The web, since its invention by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in 1989 and its subsequent development by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has evolved dramatically. This evolution has seen various, often divergent approaches to web standards. 1997 saw the W3C recommendation of HTML 3.2 that introduced many HTML elements to decorate web pages to control how web pages are presented. 1999 saw the recommendation of HTML 4, which unlike HTML 3.2 separated presentational information of a HTML document into cascading style sheets (CSS) while semantic markups in HTML are enriched. Although this approach was welcomed by many enthusiasts and pushed the Web to have better markup, the following 5 years saw an ideological schism develop between the semantic Web enthusiasts and web designers as the W3C tried to further separate presentations from semantic contents by standards such as XHTML 1.0 and XHTML 2.0 and the designers kept focusing on the look of websites and the backward compatibility. Browser developers also distanced themselves from the W3C when XHTML 2.0 had almost no backward compatibility with previous specifications and were not in sync with new evolving technologies like ajax (a way in which web pages communicate with web servers asynchronously) that were changing the way users interacted with the Web. However, developments over the past 6 years leading up to HTML 5 bring new hope for web standards.
See www.whatwg.org for further information. This article is written for TBP, Berkeley chapter. Special thanks to Kaushik Iyer, who helped me revising the article.