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RE: The Semantic Debate

From: John Foliot <foliot@wats.ca>
Date: Mon, 7 May 2007 10:13:43 -0700
To: "'Dan Connolly'" <connolly@w3.org>
Cc: "'Anne van Kesteren'" <annevk@opera.com>, <www-html@w3.org>, <public-html@w3.org>
Message-ID: <001101c790cb$16aac680$078240ab@Piglet>

Dan Connolly wrote:
> 
> I haven't followed the whole @class/@role discussion here very well,
> so at the risk of throwing in a total red herring... 
> 
> I have been mostly over in the Semantic Web land, happily using XHTML
> 1.x for the last few years, sort of ignoring the fact that most
> people don't quote their attributes nor balance their tags, and using
> tidy to make up the difference when necessary.   

And sum reely kewl kids spel funny, or talk in SMS - IYKWIM, AFAIK U cn 2...

That doesn't help a lot of us, and I'm not really sure what it brings to
this discussion

> 
> One of the great things about the workshop is that it got the banks
> and such talking with the browser folks directly about phishing. At
> one point, one of the banking people asked a panel of web browser
> folks, "what can we do to help?" and Charles M of Opera answered,
> "You could give us a spec for the HTML you use."  

...and Chaals knows what he's talking about (he also has a pretty good idea
about accessibility, as he was part of the WAI-WG when the WCAG 1 was
authored).  So the accessibility community are essentially saying the same
thing - we need a robust spec we can use.  Opera might not yet be able to do
all the things the future spec will prescribe, but at least they have a
solid doc to work from.  Ditto accessibility.

Meanwhile, Dão Gottwald wrote:
> 
> Since the role attribute has never been part of HTML, I don't see how
> leaving it out could be a retrograde step. I have no knowledge of
> those applications, but they could obviously continue to work as they
> do today. Furthermore they could start using the class attribute, if
> appropriate.

Dão - those of us who *are* knowledgeable about it are saying that using
@class is inappropriate, and that those considerations (and conversations,
and debates) were already made some time ago... The problem with not knowing
history is that you are doomed to repeat it.

The current benefit that @role brings to this issue is that it's new enough
that it has not been (in the words of that working group) "polluted" - we
can start fresh and clean and get it right.  Using @class however has the
potential to be ugly - with the emphasis on "potential".  Some have cited
microformats as an example of reusing existing attributes in defense of
using @class to assign semantic meaning, but what about the "issue" that
microformats has with the dating scheme they use, deploying the title
attribute? 	[http://www.webstandards.org/2007/04/27/haccessibility/] 
Are we going to have to face this again?  There is no need!  @role also
allows for scalability via RDF, something not apparent for "semantic @class"
declarations.  So what are we to do if we have a need beyond the prescribed
"reserved class declarations"?  The proponents of using @class have not
answered this question, at least I've not seen it in any of the divergent
threads that have circled around this debate.

I guess the point is that we should be thinking about this now, not later.
Some (perhaps many) authors will still not use it (@role) going forward -
more's the pity.  But for entities that need this, or desire to move
forward, it's robust and mature enough to consider it in the "new" HTML.
Since it's "new", future WYSWIG editors have the opportunity to implement it
robustly.  WYSIWYG is still being reviewed (another long story), Section 508
is also being reconsidered but with HTML 5 on the horizon - folks it's time
to get this right, right now. 

This debate has run the gamut, using a variety of subject lines, but it all
boils down to one simple fact: HTML is as broken (inadequate?) for the
accessibility advocates as it is for others - and we're trying to inform and
shape this conversation too.  As you read over the postings however, a
general sense of frustration emerges from out camp - it's like... Do we
really need to be explaining this stuff to people who are supposedly
"informed"?  And if we do, how come we're meeting such resistance?
  

Returning to Dan Connolly:
> 
> That's what inspired me to start
> the http://esw.w3.org/topic/HTMLAsSheAreSpoke wiki topic and
> a lot of what motivates me to take on the challenge of chairing this
> working group. 
> 
>  > What *exactly* is wrong with providing a new means for
> Prescriptivism?  > Surely this would be a "Good Thing", and a move
> forward?  
> 
> It's all well and good to introduce new ideas, but *only* if
> we can get a critical mass of the web using them.

In 1999, the W3C introduced the original WCAG.  It's take us 8 years to get
this far... Are we "there" yet - hardly, yet those "Guidelines" have been
entrenched into "Standards" documents around the world, or in the US,
informed their own Section 508 standard.  Whether this is right or correct
or not is a whole other discussion, but suffice to say that given the tools
at the time, it started to reach critical mass.  Did it happen in 2000?
2001?  Hardly, but it's happening - still.  Some inertia is just slower than
other...

> 
> Having yet another W3C HTML spec where if you code to it you don't
> interoperate with the bulk of the web is... well... boring, isn't it? 

I'm personally not shooting for "exciting" here, although if we had the
tools to create more semantically rich and comprehensible documents, there
would certainly be those out there who would be "excited".  If one of the
goals of HTML 5 is to improve what we already have, then at some point we're
going to have to take the odd leap-of-faith.

> 
> This seems like a big working group, and it takes a whole lot of work
> to agree on anything, but convincing this working group about a new
> HTML feature is a drop in the bucket of the cost of actually getting
> that feature deployed on the web.   

Well... @role is already "in" Firefox.  I won't speak for Opera, but I
suspect that they're onto that as well (Anne??  Chaals?), especially given
the work already happening with ARIA, so the path is already started... Give
us the tools, and the "accessibility advocates" (isn't that nicer than
zealots?) will get out there and sell it... We've been doing that for 8
years already, so we're used to that <grin>.  

JF
Received on Monday, 7 May 2007 17:14:29 GMT

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