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Re: Write-up about semantics in HTML5 from A List Apart

From: Robin Berjon <robin@berjon.com>
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2009 17:47:19 +0100
Cc: public-html@w3.org
Message-Id: <0F4D78FE-BBD2-4B8F-B388-5F018457C3C2@berjon.com>
To: Justin Anthony Knapp <justinkoavf@gmail.com>

On Jan 6, 2009, at 14:13 , Justin Anthony Knapp wrote:
> I figured this might be of interest:
> http://www.alistapart.com/articles/semanticsinhtml5

I already posted my comment there, but since discussing things in  
article comments is easily one of the most annoying facets of today's  
Web I'll repost it here for farts old and young like myself who prefer  


you make an interesting case, yet as the comments — no matter how  
smart they may be too — clearly show, you fall into a common trap: you  
propose a solution to an unclear problem.

Pretty much everyone in the Web community agrees that “semantics are  
yummy, and will get you cookies”, and that’s probably true. But once  
you start digging a little bit further, it becomes clear that very few  
people can actually articulate a reason why.

So before we all go another round on this, I have to ask: what’s it  
you wanna do with them darn semantics?

The general answer is “to repurpose content”. That’s fine on the  
surface, but you quickly reach a point where you have to ask  
“repurpose to what?”. For instance, if you want to render pages to a  
small screen (a form of repurposing) then <nav> or <footer> tell you  
that those bits aren’t content, and can be folded away; but if you’re  
looking into legal issues digging inside <footer> with some heuristics  
won’t help much.

I think HTML5 should add only elements that either expose  
functionality that would be pretty much meaningless otherwise (e.g.  
<canvas>) or that provide semantics that help repurpose *for Web  
browsing uses*.

We can debate the specifics, but seen in this light the existing  
additions to HTML5 pretty much make sense. This is very definitely not  
to say that there shouldn’t be extensibility hooks, rather I aim to  
indicate which extensibility approach should go where.

That also tells you why looking at DocBook isn’t such a great idea.  
DocBook is for technical documentation, HTML is far more general in  
its purpose. DocBook has hundreds of elements and attributes that  
would make no sense in HTML.

So before we look into other ways of including semantics in HTML, we  
need to look at use cases. Want to extract some triples? Maybe GRDDL  
can cut it. Want to do semantic decoration of your tree? Looking into  
RDFa could perhaps be an option. Want to have your content stick as  
cleanly as possible to the semantics of your model, and render that  
separately? It could be a job for arbitrary XML with some XBL (we’re  
talking 2020 here).

I really am not the use case fascist most of the time, but when the  
word “semantics” comes up it helps to reach for the bullwhip.

Robin Berjon - http://berjon.com/
     Feel like hiring me? Go to http://robineko.com/
Received on Tuesday, 6 January 2009 16:47:59 UTC

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