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RE: storing info in XSL-FO: new issue? [was: Draft TAG Finding:...]

From: Elliotte Rusty Harold <elharo@metalab.unc.edu>
Date: Sat, 17 Aug 2002 09:29:36 -0400
Message-Id: <p04330101b983fb175c18@[192.168.254.4]>
To: <www-tag@w3.org>
Cc: <www-style@w3.org>, <w3c-css-wg@w3.org>

At 9:02 AM -0400 8/17/02, Didier PH Martin wrote:

>>From the social and anthropological point of views you are totally
>right, especially if you are referring to the main stream web content
>designers. For them an HTML document is simply a document's visual (and
>sometimes aural) layout. This also gives us a good clue of the reasons
>why we do not see yet a semantic web ;-)
>

You know, on further thought I don't really agree with this. An HTML 
document like the Mercury News homepage  is not just a visual layout. 
Nor is the print edition just a visual layout. Looking at the home 
page, it is really obvious what the headlines are, just as it's 
really obvious looking at the printed front page at the news stand. 
No person is confused by this. The visual layout includes semantics. 
For example, when a paper prints a headline in type that's three 
times larger than usual, we all know that this means something 
extraordinary has happened. We don't need a footnote saying this is a 
"really important headline" instead of just an ordinary, average, 
headline.

Unfortunately, computers are much stupider than humans. Computers 
have a great deal of trouble associating visual cues with semantics. 
Computers get even more confused when they're told that sometimes 
blue means a headline and sometimes it means a link and sometimes it 
means the designer thought blue text looked cool. Humans, by 
contrast, have no trouble disambiguating these different uses of the 
same color.

The whole goal of semantic markup -- whether SGML, XML, or something 
else -- is to get humans to dumb down their writing and design to the 
point where computers can understand it. Maybe this is necessary. 
Maybe it isn't (or maybe it won't be one day). Either way, let's not 
kid ourselves that this is a good thing. It is at best a necessary 
evil. In the ideal world, computers should adapt to humans, not the 
the other way around. Computers should learn to speak our language. 
We should not have to learn to speak theirs.

A small percentage of the population on one end of the bell curve can 
adapt their thought processes to the needs of the machine, but most 
people can't. Most people are far more comfortable speaking a natural 
language, including a natural visual language in which presentation 
carries semantics. Do not be surprised that these people latch onto 
whatever visual model you give them, and ignore all the nice 
semantics you've provided. To them, the tagged, explicit semantics 
range from painful to meaningless. Presentation, by contrast, is 
easy, obvious, and natural.

In hindsight, it's obvious that SGML on the Web was going to fail. It 
was too far removed from the way most people think. It's also no 
surprise that it achieved reasonable success as a medium for computer 
to computer communication in technologies like XML-RPC and SOAP. XML 
is actually quite well designed for the way computers think. And it 
should be no surprise that XML worked well for programmers, because 
they're the people who are most comfortable talking in the computers' 
language. But I remain extremely skeptical of any claim that says 
we're going to reach the semantic web by teaching all the Web 
developers and authors to think like machines.
-- 

+-----------------------+------------------------+-------------------+
| Elliotte Rusty Harold | elharo@metalab.unc.edu | Writer/Programmer |
+-----------------------+------------------------+-------------------+
|          XML in a  Nutshell, 2nd Edition (O'Reilly, 2002)          |
|              http://www.cafeconleche.org/books/xian2/              |
|  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0596002920/cafeaulaitA/  |
+----------------------------------+---------------------------------+
|  Read Cafe au Lait for Java News:  http://www.cafeaulait.org/      |
|  Read Cafe con Leche for XML News: http://www.cafeconleche.org/    |
+----------------------------------+---------------------------------+
Received on Saturday, 17 August 2002 09:36:23 GMT

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