their web apps will work properly in different mobile web browsers. The tests run the gamut from ones that examine basic features for mobile web apps, to more sophisticated ones that will eventually allow developers to access features like a phone’s camera. Ringmark was built with the help of Bocoup, a Boston-based open web technology company.