W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-bpwg@w3.org > March 2009

Re: The Web has flexible presentation Re: (Nielsen article)

From: Luca Passani <passani@eunet.no>
Date: Sat, 07 Mar 2009 02:00:31 +0100
Message-ID: <49B1C72F.2050705@eunet.no>
To: public-bpwg@w3.org
Charles McCathieNevile wrote:
>
>> and they would know what end-users would see.
>
> Nonsense.

I am not sure how you can call what I say nonsense. I find this rather 
insulting.

If you ask your Norwegian colleagues who Digital Hverdag, New Media 
Science and CellNetwork were, they will tell you that those were the top 
Norwegian web production companies between 95 and 2000 (or at least 
among the top 5). Their customer portfolios included major oil 
companies, banks, insurance, goverment departments and so on.
Those are the companies I worked for in that period. Creating a website 
would require that "proposals" would be built with tools such as Adobe 
Photoshop. Implementation was about making sure that HTML and CSS would 
render as faithfully as possible what the designer had designed 
visually. Bug reports were, more often then not, reports of a website 
not looking as expected on some specific browser on some specific OS. We 
even had to re-install a clean Win95 with the original MSIE 4 browser at 
one point. Everyone had installed MSIE 5 and the MSIE4 compatibility 
mode was not enough to reproduce the real rendering on legacy MSIE 4 
browsers.

I am not sure how you can call "nonsense" the fact that developers built 
sites with a clear idea of what the site should look like.

>
> This is just not correct.
>
> Further explanation for those who wonder how I arrive at this conclusion:
>
> It was unintentionally the case when there was one client and one 
> server, but the *success* of the web was that anyone could write a 
> client for it, and different clients provided different renderings - 
> wildly different renderings.

I may agree that this was the original concept of HTML and I may agree 
that this romantic idea lasted a few years. But by 1995, the idea had 
already been discarded. The industry wanted as much control as possible 
of the visuals and this is what they got in the end (modulo hacks which 
were and still are necessary)


> Developers have always had *some idea* of most of the range of 
> options, but it has been clear for more or less the entire history of 
> the Web that developers don't know what end-users see.

Of course, only Opera and Novarra do.


>
>> Of course, some advanced users could fiddle around with X11 settings 
>> or define a custom CSS, but virtually nobody did. The basic point 
>> stands.
>
> So the basic point is "designers know what end-users will see unless 
> they decide to see it differently"?

Mud the water as much as you like, Chaals. Web production is about 
delivering content which is as much as possible close to the visuals 
that a communication company has created for their customer. 99.99% of 
the site visitors will get exactly that, no matter how much fiddling 
with CSS settings an Opera user may (but won't) do.

>
> I can accept that this is true. It seems rather different to your 
> original statement, since the implication is "you no longer know what 
> they will see, although you often have a fair idea about what it might 
> be".

I am not sure what you are referring to here.

>
> Looking a little further, it turns out that browsers have had options 
> to change rendering in other ways that are pretty simple (compared to 
> copying a User CSS from a friend, or tweaking X11 settings). Opera 
> always had zoom and the option to change various other rendering 
> features in the User Interface of the browser.

1) Opera is about 1% market share.
2) the fact that Opera users may, does not mean that they usually do it.

Relevant anecdote: in 1999, a norwegian customer raised the issue that 
users could change the font size in Opera and disrupt the visuals. We 
responded that Opera had such a tiny market share that he did not need 
to bother. This was accepted.

> Other browsers changed text size (which has a significant effect on 
> layout with images, since the realtive size of images to text is 
> itself changed), and offered other basic features from the interface. 
> Likewise, since the dominant paradigm for computing became the "WIMP" 
> interface, such systems have generally provided simple ways to change 
> basic presentation settings - a trend that has increased over time.

a trend that does not change the basic fact that 99.99% of the users 
will get to see the same exact content regardless of the browser they use.

>
> CSS has been moderately successful on the web, and the premise (and 
> very clear reality as the web exploded in the late 90s) is that while 
> an author might provide a "preferred" rendering, clearly that wouldn't 
> always suit the user or even be implemented by the browser, so it was 
> necessary to ensure that the effort of providing the content to the 
> user didn't fail when the author's preferred presentation wasn't what 
> the user chose (by various different means).

this is a romantic vision that does not have anything to do with the 
reality of mobile development. Again, developers have gone, go and will 
go out of their way to ensure that the websites they build look the same 
on each and every major browser in the market.

>
>> Clear rules are those that convinced people and companies to invest 
>> resources (be it time or money) to create web content.
>> This must be maintained also for mobile. If you want web content to 
>> be available to mobile users, the way to go is to enable content 
>> owners to "mobilize" their web content, both technologically and by 
>> creating enough incentive for them to do so.  Reformatting content 
>> behind their backs (or even against their will) is not the way to go. 
>> It is simply cheating and it will lead to chaos.
>
> 20+ million Opera Mini users don't seem to agree with you. Banks like 
> Barclays, who think about the security of their customers before they 
> recommend what to do (use Opera Mini) and what not to (click on links 
> in email that has been designed to be nicely formatted), appear not to 
> agree with you either.

I have already repeated ad-nauseam that users are not in the position to 
decide that the right of content owners can be ignored. Users love to 
download free music and movies from the internet. This does not make p2p 
downloads a fair and legitimate practice.

>
> So who exactly is being "cheated" here? Enabling people to use the 
> Web, and making it look "as far as possible" like other websites 
> (given the limitations of some devices that is a chellenge, but many 
> browsers including Mini have been marketed on their ability to do 
> this) doesn't seem *to me* to be cheating those first-time web users, 
> nor those who already use a site and can now access it in new ways.

Did Opera ask those sites "is it ok if I transform your content?". Was 
the answer "yes, it is OK. Please go ahead"?

you see, the burden of demonstrating that copyright owners have not been 
cheated is on transcoders and whoever deploys them.


>
> Although it is possible to block specific user agents, we don't see 
> people who we know block various browsers often choose to do that to 
> OPera Mini - it appears that in general they are happy to have further 
> ways for their users to reach them.

really? this is an interesting remark, because some companies were 
really mad at your friends at ByteMobile who were transcoding and 
replacing the original UA string with the one of Opera-Mini. Shall I ask 
those companies to report about their experience here?

>
>> Some applications are naturally mobile only (think 
>> ringtone/wallpapers downloads). Some are web only. And some are a 
>> mixture of both. Content owners will know. Not Novarra and not Opera.
>
> Well, installing Opera Mini is something that might leap to mind as an 
> example, no? And it turns out that we do know a few things about how 
> people do that, since millions of people have done it from our website.

I talk about content owners (whose rights are being crushed). You keep 
referring to "users" who like Opera Mini. There is not much progress to 
be made in this discussion if you keep avoiding the basic point.


>
>
>> The way Opera is trying to "enforce" convergence now is messy and 
>> tries to replace what content owners have created with a bastardized 
>> version of it.
>
> This seems odd. You may choose to disbelieve me since I work for 
> Opera, but let me offer an explanation of what Opera thinks it is 
> doing, from soneone who works for the company and has access to such 
> information.
>
> We're not interested in "enforcing" ways to use content. We are trying 
> to offer users access to content and services in a way that suits 
> them, on wahtever platform suits them. We have worked hard to expand 
> the ways users can intereact with content on a wide range of devices, 
> providing full-screen overview with intelligent zooming to Opera Mini 
> and mobile, offering an *optional* mobile view ("Small Screen 
> Rendering" which splits it to one column) to users of almost all Opera 
> products (mobile, mini, desktop, ...). We provide User Agent strings 
> and device identifiers in headers so developers know what they are 
> getting the request from, and *can* adapt it should they feel the need.

so, two questions:

1) where do the rights of content owners fit in this?

2) why have you licensed your technology to ByteMobile? they are using 
the UA string of Opera-Mini to disguise the real device UA and fool 
websites which may have a carefully built mobile site (ByteMobile 
provides OperaMini headers which do not represent the ones in the real 
device).

>
>> As I wrote in the past, transcoding (be it proxy-based, server-side 
>> or client side) is very similar to those on-line translators. While 
>> automated translation may be useful to users in some cases, this does 
>> not imply that you can:
>> - place a translator in the middle of HTTP as a proxy
>
> Sure you can, in a technical sense. In practice, services such as this 
> exist, and people choose to use them sometimes in order to be able to 
> get some access to content that they otherwise can't use. Whether they 
> use this always, sometimes, or never, is a choice that users make.

right. And this should be the way. If you place a transcoder in the 
middle of all HTTP requests, it is no longer the case. 99% non techie 
users will end up using the translator all the time because they don't 
even understand what is going on.

>
> Technically I presume it is possible to block translating services 
> from a website, but I would be surprised if many content providers 
> thought it was even an interesting possibility. There are multiple 
> reasons why Search Engine Optimisation is an industry, but one of them 
> is because many Content providers *want users*.

correct.
When a transcoder removed the banners which pay the site's bills, 
content providers do not want transcoders.
When a transcoder changes a site's look and feel, content providers do 
not want transcoders.

>
> Rendering web pages (which is what Opera Mini does) turns out to be 
> something that browser developers generally know how to do (because 
> that is what browsers do). It would seem that people are reasonably 
> happy with the rendering options that Opera Mini provides - both 
> developers and users.

I disagree. OperaMini (and other transcoders) attempts to render web 
content. Sometimes the results are good. Sometimes they are really bad. 
Users will go back to sites that transcode well and ignore those which 
don't. This is not a proof that transcoding is always good for users 
either. A lot of times it isn't.

> Are you telling me those people are *wrong* because they have chosen a 
> service that suits them? (We don't force anyone to use Mini. We offer 
> it, in a free market, and millions choose to take up the offer by 
> actively installing and actively opening and using it).

Again, the fact that users may like it does not mean that you can 
transcode legitimately.

>
> These might mean that for many producers it is less cost-effective to 
> do specific server-side adaptation than to provide something that can 
> be rendered by many different web clients in a reasonable way (what 
> browser does the fellow on the Clapham Omnibus use, anyway?). 
> Different people, including content producers, have wildly differing 
> expectations of how important their preferred presentation is, with 
> some choosing technologies that pretty much force it into line (like 
> flash) at the expense of limited distribution, and others choosing 
> technology that implies wider distribution at the expense of total 
> control over presentation (like the Web). Yet others choose a mix of 
> some server-side adaptation, and assuming some adaptation on the 
> client (the Web, again).

you may be right that different companies have different expectations, 
but the fact remains that you cannot create derivative work of content 
with owner's consent. Assuming that you have the right only because 
nobody said no in advance is not going to cut it.

>
> The Web is built on the two premises that anyone can produce a web 
> page, and anyone can produce a browser to look at it in a way that 
> suits someone. 

You are mudding the water. There are only 4 or 5 browser vendors with 
non-negligible market share in this world. There are millions of 
websites. I am not sure how you can place those two groups at the same 
level and keep a straight face.

> That's why W3C works so hard to ensure the development of open and 
> free standards.

Open and free standards which steamroll the requests from a whole 
ecosystem to serve the purpose of a few commercial companies that paid 
the ticket to seat at the W3C table. Pardon me, but this is not my 
definition of open standards.

> It is known that this results in different approaches to rendering 
> that produce different results. People have worked very hard to 
> *ensure* that web browsers provide flexibility in the way things are 
> viewed, and the technology is clearly designed *not* to enforce a 
> particular presentation.

the way the web works today is that virtually every content owner goes 
out of their way to enforce a particular presentation. You can ignore 
this only if you are in bad faith.

>
> Whether the adaptations are done on the server side (which is one of 
> the things the technology is designed to allow), or somewhere between 
> teh server and the end-user (which is another thing the technology is 
> designed to allow) depends on both the content producer and the 
> content consumer. Each one has the ability to choose what they do - 
> and so thoughtful web developers take this into account rather than 
> simply imagining they can somehow control exactly what the user sees.

I suspect your thoughtful web developer will soon be an unemployed web 
developer.

>
> So, if your point is really "Web developers have total control over 
> presentation", I think you are flying in the face of reality.

I am saying:

 "1) Content owners demand total control over presentation, and
  2) their developers go out of their way to give it to them and
  3) it is absolutely their right to do so (corollary: and it is not 
fair to ask them to change their content only because it serves the need 
of Opera and Novarra to have more stuff to transcode)."

and of course, I am not flying in the face of any reality. I am just 
saying things as they are.

>
> There is a rather more subtle and significantly more interesting point 
> you have alluded to from time to time in this particular bout of 
> windmill-tilting, which is to do with the advisability of making it 
> invisible to the website what the client actually is and does. Perhaps 
> that case is actually worth discussing.

well, I have started a whole crusade against UA spoofing back in 2007. I 
wouldn't refer to it as "alluding from time to time". More like 
"shouting that transcoders and operators should keep their hands off 
third-party content and HTTP"

Luca
Received on Saturday, 7 March 2009 01:01:12 UTC

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