W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-html@w3.org > April 2007

Re: About the Web Forms 2 proposal

From: Maciej Stachowiak <mjs@apple.com>
Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2007 18:49:59 -0700
Message-Id: <EE9C334B-1C8D-4327-978C-4872DB3C874A@apple.com>
Cc: Dave Raggett <dsr@w3.org>, Matthew Raymond <mattraymond@earthlink.net>, public-html@w3.org, Sebastian Schnitzenbaumer <sebastian@dreamlab.net>
To: John Boyer <boyerj@ca.ibm.com>

On Apr 28, 2007, at 5:29 PM, John Boyer wrote:

> I think you missed the point about the declarative vs. imperative  
> debate, and then got it later in the email, so I won't go into that.
> Looking only at the forms that showed up as popular in your web  
> survey is looking in the wrong place to find out how to solve forms  
> problems because you're only looking at the things people know how  
> to do easily as evidenced by the fact that they have done it  
> often.  You will not find too many examples of the forms we would  
> like for people to be able to build because they don't build them  
> as often.  And they don't build them as often because it is too  
> hard and they give up.
> I can see an argument like yours being made to Henry Ford or Thomas  
> Edison.  "Hi, everyone is traveling with horse drawn carriage and I  
> don't see anyone driving around in a purely mechanical object so  
> there must not be a need for an automobile" or "Hi, everyone seems  
> to be reading using sunlight or torchlight; I don't see anyone  
> trying to use glass, tungsten and an inert gas to read, so there  
> must not be a need for a light bulb."  It makes no sense!

I think you are making a false analogy and overall a fallacious  
argument. Your analogy confuses two separate things, use cases and  
technologies that fulfill them. My personal standard for technologies  
is that if a use-case is popular, but current technologies make it  
hard to do well, then it is worth looking at improvements or new  

"Land travel between two points" is a use case. "Horse-drawn  
carriage" and "automobile" are technologies that fulfill that use  
case. So by my standard the high popularity of "horse-drawn carriage"  
is actually positive evidence in favor of "automobile", if we believe  
it will fulfill the use case better.

Let's bring this back to the web for a moment. Video on the web is  
hard to do well. Approaches to it integrate poorly with the rest of  
your content, and rely on external technologies that must often be  
separately downloaded, such as QuickTime, Flash, Windows Media or  
RealPlayer. Yet despite this, it is immensely popular. The fact that  
it is hard hasn't stopped people from doing it, because users want  
it. So this is a good case for enhancing the basic web technology to  
make the experience better for authors and users.

Contrast this to forms that could benefit from declarative  
expressions. We've agreed that the way forms are used today on the  
web, most would not benefit. Now, it is possible that there is an  
untapped hidden demand for such forms but they are just too hard to  
do. But I think this is unlikely.

When users want something, web developers tend to provide it, even if  
it is hard. Besides video, here are some other things that are hard  
to do well on the web that are still becoming fairly popular:  
animated UI elements, rich text editing, updating page state without  
a full page load, drag-and-drop and dynamic client-side graphics.  
Clearly mere difficulty is not an obstacle.

Furthermore, declarative expressions are available on the web today,  
if somewhat inconveniently. XForms plugins are available, and Dave  
Raggett's XForms Transitional prototype shows that declarative  
features can be provided through a script library. I haven't run into  
a website that uses either, except for demo purposes.

These factors make me doubt that there is a large untapped demand.  
Now, maybe there is evidence to the contrary. But to add a  
singificant new functionality to HTML, I think we need to actually  
establish that it would be helpful for things lots of people want to  
do on the web. We can't add every feature, and complex features  
especially need to justify themselves. Adding a complex feature that  
won't actually be used a lot is a significant opportunity cost, so it  
needs to have a clear benefit.

> Finally, it sounds like you don't have much experience trying to  
> develop a larger, more complicated form when you claim that  
> expressions only make things easier  in toy forms.  Have you ever  
> tried to put an insurance or financial application online?  If you  
> ever do, you will begin to understand why we want expressions.

You're right that I have not spent a lot of time developing forms.  
But I have spent a lot of time studying the forms developed by others  
and deployed on the web, particularly cases where they malfunction.  
Insurance and financial applications are not in fact very common on  
the web, and I don't see a declarative expression feature changing  
that. They're not very popular because they are not the kind of thing  
most people want to do a lot, not because they are hard.

Incidentally, I put my list of forms use cases here, I think it will  
be relevant to future discussion:


Received on Sunday, 29 April 2007 01:50:31 UTC

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