W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-gl@w3.org > January to March 1998

Re: ALT text survey

From: Colin F Reynolds <colin@the-net-effect.com>
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 1998 23:02:10 +0000
Message-ID: <888RItAy9340Ew9B@the-net-effect.com>
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
In article <E3A3FFB80F5CD1119CED00805FBECA2F013BBDDA@red-msg-
55.dns.microsoft.com>, Charles (Chuck) Oppermann <chuckop@microsoft.com>
>It's my opinion that this kind of guideline, that works around a bug in a
>browser, would be detrimental and worse - laughed at.  Who are we to tell
>people they can't have small images?  Excessive guidelines devalue the
>really important ones.  The home page alone http://www-the-net-effect.com
>would be in violation of this guideline 9 times.

I do not understand why you expect the home page of The Net Effect to be
in accordance with the AT&T guidelines, since I do not now, nor have I
ever subscribed to these. Had you been paying attention to my comments
earlier in this thread, you might have seen that, quite apart from
considering them good guidelines, I actually think that they are in many
respects (specifically in relation to pixel-perfect recommendations)

><<please explain to me how it is that MSIE 3.02 on Windows 95 is
>non-compliant with the specs in respect of the display of ALT as tooltips?
>(ie - ALT should NOT be displayed as tooltips, as confirmed by Foteos
>Macrides). Ref: <URL:http://www.the-net-effect.com/bad-tooltips.html>>>
>Huh?  Since when does http://www.the-net-effect.com represent a standards

I do not now, nor have I ever claimed to represent a standards board.
That page represents my own personal views on the (mis)behaviour of
certain web browser software with respect to the ALT attribute of the
image element.

>  What spec are you referring to?

The HTML 4.0 recommendation currently shows that the ALT attribute of
the IMG element is a "short description":

  alt         %Text;         #REQUIRED -- short description --

Which, as I've been claiming all along, is ambiguous, when compared with
section 13.8, which I quote below in its entirety in order that there
can be no possibility of confusion:

   13.8 How to specify alternate text

   Attribute definitions

   alt = text [CS] 

   For user agents that cannot display images, forms, or applets,
   this attribute specifies alternate text. The language of the
   alternate text is specified by the lang attribute. 

   Several non-textual elements (IMG, AREA, APPLET, and INPUT)
   require authors to specify alternate text to serve as content
   when the element cannot be rendered normally. Specifying
   alternate text assists users without graphic display terminals,
   users whose browsers don't support forms, visually impaired users,
   those who use speech synthesizers, those who have configured their
   graphical user agents not to display images, etc. 

   The alt attribute must be specified for the IMG and AREA elements.
   It is optional for the INPUT and APPLET elements. 

   While alternate text may be very helpful, it must be handled with
   care. Authors should observe the following guidelines: 

   -Do not specify irrelevant alternate text when including images
   intended to format a page, for instance, alt="red ball" would be
   inappropriate for an image that adds a red ball for decorating a
   heading or paragraph. In such cases, the alternate text should be
   the empty string (""). Authors are in any case advised to avoid
   using images to format pages; style sheets should be used instead.

   -Do not specify meaningless alternate text (e.g., "dummy text").
   Not only will this frustrate users, it will slow down user agents
   that must convert text to speech or braille output. 

   Implementors should consult the section on generating alternate
   text for information about how to handle cases of omitted
   alternate text. 

I trust that you can see the ambiguity. Now then: how can we resolve
this? I claim that it's quite simple; all that need be done is change

  alt         %Text;         #REQUIRED -- short description --


  alt         %Text;         #REQUIRED -- alternate text --

>  Point me to something that starts
>with http://www.w3.org first.

I've done so, above: but I note that, by implication, you're now
claiming that the W3C _is_ a standards body? I agree that it's the
closest that currently exists. Please point _me_ to your mandate...

>When I designed the ToolTips feature for IE back in 1995,

Ah - so you admit that it's all your fault! And this would also help to
explain your reluctance to admit that your design was in error. Looks
like I'm on a losing wicket here :(

> there was no spec
>to be compliant with


> and everyone agreed that it was a good idea.


>  In fact,
>I think it has raised awareness of the existence of ALT unlike any guideline
>ever could.

Nice ego.

>  Same is true for TITLE.  Theory is great, but implementation is

Except when it's BAD - Broken As Designed.

Tooltips are indeed a boon to the GUI - when implemented correctly.
Hijacking the ALT attribute of IMG, which was intended, right from the
very beginning, to assist meaningful communication with those who - for
whatever reason - could not see the image, simply clutters up the user
interface for those who can see the image.

>I agree that some people misuse ALT because of ToolTips, but those same
>people would not have had any ALT text if it wasn't for the ToolTip feature.


>The benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

Benefits? There would be benefits if the TITLE attribute were used, I

><<can you tell me in which release of Internet Explorer Microsoft intends to
>correct the incorrect rendering of ALT?>>
>Incorrect as opposed to what?  First tell me what you think "correct" would

I've already pointed you to a page (<URL:http://www.the-net-effect.com/>
which I think clearly states my position: if you've read it, and still
don't understand what I'm trying to say, I'll be glad to elucidate.
Please explain what part of my rant is unclear?

In short, my view of "correct" behaviour for IMG ALT is: correct as in
the statement on www-html recently by Foteos Macrides, to which I have
previously referred, in which he clearly stated that what was required

In article <01ISU2RGUNG200877V@SCI.WFBR.EDU>, Foteos Macrides
>       <IMG SRC="foo.blah" ALT="alternative_string" TITLE="tooltip_string">
>and broader implementation and understanding of this provision in HTML 4.0.
>                               Fote

Colin Reynolds, The Net Effect (World Wide) Ltd
Tel: +44 (0)1246 450 901
Fax: +44 (0)1246 450 902
Received on Thursday, 12 February 1998 18:17:11 UTC

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