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Re: alt and authoring practices

From: Robert J Burns <rob@robburns.com>
Date: Sat, 3 May 2008 17:25:02 +0000
Cc: HTML Working Group <public-html@w3.org>
Message-Id: <A0B3681E-CA6E-41C3-AE3E-4E8268E3D600@robburns.com>
To: Smylers <Smylers@stripey.com>

Hi Smylers,

The problem with your responses is you're simply repeating the  
misconceptions about alt text I was trying to dispel (I wasn't looking  
for a review of my alt text). My thinking was that by providing this  
concrete example we could discuss it and help you and others better  
understand those misconceptions. Again, I'll try to dispel the  
confusion that keeps getting repeated The alt attribute 1) IS NOT for  
describing the photo, 2) IS NOT to provide metadata about the photo,   
3) IS NOT to provide a long description of the photo. In the case of  
iPhoto (I'll provide a link to my site to better see the UI at  
hand[1]), the only reason an author need to provide an alt  value is  
due to the navigational role these photos play. If they we're not on  
the page in that navigational role, then alt='' would be appropriate  
(hopefully, though optionally, accompanied by longdesc or metadata).  
In that sense it does not matter whether the photo is titled ‘Pilgrims  
trudging up a narrow road, carrying the cross’ or ‘IMG_0135’ (it  
doesn't matter in terms of specifying a require alt attribute in the  
HTML5 recommendation). As an alternate text content, the important  
thing is to let someone without a graphical browser (among other  
things) what the purpose of the graphical link is on that page.

On the other hand, providing titles helps the user in other ways — as  
does providing description and other metadata. However, in terms of  
the alt attribute, the only thing iPhoto or Flickr or any other  
authoring tool needs to do with the bulk  upload of hundreds of photos  
is what I just described. That would make the page valid HTML4. It  
would be (or should be) conforming HTML5 with alt required. And it  
will provide the necessary text alternate for users unable to consume  
the graphics for whatever reason.

What this means is that we are still looking for a use case for why  
any authoring tool (or author for that matter) would need to omit the  
alt attribute.

Take care,
Rob

[1]: <http://gallery.mac.com/robburns1#gallery>


On May 3, 2008, at 2:37 PM, Smylers wrote:

>
> Robert J Burns writes:
>
>> ... the often sited Flickr example ... extracts sometimes hundreds of
>> photos from my camera in a bulk operation. With a few clicks I can
>> publish those photographs to the web as a web gallery.
>>
>> 1) the initial web gallery page with a 'key' photograph for each  
>> gallery
>> (like a photo album). This key photo constitutes a navigable link  
>> to view
>> the thumbnails of all of the photos in the gallery. It is a photo  
>> that
>> should therefore have appropriate value for its alt attribute.  
>> Something
>> along the lines of "view entire x gallery", where x is the name I've
>> given to the gallery in iPhoto.
>
> Yup, that's good alt text -- chosen by a human who knows the purpose  
> of
> that particular gallery.
>
>> 2) next on the gallery page, each photo in the gallery is  
>> represented by
>> a thumbnail. By clicking on the thumbnail a higher resolution and  
>> larger
>> photo is loaded. Again, these thumbnails require alt text.  
>> Something like
>> "view fullsize image"
>
> I'm not so sure about that one, for a couple of reasons:
>
> * A dozen links all saying 'view fullsize image' is not a genuine
>  alternative, given that it is missing crucial information that those
>  viewing the images have (an ability to discern between the links, for
>  one).
>
> * Those seeing the images may also require the hint that the small
>  images are links to larger ones.  This could be provided in visible
>  text in the page above the images stating as such, say, or in title
>  attributes on the links containing the thumbnails.
>
>  If this is provided then it'd be wrong to repeat it in the alt text
>  for each image; not seeing images doesn't mean that you want some
>  other text from elsewhere on the page arbitrarily repeated.
>
>> or view image y fullsize" where y is the name of the photo.
>
> That would be good in cases where y is a good description of the
> photograph.
>
> Consider a similar situation, but where you've only taken a handful of
> photos and rather than bulk-uploading you do so individually,  
> providing
> a description of each one -- the thumbnails could have alt text such  
> as:
>
> * Ali looking thoughtful with a cup of tea
> * Asbo, Ali, Mark, Sarah, and Liz enjoying themselves on a wooden  
> horse
>  at the playground frenzy
> * Pilgrims trudging up a narrow road, carrying the cross.
>
> That'd be ideal -- a user who can't see the images still has enough
> information to select a the right link to go to a particular full-size
> image.
>
> But in the bulk-upload case such descriptions unfortunately aren't
> available.  So there simply isn't a genuine alternative that can be
> provided.
>
>> The initial name of the photo is automatically generated by iPhoto or
>> my camera and usually in the form IMG_####.jpg. This means the alt
>> attribute would look like this: ‘alt='view image &quot;IMG_1234&quot;
>> fullsize”.
>
> But that isn't alternative to being able to see the photo.
>
> Also it doesn't provide a browser with any additional information; the
> filename is already in the href of the link -- so a browser's  
> heuristics
> could choose to show that to the user even without it being set in the
> alt attribute.
>
> So I'm not sure how the author doing that is any better for image-less
> users than omitting the alt attribute entirely.
>
> Image-less browsers can do at least as well by themselves, possibly
> better.
>
>> 3) Finally the image is displayed full size with a series of controls
>> for downloading and viewing the next image. Here the image "Joe at  
>> the
>> Beech" would properly have the attribute ‘alt='return to contact  
>> sheet
>> of the entire gallery '’.
>
> That's definitely poor alt text, in that it no way conveys the purpose
> of that image being on the page.
>
> The point of the full-size image is for users to see it.  It may  
> well be
> that, as a convenience, clicking the image navigates back to the
> thumbnail index (or the following image, or wherever), but that isn't
> its _purpose_: users didn't go to that page with the aim of navigating
> back to the index!
>
>> The controls on the page are iconic and therefore also require alt
>> text: and again it is alt text automatically derived from the title  
>> of
>> the photos  (or simply "download photo", "next photo", and "previous
>> photo" to avoid adding the titles of the relevant three photos).
>
> Absolutely -- that's perfect alt text for such navigational icons.
>
> Consider that among the navigation icons is one for returning to the
> thumbnails.  That would properly have alt text indicating as such.   
> That
> would make it identical to your suggested alt text on the full-size
> photo itself, "return to contact sheet of the entire gallery".
>
> An image-less user would be aware of 2 images on the page with  
> identical
> alt text, both of which are links back to the thumbnails.  That's no  
> use
> for discerning which is the full-size photo, the very purpose of this
> page.
>
> And again, an indication that the photo links back to the index may
> already be elsewhere on the page, so would be bad to repeat in the alt
> text.
>
> Or consider a slightly different photo gallery site in which the
> full-size photos didn't link anywhere; then your suggested alt text is
> obviously inappropriate.  So any alt next needs to be for the image
> itself, not its link destination.
>
> Again in an ideal situation, where the photo were known, the alt text
> would be a description like "Pilgrims trudging up a narrow road,
> carrying the cross".  But in the bulk-upload case where we don't have
> that there isn't anything which the author can sensibly provide.
>
>> iPhoto allows me to add descriptions to my photos and give them
>> appropriate titles. However, that information remains in the image
>> supported metadata (inside the jpeg file) ... it may be cumbersome  
>> for
>> (author) to provide descriptions of every photo of hundreds uploaded
>> to the web.  However, it is even more disappointing for an author who
>> has already included such descriptions to have their authoring tool
>> leave them out of the generated content.
>
> Yes.  In those cases the descriptions are available to the software
> generating the page, so the images are not 'unknown'; it should
> therefore use those descriptions.
>
> (If they are indeed descriptions; you initially mention "titles"  
> above.
> Photos may be given titles (captions) which are intended for those who
> can already see the photos; they may be humourous or cryptic or
> whatever, and in no way describe what can be seen in the photos.  In
> that case the titles would be poor alternative text.  And anyway  
> they'd
> probably already be included elsewhere on the page, such as as visible
> captions.)
>
>> Again, this has nothing to do with the @alt attribute however.
>
> Well if descriptions are available then surely they should be in the  
> alt
> attribute?
>
>> If Flikr has something different that I'm missing, then I think
>> someone needs to elaborate how Flikr works that would necessitate  
>> some
>> different approach and an optional alt.
>
> I've never used Flickr either, but I think your example (or ones with
> minor differences, as mentioned above) sufficiently illustrates the
> problems.
>
> Cheers.
>
> Smylers
>
Received on Saturday, 3 May 2008 17:25:43 GMT

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