An interesting point of view from the EFF on the decision by W3C that "playback of protected content" is within the scope of the W3C HTML Working Group, meaning that an Encrypted Media Extension protocol may be included in the HTML5.1 standard.

  1. This means that ultimately, the user is no longer fully in control of their web experience (in the way that they have been to date.)
  2. It also raises the question of what makes video so special? (Why don't writers, font designers, photographers – and web designers' HTML, CSS and Javascript code get this special protection for their work?)
  3. The EFF also argues that it could be damaging for the W3C – the view being that engineering consensus is that DRM is a headache for designers, fails to prevent piracy, and is ultimately bad for the users.

It seems to me like the principle of the web is device independance; ie. no matter what hardware, operating system or browser you are using, web standards mean that web content is still accessible. The intrinsic 'openness' of the web is (or, maybe, has been) a side-effect of this principle, rather than a fundamental component of it. If this is what it takes to make sure that the future of video over the internet lives in web browsers rather than closed applications (which, by its nature, means limited to the most popular platforms), then it might be a pragmatic choice.

But the alternative is most likely going to be proprietary browser plug-ins (ie. Flash or Silverlight) alongside native mobile applications for iOS and Android (maybe Windows Mobile at a push – I'd be surprised if anyone is focussing much development time on BlackBerry or Symbian these days), then it doesn't really change too much.

So, if this isn't something that is going to improve the web – but could start closing down other technologies, resulting in a less open World Wide Web – then its probably not the kind of change that is going to get much love from the Mozilla guys. My guess is that whether it succeeds is going to depend almost entirely on what Google think of it. If they are in favour, then we should expect to see it embraced by Chrome and implemented in YouTube. If not, then don't expect one of the world's most popular browsers and biggest video platform to rush to get on board. (Also bear in mind that Apple don't have any particular reason to want to support it, and if Google aren't in a rush to implement it on Android devices it could be a technology that is dead in the water on mobile platforms.) Which makes me worry about the amount of control that Google have over the widear web.

Worth a read

(Vaguely related; I recently spoke to someone who had been on a short coding workshop, who assured me that one of the great things about Javascript was that you could look at any website, inspect the Javascript code and figure out how it works. I held back the urge to ask them to explain how the javascript on Google+ was doing its thing…)