Re: New tags. (fwd) -Reply (fwd)

Chuck D'Antonio (
Wed, 15 Jan 1997 14:12:14 -0400

Message-Id: <v03007803af02b097a923@[]>
In-Reply-To: <v0300780baf01d9ef4dfd@[]>
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 1997 14:12:14 -0400
From: "Chuck D'Antonio" <>
Subject: Re: New tags. (fwd) -Reply (fwd)

Walter Ian Kaye wrote:

>Wow. So if your document is like

8< document outline snipped

>and you want to change the style of the body text, you go and set the
>fontname, fontsize, typestyle, alignment, first-line indent, etc repeatedly
>for each instance of the body text? With a style sheet, you just change the
>spec for the style, and all parts of the document which are of that type
>will automatically reformat accordingly. A real timesaver, yes?

Walter's amazement reminds me of working at the computer center during my
(fairly recent) college days and watching honors thesis candidates reformat
all of their indentations in a 150-200 page document because they changed
the font and had used spaces instead of tabs all the way through.  I felt
the same disbelief then -- which was also invariably 3 a.m. the night the
thesis was due.

Too often I find myself reacting to mail from this list with disbelief about
what people think HTML should be.  Invariably several mails follow that talk
about what HTML is and how the what the original sender thinks it should be
doesn't fit what it is.  Not often enough do we address why we think it
should continue to grow in the same directions.  Walter's mail just made
me realize why I don't react that way, and I thought I'd pass my musing

I think his exchange with MegaZone underscores a very important point in the
presentational versus structural markup debate.  It's difficult to convince
word processor users of the need for structural markup because they've never
thought of how they edit their documents in that way.  This generalizes to
many ideas about computer usage that seperate user from power user.  It's all
tied up in abstraction levels.  Some people don't see a tab as anything more
than white space or a subheading as anything more than a change in font and/or

We continually see requests or commentary on this mailing list regarding
increased facilities for presentational markup within the HTML tag set.  We
invariably argue back "that's a job for style sheets" or "HTML isn't used
for presentational markup" without really considering what's going on.  The
problem I see isn't where the markup belongs or what HTML is, but rather a
battle about what HTML should be and whether style sheets meet the author's
needs.  It doesn't really matter what W3's position is (or MS's or NS's),
but how users of HTML think about what they're doing.

To many people, <h2> doesn't exist independant of being larger and bolder
than <h3>; it doesn't matter if we can talk about it as a tag that exists to
categorize a heading less important that an <h1> and more important than an
<h3>.  Telling them that it isn't always larger and bolder that <h3> only
suggests that whoever doesn't interpret it that way is wrong -- it doesn't
indicate why they should think of it more generally.  Once you've accepted
the abstraction, it may mystify you that someone doesn't get it (it works
that way for me) -- but they need to accept the abstraction before you can
talk about anything else.

You will not convince someone that <indent> or <page> or <vr> or any of the
other tags we've seen suggested on this list doesn't belong in HTML without
convincing arguments about why it matters that HTML remain free of tags that
apply only to presentation on one particular medium.  It's a recurrent
debate regarding abstraction levels.  Using the existance of abstraction to
justify that abstraction achieves litte; you can only argue with those who
accept the initial abstractions.


Chuck D'Antonio
Programmer & Network Support Specialist
FAS Administrative Computing
Harvard University