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Re: Investigating the proposed alt attribute recommendations in HTML 5

From: Robert Burns <rob@robburns.com>
Date: Mon, 3 Sep 2007 23:46:48 -0500
Message-Id: <F653C718-8C31-4404-B079-9E298C1E3741@robburns.com>
To: public-html@w3.org

Hi Sander,and Leif,

On Sep 3, 2007, at 10:19 PM, Sander Tekelenburg wrote:

>
> At 03:50 +0200 UTC, on 2007-09-03, Leif Halvard Silli wrote:
>
>> 2007-09-01 18:20:32 +0200 Sander Tekelenburg <st@isoc.nl>:
>>> At 04:09 +0200 UTC, on 2007-09-01, Leif Halvard Silli wrote:
>>>> 2007-08-31 21:23:11 +0200 "Jon Barnett" <jonbarnett@gmail.com>:
>
> [...]
>
>> I feel that when we say that the @ALT text should be descriptive,  
>> then we
>> are linking the issue to @TITLE, thinking, «oh, no, descriptions  
>> should be
>> in @TITLE» - and then we have made a (false) connection between  
>> TITLE and
>> ALT anyhow.
>
> Indeed.
>
> [...]
>
>> However, perhaps you should explain how we possibly are  
>> disagreement? :-) I
>> am not sure how/why the @ALT should not be descriptive
>
> Well, look at a web page with an img that has alt text, without  
> loading the
> image. Good alt text is an equivalent of the image. meaning it  
> conveys the
> same thing that the author intends to convey through the image.  
> @alt should
> not decsribe the image.
>
> Jon gave a couple of good examples earlier in this thread:
> <http://www.w3.org/mid/ 
> bde87dd20708311223l6a855926h243bbad726214099@mail.gmail.com>
> (where he says 'An aural UA can announce "You are standing in an  
> open field
> west of a
> house. The house is white, with a boarded front door.  There is a
> small mailbox here."').
>
> If an image needs an elaborate description, @longdesc is appropriate.
>
>> Š But, of course in an article about a certian subject, if there  
>> is an
>> image of the US Whitehouse, then to go on describing how it looks  
>> like ...
>> would normally not be the thing
>
> Indeed. You could do that through @longdesc though.
>
>> , unless, it e.g. deals with the architecture of the Whitehouse Š
>
> Then still. The only thing that matters is what the author means to  
> *convey*.
> If he does so through an image, then proper equivalents (such as  
> @alt, or
> audio, or whatever) convey the exact same.
>
> It's a mindest thing, I guess. Relatively simple, but you have to  
> 'switch'
> your mind to this approach. When you do, it gets easier to come up  
> with the
> right alt text. You onlly need to ask yourself "what am I tryingto  
> convey
> with this image?". And you can help yourself by looking at the page  
> in a
> browser, without the image loaded, and judging whether your alt  
> text conveys
> what you men to convey, and fits the flow of the surrounding  
> content (again,
> as Jon nicely explained).

I think saying that authors need to think about what they want to  
convey with a piece of embedded content. However, I do not think it  
is helpful at all to say that it shouldn't be a description of the  
image. If the embedded content has anything to do with what the  
author wants to convey in including the embeeded content in the  
document — i.e., its not just purely decorative in a completely  
unrelated way — then the meaning the author wants to convey with the  
embedded content will be a description of the embedded content (in  
some sense). In distilling a past thread onto the wiki (still in  
progress), I' developed a grid that discusses how authors might  
describe the embedded content for the equivalent text contents in  
terms of the types Hixie previously identified: decorative, iconic,  
illustrative, and meaningful.[1]

The example you give here corresponds to what I called iconic  
description. The other two types of description I included in the  
grid are subject description and visual/aural description. The iconic  
description is a very common case, however, like decorative its one  
of those things that should likely be handled through CSS. In other  
words an author can provide a marker or another element with  
meaningful text. The particular icon that stands in for this marker  
is very much a styling issue. I'm not suggesting that we require this  
approach, but I think that the iconic embedded content has  
similarities to the decorative  embedded content.

For non-icons, it may be very much appropriate for an author to b  
begin with a generic description of the embedded content: though I  
think the distinction between subject description and visual/aural  
description is useful as well. In any event, the specific context of  
embedded content in a document may elicit the need for some  
alteration in the subject description or the author may be focussed  
on 'subject' in the embedded content  entirely different than an  
author describing the content without the present context. However,  
in either case we're talking about description. Even the distinction  
between the subject description and the visual/aural description if a  
fine-line. For a particular audience,, the subject description "an  
aerial view of the Statue of Liberty" may be a sufficient subject  
description. However, for another audience that may have never seen  
the Statue of Liberty from any angle, further visual description may  
be necessary to convey the meaning relevant to the present context.

So I think we need to find a better way to communicate to authors of  
what kind of text makes a good equivalent than saying its not a  
description. Even saying its not *just* a description doesn't really  
help. Whatever the equivalent text needed its a description of some  
kind. The issue is what kind of description is most suitable to the  
present context. Even the @title attribute is a description of sorts.  
It might be helpful to encourage an iterative approach to authoring  
text relevant to embedded content.  Then the author would: 1) write  
text around the embedded content (including a caption if offset in a  
figure element); 2) write some suitable alt text; 3) see whether  
anything within the alt text should be extracted for the main prose  
or whether anything in the main prose should be moved to the alt  
text; 4) repeat.

Take care,
Rob

[1]: <http://esw.w3.org/topic/HTML/EmbeddedContentRoleAndEquivalents>
Received on Tuesday, 4 September 2007 04:47:16 UTC

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