W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > September 2005

Re: Browsers will never get it right [was Re:Blocked-base parsing?]

From: Larry Israel <lisrael@cruzio.com>
Date: Fri, 16 Sep 2005 06:27:24 -0700
Message-Id: <a0621020bbf506482b7b8@[71.139.105.27]>
To: www-style@w3.org

>> > possible (e.g. tracking what you've read or haven't, marking posts for
>> > keywords). Since the structure of an HTML document is unknown on any
>> > give site beyond the required html, head, title and body elements, you
>> > end up not being able to determine what is content and what isn't.
>>
>> Making HTML simple was a deliberate part of the original design.  Whilst
>> now you seem to need to take expensive web design courses to use it, the
>> idea was that it was so simple that any secretary or librarian could
>> mark up text.
>
> And while this was something the early adopters were willing to do, we
> now must compare what a secretary or librarian could do against what
> is out there in the wild. Most people just aren't satisfied with
> producing something that looks many times worse than the standard.
> What they will look for is something that eases the process while
> giving them professional results. If everybody drew like me, I might
> do it as a hobby, but since I do draw the way I do (poorly) and there
> are pros out there who draw they way they do (very well), my ego can't
> take the hit. And I firmly believe that's part of the problem. Again
> I'm looking for practical solutions to the problems we're facing. We
> must take into account the psychology of the audience we're targeting.

This points to one of the fundamental problems with the current styling
system. In theory, it should be easy to style any standard XHTML documents
with CSS.

Imagine that all the librarian, secretary, or home hobbiest has to do is
(a) mark up their web content using standard XHTML code without any style
info; then (b) add one line of code to each page, linking it to one of the
many CSS files of their choosing. They can do this using a basic HTML
editor. They do not get involved in styling at all, they are just choosing
between basic XHTML tags in the editor. Then they go to one of the many
widely-known style sheet repositories, find a template they like, download
the CSS file and a few background graphics, then upload them to their web
server. Suddenly, the mom & pop home business site looks like something
out of CSS Zen Garden!

A month later, the authors decide to change the appearance and layout of
their 5-page site. They find a template they like better. All they have to
do is download and upload the new style sheet and background graphics.
Suddenly the new CSS file changes the whole layout and appearance of their
site, including changing the main navigation from horizontal across the
top to vertical down the left. Everything just works, and the owner of
Joe's corner store never even opened a single web file, he just uploaded a
few files to the server.

Isn't this how CSS was supposed to work, or was I dreaming?

The reason it doesn't work today is because the way documents are marked
up with (X)HTML is not sufficiently standardized. When marking up a page,
there are many choices and every web author does things differently. This
is largely because we don't have <header>, <footer>, <content>, <section>,
<nav-primary>, <nav-secondary>; or any other similar system that is
actually known and used by most web authors; a system that describes the
functions of all of the elements and their relations in detail. (The tags
given here are just an example, and perhaps a poor one, but I'm sure you
get my drift. Authors could just as well standardize on <div id="header">,
or something else.)

A big problem with CSS is that a style sheet must be written for a
specific group of documents. Unfortunately, the two are tied together by
necessity. Generally, a CSS file is not transferable to other sites. You
can't just take a style sheet from a CSS library and link it to ANY
standard XHTML file. If you could, there would already be CSS libraries
(both open-source and commercial) with CSS files and background graphics
for download, and lots of people would be using them. (Maybe there are
some already and I just haven't seen them?)

When will CSS files be transferable, usable on almost any web site? Maybe
we'll get there in 10 years, but I wonder if we're even moving in that
direction.

Larry Israel
Web developer
Santa Cruz, California
Received on Friday, 16 September 2005 13:28:24 GMT

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