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Re: relevance of diverse HTML authoring practices [was: Versioning re-visited ...]

From: scott lewis <sfl@scotfl.ca>
Date: Mon, 25 Jun 2007 11:35:21 -0600
Message-Id: <C5F47274-844A-4D51-89BA-5832FE331568@scotfl.ca>
Cc: HTML Working Group <public-html@w3.org>
To: "Philip Taylor (Webmaster)" <P.Taylor@Rhul.Ac.Uk>

On 25 Jun 2007, at 1041, Philip Taylor (Webmaster) wrote:

> Maciej Stachowiak wrote:
>
>> If I understand your proposal correctly, it is to have a  
>> specification for what browsers should implement, and then a  
>> separate real HTML5 that is completely uninformed by the browser  
>> specification.
>
> Correct.  The specification for the putative language HTML 5
> should, IMHO, be based not on what either current or future
> browsers do / are expected to do, but rather on what the
> current received wisdom tells us is both desirable and necessary
> in a hypertext markup language intended for use in the early part
> of the 21st century.

What use is HTML except as a set of directions to a UA? How does  
hiding the way a UA will process the mark-up from the author improve  
things for her? That is to say, what intrinsic value does:

	<ul><li>one<li>two<li>three</ul>

have? The fact that it should be displayed as a bulleted list is a  
processing requirement for the UA. The semantic meaning of "an  
unordered list with three items" is a processing requirement. I don't  
understand how HTML could be defined properly in the absence of  
describing UA behaviour.


> In practice, I would expect such a language to be very
> firmly based on HTML 4.01 Strict, which represents the received
> wisdom that obtained during the final part of the 20th century,
> augmented by information that was either unavailable at that
> time or which  the current perspective has significantly changed
> since then.  Any proposal to add an element to those in HTML 4.01,
> or to delete an element therefrom, or to modify the syntax or  
> semantics
> of an existing element, would need to be fully justified in terms of
> "desirability" and "need" rather than by merely citing
> "widespread current practice" [1]

Please correct me if I am wrong about this, but it sounds as if you  
want to discard the current draft, replace it with HTML 4.01 Strict  
and then restart the review process from that point.


>> It seems to me, then, that this second specification [the
> > spefification for HTML 5] would be an excercise in pointlessness,
> > since by design browsers would not support it, and therefore content
> > would have no reason to follow it.
>
> "Since /by design/ (my italics) browsers would not support it"
> is a demonstrably false premiss.  Nowhere did I (or do I) suggest
> that HTML 5 should be designed in such a way that browsers would
> not support it : rather I suggested/suggest that browsers be
> required to support it, rather than it supporting them.

The behaviour of the UAs would be defined by the "UA Behaviour  
Specification", not by the "HTML Author Specification". Thus anything  
mentioned in the Author Spec that is not precisely duplicated in the  
UA Spec would not be implemented by the UAs. Even if the Author Spec  
was just a copy of the UA Spec with commentary, that commentary could  
alter the interpretation of the spec in a way that would not be  
reflected in the UA Spec, and thus not implemented in UAs. The  
greater the difference between the two specs, the greater the  
likelihood of irreconcilable differences. Which is precisely the  
situation we are in today, with the UAs implementing a poorly defined  
de facto specification that differs from the HTML4 and XHTML1  
specifications provided to authors.


> To do the converse (as Maciej appears to propose) would be
> like designing a computer programming language based on
> the ?mis?behaviour of current compilers rather than by
> standing back and researching what is /required/ of the
> language.

We are not defining a new language, we are refining an existing one.  
To borrow your programming language metaphor: if the majority of  
programs written in that language define common subroutines, that  
indicates there is a shortcoming in the language that would be filled  
by adding those subroutines to the standard library. Or, to put it  
another way: if everyone cuts over a corner of the lawn, you would be  
better off paving that corner rather than posting more signs saying  
'keep off the grass'.


>>> The way I think of it, the living, existing World Wide Web is the  
>>> dog and written specs about how it should work are the tail. I  
>>> imagine you may be thinking of it the other way around.
>
> "The living, existing World Wide Web" consist largely of tag soup,
> occasionally interspersed with little gems of well-written,
> full conformant, fully accessible, HTML or XHTML.  To write
> any specification based on how current browsers parse and
> render tag soup is, IMHO, an exercise in futility.

The current state of the web was created in spite of the existence of  
HTML 4.01 Strict. This tells us that, faced with a spec that does not  
provide what they want, authors will choose to ignore the spec in  
favour of non-conforming documents that work in popular browsers and  
do do what the author wants. Thus, if we want to see the number of  
conforming HTML documents increase, we would be well advised to  
adjust the spec in favour of actual practice, not theoretical  
perfection.


Scott.
Received on Monday, 25 June 2007 17:35:30 GMT

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