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Re: Simplicity of Authoring and Accessibility Tools

From: David Woolley <david@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
Date: Sun, 21 Jan 2001 10:38:53 +0000 (GMT)
Message-Id: <200101211038.f0LAcrG24060@djwhome.demon.co.uk>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Kynn wrote:

> David, this only applies if you consider a web page to be identical
> in structure to a physics dissertation, which is pretty much what
> HTML was intended to write.  Talking about writing a web page as

HTML is not particularly suitable for physics papers; given that Amaya
is the only browser that has some of MathML and SVG as standard,
I'd say W3C technology is still not up to presenting the maths and
graphical plots that I'd expect in a physics paper.  My perception is
that HTML was designed as a tool for writing navigation aids for finding
resources in other formats (the web concept is the interconnectivity not
the single format for resources), in a form that allowed the document to
be structured as an overview of the subject, not just a list of papers.
I think it was also intended to be usable by secretaries rather than
researchers.

(Although Word may be becoming common as the tool for such papers,
I think one would have expected the actual papers to be distributed as
PostScript or TeX.)

> being identical to "general language skills" is all good and well 
> if you are producing something that is akin to a Word document, but
> that is hardly the case for many web pages at all.

The context here was school children, where we are dealing with the
equivalent of a "What I did in the holidays" essay or a personal
scrap book, that they might have been required to produce before computers,
not the realms of professional design (not that I see much sign of the
latter on the web).

At that distance from the job market, the real benefit of writing a
web page is probably in learning language skills (maybe more generally
non-verbal communication skills, although that possibly incorrectly
excludes verbal presentation skills).

> In fact, I've found that most people have little problem structuring
> their _textual_ content, the stuff which is closest to being a
> term paper.  So where is the actual problem?

In that case, teaching them Hn, P, and A elements should be no trouble
at all.  Adding images to schoolchild scrapbook level shouldn't be much
more difficult.  (Teaching them table mosaicing would probably inculcate
bad habits by providing them with a work around for a problem that should
no longer exist in the near future - there is an issue here like the
concept that teaching programmers non-structured programming can spoil
them for life.  Actually, I think that producing a language that permits
reflowing and resizing of text and copes well with non-linear layouts is
a difficult problem - if children are allowed to produce such layouts,
the teacher ought to show them the result with a radically different
font and screen size.)

To the extent that most people (including most people purporting to be
professional designers) represent structure in web pages, they do so as
though by using techniques associated with non-HTML media (font style,
double newlines (br)).  If they've been taught well, they will have been
taught the concept of headings and paragraphs and then conventions for
representing them in handwriting and print, so just need to be taught
the conventions for representing them in HTML.  (Unfortunately very few
popular books on HTML seem to be written by people who understand it,
and teachers have probably not been properly taught it themselves.)

(There is something of a left brain/right brain issue here in that,
while a purely language oriented HTML page is possible, a more
visual spatial page requires language skills as well.)

> The real problems result, David, when you get past the "writing a
> physics paper" stage and into the "designing a user interface" 
> part of the task.  It is -not- enough to merely know how to 

The people who do this are typically graduates, not school children,
and a design studio quality page will require a team to mix skills and
build consensus.

It also seems that you are proposing that only an elite can contribute
to the web, when one of the initial good things about the web is that it
did give a lot more of the population an ability to contribute (rather
catching people like the cable TV industry, and video on demand, out
although they are now beginning to regain control of the sources of
information that people use).

> The idea that everything you need to know about web design you
> learned in your grammar school English class is simply preposterous.

We are talking about web page design by school children, probably
taught as part of their English class!

> HTML is simple for term papers, but it is very complex if you are
> using it to design a complete user experience including navigation
> and interaction.

There are two sides to this:

1) the design aspects;

2) the medium.

My experience of commercial web sites makes me think that less than 10%
of them are designed by people who have any real design knowledge.

As a medium, HTML is not well suited to heavily designed pages.  About
the only advantage it has over PDF and Flash are that it does (ignoring
text as graphics and the programs that generated in a "random" order and
use CSS to shuffle it) tend to force a minimal level of structuring and
textual content, which the material to be used in non-graphical mediums,
indexed by search engines, converted into tables of contents, etc.++

Most web pages are trying to use it for purposes for which you need a
page decription language, not a logical markup language, although
a proper implementation of CSS positioning might get part of the way
there.  Alternatively, you need a (richer) language that represents
the sort of deep structures that are needed on a commercial web site
navigation page (although I doubt that you would succeed in getting
one effectively used).
 
++ Have a look at the HTML 4.01 specification in PDF.  The collapsible
outline was obtained at no extra cost because all the headings are
correctly identified.  Although there is also an explicit table of
contents, the tool that created the PostScript input to Distiller could
have generated that as well.  At least one browser will generated 
collapsible contents lists from the headings and I suspect that you
could do this with a suitable XSLT style sheet and scripting.
Received on Sunday, 21 January 2001 05:52:38 GMT

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