W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-html@w3.org > December 2005

RE: HTML Improvement/Suggestion

From: Mark Birbeck <mark.birbeck@x-port.net>
Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2005 10:36:38 -0000
Message-ID: <89F86181-F0C8-4182-97D3-F1FD42A97039@s15.mail.x-port.net>
To: "'Philip TAYLOR'" <P.Taylor@Rhul.Ac.Uk>
Cc: <www-html@w3.org>


> I agree with 99.9% of what you say, with two reservations :
> 1) <div> and <span> aren't sufficient, because I can't nest
>     a <div> inside a span.  In practice, I'd want to be able
>     to nest two or more divs ionside a single span, in order
>     to be able to typeset in columns.

Sure...but I was only discussing this for illustrative purposes, showing how
the real-world task of defining HTML is in between the two ends of a

>     Those familiar with TeX know that,
>     being a macro-based language, one can layer onto the base
>     constructs (the small finite set of TeX primitives) as
>     many elements of syntactic sugar as one wants.  If HTML
>     were extensible in the same way, almost all of this
>     recurring debate could be avoided. But it is not.

I totally agree, but that simply means we need to create such mechanisms.

>    HTML is
>     handed down from on high, and we lesser mortals can take it
>     or leave it.

I thought the same about 4 years ago, and I used to curse louder than most!
But then I concluded that really I should try to get involved in the
development of the language, rather than moaning. I got into a dialogue with
the Working Group, and then found myself invited to be an...well, an Invited
Expert. I know not everyone wants to do that, but at least my experience
shows that the W3C is not the Nomenklatura.

>  Most of us are forced to take it, but it
>     leaves a sour taste in the mouth knowing how much richer
>     the language /could/ be if one could extend it at will
>     to cope with the requirements of the task at hand.

That's *exactly* where I am coming from, too. I got involved because I was
trying to build dynamic UIs based on RDF Schema. However...the problem is
not an easy one to solve, since how can you add stuff to your language that
my processor can understand? We need to agree on an extension language.

>     I don't ignore (or even underestimate) the difficulties
>     that this poses, but I do so wish that this concept of
>     extensibility had been uppermost in mind when HTML was
>     first conceived.

I sympathise, but that's a bit like saying we wish James Watt had thought a
bit more about powered flight when he created all of his steam engines--they
are different eras. In fact, we can only think today about the things we
would like to do, because many years ago some clever people came up with
tagged languages delivered over a network.

>  And yes, I know one can write a custom
>     DTD (I have, on more than one occasion) but without
>     a formal requirement that HTML renderers ("browsers")
>     be /required/ to honour non-standard DTDs, such an
>     approach can be of only very limited use.

Of course. It's OK, you have defined the problem, all I am is that it's time
to try and solve it, rather than wishing it had been solved many years ago.



Mark Birbeck
x-port.net Ltd.

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Received on Monday, 12 December 2005 10:37:35 UTC

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