Re: Pandering to poor authorship

At 03:23 -0400 UTC, on 2007-04-28, Mike Schinkel wrote:

> <x-flowed>
> Sander Tekelenburg wrote:
>  > [...] for your use case <indent> offers no more than <div
>  > style="padding-left:2em"> does.
> I agree it offers no more visually, but it offers a lot more in terms of
> 1.) less learning required (HTML only and not CSS), 2.) less typing, and
> 3.) less liklihood of mistyping.

Agreed. This seems to be somewhat along the lines of what Dave Raggett is
arguing for. That we should aim to make it as easy as possible to people to
publish on the Web. I couldn't agree more. It's one of the reasons I
initiated the WRI.

But doing that by speccing purely presentational markup raises the much more
fundamental question of the importance of separating content from
presentation, because I don't see how you can add presentational elements to
HTML without letting go of that principle. (A principle btw that as far as
I'm concerned isn't just some ideal, but a reality: the mere fact that
authors cannot know end users' browsing environments dictates that.)

However, as I understood it, your use case was: person A contributing
(snippets of) content to a site controlled by person B, with person A wanting
to achieve some styling that person B doesn't allow.

That's all I was responding to and is what all the stuff below is about.

Btw, as to that use case: CMSs can allow admins to provide inline editors
with custom options. So the admin can provide the editor with a custom option
"indent", which translates to something like <div class="indent">, with an
external Style Sheet saying div.indent {margin-left: 2em}. (Although I
seriously dislike such class names...)

>  > Whoever is in control of the site is in
>  > control. If they don't want to allow style attributes, they'll just strip
>  > them.
> That's idealistic.

Huh? It's reality. Just like a site admin won't allow Junior Editor to change
Senior Editor's content, the admin won't allow either one to style their
content in ways that conflict with the site's defined style.

> Many people run software build by other people that
> makes the decisions for them (i.e. WordPress, vBulletin, etc.)

If your tool is broken, upgrade to a better tool. If someone is forcing you
to use a broken tool, your problem is with that someone, not with the HTML

>  > Adding <indent> to the spec will just make the same admin replace
>  > <indent> with <div>.
> Huh?

If the admin doesn't want content contributors to indent content, he'll
disallow that. Adding <indent> to the  spec isn't going to change that.

>  >>> The situation in which people can only insert snippets and not
> affect their
>  >>> presentation can exist for very good reasons: to ensure that they don't
>  >>> create a mess.
>  >> Again, specious. The case would be far more often than people would need
>  >> to be given reasonable control of how their snippets would be
>  >> formatted.
>  > I have no numbers (do you?) but I can assure you that many site
> admins need
>  > to ensure that content editors cannot affect presentation. This is no
>  > different from companies/organisations requiring their content
> providers to
>  > use consistent styling in printed material that goes out.
> No disagreement, but your argument is tangential. It is your attempt to
> tie the need for website publishers to control submitted content to the
> validity of an <indent> element, and they are not related.

You are relating them. Your argument here is "people need to be given a
reasonable control of how their snippets would be formatted", to which I
basically say: "that's about people granting each other power, not about

I don't disagree that for most people <indent> is much easier than <div
style="margin-left: 2em">. I'm saying your use case "lack of control by
snippet contributors" is not about HTML.


>  >> What site owner wants user contributions to be poorly
>  >> visually formatted ?
>  >
>  > Exactly. Usually the only way to achieve that is to remove as many
>  > possibilities from content providers as possible.
> Which is draconian and is used simply because it is easier not because
> it is better.

For most content contributors it is actualy much easier to have only 3 or 4
options, instead of 60. Such ease in practice is thus often indeed "better".

Btw, in my experience it isn't even always necessary to explicitly disallow
or strip certain markup. In several cases I've set people up with systems
that accept anything, and provide a help document that explains only how to
write paragraphs, heading levels, lists and hyperlinks (how to enter those as
'raw HTML'). In all those cases this has worked virtually flawless. Editors
never had the need to enter more detailed markup, let alone style anything.
They could enter anything fancier, but didn't. They didn't even ask how to.

Just anecdotal of course. But it does confirm to me that for many, if not
most users, limiting options works well.


>  > If you don't, your content
>  > editors will go nuts -- every paragraph will be in a different font with
>  > different margins, etc. Or at the very least, your content editors
> will each
>  > be suggesting different presentations, making the site look a mess to
>  > visitors.
> That's why it is so important to have simple and generic elements like
> <indent> instead of encouraging people to put explicit styling in. You
> are making my point.

I don't see how I'm making your point. If an admin won't allow editors to
indent content, he'll not allow that. It doesn't matter if he needs to strip
style attributes or rewrite an <indent> element. Hence *for your use case*,
<indent> won't help. That's all I'm saying.

>  > And when the site admin *does* want to allow users to 'go nuts', he can
>  > simply allow style attributes.
> Currently either he has to allow style elements or he cannot give users
> a complete set of reasonable control w/o essentially endorsing misused
> semantics (i.e. <blockquote>)

A site admin can allow specific styling of specific elements. Reasonably
user-friendly even. For instance by allowing editors to assign predefined
class names that correspond to a rule in an external Style Sheet.

Whether in a given case you'd consider that "a complete set of reasonable
control" will depend, but is between the admin and the editor. I don't see a
relation to the HTML spec.


>  > I meant to make clear that for your use case there is no difference.
> <indent>
>  > or <div style=blah> will be under the control of whoever is in control.
> But <indent> is much easier to parse and thus will be more likely
> controlled effectively.

{shrug} style is much more important to parse[*], and so will be more likely
controlled effectively.

[*] if only because for security reasons you'll need to beware of attempts at
embedding malicious content through url().

Sander Tekelenburg
The Web Repair Initiative: <>

Received on Saturday, 28 April 2007 20:18:12 UTC