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> The author is arguing for semantic markup, but prior to HTML5 the concept barely existed

Not really. The concept existed and was well known in many developer circles (e.g. List Apart Issue 268 from 2008 http://alistapart.com/issue/268/).

HTML5 was honestly the opposite. XHTML and XHTML2 were born of a desire to have stricter, more semantic markup. But we live in the shitty timeline where XHTML2 died and we got HTML5 instead.

That's fair. Semantic markup did exist pre-HTML5. I guess I should say that HTML5 emphasized it and drove adoption.

This article is from 2008, but I think it would be quite challenging to find something similar from 1999.

Semantic HTML was already fashionable in late 2004, when I was a graphic designer arguing against table tags. But my own exposure is a bad measure, just as is anyone else's. One of the most famous groups pushing for well-written HTML was WaSP, and it turns out that it was founded in 1998, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_Standards_Project

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