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Re: [HDP] Solving real problems

From: Robert Burns <rob@robburns.com>
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2007 16:24:50 -0500
Message-Id: <53C3A23C-AEC0-4ACF-971F-9F49DEE6AC63@robburns.com>
Cc: Sander Tekelenburg <st@isoc.nl>, public-html@w3.org
To: James Graham <jg307@cam.ac.uk>

Hi James,

On Aug 22, 2007, at 3:56 PM, James Graham wrote:

>
> Sander Tekelenburg wrote:
>>> Henri gave some good examples of problems people try to solve that
>>> aren't real in IRC:
>>>
>>> <hsivonen> Regarding fantasy problems: the thing is people do try to
>>> solve them. sometimes the problems aren't 100% fantasy, but  
>>> common sense
>>> says they aren't real problems. Examples: 1) "search engines could"
>> I really don't understand how this is a good example. "search  
>> engines could"
>> sounds like relevant context was omitted.
>
> As I understand it, Henri's point is that it is not uncommon to see  
> arguments like "We should add elements <x>, <y> and <z> with  
> attributes a,b and c so that search engines can use the information  
> they provide", without ever asking people who have experience  
> developing search engines whether <x>,<y> and <z> or a,b and c  
> would actually help. Often it turns out that they would not  
> because, for example, the features only function as intended if  
> they are use correctly by a large proportion of the userbase,  
> something that is unlikely to occur in practice (e.g. [1]).
>
> With this in mind, we should not assume problems are real until we  
> have spoken to the constituents who are supposedly having the  
> problem to ask them if it is, in fact, a problem they are having,  
> and whether the proposed solution will actually have any bearing on  
> the problem.

However, the problem with this line of thinking (and dismissing this  
as not a real problem), is that this creates a spiraling  race to the  
bottom. If the recommendations to not define clearly how authors  
should use "elements <x>, <y> and <z> with attributes a,b and c ",  
then authors won't use them consistently and in large numbers. If  
authors do not use them consistently and in large numbers, then  
there's no reason for a search engine to make use of those semantics  
in indexing content. Then to make the spiral a complete absurdity, we  
want to codify this by saying that if these features do not exist and  
therefore authors are not using then and therefor UAs make no use of  
them, then we should not add them.

Therefore,  it is not at all the case that these are not "real  
problems". Instead it is the case that these are real problems that  
we do not want to solve. Or they are real problems that we do not  
want to solve by introducing "elements <x>, <y> and <z> with  
attributes a,b and c". Either way, it's a design principle that I  
would never support and, frankly, makes no sense to me whatsoever.  
The other issues raised by Henri in that IRC discussion[1] are quite  
similar. They are all examples of attempts to solve real problems.  
They may be problems that already have solutions that are available  
but not widely used. Or they are problems that Henri felt not worth  
solving. In that latter sense it is an excellent example of how this  
design principle is really only designed for mis-use.

[1]: <http://krijnhoetmer.nl/irc-logs/html-wg/20070818#l-45>
Received on Wednesday, 22 August 2007 21:25:06 GMT

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