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Re: How did the summary attribute become part of HTML 4.0?

From: David Poehlman <david.poehlman@handsontechnologeyes.com>
Date: Sat, 8 Aug 2009 05:49:22 -0400
Cc: Steven Faulkner <faulkner.steve@gmail.com>, Henri Sivonen <hsivonen@iki.fi>, HTML WG <public-html@w3.org>, W3C WAI-XTECH <wai-xtech@w3.org>
Message-Id: <CEEC1582-18CD-4880-8DE9-E774452F1109@handsontechnologeyes.com>
To: Leif Halvard Silli <lhs@malform.no>
I would just want to record here that it is no longer necessary to be  
an expert at user to access title, it's only necessary to use a mac  
with voice over and the jurry might be out on whether that means you  
have to be an expert but my thinking is no.
On Aug 7, 2009, at 8:16 PM, Leif Halvard Silli wrote:

Steven Faulkner On 09-08-07 12.42:

> hi henri,

>>

>> Regardless of the reason why there's no record to be found, it  
>> would be

>> good if someone who was there could recount what lead to the  
>> addition of
>> the summary attribute to HTML 4.0.

>

> agreed, but I do not consider that the title attribute would ahve been
> then or is now an appropriate container for summary  information of  
> this
> kind as i consider it would be annoying to many people if the summary
> information was displayed whenever a user moved their mouse over the  
> table


HTML 4.01's Appendix A, section "A.3 Changes  between HTML 3.2 and  
HTML 4.0 (18 December 1997)") [1] links @summary to the issue of "long  
descriptions":

   "Authors may provide long descriptions of tables
    (see the summary attribute), images and frames
    (see the longdesc attribute)."

In the December 1997 version (I looked it up), the above quote does  
not contain the phrase "(see the summary attribute)". Therefore HTML  
4.01 points out, that... [2]

   "The longdesc attribute was said to be specified
    for tables. It is not. Instead, the summary
    attribute allows authors to give longer
    descriptions of tables."

Does this hint that <table longdesc="URI"> was considered as an  
option? Or, opposite, what about @summary for images - instead of  
@longdesc?

Answer: Probably table@summary was thought to have a much more limited  
role than longdesc pages could have, namely, the rather brief task of  
describing the table structure. (A longdesc image description could  
itself contain a table ...)

The choice of @summary instead of @longdesc also points out that the  
summary is intended to be read quickly - just before reading the  
table. Whereas image descriptions are an extra option - when @alt  
isn't enough. (Of course, @summary also becomes an option - or  
something extra - if the UA doesn't support it ...)

Ferg, btw, when he describes how to use @headers in HTML 4 tables,  
points out that the HTML 4 table design was affected by the need for  
"incremental rendering", as tables could be slow to download and  
render on slow modem/computers[3]. Thus one should think that a short  
@summary text would also save bytes (compared with an side-by-side  
descriptive paragraph). Another variant of the fact that "authors  
might have reasons to not insert a visible description" ... (Placing  
the long image description in a separate @longdesc document also  
helped save bytes - by the way...)

So, might it be that table@summary was meant to be presented to AT  
users /before/ the entire table had been rendered?  If so, then this  
might also explain why some @summary texts perhaps are more wordy than  
we today consider kosher: In such a scenario it would perhaps not  
matter if the summary repeated bits of what the user later would read  
inside a caption. (For instance, perhaps the user would use the  
@summary info to simply skip reading/loading the table?)

Of course - just speculations.

As for truncated @title tooltips: it seems natural that they  
*considered* using @title before going for @summary. Even today,  
@title and @alt are often discussed in context ...

But it has been pointed out to me that only expert AT users access the  
@title information. And @title is also, in general, too semantically  
unspecific. With some exceptions, such as <abbr>, that prove that it  
sometimes is /possible/ to define specific @title semantics. (In my  
view, it ought to have been possible for caption@title - though the  
right moment for that idea probably was 10-12 years ago.)

Conclusion: 1) We need a time machine. 2) @summary doesn't have the  
same role to play as it potentially had.

[1] http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/appendix/changes#h-A.3.3
[2] http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/appendix/changes#h-A.1.3
[3] http://www.ferg.org/section508/accessible_tables
-- 
leif halvard silli
Received on Saturday, 8 August 2009 09:50:07 GMT

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