Date: Sat, 17 Aug 1996 16:37:54 -0700 From: Thomas Breuel <email@example.com> Message-Id: <199608172337.QAA23617@shellx.best.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: www-html-d Digest V96 #250 |Why is it, do you think, that HTML is -- from my vantage at least -- |so perenially susceptible to this sort of subjective interpretation, |even amongst those most expert in its history and application? |Is it because of HTML's often rather non-prescriptive nature? |Because of the confusingly different manners in which various |browsers choose to render it? I think it's largely because of the SGML heritage. SGML had some nifty ideas for structural markup, but their realization is less than perfect. One big problem is that SGML markup isn't all that convenient for manual authoring; to counteract that, all sorts of rules for letting you abbreviate constructs were introduced, but those make automatic processing and error detection/recovery harder and cause confusion like "do you need a </P> or not". SGML tries to be a kind of programming language, and sadly it seems to be lacking many of the syntactic features that make programming languages easy to use and robust. Furthermore, HTML isn't SGML. SGML was designed to let people design structural models to address the needs of modeling specific kinds of content that occurs over and over in some organization. HTML was one such model. But a single document model can't serve the needs of all Web publishers. On the other hand, providing the full generality of SGML is not a solution, either, in my opinion, since having user-defined structures with only a syntactic framework is almost as useless for Web purposes as no standard at all (and that kind of generality was not the intent of the original SGML work anyway). My long range concern is that if the HTML evolution gets too much out of touch with what content providers want, HTML may simply become irrelevant. More and more content is being made available as images, Shockwave, and Microsoft Office documents, mainly because authors like the control over layout and presentation they get and because they don't like mucking around with HTML tags. And it's not clear to me that proposals like CSS address these issues well enough. |Any thoughts on the matter would be much appreciated. Anything to |help me get a better grip on this slippery beast called HTML :) SGML documentation is quite relevant; there are some good books on it out there. Here is where I hope HTML will be heading in the future. Of course, some of those ideas are already under development/consideration in some guise. Others depend on how facilities that are being developed will end up being used; for example, allowing style sheets and DTDs may turn out to be a blessing or a curse, depending on whether communities will get together and define a few, common standards or whether everybody just uses them to get the "look" and syntax they want. -- There should probably be several distinct HTML subtypes for different classes of content, like memos, navigational pages, product descriptions, collections of document summaries, search results, etc. Of course, the point is not to introduce deliberate incompatibilities between different document types, but to provide authors with frameworks and facilities for representing the specific types content they have as conveniently and standard as possible. -- Some HTML subtypes should provide very explicit control over layout and presentation (e.g., navigational pages), while others should be primarily structural (e.g., memos, search results, etc.) to allow automatic processing. -- There should be standard tags supporting document indexing an identifying large scale document structure (in fact, this is kind of what "core-HTML" and META are trying to do). Indexing information needs to be document type specific, however. -- Many of the SGML conventions for "simplifying markup" should be dropped and a simple, canonical syntax should be adopted and enforced. -- There should perhaps be mechanisms that discourage the definition and use of style sheets and DTDs by individuals and encourage the creation of a few common standards. (Complexity is on such mechanism--how about DSSL? :-) Cheers, Thomas.