W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > January 2003

Re: XBL is (mostly) W3C redundant, and CSS is wrong W3C layer for semantic behavior *markup

From: Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>
Date: Sat, 4 Jan 2003 03:36:44 +0000 (GMT)
To: Shelby Moore <shelby@coolpage.com>
Cc: "www-style@w3.org" <www-style@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.21.0301040159350.4908-100000@dhalsim.dreamhost.com>

On Fri, 3 Jan 2003, Shelby Moore wrote:
> In your very first post you could have said that "my disagreement is
> that I believe that semantics is 100% defined by specification". Or
> at least instead of asking me to make definitions when you already
> knew what your definitions are.

Believe me, if I had realised you believed that XBL and XSLT actually
defined semantics, I would have said that I disagreed right away. Your
position has been very unclear (largely due to your repeated use of
the same term, "semantic binding", without explaining what you meant
by it until I repeatedly asked for an explanation).

> If one renders a paragraph by dispersing the characters randomly on
> the screen in random positions, no doubt that is a presentation
> change, but I also argue it is a semantic change because the
> paragraph can not be read any more. It is quite different from
> changing the font of a paragraph.

   p { display: none; }

...makes a paragraph unreadable as well, but it doesn't stop the
(invisible) paragraphs from being paragraphs.

The semantic layer is, according to the diagram of my views on the
matter, a layer below presentation, and the presentation layer cannot
affect the semantic layer. This is why I disagree about the idea of a
double headed arrow between Semantics and CSS, DOM, or XBL.

> Implementation (interpretation of the semantic specification) plays
> a role in the actual semantics that authors expect from markup.

The HTML spec doesn't change because authors are misusing markup.

Many people misused the <big> and <small> elements to indicate header
semantics. (More so (ab)use the <font> element for the same purpose.)
This does not imbue those elements with header semantics.

> So what Tim Berners-Lee is saying is same as what I am saying, which
> is that you can not centralize semantics.

I have already said that I do not think you can centralise
semantics, viz.:

| That is absolutely correct. The W3C is merely one of several
| consortiums of companies working together. Other groups get together
| and create their own markup languages, e.g. the DVB group, the WAP
| forum, even Mozilla and small groups like the blogite mailing list
| have written specifications.
 -- http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-style/2003Jan/0054.html

> Okay I have searched the W3C and Google Web and I can find no where
> does it say that semantics is entirely determined by specification,
> as Ian claims.

"The specifications are the only place that defines semantics" is not
a normative statement, it is a statement of fact: You cannot prove it
by finding a statement in a spec, only disprove it by finding contrary

(In technical terms, it is a theory; as in physics this theory cannot
be proven, only strengthened by evidence that supports it or disproven
by evidence that contradicts it.)

> In fact, even the markup specifications (e.g. HTML 4.01) does not
> mention semantics of the whole specification.

HTML4.01 section 3.1 subitem 3 mentions this explicitly in the context
of any SGML application (of which HTML is one); the word semantics
occurs multiple other times in the spec. In addition, each element is
defined by a description of its semantics (although not labelled as
such), see e.g. section 7.5.5:1 or section 9.2.1.

> Phew, I do not think I could manage at this time. My posts above
> should suffice for now. If XBL gets momentum to becoming a standard
> (and especially under CSS group) then I may consider doing as you
> suggest. Then again, I may just be too busy.

I intend to push XBL within the working group. I would much rather you
explained to me why I should not _before_ I spend significant amounts
of time preparing a submission.

> It is impossible to get a point across to people who are not
> interested.

If we weren't interested, we wouldn't be replying.

>> and, let you go off and learn by trying and failing (which is not
>> necessarily a bad way of learning mind you, just a more expensive
>> way).
> Same for the people who use XBL. They will fail and learn. XBL will
> never be a standard.

XBL may not be, but a mixture of HTCs, XBL, BECSS, ActionSheets, and
the CSS properties in the current CSS UI proposal are most likely to
become standardised at some point, because there is a need for an easy
to use language for dynamically binding DOM and CSS to elements at the
presentational layer, something that no other W3C specification

Incidentally, on that note, you never replied to the numerous
arguments I made in my last post:


...that were unrelated to semantics but covered the various other
technical issues you brought up.

Finally, it would be very useful to those of us who are supporting
XBL, HTCs, and related technologies if you could summarise (in only a
few dozen lines, not in multiple 1000 line epics) your main objections
to the technology. Now that we have determined the source of the
confusion on your "semantic binding" objection, I would like to
discuss your other objections as well, if that is ok with you.

Ian Hickson                                      )\._.,--....,'``.    fL
"meow"                                          /,   _.. \   _\  ;`._ ,.
http://index.hixie.ch/                         `._.-(,_..'--(,_..'`-.;.'
Received on Friday, 3 January 2003 22:36:47 UTC

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