W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-html@w3.org > July 2007

Re: extracting semantics Re: Namespace

From: James Graham <jg307@cam.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2007 13:07:12 +0100
Message-ID: <469E0270.1020409@cam.ac.uk>
To: Ben Boyle <benjamins.boyle@gmail.com>
CC: Karl Dubost <karl@w3.org>, Robert Burns <rob@robburns.com>, HTML WG <public-html@w3.org>

Ben Boyle wrote:

> Are we "paving the cowpaths"? Prove it's a "widespread practice" among
> authors to use <small> for the fine print, and *only* for fine print.

I agree there is a burden of proof in that direction as well and I would very 
much like to see research into the way that elements such as <small> are 
currently used. However let us pretend, for the sake of argument that we examine 
a large number of documents and find <small> is being used for two distinct 

  - General "uninteresting" (i.e. without obvious semantics) presentational effects

  - Legal smallprint

Is it, in that case, acceptable to tweak the semantics of <small> so that the 
use for legal small print is conforming whilst the use for presentation is 
non-conforming (given the typical stance of the group on presentational markup 
it is not unreasonable to assume that the only other option would be to make all 
use of <small> non-conforming)? There are claims that such a change is not 
acceptable because there might be tools that do something with <small> elements 
that would break in the face of this change. I don't think it's unreasonable to 
ask to see evidence that these supposed tools actually exist and suffer from the 
described problems; this is an example of "Solve Real Problems".

> Much as this may sound inflammatory (I'm embracing the culture of the
> list today) but seriously, a semantic change is far from trivial.

It depends if anyone is making use of those semantics. I don't quite see how 
going from purely-presentational to some-semantics is going to be an issue for 
an existing tool - if it ignores <small> now it can do so in the future with no 
loss in functionality. I would also suggest that any tool which tries to extract 
semantics from the public web has to be tolerant of markup abuse so the fact 
that they will have to process documents in which <small> is used in both 
conforming and non-conforming ways will be no more of an issue than it is for, 
say, <blockquote>.

Hopefully by examining evidence to back up claims that things are or aren't 
problems, the incidence of people talking past each other can be reduced. As a 
optimistic corollary, this might cut down unnecessary traffic on the list making 
it easier to follow and allowing us to make more rapid progress to completing a 
spec :)

"Eternity's a terrible thought. I mean, where's it all going to end?"
  -- Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Received on Wednesday, 18 July 2007 12:07:31 UTC

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