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Getting beyond the ping pong match (was RE: Cleaning House)

From: John Foliot - WATS.ca <foliot@wats.ca>
Date: Fri, 4 May 2007 09:30:54 -0700
To: "'Lachlan Hunt'" <lachlan.hunt@lachy.id.au>
Cc: <www-html@w3.org>, <public-html@w3.org>, <tina@greytower.net>, "'Patrick H.Lauke'" <redux@splintered.co.uk>, <Philip-and-LeKhanh@Royal-Tunbridge-Wells.Org>
Message-ID: <006001c78e69$9aa0fae0$6501a8c0@bosshog>

Lachlan Hunt wrote:
> 
> No, it seems you missed the point of my questions.  You and several
> others are arguing that we should drop <b> and <i> in favour of adding
> more specific semantic elements.  I am asking you to be more specific.
> 
>> (There, I just made the word "reason" purple in this HTML rich
>> exchange
> 
> Purple?  Sorry, plain text only. but I'll just pretend it was.

...and in a devilishly evil way, *that* is exactly the point.  A
presentational artifact was lost on you - several in fact as the sentence
was marked with colors, bold and italicized text.  And so some visual
meaning was lost to you - some of that visual rendering may have been for a
purpose, whilst other was pure whimsy.  But you don't know, and can't know,
as you did not have the benefit of VISUAL PRESENTATION.

> 
>>  - you tell me why; why is the phrase"visual indicator" both red and
>> italicized? Why is "What is the point" underlined?*)
> 
> I'm sure you did it to set up a straw man argument in a vein attempt
> to prove your point, whatever that may be.

Vane? (spelling) - no, I'm extremely serious: we are discussing a future
spec that is advocating the continuation of purely presentational mark-up,
without any real justification: the authors and defenders of maintaining the
status quo have yet provided to me (and I'm sure other accessibility
advocates) a serious justification.  As I said earlier, if all we are doing
is re-arranging the deck chairs of HTML 4.1, then let's be honest about that
and call this the next .x release of HTML4 - no shame in that.  But if it is
to be truly a next generation markup language (ver. 5), then let's ensure
that we get it right.  We are arguing that presentational only elements have
no place, and have strenuously argued why, with I believe reasoned (but
increasingly frustrated) voices. (Lauke, Holmboe, Philip & Le Khanh to name
but 3)

> 
> I wasn't asking if there are any use cases for <b> and <i>.  I'm
> saying there are use cases for which bold and/or italic are
> typographical conventions, and I was asking you to pick at least one
> and answer the questions for it.

And see, this is where it breaks down.  The web is not about type-setting!
It's about conveying knowledge and ideas, without physical constraints - it
is that "power" that TBL keeps talking about - it transcends the printed
document and typographical conventions.

> 
> * What's the semantics you're trying to represent?
> 
> e.g. a taxonomic designation, a technical term, an idiomatic phrase
> from another language, a thought or a ship name are commonly rendered
> in italics, and there are other use cases for bold.  Pick  at least
> one and then answer the remaining questions.

Exactly (and I realize that is circular).  The point is, there are any
number of reasons to separate a word or phrase from the surround content.
We don't (currently can't) know why the author is doing so - we suspect we
know how (semantics), but the method/tool does not exist.  The current
argument is that <em> and <strong> are *better* than <i> and <b>, as the
later are truly presentational in nature, whereas emphasis and strong have a
slightly richer connotation.

I've been thinking about this a lot - this debate has at times been reduced
to a ping-pong match, but with no way forward.  I realize that this *may* be
late to the party, but in the interest of both moving forward and being
productive, may I start with this posting to introduce an idea/thought on a
potential way forward?

One of the most exciting (to me) developments in the XHTML camp is the
emergence of the ROLE attribute - as it now provides a means of "explaining"
what something is or does... To quote the W3C spec:
"The role attribute takes as its value one or more white-space separated
QNames. The attribute describes the role(s) the current element plays in the
context of the document. <snip> It could also be used as a mechanism for
annotating portions of a document in a domain specific way (e.g., a legal
term taxonomy)."
http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml-role/#s_role_module_attributes

It's that last sentence that brings it home.  We need to attach a semantic
meaning to what are visual indicators (putting aside the <em> vs <i>
debate).  Allowing (encouraging) the addition of a role attribute to these
inline elements would thus allow authors to provide the desired semantic
intent to the word or phrase that is being visually marked up:

	<i role="pleading semantic:emotion">Please</i> consider this...
      <i role="forceful semantic:instruction">Please</i> be polite in this
debate...
	<i role="ship semantic:nomenclature">Please, Please, Please</i> was
docked at pier 17 in the marina...

In this scenario, it matters not whether it is <i> or <em> (as Raman said,
it is effectively the same to his screen reading tech at this point), but we
can now associate the reason why we've italicized (or emphasized) that
particular word or phrase.  WYSIWYG editors could provide the means, when
"clicking the B button" to provide a "meaning" wizard/dialogue box - perhaps
pre-populated with some common reasons/meanings...  Screen reading
technology could evolve to "sniff" these elements, and if a role annotation
exists, allow it to be exposed to the end user (perhaps via a custom
keystroke dialogue), and whilst I hate the reliance on "tool-tips" so many
authors seem to favor these days, that too could be an option for
user-agents, etc., etc.

Acknowledged that this is a first pass attempt, and will probably require
further discussion and codification, but could this help move this
discussion along in any constructive way?  As I'm often fond of saying to my
children, "don't say can't, say how..."

Seriously/sincerely

JF
Received on Friday, 4 May 2007 16:31:29 UTC

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