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RE: ALT text

From: Liam Quinn <liam@htmlhelp.com>
Date: Thu, 05 Feb 1998 22:15:27 -0500
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To: HTML Guidelines Working Group <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
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At 05:39 PM 05/02/98 -0800, Charles (Chuck) Oppermann wrote:
>I strongly disagree with this interpretation of ALT.

And as you know, I strongly disagree with your interpretation :)

>Every book I have on
>HTML specifies that ALT is a description of the image.

A lot of HTML books have mistakes in them.  The fact that the W3C 
Recommendations have never been clear on ALT increases the likelihood of 

>Are we going to say "Use TITLE as functional
>information EXCEPT when there is a image and then use it as a description 
>the image?"

No.  What I'm saying is use TITLE as descriptive information in all cases. 
 When you use TITLE with A elements, you're describing the link, not 
providing the function of the link (since the function--more information--
is implicit in the link itself).  Using TITLE to describe an IMG makes it 
consistent with other uses of TITLE.

>So for a textual link it would go like this:
><A HREF=homepage.htm TITLE="enter my home page">
>Click here
>but for a image link it would be:
><A HREF=homepage.htm TITLE="enter my home page">
><IMG SRC="globle.gif" TITLE="picture of the world" ALT="enter my home 
>That's making exceptions in the meaning of TITLE.

I don't see the exception.  In your example the TITLE of the IMG describes 
the graphic and the TITLE of the A describes the link.  It seems perfectly 
consistent and natural.

>In my view it should be:
><A HREF=homepage.htm TITLE="enter my home page">
><IMG SRC="globle.gif" ALT="picture of the world">

Why does a text-only user *need* (ALT being required) to know that there 
is a picture of the world?  How does that help, when the point of the 
image is as an entrance to another page?  If I saw or heard "picture of 
the world", what would I expect to find upon following the link?  Probably 
a JPEG or GIF of the world.

The ALT attribute is required on IMG because the function of the image is 
vital to text-only users.  What the image looks like may be of interest to 
some text-only users, so we have the TITLE and LONGDESC attributes, which 
are optional.  If TITLE were to give the all-important function of the 
image, it should be required in HTML 4.0.

>I look at the above examples and think it's clear why there is a 
>between ALT and TITLE.  For starters, in this case, the image *object* 
>no functional meaning.

The function of an image is context-sensitive, so the fact that the 
image's pixels are not functional on their own does not mean that the IMG 
element--as used in the document--has no function.

>It's the anchor surrounding it which gives it
>functional meaning and as such the TITLE indicates that.

So you're using TITLE on A to describe the function of the IMG?  That 
seems counter-intuitive.  TITLE on A should describe the link, and should 
be independent of the image or text that anchors the link.

>The whole reason TITLE was invented was to supplement existing 
>not to replace them.

TITLE is not replacing ALT.  ALT always was, to me (and I assumed others), 
used to give the function of the image, since this is what is useful to 
the person not loading images.  TITLE provides the long-desired ability to 
describe the image, especially useful for those using graphical browsers 
with image loading disabled.

>Changing the meaning of ALT now is likely to kill the gains we've made in
>getting it accepted.

The meaning of ALT as I've always understood, and as documented for years 
at <http://ppewww.ph.gla.ac.uk/%7Eflavell/alt/alt-text.html>, is to 
provide a replacement for browsers not loading images.

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Liam Quinn
Web Design Group            Enhanced Designs, Web Site Development
http://www.htmlhelp.com/    http://enhanced-designs.com/
Received on Thursday, 5 February 1998 22:14:09 UTC

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