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Document outlining issues

From: Steve Faulkner <faulkner.steve@gmail.com>
Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2013 16:55:22 +0000
Message-ID: <CA+ri+VmC4sgdXXNFjGE-H--bLLYsCkDOm9vksw-0zAWAOwG_WQ@mail.gmail.com>
To: HTMLWG WG <public-html@w3.org>
Bringing this:
http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html-admin/2013Jan/0113.html to
the group as it looks worthy of discussion.

I think it's fairly clear at this point that there is a painful gulf between
> how the spec describes document outlining and how authors in the real
> world are
> actually building web pages. Luke Steven's many posts on this topic
> (whether
> one agrees with him on all points or not) are a visible symptom of this
> situation. Most recently check out (including comments):
>
>
> http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2013/01/the-harsh-truth-about-html5s-structural-semantics-part-1/
>
> http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2013/01/the-harsh-truth-about-html5s-structural-semantics-part-2/
>
> http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2013/01/the-harsh-truth-about-html5s-structural-semantics-part-3/
>
> Given the "at-risk" status of the outline algorithm, I think something's
> got to
> give here. (Stevens, unfortunately, has no constructive suggestions about
> outlining proper, which strikes me as somewhat defeatist.)
>
> I definitely don't have all the answers, but having watched this evolve
> from
> the sidelines for years, I think there are some things that could be done
> to
> nudge the spec and real-world practice towards a greater state of parity
> and
> clarity. Here are a couple modest proposals:
>
> 1) Rename the terms "sectioning content", "sectioning root", and "section"
> in
> the spec. Here's the problem: the terminological overlap between the terms
> "sectioning content" (used to refer to content that defines scope of
> headings
> and footers, for example article, aside, nag, and section) and the term
> "section" (used to refer to the <section> element) is deeply confusing. The
> reuse of the same noun (or is the former sometimes a gerund?) in two very
> different but conceptually adjacent contexts is compounding the overall
> mess
> here.
>
> The clarification in HTML 5.1 Nightly "4.4.11.1 Creating An Outline" that
> says:
> "The sections in the outline aren't section elements, though some may
> correspond to such elements ó they are merely conceptual sections" doesn't
> really do much to clarify things. What, pray tell, is a "conceptual
> section"?
> In philosophy (and also typically in technical writing), a "concept" is
> something that has a "definition". It's distinct from a "notion," for
> example,
> which may not have a definition. But since all the key terms in the spec
> have
> definitions, the adjective "conceptual" provides no meaningful
> qualification.
> Try explaining to a first year web design student the difference between
> "sections" and "conceptual sections"!
>
> For a technical specification, this is unacceptably confusing. I'm sure the
> English language is large enough that the W3C can find two suitably
> different
> terms for two different concepts. Here's my stab at a remapping of terms
> within
> the spec:
>
> "sectioning content" = > "outlining content"
> "sectioning root" => "outlining root"
> "section" (not the element) => "outline container"
> <section> (the element) stays the same.
>
> Since the main purpose of "section" (again, not the element) in the spec is
> outlining, why not spell this out explicitly, and sidestep a bit of
> confusion
> in the process? I think this would be a win on all sides for clarity in the
> spec, which has been justly criticized on this point.
>
> 2) Introduce unnumbered headers, e.g. an <h> element.
>
> By way of comparison, every beginning web developer instantly "gets" the
> idea
> of the un-numbered <li> tag. It has the great and obvious virtue that
> scripts
> can add or subtract elements from an unordered list dynamically without
> renumbering each element in the entire list in markup. Wouldn't it be
> great if
> headings and document outlining had the same flexibility?
>
> As you know, the spec's current suggestion is to use all <h1> tags:
> "Sections
> may contain headings of any rank, but authors are strongly encouraged to
> either
> use only h1 elements, or to use elements of the appropriate rank for the
> sectionís nesting level." The idea was to avoid introducing new elements,
> and
> maintain backwards compatibility.
>
> This spares browsers' parsers the relatively trivial task of recognizing a
> new
> block element, but it introduces massive confusion for any implementation
> of
> document outlining. Predictably, there has been chaos. For any particularly
> page, is a screen reader (for example) supposed to use the new HTML5
> outlining
> algorithm or the old? And based on what factors? There are no good answers
> here
> that I know of, not even provisional ones. No wonder vendors have dragged
> their
> feet on this! The "all h1, all the time" approach tries to split the
> difference
> between two completely different ideas about page structure, and winds up
> totally breaking the old outlining model without providing a satisfactory
> indication that the new model is in use on the page. This offers neither
> enhancement nor degradation--it's pure breakage, and it's not suited to the
> backwards-compatible, incrementalist approach that the web requires.
>
> Instead, the "one h element to bind them all"  approach needs to be taken
> to
> its logical conclusion, making a clean break with the old outline model,
> and
> forging a very clear path toward the new "section" (renamed, please!) based
> outlining model, which has real virtues that should not be simply shelved
> for
> lack of implementation so far. The advantages of this unnumbered <h> tag
> approach are:
>
> 1) Nearly total backwards compatibility. Existing popular HTML5 javascript
> shims could very easily be tweaked to include an unnumbered <h> element.
> 2) No styling issues. Authors just use classes for styling. Personally, the
> idea of adding class names to my <h> tags to style them doesn't bother me
> in
> the least. (I disagree with Luke Stevens on this point). Similarly,
> Hickson's
> idea that adding a single class to an element is somehow "hard" for
> developers
> doesn't resonate with me.
> 3) Lucid developer aesthetics. Developers have it hammered home that the
> place
> of the <h> within the outline is determined by context, just like an <li>
> element. It's easy to learn, it's simple to type, and it's meaningfully
> contextualized.
> 4) A clear criterion for HTML5 outline interpretation in user agents. User
> agents can be advised to switch their outlining based on the presence of
> unnumbered <h> tags in the markup. It could be as simple as: "If there's a
> single <h> on the page, do it the new way. If there aren't any, do it the
> old
> way." With this more backwards-compatible implementation path, we might
> succeed
> in getting some implementations. :) Some developer evangelism would still
> naturally be required.
>
> Thanks for reading.
> --
> with regards
>

Steve Faulkner
Received on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 16:56:32 GMT

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