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Re: Proposing <indent> vs. <blockquote>

From: Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis <bhawkeslewis@googlemail.com>
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2007 22:01:26 +0100
Message-ID: <462535A6.5060909@googlemail.com>
To: public-html@w3.org
CC: Murray Maloney <murray@muzmo.com>

> Not at all. Now I am starting to think that you are either being 
> obtuse or you are playing with me.

Playing with people on mailing lists just creates bad feeling; I
try not to do that. I think I read Mike's words the way I do because 
they don't entertain the other possibility that I put forward:

> Screen readers and voice browsers, for example, would either need to 
> ignore indent (risking communication failure) or report it every time
> in case it was being used with special purpose, slowing down reading
> time and forcing the user to guess what it might mean in any given
> instance.

http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html/2007Apr/0788.html

Again, this is best left to Mike to clarify, if he wants.

> In fact, screen readers or braille systems could safely ignore 
> <indent>. But they could also provide a cue to enable the reader to 
> delve more deeply into the subject or skip ahead in the narrative.

Indeed they could. :) This is the sort of thinking that needs to be part
of proposals of new elements: descriptions of how authors and users can
actually interact with them in various media. "Indent" isn't a 
particularly informative cue, so I still think a listening or 
braille-reading author would have to make guesses about what the author 
meant to imply with it: e.g. is this direct speech? If it were used for 
direct speech, it would break existing mechanisms for speaking direct 
speech in a different voice, as I mentioned to Mike.

I think it's worth stressing that just because an element is semantic 
that does not mean it is /automatically/ inaccessible, and just because 
an element is presentational does not mean it is /automatically/ 
accessible, even though in the round well-designed semantic markup does 
increase accessibility. I just don't think <indent> offers sufficient 
usability benefits to offset its usability costs, not least because it 
isn't sufficient for the task of controlling presentation.

The rest of this email isn't really about <indent>, but about a point of 
ethics raising during the discussion.

>> Purely presentational effects are what styling languages are for. 
>> [...] we should be encouraging people to think about what they are 
>> writing [...] they have (I believe) a moral duty [...] [to] 
>> maximize accessibility [...] not reducing employees or students to 
>> mindless automata [...] Web communication tools like HTML should 
>> require authors to be specific /enough/ to communicate effectively 
>> with their audience. Otherwise, such tools are not fit for purpose.
>> 
>> 
> 
> Please excuse the liberties that I took in editing what you wrote, 
> but I thought that you should see some of what you wrote. I wonder 
> why you think that you have any right to assert moral authority over 
> how anybody communicates.

Since you put it like that, you leave me no real choice but to
go through and explain why I think only one part of what you quoted was
contentious.

1. "Purely presentational effects are what styling languages are for."

Particular computer languages are designed for particular purposes. The
names we give these languages (e.g. markup, styling, programming,
scripting) are a reasonable clue to what those purposes are. To say that 
a styling language is for presentation is no more radical than to say, 
with Mike:

"I use it [<blockquote> for presentation] even though I know I shouldn't."

http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html/2007Apr/0391.html

or

"I was proposing adding an element [<indent>] with reduced semantics
that could be used when another [<blockquote>] would often be misused."

http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html/2007Apr/0577.html

Mike is expressing the perfectly commonplace idea that <blockquote> is
/for/ block quotations; I the equally commonplace idea that styling
languages are /for/ presentation.

2. "we should be encouraging people to think about what they are writing"

"[E]ncouraging people to think about what they are writing" is pretty
much what you did when you re-edited my own words for my
reappraisal. To quote you again: "Please excuse the liberties that I
took in editing what you wrote, but I thought that you should see some
of what you wrote." Of course, I was talking only about encouraging
people to think about the external forms of what they are writing (e.g.
is this a quotation or a summary?), whereas you went much further and
tried to encourage me to think about the deep moral convictions behind
what I was writing.

3. they have (I believe) a moral duty [...] [to] maximize accessibility

That I have this belief isn't contentious, but of course people do
contest whether there is any duty to make things accessible. Which isn't
terribly surprising: human beings contest virtually all points of right
and wrong. Yet most of us still make use of ethical notions in
navigating this transient world, despite our doubts and disagreements.
Partly for this reason, as I said before:

> I think the list is stronger for including people with differing ethical perspectives.

http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html/2007Apr/1008.html

But since you're wondering, if I were to articulate why I think bosses
and teachers could be said to have a duty, my argument would probably
refer to the fact they are in positions of power and influence over
other people's life chances (employment, education, access to basic and
consumer goods), and that means they have special responsibilities by
the social contract under which human beings attempt to live together
and create wonderful new things like the web, before segueing clumsily
into a discussion of how the Golden Rule suggests we should accommodate
people of different abilities.

Judging by WAI, my view that educators and employers have a duty to make 
web communications accessible is a W3C commonplace:

> The Web is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of
> life: education, employment, government, commerce, health care,
> recreation, and more. It is essential that the Web be accessible in
> order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with
> disabilities. An accessible Web can also help people with
> disabilities more actively participate in society.

http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php

4. "not reducing employees or students to mindless automata"

I think your editing was somewhat /too/ liberal here, not least because
the original was a joke (note the emoticon):

> Not reducing employees or students to mindless automata might also be
> a good idea, but as far as HTML goes that's optional.  ;)

Okay, so not very funny. But I submit the /opposite/ would have been
downright sinister: "It is an excellent idea for bosses and teachers to
reduce employees or students to mindless automata, even though the
destruction of souls is regrettably out of scope for an HTML specification."

> I wonder why you think that you have any right to assert moral 
> authority over how anybody communicates.

5. "Web communication tools like HTML should require authors to be
specific /enough/ to communicate effectively with their audience.
Otherwise, such tools are not fit for purpose."

There's no moral authority asserted here; it's a purely technical point.
I'm basically running together five straightforward amoral ideas:

1. To be fit for purpose, tools should be effective.
2. The design of tools should contribute to their efficacy.
3. HTML's design imposes requirements on authors.
4. As a document format, HTML is a tool for communication.
5. Vagueness in external forms (e.g. is this a heading or a quotation or
a statement of copyright?) impairs communication.

Therefore: HTML's requirements on authors should contribute to its
efficacy as a communication tool by minimizing vagueness in external forms.

I'm not sure whether your last message meant merely that it wouldn't be
helpful to debate ethics with me, or that it is impossible to discuss
the specification of <indent> with someone who has different beliefs
than you. I hope it's only the former. :)

Best wishes

--
Benjamin Hawkes-Lewis
Received on Tuesday, 17 April 2007 21:06:47 GMT

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